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'Cabinet, reign on!', says Arts '92. How did it come to this?

Above all, we must continue with the favourable arts policy initiated by the fourth Rutte cabinet. That states kunsten umbrella Arts ´92 in a fire letter following the fall of the as yet last cabinet under that name. This is a remarkable turn of events after 13 years in which most of the art world wanted nothing more than to be rid of neoliberal art policy as soon as possible.

The answer to the question of where this turn of events comes from is very funny: after four cabinets, the prime minister, who was the constant factor in it, has managed to get virtually nothing of his draconian plans done, and so the outcome is strangely positive.

  • All at 130 kilometres per hour on packed highways? Blown off.
  • Expand Schiphol, add Lelystad Airport? Drowned.
  • The A27 through Amelisweerd? On the back burner.
  • Cutting back on care? Made more expensive and failed.
  • Sharp reduction in cultural subsidies? Almost completely reversed.


What did happen: increased mutual distrust in society, as a result of which more control pressure and biased algorithms have caused stagnation and even decline, not only in the arts. I remain silent on the disgrace of the allowance affair, the nitrogen disaster and the delays in the climate transition. The number of burnt-out politicians and civil servants is innumerable.

Let's look back at those 13 years, shall we? Quite coincidentally, also years in which Culture Press existed. Years in which this site evolved from a haven for freelance art critics to an indispensable interpreter of the less sexy cultural-political game.

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2010: the year of the announcement

Halbe Zijlstra announced his cut of '200 million or more' during the 2010 Paradiso debate, and I'll tell you honestly that I still thought it was grandstanding at the time, but no. The gedoogakkoord of the Rutte 1 Cabinet (CDA, PVV, VVD) contained the announced cut (and more) and was presented on 30 September 2010. Already on 8 October, the first (fun) demonstration arose in The Hague, set up by accordion student Sofie de Klerk. I reported and saw how GeenStijl proceeded to dismiss the protesting artists as elitist: Art world via Facebook in action against culture cut even before Rutte-Verhagen cabinet installed.

During that period, the first opinion pieces appeared in the media, in which people tried to make it clear how bad the cuts would be. I also joined in: The arts subsidy system is like a house that changes hands a little too often: new cultural policy Rutte cabinet is capital destruction 

2011: attempts to avert fate

The last hopes of understanding from The Hague evaporated when Mark Rutte first said something about art. It was the first example of disinformation from someone who was supposed to be above the parties. It's about 15 people in the front row. What exactly does Mark Rutte say about the arts? It fits in 1 minute and it's not quite right. 

It was the reason for Culture Press to introduce the hashtag into existence. "RutteLeaks": Prime minister and state secretary don't know their own figures: income requirements for arts institutions already met in 2007 and most subsidy already going to successful institutions.

This started a series of stories, which I wanted to publish as an e-book one day, but no one felt like it. Still, a few highlights. Or should I say lows?

I found this quote in this article: "The perception is that arts and culture are subject to hefty cuts. Municipalities cite the fact that a significant part of the culture budget is 'free money' as the reason, which means that cuts are easier to implement here than in other areas." These fears later proved true, and we are still suffering from them. Rutteleaks 3: we now know how barren it will look in the coming years: decimate culture and libraries, spare regional broadcasters.

Next came the orchestras. Rutteleaks 4 on orchestras: 'Mergers Brabants Orkest and Limburg Symphony Orchestra, Gelders Orkest and Orkest v.h. Oosten, Residentie Orkest and RphO'. It was the beginning of an agony for the east and south of the Netherlands, which, in the case of today's PHION, we have published about rather extensively. Something to do with a car dealer.


Salvation, Liberal Rutte thought, had to come from the market: rich people who liked to look at art and so were willing to put money into an experimental art project in a birther neighbourhood: Cultural policy Rutte cabinet advised against by patrons and entrepreneurs; PVV absent from hearing on future of Dutch culture. It allowed a few rich people to increase their capital, but it did not improve the art, we now know.

That Rutte became master of unsupported measures in successive cabinets is now well known, we mention the surcharges affair. Or the VAT measure: Rutte cabinet answers chamber questions on 'unsupported' VAT measure.

This led, even before the cuts took effect, to the following reflection: Had the cabinet been a restaurant and the country's connoisseurs Johannes van Dam, Rutte could have closed the joint.

2012: the crisis is here.

There were relatively few posts on the site in 2012, largely due to the temporary non-existence of Culture Press. Because a start-up subsidy had stopped, the revenue model built up with it had been cut, and the board was gone, I wondered how to continue. Eventually, the foundations were then laid for the current readers' cooperative, which is still afloat: with no government money, only donations and membership fees.

Along with the relaunch of Culture Press, a new cabinet also took office. There was hope. Rutte 2: No real recovery holes, but different tone.

2013: collection shuffling with Mark

There was a culture minister from the Labour Party, but to little avail. A quote from 2013: "Because everything that smelled of modern culture had to go from the previous cabinet, the new cabinet has been peddling collections that perhaps should not be thrown out with the rubbish after all. Collections, built up over decades by the now defunct institutes, are being housed at a university (the TIN's theatre library), in a yet-to-be-built MegaMuziekenDansPaleis in The Hague (music library broadcaster), at the Nederlandsche Bank or so again at a university, this time Leiden's (Tropeninstuituut)." (Collection shuffling, Rutte II's new hobby )

In that year, debates in the chamber became hilarious, or rather sad. I quote Henri Drost, then a writer at Culture Press: "Anyway, so the debate quickly turned to side issues, the discussion turned briefly towards brass bands thanks to Mona Keijzer, unintentionally but yet again putting away everything outside the Randstad as peasants, and Rutte was able to make another point by saying that all subsidies on pop music should be abolished - while VVD aldermen all over the Netherlands are campaigning for pop venues that have just been built or are yet to be built, but I guess that's because there are the necessary building connections.":

Rutte and Bosma don't do vision or substance and bend culture debate to their will.

