Diversity in Danish Art? Interview with the Minister of Culture

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Read Time:5 Minute, 32 Second

By Augusta Atla
9th of May 2022. Published in Danish in KUNSTEN.NU
(Portrait of the Danish Minister of Culture, Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen. Photo by Augusta Atla. 2022. The artwork in the background is by Malene Landgren)

Can Ministry of Culture Denmark set new standards for gender diversity in Danish art, thereby placing Denmark in equal footing the countries such as England and France? The artist Augusta Atla asked the Minister of Culture, Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen how ambitious she is vis-à-vis diversity and government subsidy.

Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen, you have just returned from the Venice Biennale. I’m really looking forward to seeing it myself, since it heralds a new era in terms of diversity.

Yes, and, when it comes to the gender and diversity debate, this year’s Biennale is a landmark one. It focuses on women artists and is also showing works by women artists who never got their just deserts in their lifetime. It’s a fantastic experience.

It also shows that you have been appointed a minister in a new age. In the past 5 years, it has become increasingly less impermissible to talk about gender and diversity.

Yes. Five years ago, the very first discussions, including political ones, started on the subject of whether we should even acknowledge the existence of the problem. That has changed. Now we no longer have to ask: ‘Does the problem exist?’ We can go one step further and talk more about how to solve it politically. This interview is about visual art, but my job is also to look at all the other branches of culture. 

Now, given the art in it, your office also represents a set of values. Did you make any changes to the interior decoration when you moved into your new ministerial office?

Yes. The first thing I did was to ask to have Malene Landgren’s painting in here.

I assume that a Minister of Culture is interested in arts and culture. How did your interest in art and culture start? 

Even as a small child in a small town in North Jutland, I was interested in culture, sports, music and the performing arts. Then, as I grew up, my interests expanded to the other fields of culture – visual arts, design, architecture, fashion, film and literature etc.

Looking at the position of Minister of Culture, historically, it is one of the only ministerial posts that since 1961 has been 50/50 in terms of gender distribution. Is equality an important policy area for you in your ministerial post? 

Ever since my mid-teens, equality has been important to me. When I started out in youth politics, my mantra was: ‘No one is going to make me part of a quota.’ So, it didn’t take me long before I detected that there was some structural issues that have nothing to do with how bright you are or how hard you work. And yes, we also need to come up with some structural answers, just to get to rock bottom and find some sort of balance. When I first got to the point where I was elected to parliament, it had been a long time since I had recognised that there were certain gender-discriminatory habits around.
I never actively pursued a position in culture. During my time in the Danish Parliament, I have mainly worked in the Finance Committee, the Tax Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Employment Committee – committees that are not know traditionally for the presence of women. There is still no equality there. 

What is your goal in terms of boosting diversity or equality during your time as Minister of Culture?

Using the current momentum is a huge task. At every level of society, we are acknowledging that: ‘No. Denmark does not have full equality. We haven’t got there.’ In other words, because of this collective new consciousness, there is also new scope for actually doing something.

Each in their own way, exemplary countries such as England and France have introduced diversity requirements in terms of how the government subsidises cultural life. Could the Ministry of Culture introduce a new requirement for reporting on diversity data, in terms of operating subsidy for the visual arts?

The short answer is yes. We could certainly come up with some new initiatives. ‘What’s the diversity situation like for you?’ Take the Danish Film Institute, for example. They’re already doing this in terms of film funding. The DFI’s new diversity and gender call for subsidy. We are considering doing the same for the state-subsidised part of the art industry.

Regarding the acquisition of art for state-subsidised museums. Might it be possible for Ministry of Culture Denmark to present this diversity online, thereby centralising and making public knowledge about diversity? 

Yes, visibility is one of the measures that might be relevant. And yes, I’m very open to centralising knowledge about data publicly. 

How does one amend purchases by art museums and existing art collections, which are still biased towards benefiting male artists? It is no longer possible to claim that there were no women artists before 1970. There were women artists in Europe way back in the 15th century. And in the Nordic region way back in the 18th century.

There is no equality, even in the cultural world. This situation has become so ingrained over the years, that some places aren’t even aware of it. So, we need to shed light on it and pave the way for change. Openness and visibility in areas where the figures are skew can in themselves help drive change.

I mean concretely. For example, can the Minister of Culture envisage incorporating gender and diversity recommendations for state-recognised museums in relation to their programme, repertoire and staff? 

I am believe strongly in the premise that we need to be aware of the biases before we can do anything about them. Data is our principal indicator.  But things should look different ten years down the line.

Could you imagine creating a new, state-subsidised ‘diversity’ award awarded to museum directors for the diversity of their programmes? That would also encourage museum programmes that promoted diversity. Or an annual honorary award for a living woman artist, who has proved excellent, like the one the Whitechapel Gallery in London came up with?

Basically, right now there is the moment to actually to do some of these things. And yes, something has to happen. I am fully aware that there are no excuses anymore with regard to diversity and quality.

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