Cultural policy and cultural diversity in the Nordic countries

My speech given at the Nordic cultural policy event discussing inclusion and integration (Nordisk kulturpolitisk dag om inkludering och integration) on 29 januari 2018 in Stockholm can be found below. Before that, there are a some words about the event and its background in Finnish.

Tukholmassa järjestettiin vastikään (29.1.) konferenssi, jonka aiheena olivat yhdenvertaisuus, tasa-arvo, inkluusio ja kotoutuminen taiteen ja kulttuurin kentällä. Tilaisuuden taustalla oli Myndigheten för kulturanalysin sekä Kulturanalys Nordenin näitä aiheita koskevat tuoreet raportit. Julkaisut ovat ladattavissa mainittujen tahojen kotisivuilta.

Oma puheeni perustui kulttuuripolitiikasta ja monikulttuurisuudesta neljässä Pohjoismaassa kirjoittamaani artikkeliin, joka ilmestyi ruotsin kielellä Kulturanalys Nordenin kokoomajulkaisussa Vem får vara med? Perspektiv på inkludering och integration i kulturlivet i de nordiska länderna.

Cultural policy and cultural diversity in four Nordic countries

The most important message of this anthology Vem får vara med? – about integration and inclusion in the Nordic cultural life – might go without due or sufficient attention. We definitely need more research-based knowledge about, firstly, ethnic and cultural diversity in and the impact of immigration to our societies; secondly, about the reflection and consequences of these circumstances and developments in the artistic and cultural life; and thirdly, about the response of public cultural policies to what is actually taking place. In particular, there is a severe shortage of analyses based on quantitative data, but rigorous qualitative studies and close-to-action explorations are also needed in order to understand better.

The most important explicit messages brought to light in this edited volume tell an unpleasant story. There is no way to escape the fact that, generally speaking, arts and culture in the Nordic countries have not at all been that open and accessible we would probably all like them to be. People belonging to minorities, immigrants, and natives with a foreign background are mostly underrepresented both as artists, as people employed by arts institutions and organizations, and as public or audience. More important and more serious, it seems that in recent years, there has been little positive development taking place, if none.

When immigration started to change the ethnic and cultural landscape of the Nordic countries, cultural policy and arts policy were not the most eager policy sectors to accommodate policy principles and practices according to new realities. After a certain delay a need to adapt was recognized in some countries, such as Sweden and Finland. However, much of what has been done has rather been lip service than concrete action. Furthermore, little of that action has been institutionalized and properly financed. Many, if not most, activities have been based on small-scale, short-lived project funding. The diversity policy landscape looks as a whole very fragmented.

The perhaps most bizarre observation is that even though mainstreaming, the incorporation of new elements in society to the normal functioning of established cultural institutions and organizations, has been the explicit goal, much of what has been accomplished has rather been special arrangements, meant for people and cultural expressions somehow deemed to be deviant from the regular or traditional. Instead of inclusion, the method used has rather produced marginalization and even isolation.

In terms of policy principles, and with regard to the basic approach to diversity and immigrant inclusion, there is a huge difference between the multiculturalist Sweden (or Finland, later on also Norway) and the resolutely nationalist Denmark. In real life, however, the difference between these countries is much smaller than how it appears in policy documents because of the modest implementation of cultural policy multiculturalism. One can also add that despite of the Danish state-level nationalism and assimilation policy, there have been many interesting initiatives and successful practices at the local level.

During the last few years, our knowledge about the integration of newcomers and about the position and prospects of their offspring in Nordic societies have been greatly increased. Full incorporation of immigrants to different areas of life and the acceptance as an equal member of the society has turned out to be a time-consuming process, often especially for those that come from non-western countries, seeking international protection, and/or with low level of education.

What we yet do not know far enough precisely is why things are as they are? This is also the question those responsible for planning and deciding on arts policies and cultural policies should address. What are the concrete obstacles that hinder participation in equal terms as artists and other producers of culture and as audience, the consumers of culture? In my opinion, we should especially know more about the recruitment and enrolment to arts education, to those institutions that produce cultural professionals, in particular. Is it there where we could trace the roots of the participation bias? Also, why is it that some fields of arts, areas of cultural activities and even between some genres within specific sectors seem to be more inclusive than others? We should also know more about the wishes and expectations of those belonging to different kinds of minorities towards arts as a profession and towards cultural services.

