Culture is not just the icing on the cake, or some fine words in a speech, but rather the heartbeat of society, claims Director General, Susanna Pettersson. Here she writes about the role of culture in society and compares the Nordic countries' cultural initiatives.
Congratulations to our Norwegian neighbours on the opening of the new National Museum in Oslo – 54,600 square metres of art, design and architecture. Large, spacious galleries for the permanent collections, and one-of-a-kind spaces for temporary exhibitions. Conservation studios, offices and storage space. Museum visitors have the Norwegian government and the city of Oslo to thank for their commitment to putting the arts front and centre.
Oslo now has a major art, design and architecture museum to complement the city’s other recent signature buildings such as the opera house (2007), the Deichman library (2019) and Munch (2021), a museum dedicated to the works of Edvard Munch. What does this signify?
It’s not just about exhibition space and spectacular architecture. It’s about courage and ideas, creativity and innovation, the traditional and the unexpected. About protecting, preserving, exhibiting and utilising cultural heritage. About society’s relationship with culture, culture’s impact on identity, and identity’s role and significance in human wellbeing. The value of culture to society is becoming more visible, with many positive consequences. Oslo has become an attractive and prominent cultural destination.
Interesting projects are under way in the other Nordic capitals too. In Copenhagen, Designmuseum Danmark has just reopened after a major renovation. Helsinki is home to several high-profile projects: the award-winning Oodi Helsinki Central Library (2018) and the subterranean Amos Rex art museum (2018). An extension to the National Museum of Finland (archaeology and cultural history) is expected to be completed in the next few years. And the current Museum of Finnish Architecture and Design Museum, currently operating in old, ill-suited premises, are to come together under one roof in a modern museum building scheduled to open around 2026.
So what’s the situation in Stockholm? We have Liljevalchs+ (2020) and plans for a Nobel Center at Stadsgårdskajen. Nationalmuseum has been renovated (2018) and renovation of the opera house is on the cards. But beyond that? What are the collective ambitions of the city, the government and the private sector for arts and culture in Stockholm and, by extension, across Sweden? Culture is not just the icing on the cake, or some fine words in a speech, but rather – as I am always saying – the heartbeat of society.
In its strategy document, the city of Stockholm says: “Urbanisation is leading to increased importance for Stockholm as an economic, political, cultural and environmental hub at local, national and international level”. The city’s cultural strategy programme sets out strategies for collaboration in various areas: around urban development, around education, with central and regional government and academia, around the cultural and creative sector, and around tourism. The text begins with pointed words: “Stockholm flourishes through culture. Art, culture and the creative industries are important reasons why people, talent and businesses choose to visit or locate in Stockholm.” A little further on it says: “When everyone has the opportunity to share in cultural experiences and develop their creative abilities, this contributes in the long run to a more sustainable society in line with Agenda 2030.”
And that’s just it. The key thing is that we all enjoy ourselves and feel welcome. To offer a generous range of cultural platforms. It’s a good idea to look around and start asking questions. Are we doing enough? And what we are doing – are we doing it well enough?
//Susanna Pettersson, Director General, Nationalmuseum