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A man with an instrument.A man with an instrument.A man with an instrument.

Hamid Sakhizada, musician from Afghanistan, photo: Kultur i Troms, Norway.jpg

SEK 46 million in grants for the promotion of artistic freedom globally

The Programme for Artistic Freedom is distributing eight project grants and three core supports for the 2021-2023 programme period.

The Swedish Arts Council’s Programme for Artistic Freedom is financed by Sida. A total of eleven grants are being distributed to organisations actively engaged in promoting artistic freedom in countries listed by the OECD Development Assistance Committee (OECD/DAC) as eligible to receive official development assistance. International cooperation and artistic freedom are priority areas for us and accord with our mandate of creating synergies through development assistance and benefiting opportunities for safe havens for artists.   

The distribution of grants to the various organisations encompasses several different continents. The actions taken under the programme are to be completed by the end of 2023 at the latest and are to generate improved opportunities for all people to freely spread and access art and culture they themselves wish.  

Kajsa Ravin, Director General of the Swedish Arts Council: 
– Contemporary art is often to be found at the heart of public debate. The fact that our agency, which has a thorough knowledge of culture, can now distribute this funding represents a boost for international efforts to promote artistic freedom. The grants will also make it easier for writers and artists to find refuge in their region or in some other country when they need it. 

Among the organisations receiving grants are Ettijahat, which operates out of Beirut, Lebanon, the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), based in Stavanger, Norway, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (DefendDefenders) based in Kampala, Uganda, and Selam, with offices in Stockholm, Sweden, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  

ICORN, which seeks to promote greater freedom of expression worldwide, receives a core grant under the programme. The organisation offers temporary residence in what are called cities of refuge, in Sweden and around the world, to persecuted and silenced writers and artists. Over the years, ICORN has received applications from over 80 countries and provided shelter to more than 250 writers and artists from 43 countries. There are currently 24 cities of refuge in Sweden.

The organisation Ettijahat, formally based in Belgium but operating out of Lebanon, also receives a core grant. Its mission is to protect and support artists in a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. One of its main tasks is to act as a form of exile cultural council for Syrian artists. The organisation is active in the region in promoting cultural diversity and artistic freedom, with a special focus on artists’ rights. Ettijahat also encourages synergies between the cultural field and development cooperation.  

The civil society organisation DefendDefenders receives one of the eight project grants. Its focus is on human rights defenders, including artists, and they operate regionally, primarily in East Africa and in the Horn of Africa. DefendDefenders offers crisis support and physical protection in the form of temporary shelter and, when required, arranges contact with cities of refuge abroad. It also engages in broad-based advocacy efforts in the human rights field, both regionally and globally. One of the aims of this advocacy work is to address artistic freedom as a human right.  

Selam, another recipient of a project grant, focuses on concert and event management activities, record companies and international development cooperation. Via its African Network for Artistic Freedom, it is seeking to establish a pan-African voice in this connection. The network will comprise organisations from eight African countries pursuing efforts on behalf of artists and cultural producers.  

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The intended outcomes of the programme (2021–2023) are to improve conditions for artists to create, display and distribute their work without being exposed to threats or harassments, and improve access to cities of refuge. Our subgoals are to promote capacity building and networking internationally in the development of knowledge with a view to strengthening artists’ opportunities for working in their field and specifically strengthening opportunities for women to pursue artistic activities. 

Programme for Artistic Freedom 

On the theme of artistic freedom and in relation to the above programme, we are joining the International Federation of Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies (IFACCA) in organising the 9th World Summit on Arts and Culture in Stockholm in 2023. The meeting has great potential for the development of a constructive cultural policy dialogue on this theme in a world of declining democratic scope.  

World Summit for Arts and Culture 

We are seeking to persuade more urban centres in Sweden to enter the ICORN cities of refuge programme and provide shelter for threatened artists. This task is being undertaken in cooperation with the relevant public authorities and civil society organisations and with the various municipalities and county councils. 

Read more about Swedish cities of refuge in the ICORN programme (In Swedish) 


Maria Arnqvist

Programme Manager, Artistic Freedom Programme

Emma Emitslöf

Programme Officer, Artistic Freedom Programme