UKK has conducted a survey regarding the key question: which physical conditions for visual artists’ working lives and practices are made available from the country’s municipalities?
We have been in contact with all 98 of Denmark’s municipalities to investigate whether they provide artist studios or workshops and if they have a local strategy and standards for working conditions aimed at visual art. The answers we received from the 55 municipalities that chose to participate paint a picture of very different approaches and priorities that each individual municipality choses to take.
The background for this project is a report on studio and workshop spaces in Copenhagen, that UKK contributed to in 2021 as an initiative from the Council for Visual Arts. The report concluded that Copenhagen municipality is lacking sufficient workspace for artists, and the facilitiesit does have are too expensive, given on a temporary basis, and often in poor condition. Many of our members from across the country contacted us when this report was released and told us of similar problems in the municipalities they live in. Therefore we have decided to investigate the status of municipal studio and workshop conditions throughout Denmark and start a dialogue with the municipalities surrounding the infrastructure that is needed for professional visual artists to thrive in their municipalities.
Based on the results of this survey and the detailed answers given by the municipalities, we have identified three main areas which we will elaborate on below.
We can see a pattern where many of the municipalities are actually willing to support arts and culture as long as it is not professional. This is because professional artists are defined by some municipalities to be a business that operates at the same level as all other businesses, and is therefore not in need of their support, as it then is seen to offer no interest or value to the general public. These definitions and the division drawn between professional and career and amateur arts plays a major role in how municipalities support artists if they even support them at all. This then results in many municipalities catering to creative hobby art-unions over professional visual artists who are instead referred to entrepreneur houses.
We believe that catering exclusively to hobby artists is not an ambitious arts strategy for municipalities. We recommend that the municipalities directly seek to rectify this issue on definition and distinction in the approach they take to amateur versus professional art. Here you can see how a number of the municipalities have already taken an active approach to address this issue, for example with Guldborgsund Municipality, which in their study “Art in Guldborgsund – a pilot project” (2021) concluded that “ an important focal point in this context is the proper understanding of the concept of “the professional artist”. Here it is advised that professional art is not incorporated into the business world but rather as an integrated part of municipal strategy for non-profit education and community development.
There are many advantages to incorporating professional art into municipal arts strategies. In BKF’s report “Visual Art in the Municipalities – potentials and recommendations” from 2020, the ways in which arts contribute positively to the municipalities have been mapped out, i.a. by creating new communities, strengthening the education of children and young people, and providing a better quality of life for citizens. The report also shows what the municipalities actually get out of investing in professional visual art. Using the example of Viborg Municipality, it is shown that visual arts and the work of visual artists create public income corresponding to 64 percent of the public expenditure on visual arts. Additionally, the secondary activities within the local business community that is created by the work of visual artists must not be overlooked. The report, therefore, points out that it makes firm financial sense to invest in the professional visual arts.
From the municipalities, we are told of several initiatives where they support the local art scene, and in most cases, this support takes many different forms. In Aarhus, for example, they have set up Corporum, which aims to create favorable production conditions for newly educated artists with, among other things, studio spaces, showrooms, workshops and free access to equipment. In Randers, they have used partial rent coverage as a method, where the artists have the responsibility to find the spaces for lease, but they receive a subsidy for the rent costs. In Sønderborg we find Foreningen KunstVærket, which is housed in the old town hall and has 66 art workshops and studio spaces, where the municipality is responsible for building operation and maintenance. In Svendborg, they rent out facilities in the former shipyard buildings on Frederiksø, where the tenant agrees to host some public activities in the form of events and other things in return for having their rent covered.
The report Kunstens Rammer conducted by Urgent Agency on behalf of Bikubenfonden in 2017 concluded on the basis of analysis that there is a need for additional studio and production facilities in Denmark and that it is possible to make a significant difference to artistic development by offering or improving production facilities. The report recommends “that dynamic and flexible studio and production facilities be created with the opportunity to share and co-create in both spontaneous and long-term processes.”
In response to our inquiry, several municipalities have complained that they currently have no strategy in the area, but that they recognize the importance of a locally rooted art environment. In several cases, a willingness to work on this has been expressed, but there is a lack of knowledge and ideas to make the appropriate changes. We recommend that municipalities that are interested in supporting their local conditions for artists’ work by setting up studios and workshops can confidently look to the successful examples of programs undergone by other municipalities within Denmark and abroad.
Art and artists should be an integral part of a municipal comprehensive plan if you want a vibrant and innovative art environment. Support in the form of good working conditions for professional artists should of course be included within these plans. Many municipalities lack a specific strategy for art and instead employ broader cultural strategies. In this, the risk is that the art and the artists are forgotten if they are not placed under a separate focus area with their own terms and conditions.
As examples of municipalities that have developed studies pointing to specific areas of action, Guldborgsund Municipality’s aforementioned study (2021) and Sønderborg Municipality’s master plan for art (2020-2023) are specifically noteworthy. The latter proposes to “make Sønderborg Municipality attractive to artists, craftsmen, designers, architects and others who work with the visual arts through quality in the arts.” In order to achieve this, the report recommends among others. that opportunities to improve workshop facilities for performing artists must be explored.
Through our dialogue with the municipalities, we have also experienced a lack of clarity about what a studio actually is and what concrete needs artists have in terms of working conditions. Therefore, in collaboration with UKK’s members, we have created a document that describes both what a studio should be as a minimum, but also what characterizes a good studio, and the special needs that artists across disciplines and various art forms may have. You can read this document here.
Access to studio space plays a key role in whether artists have the means to stay in the municipality where they currently live – which is a ground rule for maintaining a rich local cultural life. The possibility of securing sufficient studio and workshop space can also help to attract artists to a given area. As it is now, there are very few municipally supported studios and workshops, but we see that this has a huge significance for the visual arts in the municipalities where they have taken an active position on the issue and created a physical framework for art. We would therefore encourage the municipalities to support the working conditions for the professional visual artists residing in their municipality. UKK’s working group to improve studio and workshop conditions would like to engage in further dialogue with the municipalities on how to create the best breeding ground for professional visual arts life locally.
The survey and conclusions have been conducted by UKK’s working group to improve studio and workshop conditions, comprised of Maj Horn, Mark Tholander, Michala Paludan and Mikkel Bundgaard Pedersen.
Assens, Ballerup, Brøndby, Egedal, Esbjerg, Fanø, Favrskov, Frederiksberg, Frederikshavn, Frederikssund, Faaborg-Midtfyn, Gentofte, Gladsaxe, Gribskov, Guldborgsund, Halsnæs, Hedensted, Herning, Hillerød, Holbæk, Holstebro, Horsens, Hvidovre, Høje Taastrup, Ishøj, Kalundborg, Kerteminde, København*, Køge, Lejre, Lemvig, Lyngby – Taarbæk, Middelfart, Norddjurs, Nordfyn, Næstved, Odense, Randers, Rebild, Ringsted, Roskilde, Rudersdal, Silkeborg, Skanderborg, Slagelse, Solrød, Sorø, Svendborg, Sønderborg, Thisted, Viborg, Ærø, Aabenraa, Aalborg, Aarhus.
*Københavns Kommune didn’t receive the questions, because UKK already is in dialogue with the municipality about studio facilities.