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Why a code is not going to change anything about unfair practices in the arts

Dutch youth theatre has been awarded the Prize of the Dutch Critics this year. Quite rightly so. That youth theatre of ours is of superior quality, diverse, dares to tell stories and look outside its own navel. It is more than a pity that, as an adult without a child, you don't come into contact with that theatre so often. Many an adult would become an avid theatre-goer if more theatre was like our youth theatre.

But you can't. For several reasons. Namely, the close relationship with young audiences is special. Children go to theatre with their school, or the theatre comes to school. And these are by no means always voluntary visits. Theatre-makers working in such a context cannot help but take their audiences into account. Something that is not part of the subsidy requirements in 'adult theatre'. Youth theatre is a highly regulated theatre.

Formative theatre

In other words, only if the corporate sector is required to organise at least four staff outings a year to specially made theatre, would that 'adult' theatre be able to build a relationship with audiences comparable to that of youth theatre. Including similar sales qualifications like 'suitable for warehouse workers', 'target audience: '50+', etcetera. There are formation theatre clubs that still do something like this, but those are formation theatre clubs, and that is usually not very heaven-sent. That's how youth theatre used to be too, in the 1970s.

A subsidised duty of artistic target group theatre for adults is not going to happen. That would mean unauthorised government intervention in the arts. Autonomy would be compromised, although in youth theatre no one complains about this.

Top-down rules are controversial in the arts, despite the subsidy being the most neoliberal sector in our country. This is already true for the arts funds' intention to introduce 'diversity' as a grant condition, it is also true for making it mandatory to have a fair, transparent, sustainable, diverse and trust-based arts sector.

Mouse and elephant

Because this should not be imposed from above, if at all possible, we therefore draw up a 'code'. Together. Mouse and elephant. Already works hard in big business (Tabaksblatt Code), but rarely In a small sector like culture (cultural governance code, cultural diversity code). There are all sorts of reasons for this, but the main one is: who cares if the code is not enforced, and who actually wants to check? Do you get fined if you don't enforce the code?

Therefore, the meeting, Thursday, September 13, on the code of fair practice in the arts, so enlightening. There, Kunsten 92, the sector-wide lobby organisation, through its chairman Jan Zoet, was able to explain well why the code is formulated more cautiously with each new version: 'everyone must stay on board'. So a sustainable agreement is needed between clients, employees, employers, contractors, government, theatres, subsidisers, and so on, large and small. At the tables of the SER and Kunsten 92, there are therefore many conflicting interests, and Kunsten 92 is not the kind of organisation that can make hard choices. Nor are they known for it, but that makes sense.

Bears on the road

Will that code ever get there? In part, it is already there. All sorts of parties announce that they will enforce it, and make it a requirement when granting subsidies. Wonderful. But at the meeting on Thursday, it was already clear that there are bears on the road. Because few are willing to enforce the code strictly if the competitor flouts it.

Then again, there is already a generally binding collective agreement for parts of the arts sector. Rules have been agreed therein, but in practice they amount to little. After all: violation of rules and codes must be reported, by victims. In a small world like the arts, with the many unique roles people have, anonymous complaining is almost impossible. So there is a real chance that the whistleblower will have to leave the sector after her complaint.

At the meeting, one - anonymous - person told the meeting that The National Theatre refuses to pay certain positions at minimum wage level. The Amsterdam Fund for the Arts - according to another anonymous attendee - rejected a grant application this year because actors were paid according to the CAO: too high, the AFK ruled. And then it also took almost 30 years for there to be enough courage among enough people to denounce the abuses at Jan Fabre's Flemish company Troubleyn denounce. Through an open letter that is immediately attacked again from all sides, especially the company itself, which the complainants sidelined via a standard response.

Gooise mattress

And then there is the public, and the media, who applaud transgression in the arts. From poverty and burnout (Van Gogh) to sexual morality (Gooise Matras), even if common sense tells us that norms cannot help but be crossed behind the scenes too (Fabre).

If rules cannot change anything in the art world, it has to come from within. So that certainly applies to the 'fair practice' that is now so much going on. Whether a code is going to help with that? We already have so many rules and standards. Of which 'decency' is the oldest. Can't we agree to stick to them? Even if only for a year? Or does 'decency' actually get in the way of real free art again?

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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