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A climate code for the arts? Ticks have a hard enough time as it is!

"We firmly believe that a well-developed and widely implemented Culture, Climate & Environment Code helps the worlds of art, culture and creation to take up their role within the most pressing issue of our time. That role is one of social innovation and creativity in the service of the arts, but also in the service of society and a liveable future."

Yesterday, Tuesday, 30 August 2022, appeared On Volkskrant's opinion page an appeal to the arts sector to finally start doing something about the climate crisis. And, because it is tradition, it should do so through a code. Alongside the codes for Diversity&Inclusion, Fair Practice and Governance. That means, among other things, that from now on, every grant application should not have 3 tick boxes, but four. Indeed, that is how the codes are enforced in practice. Not coercion, but application and explanation.

I think this is the time to decide to end the codes.

On the same day that the call for a climate code for culture appeared, I happened to speak to a researcher working on the evaluation study of the Diversity & Inclusion Code. It was an extremely pleasant conversation, in which I spoke at length about my initial enthusiasm for that code, but that I am now sceptical: the handling of the Code D&I has largely been reduced to ticking the box on the grant application, following the appointment of an 'employee D&I', who is judged after four years for not meeting the targets, because the employee D&I does not really have the power to change the whole organisation.

Plain sailing

Mind you, it often goes well, I know plenty of examples of cultural organisations where things are very diverse and inclusive. Take Theatre Festival Boulevard, where, both in the office and at the festival, it is the most natural thing in the world that everything is accessible, and can be brought by and for everyone, whatever special characteristic or peculiarity you have. Boulevard regards anything that is not diverse and inclusive as a noteworthy exception, not the norm.

Did that festival need the code for that? People will say it did, but as a long-time witness I can state that in Den Bosch they were already removing mental and physical barriers before the code was presented, on 1 November 2019. One simply did what any sensible person is supposed to do. They didn't need a code for that.


Actually, that is the problem with all these codes in the cultural sector: they lay down what should be perfectly normal, but is not. Unlike in the business world, where the Tabaksblatt Code (which in retrospect turned out to be empty) sets a standard in a world where competition naturally leads to a blurring of standards, there is no life-and-death competition in the world of culture, is there?

Unfortunately, we have to note that since the codes were all created, they have made it painfully clear how similar the cultural sector is to mainstream society. The tick box on the fair practice code has not put an end to the underpayment of self-employed workers, the governance code has not put boards all at once in wonders of transparency a liability changed and diversity and inclusion have not really improved much since the code either.


Why is a code even necessary if all three of these cases are about common decency? How difficult is it apparently for the cultural sector to be decent? And then not necessarily in the expressions, because indecency is somewhat part of free art, but simply, in how you stand in life as a company and as a human being?

That the climate is going to its galleries is well enough known. Yet programmers, companies and curators still fly across Europe because they are too busy for a train ride. Art buildings are now often still colanders for heat. The bitterballen usually still just contain dead cows, and we still go on tour with the whole club and all the sets while a fixed playing and pitch location saves tons of CO2, especially if good ov arrangements are made.

Of course it is difficult to make investments in sustainability and climate-friendly adaptations, but it pays off in the end.


The authors state: "The cultural/creative sector also needs to get to work. Besides reducing its own ecological footprint, this sector has the potential and the social responsibility to use the transformative power of imagination and stories to move people and change behaviour. By showing good examples and setting a good example ourselves. If we fully harness the clout of this sector to reinvent both our physical infrastructure and our way of life, social tipping points will beckon and a liveable future will be possible."

So in my opinion, you don't need a code for that, just common sense. Finches - because of massive insect mortality - have a hard enough time as it is.

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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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