The soul of Malmö

1. Context

In 2010, Malmö city executive board decided to appoint the Commission for a Socially Sustainable Malmö. It was to be a politically independent commission tasked with deepening the analysis of the causes of the growing health inequities in the population. Part of the assignment was to work from scientifically based strategies to reduce health inequities. Malmö City Executive Board specified several reasons for appointing the Commission. Firstly, within the city there are health inequities that the municipality has the ability to influence. Secondly, in Malmö there is an ambition to work towards sustainable development from all perspectives and with a greater awareness of and focus on the social dimension of sustainability. Thirdly, research shows that it is possible to reduce health inequities by focusing on the structural prerequisites of health, the so-called social determinants.

The gap between the groups that have the best health and those with the worst has increased significantly. The difference in average life expectancy is four and a half years for women and five and a half years for men, between different city districts in Malmö. The differences have increased in the last 20 years. This is despite the fact that average health in Malmö has improved considerably during the same period. The development of health and welfare has been followed by means of annual welfare reports. At the same time there is a strong ambition among decision-makers to create an ecological, economical and socially sustainable city. The core assignment of the commission is interpreted as being the same as turning Malmö into a socially sustainable city, which is why the Commission is named The Commission for a Socially Sustainable Malmö.

Given the large differences in people's living conditions the commission was inclined to elaborate why the contrasts have not become even greater. The answer may partly be Malmö’s vibrant cultural sector, but also the voluntary sector with all its associations and independent organizations. The culture sector and voluntary sector act as bonding cement – bonding the city together and affecting people's health, participation and sense of cohesion. The researchers of the commission find that social integration and sense of participation are unlike system integration and actual participation, which encompasses for example having a job, being a citizen or going to school. Central to both these perspectives is the concept of trust. Strengthened trust is a sure way to achieve increased security, health and well-being. The Commission sides with the broadened concept of culture, which involves individual creativity, artistic expression, nature and the environment. Culture in this sense thus means not only participation in traditional cultural events but also artistic self-expression in various forms; culture concerns participation, involvement, security and trust.

2. Malmö and culture

A local cultural policy is the so called Kulturuppdraget (The Culture Assignment) which is a political mandate given to ISU – Institute for Sustainable Development – by the Municipality in 2011 - "to examine culture as the 4th dimension of sustainable urban development". The institute is a joint venture between the City and Malmö University and deals with urban sustainability in a holistic sense; which includes ecological, economic, social and cultural issues. The culture department is a member of the board of ISU and through the assessments and suggestions of the Malmö Commission as well as initiatives taken over time; the department takes actions with a deliberate holistic view of the city and its civil society and cultural life.


In 2005 Malmö established the K21 network – “Culture and Agenda 21”. It was initiated by The Environmental Department together with the NGO (Non-Governmental organization) MANC (Man, Art, Nature, Culture). K21 developed to consist of different organizations such as Malmö University, ISU, Damanco or the cultural department. The network arranged events where culture and sustainable development were discussed. In 2011 it became part of ISU and the Cultural assignment.

During 2013 Malmö developed a Local Cultural Strategy that is now politically acknowledged and is to be implemented. It was developed, together with hundreds of citizens, answering to local governance as a joint responsibility.

In 2010, Malmö adopted a plan of action to combat discrimination. The Action Plan against Discrimination aims to highlight and tackle discrimination and promote human rights and equality. In 2012 a new action plan was developed. It focuses on Malmö’s efforts to address the rights of national minorities and to support human rights. It may be seen as an important complement to the previous one. In its drafting, the city office has identified a number of areas that are particularly important in Malmö's efforts to address the rights of national minorities, mainly through a mapping conducted by the city office in 2011 and that took basis of the current legislation and the obligations of the municipality in relation to this.

