What happened to our cultural utopia(s)?

Should art and culture be useful in resolving societal issues and do artists need to relate to current affairs? – and also should politicians relate to contemporary art?

Last night the Danish Minister for Culture, Uffe Elbæk, hosted the second debate around cultural life in Denmark in a debating series entitled Culture on the Edge. The theme this time was “What happened to our utopias?” The invited guests were Britta Lillesøe (“Minister of Culture” for the Freetown Christiania) and the contemporary artist John Kørner.


I was interested in hearing what the debate would focus on especially because the topic was in many ways similar to Mission2062 in Paris where I had the chance to discuss what culture will look like in 50 years time.

Britta Lillesøe started by telling about how Christiania in many ways is a utopia for culture. The freetown has found ways of working with artists in different ways allowing them to work in public spaces without having to deals with reels and reels of red tape. Britta talked about artists and life artists and emphasised that we need space for both and that the postive meeting of the two is what creates a positive everyday life. She also mentioned that good preconditions creates good people and suggested that the Minister of Culture considers this in his work.

John Kørner was more critical and especially feels there is a lack of engagement with contemporary art. He felt that politicians to a larger degree will need to see the potential in contemporary art rather than seeing contemporary art as a necessary evil. Kørner does not feel that artists need to place themselves within a specific ideology but think they have the ability to look at society in a broader humanistic perspective. Contemporary art works in it’s own language paradigm and it will only be relevant if we can create a social community around it.

Uffe Elbæk responded to John Kørner’s challenge by asking for more contemporary artists’ who are willing to reflect about and define the role of art. He is interested in artists who dare to vision what things could be like if they were different and also to look at two of the big challenges as he sees it:
1) Crisis of empathy
2) Systemic crisis where neither the public sector, nor the private sector nor NGOs can alone tackle wicked problems like climate change, economic recession, migration.

Kørner lamented the lack of strategic thinking about the large number of museums and cultural houses which have over the last ten years been built in Danish cities and towns. There does not seem to have been any thought about what to put in these houses.

Finally, Uffe Elbæk mentioned that his vision is to move from a paradigm of “culture and business”, we will move into a paradigm where culture is business.

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4 Responses to What happened to our cultural utopia(s)?

  1. Brid Conneely says:

    Very much like the idea of ‘culture IS business’. This path is paved with good intentions.

    • christiane says:

      Hi Brid,

      afraid I disagree. Art is such a nice counterpart to all this streamlined, business-like stuff, because ideally it’s totally free of limitations. And I know artists who refuse to be part of the business. I’d like it to stay apart – but not isolated. Just not driven solely by greed, which reigns business these days. It already is a business in its own way which is good for some and bad for others. But it doesn’t necessarily generate stcck value, and it shouldn’t need to. There’s my utopia 🙂

  2. Irma Clausen says:

    jeg synes det var interressant at høre at du nævnte “at Christiania også kunne blive til en maveridt”…det er sådan en jeg har fået da mit hus pludseligt blev tømt og alle mine ting var væk “opmaksineret hos Landstrygeren” stod der på en hemmelig afsendt kuvert i min postkasse! Dertil vil jeg lige nævne at det var mig som havde brugsret over mit hus i Mælkebøtten og jeg var en af de ældste kvinder på Christiania som har lavet film og skrevet bøger om Christiania så det var altså det jeg fik som Tak!

  3. christiane says:

    you already know I find this interesting 🙂 But I was wondering how Christiania got turned around – or maybe it didn’t need that and it was just the media over here in Germany – I am certainly glad to read that! Have to come and see it some day – it’s actually so close to us!

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