På natten lyser skulpturen i olika färger. Oskar Aglert, Totem.

The State and the One Percent Rule: A Long History

Forty-one percent of Sweden’s 290 municipalities and 55 percent of the country’s 21 regions apply the One Percent Rule: a funding model for public art whereby one percent of the cost of publicly funded construction projects (new buildings, redevelopment and extensions) is earmarked for art. The rule has not been applied consistently at state level, which is why the government commissioned Public Art Agency Sweden, in collaboration with government agencies and companies, to develop methodological support to make the state a model for the funding of public art. The work is carried out in line with the government’s and the Parliament’s visions for the Policy for Designed Living Environment.

State funding of public art has a long history in Sweden. As early as the turn of the 20th century a question was raised in Parliament of committing to the funding of art in conjunction with government-sponsored construction projects. Funding provided by the Crown, the Church, the merchant class and the labour movement had decreased and Parliament was keen to keep professional artists in the country by providing them with work. There was a consensus that art should be publicly funded, but how much should the government contribute? The issue was the subject of frequent debate in the beginning of the 20th century, and particularly after the depression of the 1920s which resulted in large, country-wide strikes and public disorder. Many people were starving and artists were especially hard hit.

Public Art: A Democratic Right

Axel Romdahl, professor at Gothenburg University College and director of Gothenburg Art Museum, is regarded as the originator of the principle of the One Percent Rule. In 1933, Romdahl published an article in the daily Svenska Dagbladet that ended with the words: “Much would be gained if the budgets for public buildings included a modest amount devoted to artistic decoration. It would be a dignified way on behalf of modern democratic society to acknowledge its obligation towards the visual arts”. The democratic aspect was a new argument for public art.

Romdahl argued that art should be an integral part of a society that creates good housing, living environments and education opportunities for all: “The democratic state should assume the functions formerly carried out by princes, aristocrats and the Church,” he wrote and continued: “Society should help artists to find their way to the people (including not only manual workers but all classes of citizens).”

1937: The One Percent Rule is Adopted by the Parliament

The debate spurred Arthur Engberg, Minister of Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs (equivalent of today’s Minister for Culture), to appoint a government inquiry tasked with exploring how to improve Swedish artists’ working opportunities in society. Delivered in December 1936, the report underlined that the cost for artistic decoration in buildings should, only by way of exception, be as low as one percent of building costs. The Government bill 157, adopted by the Parliament in 1937, established the principle of funding. Arthur Engberg wrote: “Art is about to become the property of everyone, in public buildings and community centres as well as in workplaces, factories and offices.”

New Building Techniques: New Possibilities

The introduction of the One Percent Rule coincided with the emergence of the Swedish Welfare State, as well as with a transformation of the building industry. The artisan-based building process, based on a close collaboration between, for example, architects, bricklayers and carpenters, was gradually replaced by a general contractor who was fully responsible for the planning, design and building. The One Percent Rule created a stable and long-term financial headroom for art, despite the industrialisation of the planning and building process.

This is the One Percent Rule

The One Percent Rule is an economic principle for public art which earmarks at least one percent of the total building cost in connection with construction projects (new buildings, redevelopment and extensions) for public art commissions. The One Percent Rule is not based on a single given working model, and such a model has never existed. For this reason, there is great variation in how the rule is adopted and calculated at state, regional and municipal level.

Public Art Agency Sweden Is Established

The 1937 government bill on the One Percent Rule also denoted the establishment of Public Art Agency Sweden. The Agency was primarily tasked with providing artists with job opportunities by developing public art projects and acquiring art for placement in government agency premises.

In the period 1937–1947, the One Percent Rule was also used as a calculation model for artistic projects when the government erected new buildings. Public Art Agency Sweden has subsequently received annual funding for acquisitions of art and for working with public art at government-funded construction projects. This has so far signified that state-funded constructors apply for a collaboration with Public Art Agency Sweden, which wholly or partly funds the public art project.

The One Percent Rule Under Discussion

Since the 1940s there have been several attempts to reintroduce the One Percent Rule as a model for the funding of public art in public spaces and buildings. The matter was intensely discussed preceding the adoption of the 1974 cultural policy bill, which was Sweden’s first comprehensive national cultural policy. In 1984/1985, the allocation was briefly raised to a level comparable with approximately one percent of the government’s total building costs.

