Grus i olika färger separerade av röda kanter och skulpturer.

Administering Building-Related Public Art

At the beginning of the 20th century, when the Swedish welfare society and the Folkhemmet emerged, the public sector began to commission art on a broad front. Today, the state, the municipalities and the regions own tens of thousands of public building-related artworks which has become a natural part of our modern cultural environments. Art enables us to understand a historical epoch’s view of issues concerning democracy, norms, visions, artistic and political values.

Public art has held a prominent role in 20th century Sweden and may be viewed as our time’s equivalent to older art in historical buildings such as palaces and churches. Many significant artists and artworks are represented in public art commissioned by the state, municipalities and regions (county councils) over the past 100 years.

Regions and Municipalities are Responsible for the Majority of Public Art

Sweden’s municipalities are without doubt the major public actors in the commissioning, maintenance and preservation of building-related public art. The municipalities are also some of the major commissioners of public permanent art that is integrated in parks, streets and squares. Sweden’s municipalities own tens of thousands of public artworks. Sweden’s regions both commission and administer art in hospitals, travel centres and other buildings for regional public activities. Many regions have established “art policies” that regulate the commissioning and maintenance of public art. The state allocates funds for regional cultural activities.

A Report Highlights Challenges in Administration

In the report, Building-Related Public Art – Awareness-Raising Measures for the Management of Public Art as part of the Cultural Environment, Public Art Agency Sweden and the Swedish National Heritage Board examined the administration of public art during the last ten years. The report states that lack of knowledge, unclear division of responsibility and lack of or unclear legislation within the state, municipality and region are endangering 20th-century cultural environments.

There are several reasons why art is under threat today. One reason is the change in ownership of the buildings in which art is housed. Formerly publicly held buildings are now owned by private property owners, who in some cases are not aware that there is art in the building and that it needs to be preserved. In many cases, the maintenance of the art has also been deficient. Maintenance of building-related public art is usually financed within the framework of planned property maintenance. A challenge for property owners, not least housing co-operatives, is to acquire knowledge on their holdings of building-related public art. By documenting and evaluating the art it is possible for property owners to make priorities for conservation and restoration measures within the budget for planned maintenance.

At regional and municipal level there is often a lack of regulations and cooperation between responsible administrative bodies. More often than not, there are no funding models for the preservation of building-related public art. A very restricted number of municipalities allocate funds. It is often unclear which administrations and companies are responsible for the supervision and administration of public art. Accessible and linked registers for building-related art are often missing at regional and municipal level. Increased cooperation and the transfer of competence between actors in municipalities, regions and the state are needed.

Collaboration to Preserve the Cultural Heritage of Modern Societies

Building-related public art has previously been regarded as a part of public art activities. This also includes property-related art, that is, permanent, fully integrated art in parks or on streets and squares. Today, public art is perceived as a part of the cultural heritage of a modern society, which requires new legislation and regulation for the preservation of art. The sectors of art and cultural environment have to begin to cooperate and share knowledge in order to preserve 20th-century building-related public art. Balanced valuations are needed and the administrations should share their experiences and knowledge.

The report also concludes that existing legislation provides specific protection to building-related public art. However, there is great lack of knowledge among the bodies responsible for supervising and administering art on how to apply existing legal and economic instruments. The administration of 20th-century public art is still an undeveloped area that requires awareness-raising measures.

2020 and Beyond

The report Building-Related Public Art – Awareness-Raising Measures for the Management of Public Art as part of the Cultural Environment was published in 2019. In 2020, the Swedish National Heritage Board and Public Art Agency Sweden were commissioned to ensure that building-related public art is taken into consideration in cultural historical valuations.

Challenges in the Administration of Building-Related Public Art

  • Insufficient knowledge in the field of public art on the perspective of the cultural environment sector. Conversely, there is insufficient art historical expertise in the cultural environment sector.
  • Ambiguities regarding responsibility and roles in building-related public art.
  • Insufficient knowledge on how existing legal and economic instruments can regulate building-related public art.
  • Low level of knowledge on how standards can facilitate the documentation and preservation of building-related art in modern cultural environments. Existing registers lack cultural environment information.
  • Lack of strategic cooperation between responsible parties. This is a structural problem in all four problem areas above.

Legal and Financial Instruments

Building-related public art is covered by various legislations:

  • The Historic Environment Act (1988:950), the Regulation (2013:558) on National Historic Buildings, the Planning and Building Act (2010:900), the Environmental Code (1998:808)
  • The Regulation (2010:1121) on Funding for the Management of Valuable Cultural Environments
  • The Regulation (1990:195) on the Conservation of Public Art
  • The Act (1960:729) on Copyright in Literary and Artistic Works

Administration of Public Art: How Municipalities Work

Forty-two percent of municipalities allocate funds for the management and maintenance of public art. Several of the municipalities state that the allocated funds are insufficient for major preservation measures. In certain municipalities, specific funds for the management and maintenance of art are not allocated. Sometimes the responsibility lies with the municipal companies that cover the costs within their ordinary operating budget. In certain municipalities it is possible to request special funds for the management and maintenance of public art. In others, the cost of management and maintenance is included in the municipality’s ordinary art budget. In some municipalities, those responsible for art state that it can be difficult to decide what should be prioritised: Acquisitions of new art or the management and maintenance of existing art.


Source: The Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s report “1% för konstnärlig gestaltning av offentlig miljö” (2020). [1% for Artistic Design of the Public Realm]. In Swedish: Konstnärsnämndens rapport 1% för konstnärlig gestaltning av offentlig miljö (2020).