Sweden: New report examines threats against commissioners of art


Art galleries, publishers, libraries, museums and other promoters and curators of art, along with their staff, like artists, are also victims of attack for showing or making art available to the public and audiences, a new report by the Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy published 30 November 2016 revealed.

The report, ‘Custodians or guards? Commissioning bodies on threats and violence against artists and writers’, consisting of 25 interviews with such bodies, revealed that threats, violence and harassment are often associated with a particular work or exhibit and are often against the art institution itself and its staff. However, in the case of literature, the report found that such threats and attacks were more likely to be perpetrated against the writers themselves.

Art institutions said that the attacks they receive usually involve threatening letters, emails, website comments, telephone calls and threats made via social media. Additionally, the on-site staff of these institutions during exhibitions and performances also face threats and harassment.

The report revealed that threats often follow artists who have a history of threats levelled against them, especially internationally known artists, as well as artists and works that criticise whiteness as a norm or feature queer and feminist content and themes. Further, the report showed that other threats come from foreign governments who have particular political stances on groups in their homeland that also exist in the host country.


Risk assessments and precautionary measures
These institutions explained they employ a risk analysis checklist for public events before they put on potentially sensitive events, to review, for instance, the amount of media exposure they can push for depending on the issue being explored.

Some institutions, promoters and commissioners employ other precautionary measures such as, growing local understanding of an event through thought-out communication plans or harnessing media channels and social media platforms to engage in debates around the issues brought up by artists in advance of events.

Larger institutions with larger budgets and more resources and connections also consider hiring on additional non-profit personnel or even added security staff if the budget is available, as well as alerting and staying in contact with police, a method also more accessible to municipal institutions.

Regardless of the threat, however, most of the representatives interviewed said it was “unusual” for them to have changed their behaviours as a result of threats or being targeted. Many view their added security awareness and procedures as paramount in preserving artistic freedom and freedom of expression.


A confusing tangle of responsibility
The interviews also revealed that the issue of responsibility – financial, security-related or otherwise – before, during and after a commissioned event, can leave everyone involved confused as to who is responsible for what.

Artists can often be engaging with a multitude of commissioners and promoters at the same time for the same project or event. Further, the art world is full of freelancers and contractors working on temporary assignments, making it difficult to ascertain who is responsible for particular work or costs, which can include the funding or implementation of security measures. It also remains unclear who is responsible when an incident occurs after a commission has been completed.


Read the full report in Swedish here


Sources

» Swedish Agency for Cultural Policy – 30 November 2016
Custodians or guards? Commissioning bodies on threats and violence against artists and writers

» Swedish Radio – 29 November 2016
Threats also affect staff at libraries and museums


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» 14 April 2016: Sweden: New report calls threat to art a threat to democracy

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