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Bussemaker's policy sounds good: ministry steals bike, returns bell.

The repair of cultural subsidies by more than 18 million, announced by culture minister Bussemaker on 8 June 2015, mainly concerns a perpetuation of earlier patchwork. That patchwork was necessary in recent years to smooth the crudest consequences of the cuts by her predecessor Halbe Zijlstra. That predecessor now sits in the chamber as a coalition partner to ensure that his 250-million cut is not undone. So he has stolen the cultural sector's bicycle, and refuses to give it back. Bussemaker has now arranged for the arts to get its bell back. Sounds good, but that bell is not for the give: they have to pay for it themselves. This is because the cultural sector as a whole is not getting more money, it is just taking money elsewhere in the budget. The minister calls this 'cash shifting':

"In order to support institutions and specific themes within cultural policy and to perpetuate policy, I have freed up €18.6 million within the culture budget through reprioritisation and cash shifts in previous years. These mainly concern a multi-year reservation made in the past for administrative consultation (merger and cooperation costs that would possibly occur as a result of the cuts in culture), part of the funds for the temporary Entrepreneurship Programme 2013-2017 (whose tasks will be integrated into regular policy) and part of the funds for the implementation of the Heritage and Space Vision programme."

So the ministry, which VVD leader Halbe Zijlstra does not want to make the cultural sector too happy, is drawing on its own reserves to compensate for the worst damage done by Zijlstra as State Secretary for Culture. And in doing so, the minister is now making previous temporary measures structural. The following table shows where the money is going.

The ministry's repairs, which have become permanent
The ministry's repairs, which have become permanent

Of course, everyone should be happy about this bonus, because of course it could have been much worse. In her 33-page letter, Bussemaker also does her best to hammer in that positive feeling. She starts by waving away the shaky financial basis for many art institutions previously identified by the Council for Culture. Bussemaker sees it quite differently. "My conclusion based on the quick-scans is that the cultural infrastructure's survival is not threatened. This does not alter the fact that there are individual institutions that may struggle." According to Bussemaker, this already does not include the former Orkest van het Oosten, which, however, after her quick scan appears to be teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

What Bussemaker also fails to include in her positive picture is that the Performing Arts Fund currently has to draw on its own reserves to compensate duped artists after the bankruptcy of Groningen's Grand Theatre. Indeed, those same reserves the fund now has to draw on to honour some of the minister's other priorities, such as money for professional magazines and youth theatre.

Further suggestions made earlier by the Culture Council to improve the subsidy system are called sympathetic by the minister, but she is not going to do anything with them now. So while her parliamentary letter does contain exhortations to take a good look at the future, and once again investigate a greater role for cities, a more solid opera structure and more new media in culture, nothing much actually changes. Logical, as the minister has no money for this.

What that means in concrete terms? That certain institutions have been retained at the expense of other initiatives. Which ones they are will only become clear when the cultural fund in question announces its own plans. For example, at The Mondrian Fund, which deals with the visual arts sector. As the cutback of postgraduate institutions, such as the Rijksacademie, does not go ahead, the fund has to get the money elsewhere. This quote from Bussemaker's letter actually says it all: "The postgraduate institutions function will be continued. These funds were already part of the BIS financial framework. In addition, €1.75 million will be transferred from the Mondrian Fund to the subsidy ceiling of the supporting visual arts institutions."

So the Mondrian Fund has 1.75 million less to spend on other things because the money is taken away by the ministry. So that's not even returning the bike bell from the stolen bike. What it is: you can make up the imagery for that. In the comments.

The entire letter can be found here:

SpaceforCulture

 

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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