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Culture is good for nothing

4 June this year, the Culture Council issued its opinion on the subsidy applications of cultural institutions in the so-called basic infrastructure.

The Council for Culture is the statutory advisory body to the government and parliament in the field of art, culture and media. The Council advises on current policy issues and grant applications, solicited and unsolicited. It is highly rewarding skimming the current state of affairs

Following this advice, the three opera companies subsidised by the central government (and therefore partly paid for by you and me) should be substantially get to work. From our capital (National Opera and Ballet, widely known as the Stopera), the subsidy application has not yet been accepted and must be completely rewritten (no, unless). In Maastricht (Opera Zuid) and Enschede (Nederlandse Reisopera), among others, an explanation (substantiation?) of the artistic choices, both in terms of repertoire and its interpretation, must be provided (yes, provided).

"I made this repertoire choice because I sense two years in advance that it is going to fit the zeitgeist" or "this singer has been asked for the role because he or she is so suitable for it after I heard the voice in 2018" seem to have become insufficient for Empire. This is how the opera production profession rolls.

Somehow I understand this. Being able to spend public funds is not a matter of course but brings with it responsibility. Comparisons of culture to airlines saved with taxpayers' money immediately go awry.

Life is neither good nor bad. Life is life, and all we know. Good and bad and joy and woe Are woven fine, are woven fine. All the travels we have made, All the evils we have known, Even paradise itself, Are nothing now, are nothing now.

'Change the things you can, and not the things you want to,' I thought this morning in my first mood of the day. Culture and Sky Priority do not go together because the purpose of culture should be to make everyone feel a bit elitist inside, not just FlyingBlue members. This provided culture is good for something anyway. And it isn't. I guess I should explain that.

This week I was at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht. I saw the exhibition 'The Tears of Eros'. I took the time to taste the offerings intently. The surrealist work of Utrecht artist, Johannes Moesman (1909-1988), among others, focuses on the faceless woman as sex object. Necessary at the time as a reaction to everything else, but ... The conclusion was that it was good to have seen it and that I would rather enrich myself with other kinds of art. If artists like Moesman had had to explain their intentions before starting work they would have gone up in flames, so to speak, with studio and all at the stake. Especially in the Netherlands. Especially then.

Being awarded a grant is nice and thus inevitably creates obligations. However, it can also limit creativity. The chain demonstration "Culture in Action", aimed at collecting signatures for a petition in support of "the sector", also hit hard by the corona crisis, is an example of how we impose limits on ourselves only to cry out that someone else is not supporting us enough.

And to keep shouting that you are important to society is nonsense. In fact, you are no more important than the baker, the diner, the GP or the postman. You are, I am, heartily expendable. Because art and culture are completely meaningless. And the moment art and culture start providing something, they have become irrelevant. Art and culture are not consumer products and add nothing to a better world. And therein lies their strength. Rethinking, then. Art does not exist because it has to, but because we need it. Other than fulfilling an indefinable need, 'the sector' is completely useless. Culture should support society, especially in these times, not the other way around. Besides: once a painting is virtuous because it fits so well with the sofa under it and it has been vetted by the furniture maker, it can be à la Banksy through the shredder.

View of Vragender (Achterhoek)

As I neared the end of this piece of morning humour, I was reminded of the guts, perseverance and determination with which I was able to give the Reisopera a future from 2012 onwards -and dragged along a team of collaborators- precisely by not explaining anything beforehand but working from the realisation that we were expendable. Because opera isn't good for anything beforehand, until the makers embrace the reality of its uselessness. Times change, people change and so do expectations.

We're neither pure, nor wise, nor good

We'll do the best we know.

We'll build our house and chop our wood

And make our garden grow.

Later that day in Utrecht: dined with my company at restaurant Sarban: an Afghan restaurant (Alizadah family, also in Tilburg) founded and run by young refugees. Culture, art and lots of goodies on and on the table. Explanation completely unnecessary. Any questions?

Any questions?

Images are from a walk around the village of Vragender and quotes are from Bernstein's Candide.

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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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