I am so honored, so proud, to be here and to kick off this conference about culture and freedom of expression. I want to thank Leif Persson for inviting me and the Region Värmland for making this extraordinary opportunity possible.

We are here today to consider, discuss, and embrace Culture and Freedom of Expression. I believe this conference is timely and important because–I think we all recognize—that are our world is hurting and is in great need of nurturing. What a wonderful exploration and experience we will have together today pondering culture and freedom of expression—two words that hold so much strength, value, and connection for humanity.

I want to talk to you about what culture and freedom of expression mean to me and then share with you how I am inspired by them in a project I am doing.

I believe we all have a compass that guides us through the course of life. Some compasses are calibrated better than others. My compass is set to follow the Golden Rule . . . I try to treat others as I would like others to treat me . . . what I wish upon others, I wish upon myself. Culture and freedom to express ourselves are at the top of the list of my Golden Rules.

So why do I honor culture and freedom of expression so much? Let me start with their definitions. Culture defines attributes of a group of people—its beliefs, values, art, morals, laws, customs, and ideas.   Freedom of Expression, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is the right of every individual to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Without culture and freedom of expression, life is dark and brutal.

I thought about culture and freedom of expression in relationship to my connection to you, Sweden. And I realized that I came to know your culture—not through history or geography classes in school where I grew up in America—but through free access to your culture through media . . . reading books, watching film and television, listening to the radio, and shopping in your stores. Your culture impacted me at a very young age and continues to do so now. I am lucky to know you, even from a distance; I was and still am free to access your culture and learn about you from afar. For example . . .

It started with Inger Stevens starring in The Farmer’s Daughter, an American tv show that aired in the 1960s. I learned that Inger was a Swedish actress. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world and that all Swedes looked like her. I wanted to be her when I grew up.

Sweden, your work on stage and in film is exemplary with luminary legends that include Igmar Bergman, Ingrid Berman, Greta Garbo, and Max von Sydow and the younger giants Noomi Rapace (pronounced Noh-mee Rah-pahss) and Stellan and Alexander Skarsgard. And then there are your phenomenal books that became theatrical blockbusters in America–Wilhelm Moberg’s The Emigrants and Steig Larsson’s trilogy: the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nests. After the Girl trilogy, I saw Larsson-like stories rapidly infiltrating the books shelves and screens.

I remember the first time I heard Swedish music. I was a student in London in 1977. I turned on the radio and what I heard was ABBA! I never heard any sound like theirs. Decades later I discovered Ace of Base, The Cardigans and then Peter Bjorn and Jens Lekman. Your music has influenced pop, dance, and indie musicians around the world.

But you know what really connects me regularly to you Sweden? Shopping. Thank you so much for IKEA and H&M! Really. Because you are free to imagine, express, and manifest ideas, Swedish contemporary—and affordable–design impacts many lives daily.

Sweden, as an American, I am grateful for my freedom to know you. There is so much to admire about you. You value and recognize equal rights and tolerance, health and well-being, and the arts and humanities, all of which nurture our lives and provide us with internal light. You set an example for the world.

I encourage us to keep our doors open so that cultures around the world may flow among us and that we make an effort to open doors where they are closed.

I hope during this conference we will feel a force—a collective energy—encouraging us to expand and express our spirits, imaginations, and hearts. Today, we will talk a lot about culture and freedom of expression, explore our individual freedom and perhaps see that we are not truly free until we are ALL free in the world. Let’s exercise Paulo Friere’s “authentic liberation”, which is to act and reflect upon our world in order to transform it. I cannot think of a better place than here in Sweden to experience authentic liberation together.

And now, I want to share with you a project that I created. It is about the power of art and music. Art and music heal souls, defy oppression, and assert identity. They transcend time, space, gender, religion, and ethnicity. When expressed freely and received openly, art and music speak the language of cultures and connect humanity.