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'Monument to BKR' shows how well an income scheme for artists can work

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With 'A monument to the BKR', Fransje Kuyvenhoven has indeed written a tribute in her "history of a high-profile artists' scheme (1949-1987 )". If only because the first hundred pages contain no text, but a chronological showcase of artworks from the BKR. By Karel Appel, Corneille, Constant, Lucebert, Jan Wolkers, Kees van Bohemen, Ger Lataster, Armando, among others. And because here follows a thorough description of this unique, maligned and appreciated scheme. As a policy instrument suspended between the Social Affairs Assistance Act and the public art property for which the minister of culture was responsible.

Kuyvenhoven even describes in detail the twenty-six interim changes to the Regulations, as well as the uprisings of angry artists, occupations of the Rijksmuseum, the despair at the Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst, the quest of policymakers and politicians.

Poor framing

I read it eagerly. And all the more so because I saw some of that history up close. I saw many of the lines that Kuyvenhoven also indeed brings out.

My perception is confirmed that the BKR went down more through bad 'framing' than actual abuse. Kuyvenhoven also underlines that the Dutch government took responsibility for the livelihood of visual artists in a globally unique way. And she describes what I had much less strongly in mind: the unstoppable flow of artworks that were more or less carelessly dumped at the (predecessor of the) Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst year after year.

Before the war

Fourteen years earlier than the BKR there came into being, in 1935, the Provisional Fund for Artists. Kuyvenhoven includes that when she describes the BKR's run-up, including the fact that Sociale Zaken was also at the cradle of this fund, together with Dutch municipalities, artists' associations and private funds. Artists could borrow from it for professional investments, as well as get special living assistance for a few weeks a year.

That provision was meant for organised artists of all disciplines, so it is notable that the BKR was set up only for visual artists. In 1945, the Federation of Artists' Associations was launched, prepared in the artists' resistance. Perhaps the initial dominance of visual artists prevented the federation from demanding access to the special assistance scheme for other creative artists as well.

Counter performance

What was characteristic, beautiful and at the same time problematic about the Visual Artists' Regulation was the 'quid pro quo': the obligation to hand in one or more works of art or to carry out commissions. The direct responsibility of municipalities, if they chose to do so, was valuable. Especially from municipalities like Amsterdam or Groningen that were positively involved in implementing the scheme.

Had a more sophisticated system been devised for the destination of the artworks and had there been promotion, for instance in line with the popular Public Art Reserve, for these contemporary visual arts, perhaps the accumulation of art would not have gotten so out of hand. And then the art libraries, set up specifically to lend BKR art, could have played a firmer role. But the BKR's at times bad image played tricks on the art library.

Government and artists also feared distortion of competition: cheaply acquired BKR art versus the free market. This eased when art libraries and commercial art loans merged into the new Federation of Art Lending. But an impressive turnover did not materialise. However, at the end of the BKR's history, the bold director of SBK Amsterdam, John Loose, did acquire an impressive amount of artworks from the State for one euro. Still under management at the SBK. Still on loan.


The question that also arises from "A Monument to the BKR" is whether the visual artist organisations themselves did not contribute to the end of the BKR. Not for nothing did a number of artists, such as Lataster and Sierhuis, split from the BBK to form the BBK'69. Many artists organised in the BBK radically rejected quality requirements and balloting. Their demand that this specific assistance scheme be brought under the policy of the minister of culture also fell on hard times, especially in the period of the no-nonsense Lubbers cabinets.

Social Affairs Minister Jaap Boersma (who remarkably would later succeed me as chairman of the Artists' Provident Fund,) was still open to dialogue with artists. But Lau de Graaf on Social Affairs and Elco Brinkman on Welfare, Public Health and Culture were much less so. How the protesting artists treated them personally (up to pies in the face) did not help in this and accelerated rather than delayed the end of the scheme.

Kuyvenhoven portrays well how, over time, the regulation was constantly adjusted and, above all, tightened. Incidentally, a feminist struggle took place in between, as the BKR was considered a breadwinner's scheme and was therefore largely aimed at men.


Increasingly, professionalism, artistic ability and a certain social focus were demanded. This eluded the general public and the media - as far away as the United States, by the way. The unbelievable stock of unstoppable works of art and the wild stories about abuse of the scheme were too grateful subjects for image-making.

The Provident Fund for Artists foresaw the end of the BKR and devised social schemes for the artists' profession that included self-responsibility and paying premiums. The BBK reacted furiously, seeing it as an alibi for abolishing the BKR. It later admitted that the fund had been farsighted. The envisaged social system did not materialise, but at least the fund that at first threatened to go under in the policy change itself now remained intact. It was later renamed Kunstenaars&CO and now functions under the name Cultuur+Ondernemen as an expertise centre for professional artistry.


Successive ministers like Harry van Doorn and Til Gardeniers, personally motivated to develop art policy, felt uncomfortable with the existence of the BKR. They failed to distinguish between art policy and artists' policy in a relaxed manner and to achieve good coordination between ministries. They experienced the BKR as an obstacle.

The 'quality principle' and marketing-focused minister Brinkman, together with colleague De Graaf, cut the knot in 1986. The BKR came to an end and money was transferred from Social Affairs to the Ministry of WVC. The Visual Arts, Design and Architecture Fund came into being. Political coryfee Geert Dales was still its director. And the cabinet, with a strong preference for a generic social security system, could finally abandon a specific target group policy.


Nevertheless, more than a decade later, the artists' organisations got a new scheme together: successively the Income Support for Artists Act (WIK 1999) and the Work and Income for Artists Act (WWIK 2005). The scheme was interesting for more than one reason. It was not purely visual artist-oriented, but multidisciplinary. There was an easily manageable set of criteria for admission.

The scheme encouraged the activity of artists without direct quid pro quo (no art mountain). The benefit was temporary, below welfare level, but allowed additional earning above the welfare standard up to a certain maximum. This specific occupational scheme had the potential to be a pilot for a broader scheme for the self-employed, especially as long as basic income was a distant prospect. But the Rutte I government has also drawn a line through the WWIK. No more artist scheme, but also no clever design for temporary support for the self-employed. And again aversion to customisation.

Greater appreciation

The current social and political reorientation, thinking about a different economic approach, about better social regulations, about an acting instead of a withdrawing government, but also more attention to immaterial values, now offer a chance to convert the experiences with the BKR (and the WWIK) into both more appreciation and a positive social economic basis for creative self-employment.

Good to know Good to know
Fransje Kuyvenhoven: A Monument to the BKR, The History of a Talking Artist Scheme (1949-1987) Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed Amersfoort, Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle, 2020

Erik Akkermans

Director, consultant and publicist.View Author posts

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