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4 reasons why the arts are going to lose a lot more. Municipal culture congress wrongly optimistic

It was ball in Rotterdam on Thursday, 30 January. At the Municipal Culture Congress, a few hundred officials, local politicians and arts organisations gathered to talk about where they could help each other. It was supposed to be a positive day. There had been long enough complaining and arguing: look ahead, hopeful into the future. Even if the worst is yet to come.

Four facts:

1: Austerity will only get worse.

Berenschot backs down. The agency, which acts as a regular research partner of interest group Kunsten '92, swallowed its vehement words of a day earlier. Of course, it was also due to the now infamous header From the NRC that it news about the impending new culture cuts had been brought so prominently. Because it is not that bad, the researcher said. Nor did anyone in De Doelen want to say out loud that things would get worse with the cuts. After all, we should all look happily to the future. It will only get better.

That also called out Antoinette Laan, Rotterdam's alderman for culture, sport and youth. There would be nothing to suggest that Rotterdam was going to cut back many more per cent on culture. On the contrary: the alderman spoke enthusiastically about her plans to bombard children in particular with culture. This was easy to do, because that comes from another (youth) pot. Whether that will compensate for the new culture cuts?

No.

Indeed, it is a drop in the ocean. So we heard this from the only people you do need to listen to in times like these: civil servants. After all, politicians have already started electioneering, so they like to do good news. Civil servants do see the dark clouds, and can tell - unfortunately not by name - about them.

Off to the car park, then. Trench coats on. Smoking. Talking. What turns out: the Berenschot figures are still flattered, and, moreover, had been known for years. Municipalities have been cutting back on culture since 2010, and will have no choice but to continue doing so in the time to come. The government does not even have to force them to do so. There are, for instance, huge losses on building land ready to be offset.

[Tweet "Municipalities' cuts to culture are not always easily visible. "]

Municipal cuts in culture are just not always very visible. This is because, for instance, cultural institutions are municipal departments and are given internal cutbacks. Take Utrecht: to the outside world, the city maintains the image of 'not cutting back on culture'. Meanwhile, the city gives the former municipal departments Vredenburg, Schouwburg and Centraal Museum a substantial austerity assignment. As a result, cuts in cultural history (monuments and archives) are not always visible either.

So new elections are coming up. Municipalities must again make cuts due to additional tasks with too little money. There is little 'free' money in the municipal budget. Actually, that free money is only there for sports, maintenance of public spaces, city marketing and culture. All those things are going to feel it. That's where the big threat is. Nobody knows how big it is yet. An extra 10% is rated low by our parkers.

And so the cultural sector is not yet doing anything to formulate a rebuttal.

2: Business is not going to save the arts

It was an impromptu 'pitch' by the Rotterdam branch of employers' club VNO-NCW and the director of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. But it struck a chord. The major cultural institutions IFFR, Kunsthal and Boymans are going to collaborate with big business. We should no longer call this sponsorship, it is about serious partnerships. The business community needs culture. So programmes are aligned, and companies and art institutions devise plans together to make it all beautiful and good and great.

Too bad for the little ones, like the Schouwburg and other clubs that don't attract audiences that the Port of Rotterdam can take credit for. For the neighbourhood barbecue at Blijdorp, artists should just go to the local butcher for sponsorship.

[Tweet "It's the small clubs that are sinking deeper and deeper into the shit, in the coming years."]

Everyone happy. Except for a few. Alderman Frits Lintmeijer of Utrecht, the city being torn apart by NS, Prorail, Corio, Jaarbeurs and Jos Stelling, advocated instead that big companies should also commit to small, neighbourhood cultural institutions. After all, the big boys and girls can manage, he said. It is the small clubs that will sink deeper and deeper into the shit, in the coming years.

Quite true, cried Consultant and Film Festival and Kunsten'92 in chorus, but that was not the point for now. It's celebration. The port is doing what Alderman Laan cannot: saving the arts. Even though the theatre is not participating, and we are not talking about Valerie Gergiev for a while this year.

3: Engage an artist more often

In times of austerity and crisis, municipalities have quite a few problems. And solving problems is expensive. Because to solve problems you need problem solvers, and they won't get out of bed for less than 300 euros an hour. So Wicky has to come up with a plan. Enter: the artist. The artist really wants to do things, and does so not for 300 euros an hour, but for a nice expense allowance, a nice studio in an empty building and a free public transport bike. Thanks to art, you can thus revitalise impoverished city centres and reclaim wasteland very cheaply. After which later, when the artist is finished, things can be sold again to property developers for a lot of money. The municipality of Amsterdam has already rid itself of many frayed edges in this way.

Han Bakker, multi-talented as ever, has done something like this in Dordrecht, and it has been a success. He did wonder if many artists consider themselves problem solvers, as the municipalities preferred to see them. He felt that artists' main job was to make problems.

We can conclude after this brief exercise that artists, at least, are still a problem.

4: We all volunteer

Jet de Ranitz, proud boss of Kunsten '92 and the Amsterdam School of the Arts, went just a step further than many of the art representatives present in her closing remarks. As the day was to be dedicated to good vibes and optimism, she concluded her speech by noting that more and more volunteers were working in the arts sector. And that that was great. To which many workers in the sector wondered where those volunteers were coming from: we recognised a lot of people who used to get a salary for the work they now do for free.

[Tweet "Art is indeed becoming more gratuitous."]

Indeed, art is becoming increasingly gratuitous.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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