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"It could come true": visions for the future of artistic research - with Efva Lilja

In the video below, artist and choreographer Efva Lilja talks about future visions for artistic research:

About Efva Lilja

Efva Lilja is a Swedish artist and choreographer with a global reach. Her works include performances, visual art, film and writing, often described as innovative and controversial. Her choreographic sequences represent imagery meant to challenge our perception of reality. Some of her most celebrated works were produced for art institutions such as Centre Georges Pompidouin Paris, The Stockholm Museum of Modern Art and The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, but she is also highly recognized for experimental site specifics and research-based works in galleries and at alternative venues. After having worked as a dancer and choreographer in Sweden, Britain and the US, Efva Lilja founded E.L.D., an independent dance company based in Stockholm, in 1985. For twenty years, she was the Choreographer and Artistic Director of E.L.D., producing and presenting works in more than 35 countries. In 2003 she was appointed Professor of Choreography and from 2006 to 2013 she was the Vice-Chancellor of DOCH, the University of Dance and Circus in Stockholm. In 2014 she was the expert advisor on artistic research at the Ministry of Education and Research in Sweden. From 2016 until May 2019 Efva Lilja was the Artistic Director of Dansehallerne in Copenhagen, Denmark’s national forum and venue for contemporary dance. Efva Lilja is the author of eleven books and a lecturer in great demand world-wide. She has been decorated and received a number of prizes and awards.

"It could come true" - text by Efva Lilja

The ministers of finance and business are preparing a major business initiative ahead of the Swedish government’s annual budget proposal. The initiative involves strategic investment in radical changes to the industrial infrastructure. What do we want Swedish industry and its global offshoots to look like in the future? Culture Inspiration has been taken from recent years’ entrepreneurial successes that have made the world sit up and look to Sweden in expectation. There is creativity and innovation, and unemployment has fallen to record low levels. The successes are a direct consequence of a broader cultural policy drive in which the arts have been identified as an area of major significance. The minister of culture is therefore consulted early on in the budget preparations.

It is agreed that the strategy should be discussed at a symposium attended by a group of artists, philosophers, sociologists and business leaders. This is to ensure that the plans will genuinely benefit society, which is the very purpose of politics. The plans will be discussed in light of the objectives set by the government for cultural and economic development and for maintaining pluralism, multiculturalism and global co-operation.

International networks are called upon before the symposium to obtain input from the wider world on the issues that will be debated. Every ministry holds a seminar to discuss the cultural policy objectives’ relevance to their respective fields. The seminars involve workshops in small groups, and groups of secondary school students are invited to participate. This enables questions and arguments to be developed in the form of new explanatory models.

The symposium one month later is a success! The questioning is thought-provoking and progressive. Some of Europe’s leading thinkers and innovative artists are in attendance. Politicians, officials, researchers and artists set out their perspectives on the strategy and help find creative solutions to the problems that have been identified. By the time the budget proposal is announced, the strategy needs to have been thoroughly developed and the investment case so clearly justified that the subsequent political debate with the opposition can address social progress in earnest.

At the ministry of culture they are also working hard ahead of the budget proposal. One major issue is how the role of the arts can be further strengthened within a broader definition of culture which states that every human is capable of creating art. The work carried out by artists and artistic researchers generates knowledge for society which is considered to be key to new development models. One prerequisite is the continued development of art and applied philosophy as subjects in schools.

The school reform is yielding results. By focusing on learning rather than memorisation, teachers and pupils have worked together to create new working methods. The focus is on creativity and critical reflection. The aesthetic subjects are called art and involve both theory and practice. This has helped dramatically broaden the concept of language skills, and different cultural backgrounds are respected when discussing social issues. The children’s ability to express themselves has given a boost to the democratic foundations of our schools. Children are participating in their school’s decision-making bodies, learning how to speak up for their peers and taking shared responsibility for the decisions that are made.

Children mature differently, and the new school model better enables them to learn in the way that suits them best. There is considerable focus on the use of new communications technology, which allows the children to attend performances and exhibitions and participate in activities and workshops all over the world. Thanks to the focus on identity-building, communication and language skills, the children quickly master English – the biggest international language alongside Chinese.

All universities have launched foundation courses in different arts subjects, even in traditionally scientific disciplines. In a short period of time we have seen good outcomes in the form of more creativity, innovation and new ideas. All education is research-aligned, and artistic research is gaining in importance – especially in terms of creating art but also when it comes to cultural awareness and responsibility. As the ministry of education sets out its demands ahead of the budget proposal, there are calls for more resources for specialist arts education programmes. The correlation between specialisation and grassroots arts is key to continued success.

The ministry of culture acts as an “umbrella organisation” overseeing all policy areas. The ministry of culture enjoys a strong position in government but also in the global network of leading politicians engaging in issues around cultural sustainable development as a prerequisite for democracy and peace in the world. With a number of countries now having adopted this policy approach, we have also seen positive effects on public health, the environment and several different growth factors.

As for arts policy, it is being practised with great aplomb. The government has adopted an approach to the arts which puts artists on an equal footing with researchers in terms of their impact on society. The government’s policy statement reads:

“Artistic knowledge-building is vital to the development of a good society. Art should be seen as something which can make us reconsider and critically investigate established truths by dissecting reality down to its smallest constituents and then rebuilding it into an entirely new whole. Encounters with art can be like coming home or reaching a strangely challenging space where anything can happen. We want to be in that incomprehensible space – present, listening and narrating – as strong, sentient and creative citizens.”

It could come true. How do we make it happen?