Diversity of cultural expression and artistic freedom are core themes of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ strategy for Nordic Cultural co-operation, The Intercultural Nordic Region. Secretary General for the Nordic Council of Ministers, Dagfinn Hoybraten said that “we must never take our freedom for granted. It must be defended as well as nurtured.”
One way to protect artistic expression is to challenge the view that treats art as an expense to society. The Nordic Council of Ministers also aims to improve the mobility of artists and cultural professionals to help maintain diverse ideas and values.
Maintaining diverse values in art might be a difficult task. The top reasons for restricting artistic expression, according to UNESCO, are political views, traditional or religious values, offence or insult and insults against state symbols.
Sweden’s Minister for Culture and Democracy, Alice Bah Kuhnke said culture should not compromise its values.
“All cultural expressions should be free, to the extent that they don’t break the law,” stated Kuhnke. I don’t think we, as the government, should decide on what culture is good enough. Culture’s supposed to make you feel something.”
Preserving Cultural Diversity
Some countries have policies that limit the influence of foreign cultures to protect local values. However, Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova argued that preserving culture should not be a reason to limit the freedom of expression.
“We don’t want culture to disappear, we want cultural diversity,” Bokova said.
“This is why you have to invest in your own culture,” added cultural minister of Iceland Illugi Gunnarsson. “If you try to close yourself from the world… you quickly become a museum.”
Kuhnke emphasized the importance of monetary investments. She said the Swedish government invests in artists and the civil society, so the artists can better support themselves.
Challenges to Artistic Freedom
Despite attempts to support culture and the arts, artistic freedom is facing challenges internationally. Challenges include gender inequality, threats and harassment towards artists, and copyrights issues.
Freemuse, an international NGO defending artistic freedom, stated in a report called Art Under Threat that there were 469 cases of censorship and attacks on artists and violations of their rights in 2015. It was the worst recorded year yet.
“The survival of artists is at stake,” said film director and music producer Deeyah Khan.
Artists’ right to get paid is also an issue, though Khan emphasized that freedom should be prioritized. Before the artists are able to freely express themselves, they can’t earn money from their art in any case.
Khan also argued that international solidarity is important to show support to persecuted artists. “We hear you, what you are doing, what you are sacrificing, we acknowledge that.”
Text: Jennifer Sidharta
Photo: Hannele Kauppinen