Through the shelter city for persecuted artist programme the city acknowledges cultural rights as an integral part of human rights. “No one may invoke cultural diversity to infringe upon the human rights guaranteed by international law, nor to limit their scope.” It also involves mechanisms, instruments and resources to guarantee freedom of speech. For 5 years, the Cultural department has for been part of the overall development of the city and creates a new central role of culture, which gives legitimacy of cultural policies. Diversity of cultural expressions brings wealth. A wide cultural ecosystem, with diversity of origins, actors and content, comes along with dialogue, coexistence as basic principles for the dynamics of citizen relationships and public spaces as cultural spaces.

3. Aim, goals and implementation of the project

3.1. Main goal

Alongside the work of the commission, over recent years the different departments of the city have worked with inclusive methods to secure all citizens’ participation. “All are invited to join” – is the Soul of Malmö. Through culture we can understand the mechanisms that are at work in the fundamental change and new development of a city. Culture in every sense, is the platform where we are invited to communicate, reflect and react to complex changes in society. It is vital that our whole city is such a platform and has the imprint of respect, equally and free speech.

3.2. Actions

The goal is to create an inclusive and expansive city with cultural politics, relevant to all citizens. Human rights and the right to free expression and constructive dialogues are imperative to the city and the cultural life and are built through a common work for gender equality, struggle against racism and xenophobia and understanding of how power relations are constructed as well as knowledge regarding the mechanisms leading to social exclusion. Some of the main actions are:

  • Setting up the Malmö Commission
  • The Area Program
  • The Culture Assignment
  • Education for sustainable development
  • Malmö Summer Stage
  • The Malmö Festival
  • Ung i Sommar (summer internships for the youth)
  • Science Center Malmö
  • The culture strategy 2014-2020
  • Malmö safe haven for writers and artists at risk.

Some of the initiatives in more detail:

An overall political initiative to support 5 priority areas through “The Area Program”

By supporting the development in 5 fallen behind areas of the city, the area programs aims to strengthen social and cultural sustainability. The Area Programs are a commitment for all Malmö city administrations, in regards to time and resources. The Culture Board has set aside a special budget to fund projects initiated both by the institutions and the independent culture organizations of the city.

Malmö Summer Stage “Sommarscen Malmö”

Malmö Summer Stage “Sommarscen Malmö” is an award winning outdoor festival of performing arts. High quality concerts, performances and cinemas are presented in 40 different sites and venues outdoors (open air theatre, park, urban environment...) and are all free of admission. Sommarscen Malmö is organized by the City of Malmö and reaches through the multifaceted spectrum of the civil society. Sommarscen offers up to 200 performances during two months every summer. Through culture as a tool, the city is discovered with new eyes

Science Center Malmö

Science Center Malmö’s goal is to create a science educative center for sustainable development. The target group is young adults and the goal is to engage in natural science, technology and sustainable development through interaction between people, tactile interaction with exhibitions and objects, through interaction with apps and games. The overall aim is to contribute to the economic growth of Malmö and Skåne, though a cultural institution.

Malmö ICORN-city

Malmö ICORN-city was first initiated in 2010, as one of the first 4 shelter cities for persecuted artists in the country ( It is based on a strong involvement of the civil society, to secure a safe haven for the invited writer. After the first guest writer had settled in Malmö, she presented the city museum with an idea to reread history from a feminist perspective and thus the collaborative project “100 years of immigrant women’s life and work in Malmö” was introduced, with much involvement by many women of the civil society. In 2014 Malmö became the first city in the network to expand with a second shelter city programme, and a musician was invited for a two year residency.

A new strategy for culture is to be presented in the spring of 2014 and has been developed in close collaboration with the civil society. All the above mentioned actions are in progress. Some are ongoing activities, like Ung i Sommar, The Malmö Festival, Malmö Summer Stage. Objects faced in the implementation of The Culture Assignment were to join the top down- with a bottom up approach. Thereby, through culture as a tool, people are invited to discover the area. However in the implementation phase it was difficult to get landowners and contractors on board due to suspicion, misunderstandings as well as safety precautions. Subsequently the road map/vision of the project did not go hand in hand with the formal stakeholders of buildings and property.