2013-2016 - dark years?

During this time, Rutte was the great absentee in cultural politics. He did not interfere with the portfolio held by the Labour Party. Reparation was made, but Rutte had set limits that were not to be crossed. It was the time when people in The Hague talked daily about 'cash shifting'.

2017: the big lie

Time for a mid-term review, thanks to a guest column by Maarten van der Meer. He states: "But the terrible thing is that this is done on the basis of a lie, again in this coalition agreement. The lie that the Culture Sector has succeeded in finding new money streams. That this has succeeded applies only to a very small part of the sector, namely the part that is attractive to those other money flows, the so-called 'excellent' part of the sector. And even for these institutions, this is true only to a very limited extent." New Cabinet confirms with agreement culture line Rutte I and II.

2018: fair pay for less art

Memory in the arts sector is short, but back in March 2018, over five years ago, one of Rutte's monkeys came out of the bag: production cuts, this time sold under the guise of fair pay, voiced by a fresh D66 minster: “'You can see that a lot has been produced in recent years just to maintain those audience numbers. Maybe we should see if the artist can't get a fair wage after all. That means that we will then make audience numbers a little less important. So that means institutions can do a little less, but we will have more money available for that."

2019: the year we almost forgot

This wrote, and I was not happy: "Rutte with his sleeves rolled up at the Toppers? From me he may, but he is not sitting there because he likes it, but because he wants to make it clear that he is definitely not sitting anywhere else deliberately.": Art is totally useless, and politicians need to make that clearer. (Why Mark Rutte should go out more often).

The years under Rutte began to burn in. The third Rutte cabinet brought no real relief: New arts plan cabinet-Rutte III: 25 million less arts supply. (But more happy artists). Because 2020 came after 2019, and because of Corona we don't remember how badly things were going wrong: a few reminders: No one in the art came up with a plan B. (Why the current chaos was caused by lobbyists) .

A quote: "'It will only become clear in the spring how many have been applied for, and even then it remains to be seen whether all those applications meet the minimum quality standard,' the minister told Corine Ellemeet of the Green Left. The latter - with Lodewijk Asscher (PvdA) and Peter Kwint (SP) - had called for the planned cut to be reversed already now. Even Salima Belhaj of D66 did lean towards a motion in that direction, although she did not want to thwart her minister too much. After all, the party has yet to loudly celebrate having managed to rustle up an extra 80 million structurally for the arts during the formation with the inflexible VVD. Unfortunately, criticism of the negatives of the continued VVD policy is louder than that good news. This is also because most of the new money will go mainly to the rather richly endowed heritage sector.": After the budget debate, the performing arts sector will have to be even more patient. Until spring.

But that spring turned out differently.

2020 - Saviour of the fatherland?

Suddenly, we were sitting in and making podcasts. Presentation guru Machteld Kooij had some tips for the troubled minpres: Podcast in times of Corona (10) - 'Rutte's hands should be in a box' (The Secret Arm of Hilversum speaks)

One of the interesting aspects of a decade of neoliberal policies is that they have widened income disparities. Also in culture: Forget KLM and Booking: even in the subsidised arts, directors are big earners. 

More 'typical Rutte': everyone must decide for themselves how bad racism is. This guest column says a lot: "In recent years you have spoken little on institutional racism, discrimination and exclusion, I was glad you did last week. We don't need to legislate on this, you argue, because we have Article 1 and the institutions that should help counteract all this.": Of course, when it comes to institutional racism, discrimination and exclusion, these are not feelings, as you claimed this week, but facts, Mr Rutte.

And then there was a change, thanks in part to the pandemic: 1 time art, 2 times culture. The Throne Speech makes up for years of silence on arts and culture in 4 sentences.

But at its core, Rutte remains the prime minister of the "pull factor", the theory that people only flee from war if they know they will get an air mattress in the Netherlands. Rutte also had his words ready for culture: On the myth of the 'attractiveness' of arts funding. (And What Now with debating theatre makers?!) 

2021 - Rutte's lax attitude towards art finally reversed?

Closer to now, we have almost already forgotten how difficult it was to get Mark Rutte to do something about the crisis in the arts sector. Three examples:

And then came a budget that was actually going to do something good for arts and culture: 170 million added structurally. The cultural sector can breathe a sigh of relief. Our wish list 

2022: how short can it be?

The year we pried our way out of the corona crisis was also the year Rutte's old mores proved stubborn. "Now the not-so-fresh cabinet is acting like a besieged castle, with underriders, sportsmen, culture people and wappies rushing at the weakened walls like a menacing forest of Birnam (Macbeth is momentarily unstreamable). Now would be quite the time to stand together with those sectors, and not dig in and complain about the lack of understanding."  The government is digging in where precisely cooperation with society is needed. 

2023 - uncertainty.

Rutte leaves politics because he preferred to leave women and children in war zones. He also leaves politics in a year when art love threatened to regain the upper hand, thanks to the secretary of state who was in power briefly enough to be deeply loved: Gunay Uslu. Wondering what will remain of these principles in the times to come: The power of creativity - culture at the heart of society 

Thank you very much for reading up to here. I hope you found it informative. I am also very curious to hear your reaction to this post.

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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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