If we know the obstacles, it gets a lot easier to remove them. But there is also a much broader topic that should be profoundly discussed. It concerns the nature of our societies, and how public policies, such as arts policy and cultural policy, should position themselves vis-à-vis the societal development.

Half a century ago, when more liberal minority policies, and also modern cultural policies, were drafted, the issue of ethnic and cultural diversity was actually quite simple. There were not that many minorities and there was a mutual assumption that these minorities can be easily defined as a kind of a small boxes within the large power-container of the nation-state.

During the last 25 years or so, however, the situation has grown increasingly complicated. Instead of a handful of minorities, we now have tens or even hundreds of different kinds of ethnic, linguistic, religious and/or otherwise cultural groups and communities. This ethno-cultural diversity also has become more and more fluid and complex. It is also getting increasingly difficult to be certain which institutions or organizations represent which people to what extent and for how long.

Many chapters in the anthology also point out that the change around the turn of the Millennium to make diversity a comprehensive concept that comprises the whole society and practically all possible manifestations of difference or deviations from the rule, has produced much confusion. This scope enlargement has been a right move in principle but, in practice, it has caused much trouble. People usually do not act when they are uncertain about what they actually should be doing.

All this already made responding to ethnic and cultural diversity in cultural policy more difficult. More recently, the situation has been rendered more problematic by the increasing popularity of neo-nationalist ideas and opinions, longing nostalgically to a culturally homogeneous society that actually never was there. Celebration of diversity started waning already some time ago, now we can see forces overtly hostile to pluralism and tolerance in powerful positions. It might be unfounded optimism to think that these forces are going to disappear soon.

What also needs to be mentioned is that the times were better before also in financial terms. During the first decades of modern cultural policy, public funding on culture also increased significantly. Towards the end of the 20th century growth started slowing down, and the global financial crisis that started in 2008 put additional pressure on the funding of public services, including culture and the arts. In many countries, cultural policies and arts policies have suffered from severe austerity measures. In times of affluence and growth, it is easier to allocate resources to new initiatives in general, and probably be to those initiatives that meet the needs of minorities and other deviations from mainstream culture in particular.

The nations-states of yesterday, and Nordic national identities, were to a significant part constructed with the help of arts and artists, cultural institutions and early cultural policies. It is my sincere conviction that the cultural sector also today can play, and should play, an important role in the regeneration of our societies to meet contemporary circumstances and future challenges. In addition to providing us high-quality aesthetic experiences, arts and culture can provide valuable contributions to the reflection of diversity in the public sphere(s), to the realization of equality between individuals, groups and communities, and to the development and maintenance of a sufficient sense of unity among all members of the society irrespective of their identity or background. However, to meet these expectations, and to make full use of possibilities, there is a lot of work to be done.


How is diversity manifested in culture and in the cultural policy?

On 13 November, Kulturkontakt Nord arranged in Helsinki a Nordic seminar  on diversity and culture in a sustainable society (Mångfald inom kulturen viktigt i ett hållbart samhälle). I held there the speech below. Language has not been corrected but the text is hopefully still understandable. In this end, there is also a list of relevant literature.


The title of my address has the form of a question: How is diversity manifested in culture and in the cultural policy? My answer – and also my speech could be very brief and concise. I could do the same as what we can read from the web site of the Finnish Arts Promotion Centre. In the context of multiculturalism, there is a slogan-like quotation that says: “All culture is multicultural”.

This is a frequently occurring interpretation, and if we take it seriously, my response to the inquiry in the speech title would thus be: Diversity is in the arts always, everywhere, and in every possible form – and therefore it is quite naturally also ubiquitous in the cultural policy.

Self-evident as this approach is, we however should not take it for granted. The problem lies in the fact that the representation of all imaginable forms of diversity can never be completely reflected in the arts, culture, and cultural policy, nor without any kind of selection, emphasis, hierarchy or bias, free from inclusion and exclusion, appreciation and ignorance.

Human life is, luckily, full of many kinds of differences, and in the representation of this diversity some aspects of it, in the terms of age, gender, ethnic origin or identity, abilities and disabilities, for example, are always more in the foreground, higher valued and better resourced – whereas other people and their characteristics, identity markers and cultural contributions remain more in the margin or are entirely in the shadow.