The Cultural Assignment carried out in collaboration with NGO’s, freelance-artists, citizens and students in terms of workshops, dialogues and developing of games, on regards to the testing of the role of cultural in urban development and regeneration. Key Note Speakers such as Mr Ferdinand Richard who is connected to Le Friche de la Belle Mai has been another collaboration partner as well as 9 other people from 5 different European Countries when for 4 full days together faced and work with a given challenge by ISU: “Culture and sustainable urban development - case study area: Norra Sorgenfri, Malmö. Some of the obstacles of the different projects within the full policy “The Soul of Malmö” are budget related to dependence on funding from EU, others are in some respect dependent on the outcome of this year’s municipal election in September in Malmö and others relate directly to the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development which will end 2014.

Following the recommendations of the Malmö Commission, the City Council recently decided to implement a social investment policy to close the gap in living conditions in the city. Investing in the citizens of Malmö must be seen in a holistic view. In the social investment policy the city will collaborate closer with civil society organizations, the universities and businesses. The new Culture Department gender equality strategy aims to open up the institutions for all citizens with a holistic and critical view of normativity and inclusion. The new culture strategy aims to create environments where artists may maintain sustainable collaborative initiatives.

4. Impacts

4.1. Impact on the local government

The Culture Department now takes part in the processes of urban development of Malmö. Science Centre – shift of perspective regarding what a museum is and how a city can use a museum using of the pedagogics staff to a general level of education on regards to entrepreneurship, growth i.e. connect culture and growth on a new level. Malmö Festival, one of the city’s largest events, administrated and managed by a technical department i.e. the Streets and Parks Department.

4.2. Impact on culture and its local workers

Malmö has a tradition of a very rich and vibrant self-organized cultural sector, with of number of independent art galleries, theatre groups and thematic film festivals etc. With an understanding of the importance of the interaction between cultural institutions and an independent sector the Board prioritizes funding through grants and individual scholarships for artists. Also funded by the city are self-organized centres for artists working with textile, digital media, and large format constructions. Together this forms a well operating infra-structure and a creative and inclusive artistic environment.

4.3. Impact on the territory and on population

Malmö Sommarscen reaches a large audience from all sectors of society and all areas of the city, with its free and highly professional program through the summer. The shelter city for persecuted writers programme is a very practical way to work locally and globally for human rights and freedom of speech. The city invites a guest on a two year scholarship providing housing as well as local and international networks guarantees that the initiative cannot stop at rhetoric; the responsibility taken is proven through actions on the most personal level and in the international community.


4.4. Cross-sectorial Impacts

Science Center Malmö: contributes to the economic growth, on a regional and local level, through engagement in the natural science, technology, education for sustainable development and entrepreneurship. For example: one part of the project educates young people to work as guides in the city and at the Science Center. The focus of Science Center Malmö is education or sustainable development. This is done through educational concepts for schools and groups, through exhibitions about the environment and the human impact, through collaborations with the surrounding society.

4.5. Continuity

100 years of immigrant women’s life and work in Malmö is a project-collaboration between the former ICORN guest writer, Feminist Dialog and Malmö Museums together with researchers from Malmö University sheds light on Malmö’s history by adding an immigrant women’s perspective. The stories will be preserved in the museum archives and collections for future generations.

Science Center Malmö was funded by EU during the first 3 years. From that date Science Center Malmö is to be funded mostly by the city itself, but without raised funding. That means that all the external collaboration is essential. The Culture Assignment has been financially funded as a political mandate; 1 Million SEK per year from 2011 – 2014. The organisation has been the same from start i.e. managed by ISU as a collaboration process between Malmö University department Art, Culture and Communication, as well as the Culture department of Malmö and ISU.

5. Other Information

The City of Malmö was a candidate to the first edition of the “International Award UCLG – Mexico City – Culture 21” (January-May 2014). The Jury of the Award elaborated its final report in June 2014 and requested that the UCLG Committee on Culture promotes this project as a good practice of the implementation of Agenda 21 for culture.

Text approved in September 2014.

Good practice published in October 2014.

This article has been written by Elisabeth Lundgren, Director of Culture / through Fredrik Elg, International coordinator.

Contact: soemarni_mm (at)


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