Cultural figures sceptical of new deputy mayor
Alarm bells rang when Carl Christian Ebbesen's (DF) said he wanted to influence integration politics, but cultural figures say they will try and reserve judgement until he actually assumes the post
Cultural leaders in Copenhagen have welcomed the city’s new deputy mayor for culture, but some have expressed concern about his ambitions.
Carl Christian Ebbesen from Dansk Folkeparti (DF) will take over the post in January, though he was originally gunning for the Integration and Employment Administration – a natural decision given his party’s strong anti-immigration platform.
But after Radikale managed to keep control of that administration, Ebbesen said the Culture and Leisure Administration could still prove useful.
Simon Strange, the deputy chairman of the Culture and Leisure Committee
Influence on integration
“We didn’t manage to get that role, but I have managed to win an even better role in which there is more direct influence on the integration process,” Ebbesen told Politiken newspaper.
His subsequent statements about blocking the use of cultural institutions for integration programmes he disagrees with – sexually segregated swimming sessions in public swimming pools for example – rang alarm bells among cultural leaders in the city.
Among them is Simon Strange (S), the deputy chairman of the Culture and Leisure Committee – which Ebbesen chairs – who will soon start his third term in City Council.
“I think there is reason to be concerned that we don’t have a deputy mayor who seems worried by the actual challenges and problems faced by culture in the city, but who instead seems interested in using his platform to push his party’s value politics,” Strange told The Copenhagen Post.
Ebbesen’s powers are far from absolute and he will still have to secure a majority to pass any policies. But Strange is concerned that he could still tie up the committee by discussing marginal topics that only interest his party.
“He doesn’t have the power to make a major policy shift, but he could spend a lot of our staff’s time and energy debating minor issues,” Strange said.
The manager of Husets Teater, which is currently showing 'Varmestuen' (shown here), said he would reserve judgement for now (Photo: Henrik Ohsten Rasmussen)
Simon Boberg, manager of Husets Teater, agrees that Ebbesen won’t be able to make any fundamental changes, but said he is still worried by the little interest he has expressed in Copenhagen’s culture.
“The fact our new deputy mayor for culture is from DF is neither a good nor bad thing in itself and I don’t want to be judgemental before we see results,” Boberg said. “Having said that, I am worried about his statements regarding integration. It’s very problematic to use cultural politics as a platform to influence integration. As a theatre we are interested in international relations and I fear it could affect how people view culture in Copenhagen.”
Boberg thinks Ebbesen should follow the lead of the current deputy mayor for culture, Pia Allerslev (V), who, he says, has performed well promoting and strengthening culture in Copenhagen over the past six years.
“She secured economic support for big events and projects that point to the future," Boberg said. "The new culture mayor needs to be as visionary as Allerslev to get the fine arts out to as many people as possible.”
Esben Weile Kjær, a cultural entrepreneur, is concerned about what sort of culture Ebbesen's party values (Photo: Esben Weile Kjær)
Support for subcultures
Cultural entrepreneur Esben Weile Kjær, 21, hosts club nights, started the Henry’s Dream festival this summer and is a youth adviser to the culture minister, Marianne Jelved (R).
He is particularly sceptical about Ebbesen’s appointment given his party’s position on what constitutes culture.
“Let’s see what he has to say, but from the outset it seems like many of his opinions lean up against his mother party, which certainly isn’t a good sign,” Kjær wrote in an email to The Copenhagen Post pointing to a 2009 interview with DF’s former leader and current values spokesperson Pia Kjærsgaard.
In the Søndagsavisen interview, Kjærsgaard said she was interested in being culture minister, before adding that she would promote classic Danish art rather than “distasteful and vulgar” contemporary art.
“In a time when Copenhagen is really blossoming and has reaped critical acclaim as a city with progressive culture, I am afraid that a deputy mayor like Carl Chritian Ebbesen could end up being a real obstacle for a cultural scene that is well on its way to achieving its true potential," Kjær said.
Thomas Fleurquin has butted heads with DF before, but he says he's not too concerned about Ebbesen's appointment (Photo: Scanpix)
The “Distortion Action Man” is not concerned
If there is anyone who has grounds for concern with Ebbesen’s appointment, it’s Thomas Fleurquin, founder of the annual Distortion Festival.
DF’s Kjærsgaard has criticised Distortion for its messy and loud street parties that she thinks disturbs the lives of too many ordinary residents.
In an interview with Politiken newspaper, Kjærsgaard called Fleurquin a “jester”, “smarty pants” and a “Distortion Action Man” for his “condescending” suggestion that DF participate with a Danish-themed party at the festival.
Fleurquin dismisses Kjærsgaard’s criticism, however, and trusts that Ebbesen will understand the festival’s value and won’t try and pull the substantial financial support the festival receives.
“I don’t understand Pia’s criticisms. She clearly doesn’t know what she’s talking about," Fleurquin told The Copenhagen Post. "I think that when Ebbesen takes his seat he will realise the reality of what Distortion is. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem because I trust the democratic process and he sounds like a constructive guy."
Ebbesen up to the task
Ebbesen is currently a member of Copenhagen’s integration and employment committee and argues that his opposition to sexually-segregated integration programmes is based on an ambition to make sure the city’s facilities are available to everyone.
“I think that fighting for equality is indeed a cultural matter," Ebbesen told The Copenhagen Post. "In the end, we have to deal with discrimination if it's taking place in cultural institutions. The current administration may accept discrimination in public swimming pools, but I think that cultural institutions should be open for everyone.”
DF secured control of one of the city’s seven administrations after becoming the city’s second largest opposition party in November’s local election. The party was given sixth pick and was left a choice between the Culture and Leisure Administration and the Social Affairs Administration, opting for the former.
"The Social Affairs Committee is a messy business. It suffers from a lot of complaints and a slow processing of cases," Ebbessen said. "I thought that I would need a stronger political backing than I currently have to take the position. It wouldn't be wise to take that position as a minority major."
Ebbesen explained that his lack of focus on culture in the run-up to the election was because he never thought the attractive Culture and Leisure Administration would be available.
Now that he has the role, he says he recognises major challenges his administration is facing due to an increasing population and limited facilities.
"People have to wait in line to play badminton, football or handball, so I really hope to make some budget deals that will improve sport facilities in the city," he said. "It's also important to get children and young people interested in sport by having sport co-ordinators at the schools inform students about the options they have."
He added that he was working together with the outgoing deputy mayor Pia Allerslev to try and get schools to make better use of museums and theatres.
"We have some amazing cultural offers in Copenhagen and they should be used as much as possible,” he said.
Andreas Jakobsen contributed to the reporting of this article.