Therefore, we have to seriously ask ourselves how justified the dominance, prominence or central position of some and the subordination or marginal situation of others in culture and the arts is, why the situation has become as it is, and, if there seems to be sound reasons to react, is there anything we can do about it.


During the last ten years or so, I have been following and analyzing the reflection of ethnic, national and cultural diversity in arts and culture, and cultural policy responses to the increasing diversification of or the recognition of existing diversity in societies. I have mainly been studying Finland, but I have also examined the development more closely in Sweden and the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent, in Denmark and Norway. My analysis of the contemporary situation is based on this work.

It would be a great pleasure to me to make a concluding statement that Nordic cultural policies have been alert and energetic in responding to the justified demands of minorities and to the changes in the ethnic and cultural composition of societies in general – and, as a consequence, that the end result of these efforts can be clearly observed in the national and local artistic and cultural landscapes. Unfortunately, the truth is much more complicated.

The Nordic countries are all welfare states where the equality of citizens and other residents is highly valued. As a corollary of this basic principle, national and local cultural policies were in the latter half of the 20th century developed from the perspectives of cultural democracy and cultural democratization that both recognized minority cultural expressions and promoted the accessibility of the arts and cultural services more generally.

However, in terms of the basic approach to ethnic and cultural diversity in general and to the diversification of societies as a result of international migration in particular, these countries have chosen strikingly different trajectories. The Danish solution has been, at least nationally, to emphasize cultural assimilation to traditional Danish values, norms and ways of life. Instead of promoting cultural creativity of newcomers, the Danish government chose to establish in 2006 a cultural canon of 108 works of art to function as an introduction to Danish cultural heritage. None of these works was made by an immigrant artist.

The approach of Sweden and Finland has been very different. From early on, both countries have emphasized that finding one’s place in these countries also implies the right to maintain own ethnic and cultural identity and to continue practicing traditional cultural activities. Furthermore, public authorities were supposed to give support to the realization of these rights. As a consequence, Sweden and Finland can be labelled multiculturalist countries whereas the Danish way has rather been a nationalist one. Norway’s position is situated somewhere in between these two poles, gradually moving closer to its eastern neighbour.


We should therefore also expect that Swedish and Finnish cultural policies have been more active in creating instruments how to accommodate increasing diversity in their policy principles and practices. We might also reasonably assume that representatives of various minorities would have a relatively easy access to cultural professions and cultural institutions and that artistic achievements of those with minority or immigrant background would be eagerly recognized and appreciated.

From both countries we can also find examples of policy innovation. Funding has been made available to artists belonging to ethnic and cultural minorities and immigrant groups. International, multicultural or intercultural centra have been established. Projects to assist new audiences to find old institutions such as museums, theatres and concert halls have been launched. In Sweden, there even was a specific Year of Multiculturalism in 2006, dedicated to give impetus to the idea that publicly funded cultural institutions and organizations have their responsibility in being inclusive to the whole Swedish population.

However, there is no other chance than to also make a more critical judgment. The incorporation of multicultural reality into national cultural policy has actually been very cumbersome.

To begin with, arts policies and cultural policy sectors have in all countries I have examined been slow to understand the changes in society and to respond to these developments, especially what comes to the consequences of immigration. Sectors such as housing, employment and education were much faster in adapting their operations to meet new needs and demands.

This lagging behind of cultural policy is, on the one hand, easy to understand. First things, the most urgent ones, have come first. But there has also been explicit resistance to new ideas and practices. Public policy efforts to pay more attention to minorities’ and immigrants’ specific needs have been strongly criticized and even opposed by the representatives of artistic and cultural communities. Many initiatives have been watered down, if not completely abandoned, during policy preparation processes. Why?

One explanation could be found from values and attitudes. During one event in Stockholm some ten years ago the Swedish politician Leif Pagrotsky told the audience that when he was the minister responsible for trade and economy and tried to make business executives in Sweden understand the importance of gender equality, he had often thought that there cannot be more conservative people anywhere else. However, somewhat later he became the minister of cultural affairs…


Some kind of ultimately conservative disposition of those who are often regarded as belonging the progressive avant-garde cannot be ignored. However, on the basis of my research, we can also analyze the reluctance of the practitioners of culture and the arts from perspectives that might help us focus on the issue in a more detailed way.

