Culture ministers: Nordic co-operation more important than ever

05.05.21 | News
Libia Castro & Ólafur Ólafsson
Photographer
Libia Castro & Ólafur Ólafsson

In Search for Magic in the Reykjavík Art Museum, Hafnarhúsið, in October 2020. A project by the artists Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson, which received funding from the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Culture and Arts Programme and the Nordic Culture Fund.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the culture and media sector was high on the agenda at the first meeting in 2021 of the Nordic Council of Ministers for Culture. The ministers also agreed on budget priorities for the future.

After an extraordinary year for the cultural sector in all of the Nordic countries, the agenda for the meeting of the Nordic Council of Ministers for Culture (MR-K) on Tuesday included two high-profile reports on the culture and media sector and the pandemic. COVID-19 has had a major impact on culture, and all of the Nordic countries have introduced wide-ranging support packages.

“The adaptability of artists and others involved in culture and the media has been impressive under difficult conditions. The reports identify areas of cultural policy in which it is extra-important to keep Nordic co-operation going – it is more important than ever,” says Annika Saarikko, the Finnish Minister of Science and Culture, who chairs the MR-K in 2021. 

The ministers commissioned Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg and the Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy Analysis/Telemark Research Institute to write the reports and provide fresh information about highly topical policy needs at both national and Nordic level.  To address the challenges posed by the pandemic, the ministers earmarked funds for a follow-up analysis of actual changes in the Nordic cultural sectors’ cultural-policy goals, funding schemes and budget structures.

Focus still on funding for the whole cultural sector

The ministers also discussed priorities for the Nordic culture budget. The decision by the Ministers for Nordic Co-operation to reprioritise resources in pursuit of the vision of making the Nordic Region the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030 will mean a cut of 20% in the total budget for cultural co-operation in the period 2020–2024.

“Of course, this is not an easy process, but we agreed on a proposal for priorities that all of countries can support. A smaller budget means that activities that have generated positive results for Nordic cultural co-operation will not be included in next year’s budget,” Saarikko says.

“It is important for my Nordic colleagues and for me to make it clear that this is about a compromise and not a sign of dissatisfaction with those affected. Unfortunately, the budget savings pose challenges for all concerned. We want to protect the open funding programmes from big savings as far as possible – they are important, particularly in the situation in which the cultural sector finds itself due to the pandemic.”

The formal decision on the Nordic Council of Ministers’ total budget for 2022 will be taken by the Ministers for Co-operation at the start of November. The savings announced in the culture budget for the year are a result of the proposal for the overall budget.

Close co-operation on culture is the way forward to 2030

The culture ministers are determined to continue close policy co-operation despite the budget constraints. The recently published co-operation program for 2021–2024 sets the framework for culture as a driving force for sustainable development in the Nordic Region. Dialogue between people, organisations, companies and sectors will be crucial to reduce the distances forced on them by the pandemic. 

“Culture is an important bridge-builder across Nordic borders. The fact that we live in different parts of the Nordic Region but meet and get to know each other in our everyday lives via film, music and art is crucial to realising the vision of being the most integrated region in the world. Cultural exchanges also help in times that require change, such as the work on the green transition and during the ongoing pandemic,” says Paula Lehtomäki, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers.