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Articles tagged “sweden

Reflections on Scandinavia II

Posted on September 26, 2013

It is here that I reference my experience in Scandinavia, where I spent a summer moving through Sweden and Finland meeting curators, academics, policymakers, businessmen, artists, and mostly importantly, the Scandinavians. The Scandinavian model is internationally revered in its successful implementation of the social welfare system; a system that brings about virtuous cycles of trust in its communities apart from the nuts and bolts of the system that involves high taxes on citizen’s annual incomes to fund systems such as national education, healthcare systems, and strong maternity packages, to name a few. The nations share an entangled history of overlapping geographies and languages, travelling along tangents but ultimately carving out their own respective independence. It is precisely this acute combination of shared histories, geographies and cultural influences that allow for comparison and critique. Despite the many similarities, Sweden and Finland stand far apart in the state of their art markets at present day.

Paimio Sanatorium by Alvar Aalto

Paimio Sanatorium by Alvar Aalto

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Reflections on Scandinavia

Posted on August 21, 2013

Cultural production, cultural policy and the free market economy are largely intertwined, where some may view the partnership of production and policy as a more democratic process and others, freedom as what begins only after the basic right to the arts is established by the state. Before plunging into the discussion of the dynamic and praxis, let us begin by establishing the relationship between the 2 forces and how it has developed to give us what we have today.

Part 1 of this essay will examine the reasons for the existence of cultural policy; while part 2 explores the realization of these policies across the Scandinavian region, in particular Sweden and Finland.

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The initial freedom of the free market

In his essay ‘Designing A Cultural Policy’, Professor of Communications and Media Studies Dr. Justin Lewis states,

“there are moments in the lives of the cultural industries when the free market may give birth to a dynamic range of cultural forms and expressions”.

These moments are exceptionally apparent in times such as the Industrial Revolution, where abundance in machinery, technology, and labor come together to provide a large range of goods and services that the community can tap into. As we look into the significance of such a time in the larger scheme, we come to realize that often, such moments are precisely those that signify the birth of an economy. An example that embodies this is the amalgamation of the 1960s baby boomers: technological advancement and growth coupled with general economic prosperity that engendered the pop culture and music movements in the global Northwest, in where we saw the birth of The Beatles and the likes. The large base of youths allowed for an experiment-friendly environment for art and cultural production; where novelty met curiosity, and curiosity met novelty, and the free market was as free as one could imagine. Under such circumstances, it may seem as though the free market forces are paired strongly with arts and cultural production to give rise to a wholly efficient society.

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Konstfack exhibition Photo: Flickr, eifp

Echoing the Swedish design experience

Posted on March 29, 2013

Previously we had a top-level overview of the Swedish design industry and how it’s been affected by globalization in “Globalization and the Swedish Design Economy”, while “Ties that bind the Swedish design ecosystem” offered insights on the vibrant design ecosystem in Sweden. Both articles left lingering questions on educational systems and various lessons applicable to countries, in the hope of creating a more mature creative industry. We shall attempt to answer them in this article.

While interviewing a few Swedes during the course of penning the articles, equality was a common theme among the answers given. More than just equality in governance, Swedes also expect equality in the workplace and at home.

“There is a social norm to treat all people with equal respect and deference, and generally say what you really think while expecting others to do the same. To say no is not a bad thing but quite the opposite!” says Maria Eriksson, currently the Partnership Director for Hyper Island (a Swedish tertiary institution specializing in digital media).

The disparity in power distance within the workplace in many parts of Asia, including Singapore, is apparent. A survey conducted by cultural pyshologist Gert Hofstede on global IBM employees in Singapore indicates employees scoring high on the Power Distance Index (PDI). The sample size was taken at a time when majority of its employees were ethnic Chinese. Other Asian countries that are within the same range would be Indonesia and China, while Malaysia and Philippines have even wider power distances.

Countries with the higest Power Distance Index. Source: clearlycultural.com

Countries with the higest Power Distance Index. Source: clearlycultural.com

Quoting the summary report, “Power is centralized and managers rely on their bosses and on rules. Employees expect to be told what to do. Control is expected and attitude towards managers is formal. Communication is indirect and the information flow is selective.”