Firstly, one reason for hesitation and critique can be located in the historically constructed idea of the autonomy of culture and the arts. From this perspective, we can trace a general reluctance to approve any policy reform or changes in cultural practices according to political needs and expectations. Instead of conservatism, we might therefore rather speak of a defensive mentality that considers all political interventions with suspicion and resistance.

Secondly, the field of arts has been accustomed to work in terms of individual creativity, universal values and quality-based assessment. It is obviously difficult to integrate group-specific multiculturalism into this kind of a framework. The full incorporation of communal cultural diversity into cultural policy provokes questions about the primary criteria behind artistic value judgments. True recognition of minorities and their traditions might even lead to the necessity to approve the simultaneous existence of different but equally valid quality criteria.

Thirdly, we can also find traces of nationalism in cultural policy arguments that treat positive responses to diversity with suspicion. Early modern arts policies and cultural policies were partly created to construct the nation, to promote the national language, to preserve the national cultural heritage and to increase the international visibility and esteem of the national community through works of art. Some people think that this work is still needed in the globalized world of hard competition, and that national interests should be given a priority.

To recapitulate, the policy measures so far in countries such as Finland and Sweden, and the Netherlands, have been few and fragmented. Instead of institutionalization, lots of activities are based on temporary projects. In relation to needs, the funding for the implementation of these measures has been very modest.

Maybe the most astonishing finding, however, has been the strange contradiction between what has been striven for and what has been put into practice. In all those three countries I have been analyzing more closely, the explicit objective has been to integrate diversity into mainstream cultural policy. Despite of this aim, it has been much easier to do the contrary, that is, to establish special arrangements for immigrant groups and minority communities. These measures include e.g. special grants and specific institutions, and plans and programs with particular focus on newcomers and members of minorities. To exaggerate a little bit Integration was pursued, isolation was achieved.


Against this policy backdrop we can now briefly examine how ethnic and cultural diversity is manifested in Nordic culture and the arts.

An obvious starting point is that artistic landscapes have in many ways become more diversified. Everyone can probably mention many successful artists with minority, immigration, multicultural or transnational background. Groups, organizations and institutions have been established to cherish and to celebrate new diverse realities or to give opportunities for those in the margin. International migration, issues related with race and racism, transcultural and transnational life and the multicultural society in general have become widely discussed topics and themes in literature, theatre, film, music and even in, for example, modern dance.

Nevertheless, everything is again not as well as it might seem at first glance. There is a need for more empirical studies on the position of immigrants and minorities in culture and the arts. On the basis of the information we have, however, we cannot but conclude that there is yet a lot of work to do in terms of promoting equality, increasing opportunities and enhancing accessibility.

The Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy Analysis has conducted a study of foreign backgrounds among employees in the part of the cultural sector that is subject to government control. The report shows that diversity in the Swedish population is not properly reflected in the staff composition in the cultural sector. The percentage of employees with a foreign background was just over 13 percent, i.e. much lower than the corresponding share of the whole population (20,1% in 2012). Despite of all well-meaning efforts, there has not been much progress since the early 2000’s. Furthermore, the percentage of those with a foreign background was clearly lower in management positions than among employees in general.

A Finnish study, conducted at the Finnish Arts Promotion Centre, demonstrated that the group of applicants for the Finnish support for the arts has been growing, but slowly. Paula Karhunen’s analysis also confirms the Swedish finding that there are large variations within cultural sectors with regard to the position and opportunities of people with a foreign background. Music and the visual arts seem to be more easily accessible whereas language-related areas of creativity are more difficult to enter. In a recently published paper, Outi Korhonen and Rita Paqvalén conclude that non-dominant language writers are in most of the Nordic countries still rather invisible within the mainstream literary field and in media, and that in some cases writers’ organizations maintain a policy that rather excludes than includes them.

Similar findings can be found also elsewhere. In the Norwegian Kulturutredningen 2014 one of conclusions was that cultural diversity has become a prominent characteristic in the society but that this development is not to the same degree reflected in the cultural life. Artists belonging to minorities were underrepresented at all areas of culture and the arts. In the Danish Survey concerning cultural habits and consumption, the so-called New Danes were found to visit museum exhibitions, theatre performances and concerts much less frequently than “native Danes”.


