Cross-border exchange

10 april 2024

Sara Edström, the chairperson of the Artists’ Association of Sweden, as well as the vice-chairperson of IAA (International Association of Art), was invited to write an article for the German magazine Kultur Politik, which is the German equivalent of our magazine Konstnären. The theme for the first issue this year is Cross-border exchange, and here you can read Sara's text about how The Artists’ Association of Sweden works internationally.

One could think that from my perspective, looking out over the world from a small town in the cold and snowy north close to the Arctic Circle, I would feel somewhat isolated from whatever is considered to be the epicentre of contemporary art.

To be fair, even in a Swedish context, it is a bit extreme up here. Not only the weather conditions which can give us minus 40 degrees and polar nights, but also the sparsely populated vast geography.

But I am happy to say that never before in my 55 years of living and working as an artist in my hometown of Luleå have I experienced such a boom of interest directed toward the issues we are facing here. I am not happy in the sense of finally getting our “fifteen minutes of fame” in the constantly changing attention span of the art world. No, it is that kind of relief you feel when people who are not directly affected in their own daily lives and filter bubbles actually start to connect the dots you have been pointing at for so long. We are all connected, and whatever is happening to the people, the land, the environment in one part of the world has everything to do with what is happening elsewhere.

I am an artist and organiser of art events here in the north, but I am also the president of the Artists’ Association of Sweden as well as vice president of the International Association of Art Europe. In the Swedish context, our prioritised questions are always to better the working conditions for artists. But parallel to negotiating a new exhibition fee agreement, establishing a new system for calculating sickness benefits for self-employed artists, ensuring that the so-called 1% rule is applied (that 1% of the building costs should go to public art) and all these ongoing questions that step by step ensures that artists can do their job under good conditions, we are also constantly forced to go back to square one and defend the mere existence of art and artists in our society. The rapidly changing political landscape in Sweden, with the rise of populist and nationalist political parties, is something we unfortunately have in common with a lot of countries in Europe and globally. This is very troublesome in many regards, and of course, from our perspective as artists, we are very concerned about what this means for artistic freedom and freedom of speech.

But because we are all connected, we also have this capability to strengthen each other across borders. As the times are getting more and more harsh, we need to learn from our peers’ best practices; we need to stand in solidarity and back each other in our separate struggles nationally as well as our mutual struggle to better the conditions for artists all over the world.

The exchange between sister organisations across Europe is of utmost importance, and the work within the IAA Europe is based on the firm belief that:

“Art is a basic human right and one of the essential services that the society must provide to its citizens. Art is a form and platform of critical discussion that maintains and improves democracy”.

I was honoured to be invited by IGBK to give a talk in their ongoing seminar series “Visual Artists I Diverse Conditions” in November last year, and the collaboration between The Artists’ Association of Sweden and IGBK, as well as IAA Europe, will continue in 2024 and hopefully thereafter. We at The Artists’ Association of Sweden are also continually meeting our Nordic neighbours who have a similar cultural political structure as we do in Sweden.

Global collaboration is more of a challenge, but nonetheless important. Sofia de la Fuente from our Swedish board is a member of the executive committee of IAA World/AIAP, and tells me about how even the most practical issues can be a challenge, like finding a time to meet that suits both the president of IAA/AIAP who is in Korea and the board member Marta Yglesias across many time zones in Costa Rica, and all the other members in between.

Unfortunately, it is often our limited resources as an organisation that hinder us from doing more international exchange projects. That is why it’s so important for us to also join initiatives like Art Nexus, which is a peer-to-peer project organised by The Swedish Arts Grant Committee and SIDA (The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency). This collaboration is now ongoing with artists and art organisations in Albania and Armenia. We are also active in a UNESCO initiative in Sweden calling for artistic freedom within the academic and cultural fields.

It is also evident that a lot of issues regarding artists’ financial situation across the world are impacted by the major international companies that benefit from online content created by artists. It is, therefore, a very global struggle to stand up for our immaterial rights and impact legislation and negotiate collective agreements that ensure fair payment for us. And fair payment is crucial to ensure that artists are safe and feel free to express themselves without fear of repercussions.

We are all connected, and this is what strengthens us.

Here is the publication in pdf-form.


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