In Danish arts funding we have the “arm’s length principle,” which means that politicians appoint, for example, the board of directors at the Royal Theater or the members of arts councils that distribute public funding. But government officials are not allowed to interfere with artistic decisions.
That said, they can demand that institutions expand their audiences or sell more tickets. This can sometimes create tension between artists and the public funding system. For example, last year a recent children’s film on immigration failed to receive financial support from the Danish Film Institute. This provoked a heated debate on who should have the ultimate authority on movie decisions in Denmark, but the film was ultimately made, and was a success.
There are possible drawbacks to the Danish government’s involvement in the arts, but mostly it aims to protect its creative work force.When it comes to public radio and television, everyone who owns a television or computer has to pay an annual license fee — not a tax — of $410 directly to the public broadcasters. But politicians can in no way interfere with content. The viewers and listeners pay. And the producers have artistic and creative freedom.
Radio isn’t art, but occasionally we do something that goes a little beyond journalism. When poet and filmmaker Jørgen Leth turned 75 last year, I wrote a poem for him and he read it to the listeners. We have musicians playing live on our show every week, and occasionally we, the journalists, even perform music on the show ourselves.
This level of creativity and sense of play is partly inspired, I think, by the five weeks of vacation per year, stipulated by law, that we receive in Denmark. On top of that, many journalists are guaranteed a sabbatical leave of six to eight weeks every six years. This sabbatical can be used for educational purposes or to finish off a book project. But it can also be used purely for recreational purposes.
Vacation and sabbaticals ensure that we spend time with our children and families, that we refresh our creative depots, and that we grow and develop as humans and professionals. Creative jobs can be very demanding; it’s easy to burn out. But vacations and sabbaticals allow workers to return refreshed; watered and fertilized and ready to flower again.