Changed Conditions for State-sponsored Building Work

From 1697 to 1993, one public body was fully responsible for all state-funded building and administration: the National Board of Public Building (previously, the Office of the Superintendent, later the Royal Board of Public Building). When the Board was wound up, responsibility was allocated to various corporations and administrations. It was difficult to identify who was in charge of the construction work and who was supposed to allocate funds for art. Several artists, architects, craftspeople, designers and cultural heritage specialists were concerned that this would lead to less art and art of inferior quality in state buildings and administrations. It was brought to light in, for example, the government inquiry Konst i offentlig miljö (SOU 1995:18) (Art in the Public Realm), and also in the cultural policy bill of 1996/97:3.

Politicians React to the Criticism

Politicians responded to several of the critical arguments. In 1998, Sweden’s first policy on architecture, the action plan Framtidsformer (Forms for the Future), was adopted by Parliament, which underlined the importance of a well-thought-out design of public space and public art for long-term sustainable development.

In the beginning of the new millennium, social sustainability and citizen participation were frequent topics of discussion in the planning of our shared environments. This was one of the reasons for setting up an inquiry in 2014 into how to update and renew Framtidsformer (Forms for the Future). The year after, head of inquiry, Christer Larsson, presented the report Designed Living Environment: A New Policy for Architecture, Form and Design (SOU 2015:88). The inquiry’s focus on architecture, form and design was criticised in the public consultation. Public Art Agency Sweden and others regarded the Designed Living Environment as a much wider area, which also included public art and cultural heritage.

The One Percent Rule Is Reintroduced as a Policy

When the government bill The Policy for Designed Living Environment (Prop. 2017/18:110) was introduced in February 2018, it became apparent that the government had decided to include public art and cultural heritage in the new policy area. In order to avoid tunnel vision and create cross-cutting collaborations, the Policy for Designed Living Environment was jointly presented by the Minister for Culture, Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Housing. This highlighted the core of the new policy for architecture, form, design, art and cultural heritage: Creative collaboration and a holistic approach to the designed living environment that takes its point of departure in humans, their needs and quality of life.

As part of the new Policy for Designed Living Environment, the One Percent Rule had been reintroduced as a direction-indicating device for government agencies and administrations involved in construction work.

Commission: Develop Methodological Support for Art when the Government Builds

In 2018–2020, Public Art Agency Sweden was commissioned by the government to develop, in collaboration with other government agencies, methodological support for how up to one percent of the budget for a construction project – new buildings, redevelopment and extensions – can be allocated for public visual or design art when the government builds. The objective was to strengthen the government as an exemplary commissioner. Collaborative partners included Akademiska hus, Jernhusen, the Swedish Fortifications Agency, Specialfastigheter, the National Property Board of Sweden, Swedavia and the Swedish Transport Administration.


State Efforts in Bullet Point Form

  • 1937
    Parliament adopts the One Percent Rule on a proposal from the inquiry SOU 1936:50: “Report and proposal on the process to extend tasks for Swedish artists: submitted on 1 December 1936”.
  • 1937
    Public Art Agency Sweden is established. Its task: developing public art projects and acquiring art for placement in government agency premises.
  • 1937–1947
    Public Art Agency Sweden applies the One Percent Rule.
  • 1947–
    Public Art Agency Sweden is allocated annual funds.
  • 1962–1996
    State funding for art in residential areas.
  • 1974
    The culture bills 1974:28, 1975:20 and 1975/76:135 provide the basis for culture as an independent policy area in Sweden.
  • 1976–
    State funding for art in People’s Parks and in People’s Houses.
  • 1997–2009
    Public Art Agency Sweden is given an enhanced mandate to work with art in non-governmental environments.
  • 1998
    The Parliament adopts Sweden’s first architectural policy: “Framtidsformer: Förslag till handlingsprogram för arkitektur & formgivning” (Forms for the Future: Proposal for an Action Plan for Architecture and Design).
  • 2010–2013
    Public Art Agency Sweden is given a specific mandate to collaborate with the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning, the Swedish National Heritage Board and present-day ArkDes on the design of public environments.
  • 2016–2018
    As a result of the government commission Art Happens, Public Art Agency Sweden is given a specific mandate to work with art initiated by civil society in the Million Programme residential areas.
  • 2018
    The Parliament adopts the Policy for Designed Living Environment.
  • 2018–2020
    Public Art Agency Sweden is given a specific mandate to develop and disseminate knowledge of public art.
  • 2018–2020
    Public Art Agency Sweden is given a specific mandate to develop, in collaboration with property management authorities, methodological support for how at least one percent of the budget for construction projects (new builds, redevelopment and extensions) can be devoted to public visual or design art when the state builds.