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You had one chance to sustainably improve arts subsidies

The decision will be official in mid-September, but behind the scenes it has already been made. The Netherlands will have a very small basic cultural infrastructure for the performing arts, and a very large fund that anyone who wants to make theatre, dance, mime or music must apply to. I asked around a bit recently, and so that's what it will be. That way, politics can no longer have a disruptive influence on the fragile system of arts subsidies. One hopes.

Stage facility

A major theatre company with international allure and a permanent venue, flanked by a major theatre company with national allure and a commitment to provide as many theatres in the Netherlands with real repertoire as possible. We have already organised opera in this way, dance too in fact, so why maintain an infrastructure in the theatre world with a theatre facility in six urban regions.

The rest of the country is provided with theatre, dance and mime arts by 'makers' who are supported to make something per product, or for two or four years. Provided, of course, that this is spread sufficiently across the country. They are still paid per play. It remains to be seen whether the subsidiser will demand that all staff also receive a real salary for all the hours worked. That in turn will affect the number of initiatives that end up getting money.

Blueprint was ready

This plan was soaked up by the 'field' over the past year. During a series of 'conversations', 'stakeholders' were allowed to polish something here and there. Conducting the talks was playfully put in the hands of a group of young artistswho thus seemed to be allowed to think about their own future. With emphasis on 'seemed', because the blueprint had long been with the Culture Council, Performing Arts Fund and advocacy organisation Kunsten '92. It only needed to be massaged in. At least that is the impression of people who attended the talks.

There was also further thought, among the boards involved, for a while. However, the consequences would be bad for employment in training, theatres, companies, funds and governments. Also, reorganisation processes that were already underway would have to be revived. In fact, everyone also needed a little peace and quiet in the tent.

The house is on fire

Yet this is unfortunate. The current state of emergency in the arts, created by the draconian grant cuts in 2012 and the accompanying deterioration of the relationship between audiences and creators, required more extreme measures. After all, the house is on fire. Then it is not enough to lie down in the bath to survive the conflagration. Then it is time to run outside and work on new building plans.

Those new building plans were there. Even at the Performing Arts Fund, there was the thought that this large centrally organised institution might have to abolish itself, in favour of a much more decentralised organised subsidy system. After all: in the Netherlands, and certainly in Europe, cities are becoming increasingly important. Citizens increasingly identify themselves as 'Rotterdammer', 'Berliner' or 'Marseillais' rather than as Dutch, German or French. Cities also need a good local cultural infrastructure of small and larger presentation venues, museums and training courses.


No one finally dared to take the step of giving not only the money but also decision-making power to the cities. Instead, now matchmakers appointed who like a modern 'revisor' are going to find out how it works, such a local cultural sector.

What is most unfortunate: the travel requirement is not going to be abolished. With the big central funds, with Toneelgroep Amsterdam as the figurehead and the National Theatre as the travelling company, we are not there yet. All those small groups, those young makers, as well as those independent makers, will still receive subsidies based on the number of different theatres they visit with their work. The seventy-year-old spread ideal is kept alive artificially. While that is precisely what is killing the performing arts.

Nobody happy

Why force a small and experimental company to get into the van on a journey that will take them past small theatres presenting a different experimental company each night to a select group of fans? No one will be happy about that. There is not enough buzz to attract many audiences. The fans also just have to be able to make it that night and everyone has to go back to work tomorrow anyway.

With no travel requirement, theatres and artists could really start working together. Real audiences could also be built. And I'm not talking about five days in a row the same club with the same programming in house, but five weeks. Then there will also be a lesser night in between, but everyone will get a chance to go and see it.

Pauper's Paradise

The country itself says it is ready for it. Soldier of Orange has been draining the Dutch musical sector from an inaccessible hangar in the dunes for half a century. Tom de Ket wrote 40,000 people to an obscure open-air museum in Drenthe for Het Pauperparadijs. Greg Nottrot sits for a fortnight full house every night on a meadow near a construction site in Leidsche Rijn. People book hotels to visit festivals in far corners of the country.

Local quartermasters, matchmakers or whatever from the central performing arts fund are going to do something that would have made sense in 1970. Indeed, removing the travel requirement, combined with the justifiable income requirement for subsidised creators, would cost jobs. Theatres in small towns will be in trouble and it is guaranteed to lead to a reduction in supply. This is bitter and scary. It would have been nice, though, if at least someone had dared to play with that thought a bit longer.

Night trains

Of course, the subsidiser should further require that a club seeking subsidy also ensure that its organisation and offerings reflect the city's population. No buts. If your region is a white enclave, do everything white. Are you Rotterdam, you'll really have to do something with the 140 nationalities walking around there.

About the other thing the art world unfortunately has no say in, but it would be a huge boost for the sector: frequent trains carrying passengers to all corners of the country and back late into the night. Now artists have to spend a day in traffic jams with their set pieces. For 15 men in Stadskanaal. It is more economical for those 15 men in Stadskanaal to go to Groningen by train.

For me, as a Utrechtian, going out in Groningen suddenly becomes a real option. And vice versa too. Let the public come to art, but give them a chance. By the way, it would also be very good for review writers, but that's another story.

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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