"During the interbellum period, Swedish cultural policy could be viewed as a part of a wider policy intended to change the culture of the Swedish people, using arts and culture – as well as formal education – as tools to create a cultural re-awakening, deepening democracy. The core perspective of Arthur Engberg, the minister responsible for cultural policy 1932–1939, can be summarized as a view of cultural policy as a process of bildning directed at the entire people, focusing on the cultural re-awakening of the working classes and the re-connection of the arts to the people of the nation. Engberg was also an example of a politician without a firm footing in the culture and education organizations which were already forming in the popular movements. Together with his respect for high art, this appears to have influenced his policies and thus the early part of the establishment phase of Swedish cultural policy, making it more focused at the central institutions of cultural policy and less focused on existing popular movements than it could otherwise have been. During the second half of the century, cultural policy largely became a support system for professional arts and culture, aiming to enable the entire population to gain access to the high quality arts produced by these, in that particular sense continuing this folkbildning project. Yet, the ambition to use explicit cultural policy as a part of a wider policy directed at changing the culture of a nation through popular enlightenment has continued to reoccur in Swedish cultural policies. It appears that approaches institutionalized during the formative period of the 1930’s continued to guide Swedish cultural policy in a path dependent way for a considerable period of time.
Folkbildning has – in the context of cultural policy documents and discussions – gone from being the general aim of cultural policy to becoming a term referring specifically to the activities of study associations and folk high schools. Cultural policy and folkbildning have thus been both separated, becoming distinct fields of organization and government policy, and narrowed down through a process of institutionalization. This separation between, on the one hand, an explicit cultural policy focusing on established cultural institutions and, on the other hand, the popular movement organizations associated with folkbildning, appears to be a clear case of path dependency established when Social Democratic cultural policy ideas were operationalized by Engberg with a focus on the established institutions.
Over the last few decades, we may have seen a new trend, where cultural policy has begun to see the established art forms and government-supported institutional culture as parts of a larger cultural field – including the commercial expressions of culture which earlier cultural policies worked actively to counteract, or even to suppress – but also viewing active participation in culture (as opposed to being a passive audience of cultural events) as something that the citizens should be gaining access to.
The general aim of cultural policy and folkbildning have become less of a process of societal transformation and more of a support for, on the one hand, the professional arts field and the institutions of cultural policy, and, on the other hand, the individual development of members of the public, thus, in a sense, returning from Engberg’s concept of folkbildning as a transformative process on the societal level, to something closer to the original notion of Bildung as a process of personal development within the context of the arts and the public sphere. Yet, central aspects of folkbildning – in a broader sense than in Engberg’s interpretation – are retained and developed in that the ambition, in both cultural policy and in the study associations, remains to extend opportunities for personal growth to everyone by offering access to a wide range of cultural experiences (that may or may not be judged in relation to quality or depth of experience). Even the ambition to politically activate those taking part is often retained, sometimes even with the ambition to alter the cultural attitudes of the population at large. The cultural policies of the Sweden Democrats remain an exception in this context, focusing more clearly on changing Swedish culture according to a pre-decided vision, a view which at least superficially appears to have more in common with other Swedish cultural policies in the 1930s than in the present.
In this context, it is hardly surprising that the role of quality – and of bildning in a classical academic sense – have both been questioned and defended. In spite of recent changes, national cultural policy in Sweden has remained focused on supporting professional arts and institutional culture, largely bound by the path dependency established in the mid-20th century. Quality remains a central goal. This situation is only rarely questioned. The path dependency is enforced both by the norms of the cultural policy field and by the investments made in its currently dominant institutions and organizations since Engberg’s time (and, in the case of the institutions already supported by the state at that time, since much earlier). A tension is thus created between, on the one hand, a concept of quality based in established institutions and fields and, on the other hand, a view of culture as a larger field of expressions, which are ascribed value primarily by the wide spectrum of experience which they offer. In this context, proponents of established forms of culture may have to argue that they offer a deeper level of experience, but whether this, or other, arguments will be convincing remains to be seen. The same is true of whether bildning and folkbildning will remain central concepts in Swedish cultural policy and, if so, if they will develop in a more individualistic and/or civil society oriented direction.