‘Worst culture minister in a long time’

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Lauded Norwegian author Torgrim Eggen lashed out against Culture Minister Thorhild Widvey this week, and was highly critical of the Conservative-led government’s cultural policy. Eggen presented his views on the direction of the arts in Norway at the Festival of Literature (Norsk Litteraturfestival) on Wednesday, Scandinavia’s biggest literary event.

Conservative Culture Minister Thorhild Widvey, second from left, and Prime Minsiter Erna Solberg, second from right, were joined by athletes and officials at a government reception last month for the Sochi 2014 Olympic and Paralympic games participants. Author Torgrim Eggen criticized the government and Widvey in particular this week, saying there had been hostility and skepticism towards the arts, and her support of an Oslo Olympics bid would be a disaster for the Norwegian arts scene. PHOTO: Inga Steindal/Kulturdepartementet

Conservative Culture Minister Thorhild Widvey, second from left, and Prime Minsiter Erna Solberg, second from right, were joined by athletes and officials at a government reception last month for the Sochi 2014 Olympic and Paralympic games participants. Author Torgrim Eggen criticized the government and Widvey in particular this week, saying there had been hostility and skepticism towards the arts, and her support of an Oslo Olympics bid would be a disaster for the cultural scene. PHOTO: Inga Steindal/Kulturdepartementet

Eggen’s talk on the Government’s cultural policy was called “The Siv-Erna Experience,” after Conservative (Høyre) Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her coalition partner, the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) leader Siv Jensen. He told newspaper Aftenposten that Widvey had “harped on” about small budget cuts, then thrown her support behind the expensive Olympics pitch.

“She’s going to be remembered as the worst culture minister in a long time,” said Eggen. Widvey also has responsibility for sport under her ministry. “When Widvey went in for the Oslo Olympics in 2022, she lost all credibility, and there was not so much there before either. The Government has ridden on a wave of cultural hostility and skepticism towards the Norwegian cultural elite, and that expression remains.”

“The many announced cuts represent a pettiness,” he continued. “I’m not saying that the framework has radically changed, but the attitude is generally such that the cultural sphere has not behaved properly; they have, among other things, been left wing.”

Cultural cuts
Eggen criticized what he called the government’s policy of “tightening up” the arts, because they believed something had “slipped” under the former Labour, Socialist Left and Center Party government, known as the red-green coalition. “There has been a shift in the grants policy for projects, but more money didn’t come under the red-green leadership,” he said. “There has been more money for festivals and cultural buildings, but as far as I know there are not many artists who survive off government funds today.”

Eggen said he had liked the former cultural minister, Labour’s Hadia Tajik, and said the previous government had not distanced itself as strongly from the things the arts scene created, and the way it was financed. He rejected the current government’s preference for private sponsorship of cultural projects, saying Norway lacked the kind of economic upper class needed to back artistic projects.

His criticism was particularly directed at Widvey, and he denied the Conservative party’s platform of artistic cuts would have pitted him against anyone the party had put in the role. “There were many who hoped that Olemic Thommessen should become culture minister,” Eggen said. “He at least has knowledge and has brought forward interesting arguments to the cultural debate previously.”

He said Widvey’s support of Oslo’s Olympic bid was the final straw, and if there was a clear government majority for the Olympics, it would be a major disaster for the arts sector.

Cuts denied
In an email, Widvey told Aftenposten no changes or cuts to the grants scheme are planned under the current government. She said she didn’t mind Eggen’s critique, because a diversity of strong and independent voices are important to the arts scene.

“I see that Eggen and I have very different attitudes to Norwegian culture,” Widvey wrote. “I have faith that Norwegian art and culture has a great potential to attract more private funding. We maintain high quality in the productions and are not afraid to test out new artistic methods and expression. I have a desire to put more money into the sector, spread the power among many hands and help strengthen cultural regions. That this is taken as an attempt at destruction falls under its own unreasonableness.”

Widvey accepted structural changes and a new policy direction could be unsettling, and stated Norwegian culture would continue to get significant public funding. But she said more private funding would only help the arts community.

“The new cultural policy will also help the actors in the cultural scene to be able to spend even more of the resources on concentrating on developing content and quality – after eight years with very strong weight put on infrastructure development,” she said.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate