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Without extra money, diversity in our culture is unfeasible. The floor will be given to the minister on Sunday, 26 August

Good news from culture funds: 'Diversity' becomes a serious requirement on whether you get subsidy for your cultural thing or not. Of course, this will lead to discussion. To prevent people from falling back on the Jeroen Pauw argument (we want women on the show, but there aren't enough good ones who want them too), the group of funds insists that 'quality' remains the benchmark when assessing applications. Of course, here and there it will lead to the usual application opportunism: each new arts plan period leads to new jackets for the same projects. Young people, cultural entrepreneurship, diversity: a matter of editing and steering. It need not always lead to fundamental changes.

And there we do have something to address. After all, culture (and journalism, for that matter) are not popular sectors in the Netherlands. Anyone who really wants to belong will not easily choose an insecure existence as a journalist (fake news, lügenpresse), or as an artist (subsidy slurper, left-wing waster). Those who belong to a minority and want to escape a bad social position will rather choose a useful profession, or a sector with prestige, or money, such as sports or the medical field. 

Neoliberal

Sightseeing can still work, but making money is quite a thing in the arts. Especially in the subsidised arts. Especially since Halbe Zijlstra decimated cultural subsidies and neo-liberalism blossomed among boards and managements of subsidised institutions. Legion are the reports of artists having to pay themselves to set up their exhibitions or write or rehearse their performances. At subsidised institutions whose directors are up against the salary cap.

And may we in the West have a tradition in which starving artists get some kind of respect (potential van gogh's, permanently bankrupt rembrand's), in many of the cultures that are part of the Dutch palette today, 'poor scribbler' has no romantic connotations whatsoever.

Empty gesture?

Chances are, then, that the push for more diversity in artists, stories, boards and staff will achieve little. As long as there is no normal income to be earned in the arts.

That is why the piece of collected funds is not worth so much as long as there are no financial consequences. Those who want to bring in new audiences will have to make an honourable living in return. A normal income, with the prospect of growth. Not struggling for four months to end up performing night after night in front of half-empty venues for little more than a welfare allowance.

Paradiso debate

Sunday, August 26, during the annual Paradiso debate, it will therefore be exciting. Is our culture minister, who will give a keynote there, really going to say something about money? It is meant to be. After all, the debate is all about Fair Practice: fair payment for honest work in the arts sector.

Earlier, the minister hinted that no real extra money will be available for that fair payment. After all, that money should go to multinationals and their shareholders. If there will not be more money for fair remuneration of artists, less art will have to be made, so the existing money will be distributed more fairly. That is effectively a no go for the cultural sector, and certainly the funds.

Butter to the fish

The funds are now betting on diversity but are not allocating money for it. They make marginal efforts to improve working conditions, but do not want to skimp on the supply. That won't get new groups interested in the sector. So the minister may well be forced to force less art to be made in order to get more diversity in the arts.

I estimate, with the wet finger, that the offer will have to go down by at least 30%, but perhaps as much as 50% to fulfil all ambitions at the current budget. The question now is whether the current arts sector will agree to that.

Sunday, August 26, we will know more.

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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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