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"The VVD always stands up for the arts" - Guest column by Jeffrey Meulman on Rutte's bold statements

Jeffrey Meulman, director of The Dutch Theatre Festival TF, reacted to Rutte's statements in Buitenhof, which also seen on this site his. He then received a letter back from the VVD. We did not want to withhold that letter, and his response to it, from you.

Reality and politics are getting further and further apart. Last week, I visited three theatre performances in Baarn, Utrecht and Amsterdam. On stage a performance without subsidy, one with a little from the municipality and one structurally from the national fund. Young and old, conservative and progressive (as far as you can tell) were represented in the theatres, people were enjoying themselves and what's more; all three theatres were sold out to the last seat. And that while a fortnight ago in Buitenhof, our prime minister so adamantly claimed that in Amsterdam and The Hague there are 'thirty theatres every night with only ten visitors in the front row'. Alerted to this tendentious jockeying, the VVD Information Department pasted and cut together some texts from the VVD website and wrote in a response:

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your message. The VVD is not against culture, neither is our prime minister. Perhaps you misunderstood him. The VVD believes that over the years the cultural sector has come to rely too much on government support. Research shows that about 75% of income of many cultural institutions comes through the government in one way or another. In our opinion, this can be done differently, less subsidy but at the same time an improvement in the possibility for citizens to give to culture (sponsorship, funds, private donations) in addition, cultural entrepreneurship can be stimulated by (low-interest) loans and tax facilities. We also propose a 'giving law'. Cultural education and cultural heritage are government tasks as far as we are concerned. Together with the VVD, the prime minister still stands firm for the arts, but a modern society like the Dutch one can, should and wants to make its own choices when it comes to art and culture.

A really nice letter, sure, but what is the VVD actually saying here?

The VVD is not against culture, neither is our prime minister. Perhaps you misunderstood him.

When an MP in Buitenhof claims that there are only ten people sitting in thirty theatres every night, there is not a word of Spanish. It's like saying, 'Jan sometimes steals a bag', 'No way, Jan has never stolen a bag. Why do you say something like that about Jan?' 'Uhm... we have nothing against Jan. Perhaps you have misunderstood us'.

The VVD believes that over the years, the cultural sector has relied too much on government support. Research shows that about 75% of income of many cultural institutions comes through the government in one way or another.

Note the vague wording: 'approximately', 'many cultural institutions' and 'somehow'. And what research are we talking about here? If you were to phrase it objectively, it would be better to say: there are cultural institutions that get 75 % of their income through a scheme from the government. But there are also cultural institutions that receive little or no government funding. Cultural institutions have long since met or far exceeded the own income standard. And apart from the burden, look at the social benefits. A festival like Terschelling's Oerol brings in ten times as much money to the exchequer via VAT on the spending of its visitors alone than it receives in government subsidies.

If the VVD is bothered by a few institutions that get 75 % of their income from the government then better call a spade a spade than lumping an entire entrepreneurial sector together.

In our opinion, this can be done differently, less subsidy but at the same time an improvement in the possibility for citizens to give to culture (sponsorship, funds, private donations) in addition, cultural entrepreneurship can be stimulated by (low-interest) loans and tax facilities. We also propose a 'giving law'.

The cultural sector currently acquires 30 million in income from sponsorship; it is inconceivable that this is going to fill the 200-million gap with the cutbacks that are envisioned. The negative mood Rutte is creating around the arts will definitely not encourage sponsorship. Culture is not in the top ten of Dutch philanthropists. The 'giving act' has not yet been worked out by State Secretary Halbe Zijlstra but it has long been the case that donations to charitable organisations are tax deductible.

Cultural education and cultural heritage are governmental tasks as far as we are concerned.

Fine, but then don't abolish the Culture Card and invest in our children's cultural education. However, practice is different; many libraries and music schools think they will have to close due to the cuts.

The prime minister, together with the VVD, still stands firm for the arts, but a modern society like the Netherlands can, should and wants to make its own choices when it comes to art and culture.

If Rutte stands firmly for the arts it really is high time he spoke out loud and unequivocally, instead of creating a mood that makes it impossible for cultural entrepreneurs to do their jobs. If Rutte wants more sponsors and private funders to stand up then he should call for this in a positive way.

Dutch society has always made its own choices when it comes to art and culture. That is why artistic expressions that attract many visitors do not need a subsidy. But because not everything can be mass culture, we once chose, for reasons of civilisation, to protect and stimulate the vulnerable, which cannot support itself, but which is valuable for reasons other than purely economic ones, against the law of supply and demand.

Since the ancient Greeks, we have believed that education, sports and the arts are good for a person. Modern times do not change the value of that classical wisdom. What matters most is whether a society cherishes that wisdom or carelessly discards it like a decadent Roman despot.

Also read at http://jeffreymeulman.posterous.com/

2 thoughts on ““De VVD staat altijd pal voor de kunsten” – Gastcolumn van Jeffrey Meulman over Rutte’s boude uitspraken”

  1. This sentence alone......The VVD believes that the cultural sector has come to rely too much on government support over the years. Research shows that about 75% of income of many cultural institutions comes through the government in one way or another !

    (((What are we doing wrong as a non-subsidised Schiller Theatre Place Royale in Utrecht? From 1 July 2011, we are being DOUBLE PAID by this government, including the VVD. I would like to ask the VVD to come and see our Schiller Theatre Place Royale in Utrecht. We have been running since the start in 2005 without a cent subsidy...we have to pay about 12,000 euro a year in VAT to father state from that date of 1-7-2011. Now we are running after hard work on 0....what the hell are you talking about Lord Rutte!!! Go have a look at reality and come out of your seat towards Utrecht then I will challenge you and show you all corners of your wrong cultural policy. You put another 500,000,000 euros into a bottomless war pit ...do we have to cough it up for YOU TO MY HOLA!

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