Susanna Pettersson reflects on her five years as director general at Nationalmuseum and rises a few thoughts about the museum's future.
It has been five years since I took up the position of director general at Nationalmuseum. And what a time it’s been! We have promoted art and design as essential to people’s lives, and we were chosen to be Sweden’s Museum of the Year in 2022. We have achieved a great deal – something to be really proud of. It is now time for me to move on, but before I do, I would like to reflect on a few issues surrounding the way forward for Nationalmuseum.
Nationalmuseum has venues at Blasieholmen in Stockholm, the Gustavsberg Porcelain Museum, Jamtli in Östersund, Läckö Castle and Gripsholm Castle, as well as digital platforms. In a typical year, we reach 1–1.5 million in-person visitors and 7–8 million online visitors. We have presented some of our exhibitions abroad and produced some impressive international touring exhibitions, in which I take great pride. We continue to reach new target audiences and have a world-class educational programme. Research, an activity close to my heart, has gained visibility and status. Investment in research is an investment in the future. Our externally funded Young Scholars programme, which offers recent graduates the opportunity to pursue short research projects, is one example of an initiative that supports research and invests in knowledge.
Cultural heritage in the event of emergency
The war in Ukraine has shown how important it is for us in Sweden to appreciate the value of our cultural heritage. However, many discussions with civil servants, politicians and experts have demonstrated how the complex but crucially important issues around the protection of cultural heritage are not really considered a priority in Sweden. This is a rather alarming state of affairs. The government, the city of Stockholm and various public bodies need to be ready to work together when we are dealing with, in the case of Nationalmuseum, one of Europe’s most important and valuable art and design collections. Certain measures need to be implemented speedily. The government needs to recognise that:
1) Cultural heritage must be included in emergency preparedness planning by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB).
2) protective legislation must be updated to cover cultural heritage institutions.
3) funding must be allocated to ensure that Nationalmuseum’s collections can be kept safe and secure for future generations.
Nationalmuseum reopened in October 2018 after major renovations costing around SEK 1.3 billion. When I took over as director general in August 2018, I drew attention to the structural deficit in Nationalmuseum’s budget. I asked why the museum had been renovated at great expense if there was no funding available – at all – for our operations. Our budget allocation from central government barely covers our fixed costs (rent and payroll), and we have to obtain external funding for all activities, including exhibitions, educational programmes and lectures. In order to keep going, we have made various savings: terminating office leases, laying off staff, reducing the number of exhibitions, closing for an extra day each week, and seeking to reduce expenses wherever possible. This is no longer sustainable. We need an increase of SEK 40 million in our annual budget allocation to eliminate the structural deficit and ensure that the museum can keep its doors open.
It’s worth mentioning that, in a historic first, all the national galleries in the Nordic countries are hiring new directors in the same calendar year. It goes without saying that the competition to recruit suitably qualified candidates is tougher than ever.
Culture as a superpower
In spite of all the economic challenges, we must remember that Nationalmuseum has one of the finest collections in Europe and highly qualified, knowledgeable staff. There is enormous potential. I cannot imagine a better place to work, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity, over the past five years, to play my part in taking Nationalmuseum to the next level nationally and internationally.
Thank you to everyone I have had the pleasure of meeting, to all our kind supporters, and to all our visitors.
//Susanna Pettersson, Director General, Nationalmuseum