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No one in the art came up with a plan B. (Why the current chaos was caused by lobbyists)  

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'I'm not going to make everyone happy with this.' These words were uttered by minister Ingrid van Engelshoven during the debate on her principles paper last Thursday. True words. Indeed, the shine of her ministership has now worn off. Van Engelshoven is, after Bussemaker, the second culture minister who had to implement Mark Rutte's culture policy, and had nothing to offer other than a cheerful tone and a few perks, which largely consisted of cigars from her own box. Has the world of culture improved? Not really. Are we further from home than ever? Certainly we are.

After all, in 2008, after years of wrangling, an arts policy was in place for the first time that really pleased everyone. A crystal-clear basic infrastructure, with nice functions and corresponding budgets, including generously endowed funds, incubators, workshops and education. Costing barely a billion, but the whole country was happy.


Just how vulnerable that structure was became apparent two years later, when Mark Rutte announced, via his executor Halbe Zijlstra, that there were too many small rooms with 15 people sitting in the front row. It was all too expensive, so 200 million had to be cut. Because there was no further vision behind it, it meant that the basic infrastructure building would remain standing, but with fewer piles, less cement in the joints, a few less ceiling beams and a few more vermin in the basement.

Over nine years, the building fell further and further into disrepair. Everyone saw that, but reacted differently. Lobby organisations urged for the return of that stolen 200 million, with which everything would go back to business as usual, while politicians hammered in a window here and there, installed an extra prop, put up a rat trap, turned on a pump for the rainwater that flowed profusely through the broken roof tiles.

Meanwhile, people just wanted to carry on as if nothing had happened, but with less money. People were being cut, until eventually there were protests against that too. By then it was too late.

Management and conservation

The VVD agenda has been clear all along: like smaller government, the Liberal Party needs a smaller subsidised arts sector. Indeed, subsidy is really only there for management and preservation of heritage and monuments. So anyone who survives as a newcomer long enough on their own two feet will automatically qualify for monument status. Usually in the next life.

On Thursday, in the Groen van Prinsterer hall of the Lower House, suddenly everyone, from left to right, agreed that there was an oversupply in the arts. Strangely, no one in that room really noticed this, but none of the MPs protested. Indeed, it was wholeheartedly agreed. The minister went a step further by thanking the art world for introducing the Fair Practice Code, and that she was happy to support this own initiative by making it compulsory for subsidies. Within the existing financial frameworks.


This means that in one fell swoop at least a third of applications in the Performing Arts will have to be rejected. After all, treating everyone fairly with the same amount of money costs handfuls of money that is not there now. Whether they free up that money through more expensive tickets, less offerings or fewer staff is up to them. Rarely have I seen a ball rebounded with more kindly packaged cynicism by a minister. Because ultimately that is what it is, when you don't answer a call for fair payment with more money.

But isn't the minister being a little justifiably cynical? Doesn't the entire lobbying machinery of the arts sector also owe this a little to itself? After all, Ingrid van Engelshoven has from her first public appearance already indicated that apart from the promised shifts, not one cent would be added. Logical, as Mark Rutte cannot afford to go back on initiated policy again. Yet all lobby organisations continued to focus on increasing the budget, on reversing the cuts. How naive.

Jiu Jitsu

In political lobbying, the power of numbers applies first, then the power of money, followed by political opportunism, after which something like reasonableness remains if there is nothing else to gain. It is primarily a martial art where moving with the opponent's stakes is the first path to winning.

Why didn't the lobby of the art world at some point say: 'OK, we've lost the 200 million, now let's see what good we can do for that amount of money'? Then there might have been grumbling from within its own ranks, but you could also have pointed people to reality, after which the momentum could have turned to other things.


Now, in retrospect, the advice of the Culture Council can be qualified as the ultimate weakness of the art world: there is no new structure, but there is a life raft floating in the flooded backyard with a sail of agricultural plastic. This is definitely insufficient to survive the storm that the cultural sector is sure to face. To further emphasise this, the VVD did not stand cheering for nothing at the 'Saving' state museums from possible regulatory burden?

Where was the Plan B all this time?

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On Thursday, the chamber will vote on some motions.

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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