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4 coming revolutions involving art and money.

The Dutch government distrusts citizens. And that stands in the way of a healthy art sector. This emerged on 17 January during a well-attended symposium at Amsterdam's Veem House. The occasion was the essay, published in book form, by Renée Steenbergen, who also articles published on this site. The event, co-organised by Veem and Platform Beeldende Kunst, featured many creators and a few art institutions, parties that had been interviewed for Steenbergen's book, the Kunstenbond, Kunsten '92 plus - not unimportantly - the new director of the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds.

Normally, I am always a bit wary of symposia in arts country. They usually turn into complaining parties from below and impotent expressions of sympathy from above, against the backdrop of a status quo that never changes. Which the SP's cuddly grunt, Peter Kwint, then manages to say something combative about, after which the drink again lasts far too long.


Not this time. Renée Steenbergen wanted no complaining parties at her book presentation, and she succeeded nicely thanks to the guests: the aforementioned Berhardfonds director Cathelijne Broers, for instance, was remarkably open about the changes she wanted to initiate at the country's largest private fund. Another refreshing contribution came from Rotterdam's Jolanda Spoel, who, as director of the Bijlmerparktheater, was able to nicely demonstrate how demands of diversity and inclusion can clash with practice: in a neighbourhood that now has as many inhabitants as Nijmegen, her building is the only professional arts building.

It had to be about the future, and about how in future the focus would be on the artist, rather than the art institution. And nice things came out of that.

1 Give artists a roof

Art and real estate have an interesting relationship in the Netherlands. Thanks to the separation of subsidy streams, municipalities do not have much say in the content of art (the Raad voor Cultuur (Council for Culture) does that at state level), but all the more in where it is presented. This has created a proliferation of art buildings, making the Netherlands the world record holder in the number of art buildings per capita: theatres, museums, cultural centres, managed by foundations.

Meanwhile, many commercial buildings are empty, and countless artists are homeless, especially when it comes to workspace. The Hague now shares those spaces - through presentation institution Stroom - to young artists. This happens in more cities (Utrecht is good at it with the Cartesiusweg area), but The Hague's example nicely illustrates how artists can establish a new relationship with their surroundings by working in sometimes notorious residential areas. After all, there is little point in being elitist in Moerwijk. It produces new art, testified artists' collective MOHA, and an intense relationship with the neighbourhood.

The fact that such art housing is almost always temporary, and is only meant to make the neighbourhood attractive to developers, at least in this short term, does not play a role for a while.

2: Open your door

Jacqueline Grandjean, who until recently was boss of The Old Church in Amsterdam, is now director of the North Brabant Museum. Noticing that the museum did not seem to have a really close connection with the art scene in the Brabant provincial capital Den Bosch, she decided to move into one of the coach houses and open the door there, in order to get into conversation with passers-by, but also with artists from the region. According to her, it yielded inspiring conversations, which could soon already start leading to more space for contemporary art at the museum, presented in close collaboration with living artists.

Jolanda Spoel manages the only professional theatre building in the Amsterdam Bijlmer and also opens her doors to anyone who wants to make something, or just use a studio. She is all about contact and encounters, and this is bearing fruit.

3: Pull out your wallet for real

A sensible company reserves 2.5 per cent of turnover for Research & Development, better known as Research and Development. 'With that money, no one sets requirements in advance. What research and development yields is uncertain: that's why it's research.' True words from Marga Kroodsma, director of Veem. According to her, institutions could best spend 2.5 per cent of their budget purely on artists, instead of an management. According to her, art is society's Research&Development department, but it is crazy how many hoops you have to jump through to get money for it. And then you have to explain in detail beforehand what you are going to do and what will come out of it.

For once, just give money to artists, without preconditions, argued Rien van Gendt, whose CV includes a career as a banker, cultural administrator and countless opinions. Why submit dozens of pages of applications and justifications, for money that is sometimes not even enough to pay a decent accountant? Why must the outcome be guaranteed? Questions that Van Gendt raised and were met with approval from the audience.

When the question was put directly to Cathelijne Broers why her fund always gives the money in two equal parts, half at the beginning, and half after completion, a small scoop came. Broers announced that she aims to change that crippling situation in which, as a grant recipient, you can rarely pay your suppliers during the project: a significantly larger portion of the money will now be disbursed earlier.

4: Trust people

When we as a country give money to art, we rarely give it to artists. Subsidy from the government and funds you get if you are an institution, preferably a foundation, with definitely a status as an Institution for General Benefit (ANBI), and definitely a board with trustworthy names. We trust those more than someone who needs a studio on their own, or with like-minded people, or a rehearsal space, or some time off to put all her time into a new programme.

Renée Steenbergen's major motivation for writing her book is precisely this problem, that artists and 'makers' fall outside the system on all fronts, and end up providing living proof through their precariat that the infamous 'trickle down' effect does not exist. And so this also has to do with deep-seated distrust of the individual. Even though there are more examples of neat boards of large organisations running off with the dough than of criminals posing as artists.

So we dream for a while longer of a world where trust is taken seriously again. Don't think of an artist as a thief any more than you can think of a parent with an odd surname as a fraudster.

That trust will work mutually, which in turn will be good for the ballot box.

Book cover The Art of Different
Book cover The Art of Different

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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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