What’s Happening to Culture in Europe?

Dansgroep Amsterdam performing at the Van Gogh Museum (image via Flickr/Van Gogh Museum)
Dansgroep Amsterdam performing at the Van Gogh Museum (image via Flickr/Van Gogh Museum)

The latest news from Europe this week is that everything is falling apart — at least in terms of arts and culture. And it’s depressing.

We start in the Netherlands, where huge budget cuts planned in 2011 and 2012 are taking effect and killing off arts organizations across the country. Thanks to a conservative coalition government, federal arts funding dropped by €238 million this year (22 percent), while another €232 million was lost in local, regional, and provincial government financing. In addition, because of financial restructuring, 40 of 120 cultural organizations are now ineligible for federal money. The New York Times explains the significance of all this:

Since the 1970s, and particularly in the ’80s and ’90s, artists and cultural organizations across the Netherlands were supported almost exclusively by the state. There is almost no culture of private sponsorship and corporate financing for the arts is limited.

The paper also has a striking quote from Jeroen Bartelse, secretary general of the Culture Council, which makes clear the extent of the damage:

It’s quite a massacre. … Many of these groups are either dead or are now in a near-death struggle. What’s striking is the number of institutions stopping at one time, which we haven’t seen before, and these are institutions that have existed for 20, 30 or 50 years, institutions with a stature that makes this quite exceptional.

Among the organizations majorly affected are the national theater museum, Theatre Institute Netherlands; the Netherlands Broadcast Music Center; the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and the Radio Chamber Philharmonic, which will be merged into one entity; Dansgroep Amsterdam;  and more organizations, including a number of nonprofit art galleries.

The church of Santa Maria in ruins (image via The Art Newspaper)
The church of Santa Maria in ruins (image via The Art Newspaper)

Meanwhile, over in Italy, Naples’s churches are a crumbling, ruined mess. The Art Newspaper reports that some 200 churches are closed and lying in states of disrepair (the images are heartbreaking):

Some have been stripped of all their furnishings including works of art, some never received the funds they had been promised, while others received them but never embarked on the agreed conservation projects. Others still were closed down, restored and then never opened again.

The Art Newspaper write-up is based on an article in the Italian paper Corriere della Serra, which quotes a former art dealer as saying (translation mine), “In Naples’s churches, there’s nothing, because they were abandoned and it was easy to take everything.” The city’s historic center has been a UNESCO world heritage site for years, but clearly it should be on the endangered list now, too.

According to the papers, the situation seems to be a bit of everyone’s fault: local and national governments, the Church, and the regional arm of the ministry of culture. That sounds about right, given the incredible inefficacy of Italian bureaucracy, but I also can’t help but wonder if the Camorra, the pervasive and incredibly powerful Neapolitan mafia, also has something to do with it, as they did with the city’s infamous trash crisis of 2008.

Finally, The Art Newspaper also has a dismaying conservation report about Moscow, where two early-19th-century buildings designed by architect Joseph Bové were demolished “under the cover of darkness in the early hours of new year’s day.” The buildings were part of a complex on Strastnoy Boulevard that Bové created after a large fire in the city in 1812. Apparently Moscow’s former mayor had a penchant for destroying landmark buildings as well, but preservationists say this secret move was even worse.

“The demolition on Strastnoy Boulevard was the final, shameful ‘blitzkrieg’ of city authorities against historic Moscow,” said watchdog group Archnadzor and the Moscow branch of Russia’s Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments in a statement.

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