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Art is totally useless, and politicians need to make that clearer. (Why Mark Rutte should go out more often)

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This afternoon there will be a hearing in the House of Representatives on the starting point note from Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven. That memorandum which everyone now realises is a fig leaf from her own pocket. Speakers have prepared their finest speeches, and some will surely go viral within the various cultural social media-bubbles. I got a little despondent reading the various position papers that have been submitted.

If this is the basis on which we are all going to have a nice cultural sector, I see a bleak future. After some obligatory motions after which the minister may or may not find another loophole in the culture budget, from the third Tuesday in September we will have a cultural system very similar to that of 1979. That was a mess. And yes, we had art then too, so it's not entirely pathetic.

Art is not a political statement

There must be a big difference with 1979, and that is the total absence of cultural awareness in the Upper and Lower Houses. The presence of MPs, let alone Cabinet members, at a cultural event, a photo of an administrator with an (e-)book, they have become so rare that when they do happen, it is immediately a huge statement. Rutte with his sleeves rolled up at the Toppers? I don't mind him, but he's not there because he likes it, but because he wants to make it clear that he would definitely not be anywhere else.

Since the beginning of this century, politicians at all levels do not show up at arts, cultural events, premieres or special concerts. Sometimes someone travels along to hold the hand of King and Queen, but that is on rare occasions. This political absence from culture of any level sends a clear and unmistakable signal to society. Imagination and entertainment do not matter to life in any way. Those busy governing have no time for an evening of madness. Because that is culture in essence: goofiness where serious people have no business.

With this position, it was only a matter of time before someone like Halbe Zijlstra would be given a free hand by Calvinist Mark Rutte to cut government support for cultural offerings substantially. That principle still stands in the third Rutte cabinet. Why would he suddenly abandon that because a few other parties happen to be at the table?

Art is not part of social debate

Now art, and certainly the stuff about subsidies, is not part of the social debate. This is also a view that has traditionally taken root in all major media companies in the Netherlands. Art, those are the faits divers, the low-hanging fruit, the interviews and gossip in Bekend Nederlanderland and the pretty pictures in the weekend supplements.

They are right too. Art will not solve international crises, nor cure people. And, by showing up at art, especially in the higher segment, you place yourself all too quickly and conspicuously in an elite of white wine lovers. With which something seems to be structurally wrong, even though the Netherlands now produces high-quality white wine.

Art is relaxation

So why is it important, if not essential, for politicians to show up at concerts (even if it is Rieu or Boef), do a premiere once, or get into their official car with Nelleke Zandwijk's latest novel? Not to the people who make art pleasing, because you won't succeed anyway. The only really conceivable good consequence is that it shows you can relax. That you recognise that life is not all meetings and official documents. That you just want to go out once in a while and that that should be a part of every normal human life.

You should do it for fun. Because it also allows you to take some distance yourself, because that idleness, that public loafing, sometimes brings a lot of new inspiration. Even after two fanta. This society desperately needs that signal. The survival of the Netherlands depends on it.

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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