To make a judgment is always a question of choice and interpretation. I could very well have held this speech in a positive mood emphasizing, for example, that despite shortcomings the Nordic cultural policy vessels have the right course. It is also true that in many other countries the situation is even worse and that excessive criticism towards our societies is therefore unfair. Nevertheless, I deliberately chose to do otherwise. I will finish my speech with some explanations to this decision.

At this moment, I confess I am quite worried about the future of Nordic societies what comes to the integration of immigrants and their offspring to their host societies, and to the integration of these host societies to the facts of mobility, transnationalism and ethnic and cultural diversification.

Many of those who have come to Finland and Scandinavia in recent years will succeed in their lives. Based on available statistics, a large amount of them will nevertheless have to struggle hard to find a job, and some of them will never thrive in the labour market. Therefore, it is extremely important that there are channels to find one’s place in the society also outside the workplace. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to redesign Nordic national identities to include all people living in these societies irrespective of whether you are working or not working and also of your ethnic or cultural background or identity.

In this context, this means that the Nordic field of culture and the arts, and cultural policy, should do all they can to give opportunities for artists with foreign background to practice their profession. Growing diversity should be regarded as an option, not as a threat. This also implies that the existence of unintentional but nevertheless effective forms of discrimination in the artistic labour market, should be carefully scrutinized.

Finally, Nordic national identities would never have become what they are without the work of renowned artists, poets, novelists, painters and composers, who provided us with representations of the country and the nation to identify ourselves with. Now these societies must be symbolically reconstructed. That means that there is a lot of work to do for the artists of today who want to contribute in the making of the societies of the future.

Sources and relevant literature

Bennett, Tony (2001). Differing Diversities. Transversal Study on the Theme of Cultural Policy and Cultural Diversity. London: Council of Europe Publishing.

Borevi, Karin (2013). “Understanding Swedish Multiculturalism”. Kivisto, Peter & Östen Wahlbeck (eds.). Debating Nordic Multiculturalism in Nordic Welfare States. Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan, 140–169.

Bos, Eltje (2011). Beleid voor cultuur en immigranten. Rijksbeleid en uitvoeringspraktijk. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam.

Bos, Eltje & Cas Smithuijsen (2010). “Cultural Diversity and Arts Policy in the Netherlands”. Cultural Policy and Management. Yearbook 2010.Amsterdam/Istanbul: Boekmanstudies/Istanbul Bilgi University Press. 44–52.

Cultural Policy in the Netherlands. Edition 2009 (2009). The Hague/Amsterdam: Ministry of Education, Culture and Science/Boekmanstudies.

Danskernes Kulturvaner 2012 (2012). København: Kulturministeriet.

Davies, Trevor (2007). Kulturel mangfoldighed set i forhold til Kunstrådet. Inspirationsrapport.København: Kunstrådet. Http://

Delhaye, Christine (2008). “Immigrants’ Artistic Practices in Amsterdam, 1970–2007. A Political Issue of Inclusion and Exclusion”. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, vol. 34, nr. 8, pp. 1301–1321.

Edström, Nina (2006). Har du sett på mångkulturkonsulenten! Utvärdering av verksamheten med regionala konsulenter för mångkultur. Botkyrka: Kulturrådet/Mångkulturellt centrum.

Edström, Nina & Charlotte Hyltén-Cavallius (2011). Osmos – inkluderingprocesser i kulturlivet. Botkyrka: Mångkulturellt centrum.

Egeland, Helene (2007). Det ekte, det gode og det coole. Södra teatern og den dialogiske formasjonen av mangfolddiskursen. Linköping: Linköpings universitet.

Harding, Tobias (2008). ”En mångkulturell kulturpolitik”. Svante Beckman & Sten Månsson (eds.). KulturSverige 2009. Problemanalys och statistik. Linköping: SweCult/Linköpings universitet.

Ilczuk, Dorotha & Yudhisthir Raj Isar (eds.) (2006). Metropolises of Europe. Diversity in Urban Cultural Life. Warsaw: CIRCLE.

