ASSITEJ Sweden advocates for children and young peoples’ right to culture

Published on 17 May 2022

An informal conversation between the Chairman of ASSITEJ Sweden, Michael Cocke and Sweden’s Minister of Culture, Jeanette Gustafsdotter occurred today within the premises of the Helsingborg’s Konserthus. The initiative, which was embedded within Bibu / ASSITEJ Artistic Gathering 2022’s programme, was driven by an inquisition into the Swedish Government’s cultural policy goals and the system in which they enable children and young people the right to culture in schools and, in particular, performing arts.

In January 2020, the EU Convention on the Rights of the Child became Swedish law. According to the convention, all children have a right to participate in arts and cultural life in all its forms and also the right to their own cultural creation.

However, a report by ASSITEJ Sweden included a survey about children and young people’s access to performing arts in public schools which indicates that access to culture is unequal and the system between state, regions and municipalities isn’t adequate.

“The issue is that in Sweden, we have a cultural policy goal for all children to have the right to culture through school, yet there is no system in Sweden that secures this right,” explained Cocke.

Indicating that culture is provided on different terms within private schools who rely on parents’ decisions, Cocke also revealed that there are no existing statistics or analyses that check whether the current system works or not, and estimated this as a priority. “That’s what we were discussing here today, we proposed cultural policy measures, inspired by Norway and Denmark which have functioning systems with high achievements and continuous statistical data. We want one national system that is more effective,” he added.

“The issue is that in Sweden, we have a cultural policy goal for all children to have the right to culture through school, yet there is no system in Sweden that secures this right”

Michael Cocke, Chairman of ASSITEJ Sweden
Michael Cocke stands on stage with Minister of Culture, Jeanette Gustafsdotter, as they discuss the future of children and young people’s rights to culture

Later on in the day and at the opening ceremony of Bibu / ASSITEJ Artistic Gathering 2022, the Minister of Culture, who was also invited to address the ceremony, said that “children and young people are a high priority within the national cultural policy and I know that this is also a priority in our regions”. She went on to acknowledge the importance of performing arts for younger ages and the contribution they make to the cultural world. “Through a broad supply of Performing Arts for children and young people, more culture is created for more people. This is also of importance for the future of the cultural sector. Efforts must be made to broaden participation on stage, in production and among the audience,” she added.

She also recognised the involvement of schools in developing and providing access to performing arts to younger audiences. “Having access to role models can inspire young people to choose artistic professions. Many performing arts actors all over Sweden, both within the independent sector and cultural institutions, are working to develop activities for younger audiences. This often happens in cooperations with schools. Schools are of paramount importance as a platform to reach out, with performing arts, to children and young people, regardless of factors such as socio economic backgrounds,” said Gustafsdotter.

Reflecting on the discussion earlier on in the day, Cocke said that the Minister’s response to their discussion was a positive one. “I believe that she has decided to do this investigation (to look into wether the system is working and create concrete data that provides feedback), that’s very positive, I think she’s very new (in government), but I think that from her heart, she believes that this is important. The problem has to do with how to find a solution and how to address regions and municipalities, but this has to be the first step,” he concluded.

“The absence of performing arts, experiences during the pandemic has, unfortunately, increased the cultural class differences, which I find completely unacceptable”

Jeanette Gustafsdotter, Swedish Minister of Culture

In her speech, the Minister of Culture highlighted the impact the pandemic has had on the performing arts sector in particular, but also admitted that access to performing arts for children and young people has always been unequal. “Even before the pandemic, unfortunately, there was an unequal access to the performing arts for children and young people. The absence of performing arts, experiences during the pandemic has, unfortunately, increased the cultural class differences, which I find completely unacceptable,” said Gustafsdotter.

Melissa Hekkers is a freelance journalist and author.
Her most recent book, Amir’s Blue Elephant, is a creative non-fiction based on her experiences working with refugees, in Lesvos, Greece. In 2018, she launched My Cyprus Mandala, an interactive educational book series on the natural and cultural heritage of Cyprus. In 2007, she published her first children’s book ‘Crocodile’, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. Her second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (2012) was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. Her third children’s book ‘Pupa’ (2014) was adapted as a theatre play in 2019.