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Austerity year review 2011. Or how the PVV cry 'Arts subsidies we abolish' was widely heard

While 2010 was still the year of PVV positions on culture that were suddenly shared by other parties ("we are abolishing art subsidies"), the year 2011 fell under their implementation. What was striking was the ease with which regional and local administrators also wielded this same machete, as PVV spokesperson Bosma did not fail to testify.

For example, in the Municipality of Almelo 30 % àf the subsidy to organisations of cultural activities, because "that 30 per cent is the maximum we are allowed to cut without prior warning."

The cabinet is cutting arts and culture more than three times as much as other policy areas, the state secretary said, because a real cultural change is not possible otherwise. 'If you really want to make a change, an ounce off is not enough.'


That idealistic commitment to a "healthy cultural sector", where the public pays and decides, was weighted this year. Crowdfunding was used first. By marketers, by ex-bankers, by artists, by museums, by football clubs, by Stadsherstel, and even the municipality of Rotterdam (for a footbridge).

For instance, book museum Meermanno-Westrianum managed to meet its own-revenue standard (€4 tonnes), and science museum Boerhaave frankly admitted: "We were also too invisible. Too focused on exhibitions. This fight puts us on the map enormously."


Things fared worse for many smaller institutions that have a smaller, because often regional, reach. The Scription museum in Tilburg, for instance, closed, as did the Education Museum in Rotterdam. A single museum was discredited for wanting to sell part of its collection for its own benefit (MuseumGoudA, WereldMuseum in Rotterdam). The brainchild of politics, the National History Museum, was permanently shelved.

The finance ministry also - at the last minute - pulled a big plug for museums. They may no longer use the exemption scheme on commercial activities such as museum-shop or café. This is because the regulation was abused by ... non-cultural organisations ... (Are you still getting it?) Nationwide, our taxes could be worth millions in museum revenue.

While the introduction of 19% VAT for the performing arts was postponed for six months, it went into effect immediately for the visual arts. For the fun of it, which sectors fell outside that decision: meat, fish, dairy products, books, medicines, rabbit feed, hairdressers, paper newspapers, circuses, cinemas, sports, football matches & amusement parks.


Apart from the VAT increase, all self-employed people in the cultural sector (i.e. all self-employed artists such as sculptors, painters, actors, designers, musicians and actors) were hit even harder: the self-employed deduction only applies to successful entrepreneurs, i.e. small earners are no longer eligible for the self-employed deduction (such as the old-age pension reserve) plus no introduction of a minimum rate for self-employment. Add to this the fact that self-employed artists often cannot apply to the big private funds, that is reserved for institutions.

For the performing arts as a whole, the blow came via reduced audience numbers, mandatory more popular programming plus fewer performances per season. Of the visitors, it remains to be reported that lower-income people in particular (35% of the audience) are more likely to avoid the theatre.

A study by the Atlas Nederlandse Gemeenten showed that, in the case of the performing arts, the cost of the cuts is about twice as high as the revenue for the treasury. However, such business-like arguments fell on deaf ears.

Regular pop venues are quite keen on more commercial programming, provided the municipality is not too difficult with permits. "But before you know it, you have the local hospitality industry on your neck seeing a subsidised institution doing exactly the same thing," and such complaining was in abundance.


The central government also cut the Provincial Fund. The renewed provincial governments partly withdrew from their core tasks (spatial planning, economy, nature and recreation and mobility) and cut back on culture to a greater or lesser extent. North Brabant: 33 %, Zeeland and Drenthe 5 % each. After libraries, cultural education, amateur art, performing arts and museums were mentioned as items that are mainly cut.

Cultural education in North & South Holland and Utrecht largely lost its provincial support.

Many provinces also cut budgets for project grants. Earlier, Noord-Brabant indicated that this will be cut by 25 % starting next year. This will directly affect activities in municipalities: fewer theatre performances, exhibitions and fewer musical performances.

The provinces did invest, but mainly in big crowd-pullers, such as the futuristic-looking extension on top of Museum de Fundatie or the Orkest van het Oosten, halved by the state. But Overijssel was the only province that had committed itself to some major investments in culture.


Municipalities also cut back heavily on the culture sector. On the one hand due to the cutback in the Municipal Fund, on the other hand due to disappointing land exploitation. Municipalities cite the fact that a considerable part of the culture budget is 'free money' as the reason, making cuts easier to implement here than in other areas. Municipalities mainly cut back a lot on their own organisation. Cultural institutions (especially museums, archives and venues) that are part of that municipal organisation therefore often face a substantial cutback target. The internal cutbacks also affect the culture and monuments & archaeology departments.

City marketing became the new magic word for local administrators, for cultural institutions it became 'collaboration'. Joint front- or back-office became commonplace.


How local radio and TV fared is anyone's guess. Here's an example from Amsterdam. "The make-up department was closed - heating broken, no people left - so the mayor had to come straight to the studio. Because there was no one to catch him - producer cancelled - he accidentally stood in front of the broom cupboard door ..." For many local broadcasting organsiations, it became extra difficult because municipalities regularly did not pay their legal compensation in full.


Municipalities subsidise libraries in the Netherlands for 90 %. While the cabinet advised to spare libraries in austerity plans, that advice is not followed by many municipalities. According to the Association of Public Libraries (VOB), out of more than 1,000 branches in the Netherlands, more than 300 will be closed. Small centres are particularly affected, although they often make an exception for a scaled-down library in schools.

Music schools

The CNV Arts Union counted that 25 music schools will have to close their doors this year. Next year, the number would double, and then another 75 schools. There are some 200 music schools and centres for culture in the Netherlands that depend on subsidies. Conclusion: in three years, many of them will no longer exist. Because "if the music school has to charge the cost price, students will have to deal with astronomically high amounts."

And this confirms the overall trend: the big institutions manage to get by, the smaller ones go on to a meagre existence, while the majority of the very small ones, the so-called one-pitters can only expect revenue-losses.

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