Johannisson, Jenny (2012). ”Kulturpolitik som redskap för mångfald”. Den utmanande diskussionen. Debattskrift om kulturpolitik och identiteter I Norden. Köpenhamn: Nordiska Ministerrådet.

Jong, Joop de (1998). “Cultural Diversity and Cultural Policy in the Netherlands”. International Journal of Cultural Policy vol. 4, nr. 2, pp. 357–387.

Karhunen, Paula (2009). State Support for Immigrant Artists – Is it Multiculturalism? Nordisk Kulturpolitisk Tidskrift vol. 12, nr. 2, pp. 26–54.
Paula Karhunen (2013). Immigrant artists in the Finnish support system for the arts (Summary). Helsinki: Arts Promotion Centre Finland.

Korhonen, Outi & Paqvalén, Rita (2016). Wandering words. Comparisons of the Position of Non-dominant Language Writers in Nordic Organization. Helsinki: Kulttuuria kaikille.

Ministry of Education (2009). Strategy for Cultural Policy. Helsinki: Ministry of Education.

Myndigheten för kulturanalys (2015). Kultur av vem? En undersökning av mångfald i den svenska kultursektorn. Rapport 2015:2. Stockholm: Myndigheten för kulturanalys.

NOU (2013). Kulturutredningen 2014. Norges offentlige utredninger 2013:4. Oslo: Kulturdepartmentet.

Pripp, Oscar, Emil Plisch, & Saara Printz Werner (2004). Tid för Mångfald. En studie av de statligt finansierade kulturinstitutionernas arbete med etnisk och kulturell mångfald. Botkyrka: Mångkulturellt centrum.

Regeringens Proposition (2011). Tid för Kultur. Stockholm.

Ristimäki, Eija (1995). “Minorities and Cultural Rights”. Cultural Policy in Finland. National Report. Helsinki: The Arts Council of Finland, Research and Information Unit.

Roiha, Taija (2016. Suomeen pakolaisina ja turvapaikanhakijoina vuosina 2011–2016 saapuneet taiteilijat. Taiteen edistämiskeskuksen selvitys. Helsinki: Taiteen edistämiskeskus.

Runblom, Harald (1994). “Swedish Multiculturalism in a Comparative Perspective”. Sociological Forum vol. 9, nr. 4, pp. 623–640.

Saukkonen, Pasi (2010). Kotouttaminen ja kulttuuripolitiikka. Tutkimus maahanmuutosta ja monikulttuurisuudesta suomalaisella taiteen ja kulttuurin kentällä. Helsinki: Kulttuuripoliittisen tutkimuksen edistämissäätiö.

Saukkonen, Pasi )2013). Monikulttuurisuus ja kulttuuripolitiikka Pohjois-Euroopassa. Cuporen verkkojulkaisuja 19. Helsinki: Kulttuuripoliittisen tutkimuksen edistämissäätiö.

Saukkonen, Pasi (2013). “Multiculturalism and Nationalism. The Politics of Diversity in Finland”. Kivisto, Peter & Östen Wahlbeck (eds.). Debating Nordic Multiculturalism in Nordic Welfare States. Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan, 270–294.

Saukkonen, Pasi, Ruusuvirta, Minna & Joronen, Tuula (2007). ”Tulossa on jotain juttuja”. Kyselytutkimus pääkaupunkiseudun taide- ja kulttuuritoimijoiden suhteesta maahanmuuttoon ja monikulttuurisuuteen. Helsinki: Kulttuuripoliittisen tutkimuksen edistämissäätiö & Helsingin kaupunki: Http://

Saukkonen, Pasi & Pyykkönen, Miikka (2008). Cultural Policy and Cultural Diversity in Finland. International Journal of Cultural Policy vol. 14, nr. 1, pp. 49–64.

SOU (2005). Agenda för mångkultur. Programförklaring och kalendarium för Mångkulturåret 2006. Delbetänkande från kommittén för samordning av mångkulturåret. Statens Offentliga Utredningar 91. Stockholm.

SOU (2007). Mångfald är framtiden. Statens Offentliga Utredningar 50. Stockholm.

Tawat, Mahama (2012). “Danish and Swedish Immigrants’ Cultural Policies between 1960 and 2006. Toleration and the Celebration of Difference”. International Journal of Cultural Policy, DOI: 10.1080/10286632.2012.743530.