Is Holland Going Through a Cultural Meltdown? [UPDATED]

*Updated information and research at bottom of post*

New York Times ad by Dutch Artists 2011

Massive Cuts

You may have seen it in the New York Times: a half-page ad warning readers “Do not enter the Netherlands. Cultural meltdown in progress.” The ad (which apparently cost $26,000) was bought by a group called Dutch Artists 2011 to protest the catastrophic funding cuts proposed by Holland’s Geert Wilders, the far-right leader of the Party for Freedom (the third largest political party in the country). Wilders would cut arts funding from €800 million to €200 million, decimating Dutch cultural organizations. Where does the situation stand now?

On June 20, The Guardian reported that “Arts and education ministers have now come up with revised plans, reducing the overall culture spend to €600m,” while agreeing to raising the tax on concert tickets from 6% to 19%. Tom Service writes that the government is trying to disguise cuts by leaving the largest Dutch cultural organization untouched, cutting funding from smaller organizations that the public would be less likely to notice.

Dutch Artists 2011’s manifesto, quoted by Dutch Daily News, echoes those concerns:

Many orchestras, theatre groups, dance companies, art institutions and festivals are doomed to disappear. Young artists will be forced to stand on the sidelines. A limited number of large institutions will continue to exist but as new talent no longer has a chance to develop, they too will be unable to guarantee quality and renewal. They will find themselves stranded in the same cultural desert.

In March 2011, András Szántó at Art World Salon noted that the cultural system in Holland has long depended on government funding rather than private donations and patronage.

Endowments, private patrons, and boards of directors with fiduciary responsibilities are still largely unknown here. Cultural groups have little access to credit facilities. Experiments with bonds, subsidized loans, and art landing are in their infancy. Institutions are being asked to act independently, yet they don’t control their own assets and destinies. And as government representatives, they can hardly raise their voice in protest.

What’s Happening

Szántó concludes, “look to Holland in the next few years as a test case for what happens when a great welfare state’s cultural machinery is pushed into a closer alliance with the market.” Needless to say, any arts funding cuts suck, but sometimes cuts have to be made. The greater question is, how will the cuts be apportioned and how will they be balanced out? Arts supporters fear that if the cuts are too drastic, cultural institutions will be forced to the line of the market and will compromise their programming to fit the bottom line.

In The Air writes that 2,000 to 3,500 people attended a 25 km long protest march in front of the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam on June 26 organized by Dutch Artists 2011. More protests are being planned, but in the meantime, check out this video (embedded below) of a huge demonstration in front of the Hague, featuring a full orchestra and leaf blower-powered horns. Classical musicians are dangerous protesters.

It seems like Holland is the middle of an economic and artistic sea change that will shift the way cultural production gets funded. In the US, we often complain about not getting enough government support for the arts, but the body of private donors and funding we have built up is often impressive, and has some of the stability and consistency that the Dutch government currently lacks in its highly conservative climate — CBC News notes that politicians have called art “a left-wing hobby.” It seems like limited private funding is better than highly unstable, politicized public funding, but that’s a balance that changes every day.

UPDATE: The Dutch Side

Halbe Zijstra (image via trajectum.hu.nl)

Through further research and assistance from Google Translate, we were able to find some primary sources that provide a deeper, Netherlandish understanding on the funding cuts. With a headline reading “Council regrets rapid deployment cuts,” the Netherland’s Council for Culture, a “statutory advisory body to the Government in the areas of arts, culture and media,” displays doubts and concerns on their website. After coming across the document of the Minister’s proposal, we too feel similar qualms about the proposed plan.

On June 10, Deputy Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Halbe Zijlstra proposed the “More than Quality”  financial plan for all government-funded cultural programs. As part of the proposal, many art and cultural funds will receive major financial cuts and will be lumped together. As of now, the Performing Arts Fund and Cultural Fund will be forced together. Three separate funds for architecture, design and new media will merge as one major fund for “Creative Industry”. Along with a fifty percent budget cut on the Mondrian Foundation, the Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture and the Mondrian Foundation will have to merge together by the end of this summer.

Moving away from celebrating institutional individuality in the artistic field, large cultural institutions like museums will “have the opportunity to tap other sources of income” from the revenues of a larger audience or available sponsorship — in other words, look for private funding. With this heavy focus on funding larger cultural institutions and continuing the internationalization of Dutch culture, smaller artistic organizations will not be able to survive the policy changes.

Zijlstra challenges the cultural sector of Holland by trading a tight national art community for global fame and tourist dollars. If you have a soft spot for Jan Van Eyck or love Google Docs, you can sign an open letter, protesting the budget cuts and Zijlstra’s proposal. The Dutch Biennial Foundation promises to send the collected letters directly to the State Secretary himself.

Ayano Elson

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