Oz Dean, Creative Director of Digital Arts Network, a division of TBWA Tequila\Singapore, mentioned during a joint workshop session, “I try to make our meetings as collaborative as possible but sometimes, it’s hard to get the junior creatives to speak up even when I encourage them to.”

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Ties that bind the Swedish design ecosystem

Posted on March 22, 2013

Previously, we had a top level overview of the Swedish design industry and how it has been affected by globalization. In the following article, we shall explore the various stakeholders of the vibrant design ecosystem in Sweden. You may read the first article titled, “Globalization and the Swedish Design Economy”.

Folkhem (the people’s home). Sometimes referred to as “the Swedish Middle Way”, where capitalism and socialism reaches a compromise. Folkhem is a political concept that played a pivotal role in the history of the Swedish Democratic Party and the Swedish welfare state since the post-war period after World War I. Its ideals are founded on the belief that the entire society ought to be like a small family, where everybody contributes.

In 1919, Gregor Paulsson, general director of Svenska Slöjdföreningen (The Swedish Society of Crafts & Design) published his seminal text Vackrare Vardagsvara (More Beautiful Everyday Things). The text firmly advocated that, “Design should be part of everyone, every day and every detail. Every Swede should be able to enjoy well designed products.”

Paradise Restaurant in 1930 Photo: Wikipedia

Paradise Restaurant in 1930 Photo: Wikipedia

Paulsson’s beliefs were immortalized in the Stockholm exhibition he led in 1930 as Director General. Over the summer, the event reportedly registered over 4 million visitors, some travelling from as far as the USA. For many Swedes it was their first contact with Modernism. The works on exhibit were a collaboration between art and industry, a first during that era. The alliance resulted in a collection of affordable and well-designed Swedish home goods made for day-to-day living.

Ellen Key, a prominent Swedish writer, previously wrote in her book Skönheit för Alla (Beauty for All) published in 1899,

“Design is a designer’s oath to society. A designer bears the responsibility to create beautiful and functional home furnishing for every home. Their prime target audience should be every Swede, so that they [the Swedish people] may enjoy the fruits of labor found in good design.”

Though Paulsson and Key have never met, their ideas represented the Swedish culture of its time where home, family and society comes before self. Where everyone is taken care of in a welfare state and has access to free healthcare and free education.

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IKEA
Photo: Flickr, yasuhirotao

Globalization and the Swedish Design Economy

Posted on February 21, 2013

The following series of articles draws heavy reference from a Taiwanese book, published in 2009, titled ‘Swedish Design Economics: What Taiwan can learn from the success and challenges of the Swedish design industry‘. In preparation for writing the book, author Max Wang had interviewed over 50 Swedish companies and designers. Some are current faculty members of 3 universities in Sweden or members of trade organisations in the design industry.

Sweden’s brand of design is often closely associated with the distinctly Scandinavian decor that fills the halls of every IKEA showroom in major cities around the world. Like many Asian countries, Sweden is primarily an export-driven economy; one that has built known international brands like H&M, Sony Ericsson, and Volvo over the last few decades. It is also currently the 3rd largest exporter of music after USA and the UK, with Swedish pop music group, ABBA, paving the way since the 1970s.

Its capital city, Stockholm, is widely recognised as one of the top design capitals of the world and is currently the 3rd largest exporter of European furniture after Italy and UK. A considerable feat for a nation that was once considered one of Europe’s poorest countries before the First World War

Part of the Arctic Circle region, Sweden’s summer nights are short and winter days are often dark with little daylight; forcing many of its citizens to spend most of their time at home outside of work. Its modest population of just slightly over 9 million represents a small but affluent domestic market. In 2006 alone, Sweden spent $320 billion kroner (~US$58.7 billion) on furniture and home decor with a population of just 6 million people then. On average, that’s about $53k kroner (or ~US$9800) per person. More than half of that spending went to furniture giant IKEA, which has the largest market share in Sweden for furniture goods.

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