Development-oriented cultural policy requires risk willing foundations


The role of private foundations in our society should be subject to ongoing exploration and experimentation. We should not understand their power and influence to be one thing, but rather a result of what they do and the ecosystems they co-create. This is why the conversation around their future roles, should be part of a larger conversation about what we wish our future arts- and cultural sectors to be capable of.

Ove Kaj Pedersen, political scientist and professor at Copenhagen Business School, recently argued that cultural policy in Denmark does “not exist as its own area of politics. It is visible in other areas, as for example in the employment policies in the shape of inclusion, or in the case of policies on foreigners, in the shape of integration”.

The larger conversation to be had, therefore, is one of how to exit from the cultural political stalemate we find ourselves in. Towards a more development-oriented and experimental cultural policy. This approach will explore new spaces of possibility, for the arts- and cultural sectors, through partnerships across private, public and civic divisions.

Alternative financing

In the US a new movement named metascience, is currently experimenting with new kinds of research institutions and funding mechanisms. The movement has, among other reasons, emerged as a result of the organisation Fast Grants, the purpose of which was to fund research on covid-19 fast.

With help from a team of younger researchers, they distributed their first grants only 48 hours after the deadline for submitting proposals. During 2020 they raised 50m usd and supported more than 260 projects. Besides their core purpose, FG was envisioned to solve the structural problems associated with the fact that researchers spend more than 40% of their time applying for grants, often wait up to seven months – or longer – to receive an answer, and when they finally receive a response, the majority of grants go to older and more established researchers.

Is there anything in a Danish context that speaks to a need for the same speed and experiments? In UKK we would argue yes, why not explore similar approaches to the most acute problems we face? If we were to, for example, allocate 2% of the 22 billion dkk, which in aggregate is invested in the arts- and cultural sectors, towards experiments, new forms of partnerships, and new ways in which art and culture can interact with societies, we would see an explosion of learning and experience as a result.

With those perspectives in mind, we propose the following points of orientation:

The ecosystem of the sector of art

There is an abundant focus on financing single activities, projects, productions and purchase of works of art. But we would see a higher quality of those, if we supplemented those efforts with a concerted development of the ecosystem and structural dimension of the sector of art.

This would require a mapping of current actors and support functions, comprising the ecosystem, followed by a conversation around missing functions – as for example we have seen with “Kulturens Analyseinstitut” as a response to the need for more data – aligned with the directions we wish for the sector to move towards.

Experimental approaches and partnerships

As mentioned in Altingets debate series, covid-19 proved that coordination across private and public actors can generate progress on grand challenges. In UKK we are of the opinion, that we need to develop similar experiments, when dealing with “wild problems”, as the lack of payment to artists and curators in Denmark, green transition and sustainability, and the lack of diversity across the arts- and cultural sectors.

Partnerships and coordinated efforts is a prerequisite if we as a sector wish to be able to have an impact on challenges on larger scales. Therein lies new roles for both private, but of course also public foundations, institutions, artists, etc.

A precondition for the above points, is that we enter a new conversation on the sector of art in Denmark: in which directions do we wish our field to develop and why? What challenges would we like our sector to have an impact on? And how can we realise those ambitions collectively?

Riskwilling capital

An precondition for the above, is that risk willing capital is a requirement. Private foundations in Denmark has a tradition of not supporting overhead, but if we wish for development and novel institutions, we simply have to finance it.

Private foundations – in close dialogue with the sector – could set up experimental grants, and develop portfolios of experiments and development-oriented activities, with less focus on the precise deployment of capital and more focus on what they enable and allow for to emerge. It will, though, require that foundations leave behind the notion that they are independent actors.

All actors in the sector of art possess varying degrees of power and influence. The question is how one negotiates that responsibility and provides transparency to ones actions. One way of distributing ones power, is to expand the dialogue and include people in decision-making processes.

In order to arrive at a more diverse and development-oriented cultural policy, it will require an increase in risk taking on all parts, new conversations and coordinated efforts, across sectors in our society. Here, the private foundations possess a unique possibility for pushing for experimentation and development. But, the foundations of course cannot stand alone in a process, where all actors are to reckon with their role in an ecosystem, and the responsibility that follows, in alleviating existing problems and contributing to development.