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In Memoriam: the Basic Cultural Infrastructure (2008-2015)

Apetrots they are, the MPs Jacques Monasch, Jasper van Dijk, Mona Keijzer and Alexander Pechtold. After all, they saved a youth theatre company and managed to add a few festivals to the basic cultural infrastructure of the Netherlands. In addition, they have also already earmarked an amount for some other festivals. Yesterday, the motions from the June debate were voted on. Almost all were passed. Champagne.

What nobody seems to realise is that PvdA, SP, CDA and D66 largely killed off the system of arts subsidies in the Netherlands during the plenary session of the Lower House on Tuesday 26 October. For the first time in six years, we can agree with a VVD culture spokesperson:

Once upon a time, the Basic Cultural Infrastructure (BIS) was set up to get ahead of the four-yearly haggling over art subsidies. After all, this was a growing annoyance among the public and the art world itself: every time art subsidies were distributed for four years, based on an advice from the Culture Council, hassles arose. Art institutions that fell outside the boat bombarded 'their' MPs, often managing to ensure that they still provided 'their' club with subsidies during the parliamentary debate on the art budget.

Everyone wanted to get rid of that, and so in 2007 they established a new methodology, which included a large number of art institutions in the 'basic infrastructure'. Those thus pretty much received guaranteed subsidies, while the rest could rely on generous support from the art funds, which could decide independently on the distribution of budgets. The Chamber was no longer involved in that. It would probably also help maintain public support for art subsidies. After all, that was already in bad shape, due to all that moaning every four years.

The VVD decided to cut all art subsidies even during the first year of the new system, with the support of CDA and PVV. No direction was given, other than to cut back. Of course, then culture secretary Halbe Zijlstra knew that by doing so he was endangering the system. After all, it was not built on a sudden reduction of budgets by sometimes as much as 45 per cent.

Zijlstra's successor Jet Bussemaker tried in her own way to keep the basic infrastructure afloat. She knew from the front benches of the Lower House that her predecessor would block any attempt to increase the arts budget, so she didn't even try. As a result, she went shifting budgets. Thus, she managed to maintain a kind of Basic Infrastructure, at the expense of the rest of the subsidised arts sector. So for every gift to the sector, she did a cash grab at the funds. Those funds are now through their reserves. In the coming arts plan, they will not be able to maintain the dynamics in the system. After all: what is already doing well now, in terms of subsidy conditions, cannot then be excluded from subsidy, leaving no room for new initiatives that also meet all the conditions. These will then successfully to court can step in.

Or to the Chamber.

Now that the opposition, together with ruling party Labour Party, has intervened anyway, even setting amounts to be allocated to arts institutions, it is all air disappeared from the system. The Culture Council no longer has any say, the arts funds have lost their money and leeway.

Minister Jet Bussemaker summed it up nicely in her response, when she indicated that she could think of other things to susbidate herself. So that from now on the House will decide on every subsidy itself.

We quote her this time only briefly:

Regarding the motion on piece 172 by members Monasch, Van Dijk, Keijzer and Pechtold, I understand the wish of the Chamber. It is technically feasible and I therefore leave the judgment on the motion to the Chamber. I note that the submitters want to bring two festivals into the BIS with this, namely Early Music and Oerol. I will regulate that. They seek a solution for two institutions, namely the Dutch Dance Days and Cinekid, either in the BIS or outside it. However, it seems most logical to me for these two institutions to create a function in the BIS for them, because I cannot put these companies in the BIS. I can put functions in the BIS and ask the Council for Culture to advise me on who subscribed to those functions and who got it. So that could very well be these institutions, but it could also be others. By the way, I do say that I understand the wish of the Chamber. I also leave the judgement to the Chamber, but it does come at the expense of very many other festivals. These are festivals that often actually manage to attract young audiences, that focus on talent development and that also serve the province. I will mention a few that were not mentioned in the motion, but for which I have special appreciation. I would mention Into the Great Wide Open, with visual arts and music, especially for young generations on Vlieland. Another example is Deventer op Stelten, a wonderful city and neighbourhood festival in which a lot of people from the city and region participate. Ms Keijzer already mentioned the Theatre Festival Boulevard in Den Bosch, and I would add Noorderslag/Noorderzon in Groningen and Music Meeting in Nijmegen. None of these will be happy. I hold this mirror up to the submitters, because I am sure these festivals also know how to find the Chamber. The Chamber often pleads with me for activities in the region, but then less is available for that.

I will also say - and perhaps it already resonates a little with the festivals I mention myself - that, with all due respect to the Chamber, I find the choice lacking in innovation. It is mainly the establishment that is being served. It is safe and I have nothing against it. It is also of great importance, but this motion does give more money to the more established festivals, leaving us with less for innovation.

Surgery successful. Patient died.

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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