The Situation in The Art Sector

Despite ongoing conversations about the state of the art sector, we are lacking the actions and resources which will actually improve conditions and develop the art sector. The sector is still recovering from covid-19, the accumulative 2% cuts to the sector, and visual artists are among the lowest income professions in Denmark.

There is a need to take a holistic and systems-wide view of the art sector, and analyse where there is a need for structural reform and transformation, and where there is a need for new platforms, institutions, ideas, and practices to emerge. It is our hope that this investigation into the state of cultural policy can contribute positively to this journey.


Art and Culture in A Time of Polycrisis

The SMV government states in their program, that they will “establish a council, which can uncover and discuss how art and culture can contribute to solving the large crises of our time, including the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, welfare, and well-being crisis” (p. 51 in the program). While art and culture already does this, we would argue that art and culture can do this in more and different ways than is the case today. In addition to a council, this will require dedicated investment and establishment of transdisciplinary laboratories and platforms. Exactly why and how this could be shaped, is best explored through a portfolio of experiments from which learning and feedback can be gathered on an ongoing basis. One could as an example imagine the systematic inclusion of artists, other cultural actors, and social scientists in the four missions of Denmark’s “Future green solutions”.

Access for People with Disabilities

The cultural sector is missing out on the great potential of people with disabilities both as actors within the field and as audiences. This is due to physical barriers in institutions such as art centres, museums, and academies (e.g. no assisted stairwell, wheelchair ramp or elevators), as well as restrictions in disability benefit systems such as flexible employment (i.e. fleksjob) and early retirement (i.e. førtidspension) that prevent people with disabilities from participating in sectors based around freelance and precarious labour. There are great EU initiatives and research studies such as the Time to Act report, showing how the cultural sector is not ready to meet the needs of disabled cultural workers and audiences. A first step in Denmark could be to update the Action plan for people with disabilities’ access to culture from 1999.

Diversity and Inclusion

In line with the above, Denmark’s art field should seek to be an accurate and evolving reflection of our society, and this cannot be done without efforts to include artists, curators, and art workers across different gender, ethnic, cultural, and societal backgrounds. This cannot be achieved without dedicated inclusivity initiatives starting from education to representation within different art and cultural institutions, and we believe our sector as a whole and the cultural ministry should take a hands-on, multilevel approach to guaranteeing a diverse art field. Besides an increase in support for the art academies in Odense and Aarhus, continued support for the BKG schools, an analysis should be made of where and how we as a sector can support and arrive at a more diverse student body. At the same time, it is important to work towards creating attractive career pathways in our sector, so as to avoid a situation where we mainly see people from high income backgrounds being able to survive and make a living.

Artistic Research and Development

For more than 10 years Novo Nordisk Foundation has granted PhD and PostDoc scholarships to visual artists in Denmark to pursue artistic research projects. The Bikuben Foundation* supports explicitly innovative and development-oriented activities, consequently bootstrapping new platforms and business models for artistic activities. Yet, we still lack public funding to match the investments made by private foundations. Grants for single artists or projects are not geared to bring about the degree of structural renewal needed. The aim here should not be to arrive at one-size-fits all models, but rather invest in numerous highly ambitious experiments, which will bring about a more diverse sector of art, connecting with surrounding societies in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

* UKK has received funding from The Bikuben Foundation for the past three years for a variety of initiatives.

A Care and Well-being Economy

Visual artists and curators are among the lowest paid in Denmark. The reasons for this are many, among which is the fact that it is still not regulated that state-supported institutions have to fairly remunerate their work. It is important that the new museum reform will address the social and ethical aspects of artistic labour, ensuring that everyone who provides content and hence attracts visitors, are paid fairly. Healthy institutions are part of and need to take responsibility for the cultural ecosystems they are embedded in and dependent on.
Further, artists and curators are at the forefront of the gig-economy. While there have been welcome changes to the unemployment schemes that take the highly fragmented nature of their income streams into account, there is still a long way to go towards a situation where freelancers aren’t in a constant struggle to justify how their income is made. There is great potential in rethinking the model of grants and unemployment schemes in a holistic approach. We suggest looking at examples such as the Basic Income for The Arts (Ireland) and Intermittence de Spectacle (France).

Urban Planning

The ongoing housing crisis and the need to green our built environment is a challenge for all low income groups across society as rents rise and housing becomes increasingly unaffordable. The art sector is particularly vulnerable due to its spatial requirements for studios, workshops, and housing that are necessary for artists and art workers to continue to be a vital part of our bigger cities and communities. In 2021 the Council for Visual Art published a report on studio- and workshop facilities, showing that 75% of the artists in the study had considered moving out of Copenhagen within the year prior to the study, due to rising rents on housing and studio facilities. A worrying number, highlighting that new solutions must be found if we wish for not only Copenhagen, but other large cities in Denmark to remain cities with a vibrant culture. The report summarises the results of the study as follows: “Artists are disappearing from Copenhagen due to the lack of workshop and studio facilities. If they disappear in the first place, they won’t come back. It is not only soul that the city is losing, but also economic income. Surveys showcase the need to maintain creative communities in cities, for the economy, diversity, and tourism.” A broader more open urban planning discourse including communities along with the art sector in rethinking access to public and private spaces is crucial, and will also accelerate the many social, educational, and health benefits art produces across broader society. The problem with the lack of access to the city for artists should be discussed in concert with political conversations around urban planning, lack of diversity, and distortion of the composition of the population in cities – a general consequence of rising rents and privatisation of urban space.