‘Culture shapes a democracy’

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Norway’s government minister in charge of culture, Trine Skei Grande, said she felt like it was her birthday, Christmas and the 17th of May (Norway’s national day) all at once: For the first time in 15 years, she’d be presenting the framework for national cultural policy for the future, and set off debate at the same time.

Culture Minister Trine Skei Grande (left) was proud that Prime Minister Erna Solberg (right) joined her for the release of Norway’s first formal report on culture in 15 years. PHOTO: Kulturdepartementet

“Culture and the arts are expressions of a society’s power,” Grande claimed before a much bigger crowd than she’d expected, and which included the prime minister. “A rich and varied cultural life is a condition for a well-functioning democracy.”

Grande, who’s part of the conservative state government coalition, succeeded in setting off debate this week, with some criticizing her formal report to Parliament as being too vague and lacking concrete projects. “Like so many times before, there’s a lot of fine words but very little concrete proposals,” Freddy Andre Øvstegård, cultural policy spokesperson for the Socialist Left party, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “We had expected a real strengthening of cultural life in the districts. Instead, the responsibility for existing programs is passed over to the districts when we thought the state would take more responsibility.”

Rina Mariann Hansen, a Labour Party politician in charge of culture for the City of Oslo, also noted that Grande’s report calls for more burden- and budget-sharing between state and local government, “but it looks like it’s more a case of moving funding down to lower levels instead of adding fresh funding.”

Anette Trettebergstuen of the Labour Party also had reservations about the report: “It’s easy to write speeches about how important culture is, so it’s difficult to disagree with the main points in the report. But what’s important is how political goals are followed up. The report states that goals must be followed up, but she’s not willing to use the money needed to reach those goals.”

Grande insisted that the report aims to highlight “overall goals” for more concrete reports that will follow, for example on media policy and financial grants for artists. “We haven’t gone through all the cultural areas in Norway point by point,” Grande conceded. “I hope that those who aren’t specifically mentioned understand that they are mentioned, on an overall level.”

Given the recent regional reform in Norway that’s merging counties and making them much larger, Grande expects them to take on more responsibility for culture and their share of financing. More details of that will come later.

The report lists nine overall goals: to create art and cultural impressions “of highest quality,” to promote education and critical reflection, to take care of and promote Norway’s cultural heritage, to create and promote cultural offerings that represent the public, that art and culture be available for all, to offer gathering places for artists, to renew and restructure cultural institutions when needed, to promote cultural understanding internationally and to strengthen the Norwegian language, the Sami language, national minority languages and Norwegian sign language as a foundation for culture.

Grande noted on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the Norwegian language and culture can feel threatened by globalization, but she urged Norwegians to see globalization as an opportunity, and a means of exporting Norwegian culture.

“Our culture policy must actively contribute towards everyone feeling they have equal opportunities to express themselves, and to experience art and culture of the highest quality,” Grande said. Her main goal was to define culture’s role in society, which she believes is of the utmost importance. Concrete plans and projects will come later.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund