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IN PERSPECTIVE 18: Has it already started, or is jazz policy in the Netherlands already over?

In the series In Perspective, Erik Akkermans looks back and ahead at developments in cultural policy and practice. Today: policies for jazz and improvised music.

From the Oude Schans to Rijswijk

May 1983, Monday morning, quarter past eight. Location: the soulless office tower in Rijswijk that houses the Ministry of Welfare, Public Health and Culture. Minister Brinkman has invited the members of the Jazz Policy Working Group to come and offer him their advice at half past eight.

For those who might have just given or listened to a concert the previous evening in the old BIM house on the Oude Schans in Amsterdam, the transition could not have been greater. But the group of representatives from the field of jazz and improvised music did not let that put them off. For more than a year, they had worked on the ministerial assignment to come up with a policy plan. Among them writer Henk Bernlef and up-and-coming cellist Ernst Reyseger as representatives of the Stichting Jazz en Geimproviseerde Muziek in Nederland (SJIN). And musicians Boy Raaymakers and Nico Langenhuijsen on behalf of the Bond van Improviserende Musici (BIM). From the media: journalist Gijs Tra and VPRO presenter Han Reiziger. I was allowed to chair the working group.

The Working Group was a retake. Earlier, the ministry commissioned a working group to explore the subsidy system in this field of work. But the Working Group, which included luminaries Willem Breuker, Hans Dulfer and Misha Mengelberg, was ordered by the full boards of BIM and SJIN to cease work. The unions saw no new prospects for jazz in the existing music system . The working group was just able to bring out the results of a survey of musicians.1

The second Working Group began under better auspices. The discussion on the music system had opened up. The Sutherland Commission had been set up to consider the organisation of the orchestral system. There would be no extra money overall, but symphonic music was to be cut in favour of jazz, improvised music, ensembles and new music. Even now, only 1.1 million guilders (half a million euros) was available for the entire production, supply and distribution of jazz and improvised music. Three quarters of that went to the SJIN to enable additional fees for musicians per performance and to subsidise longer-term projects. A quarter of the state subsidy went to a few permanent ensembles.

Money from orchestras

An increase in the Arts budget was therefore out of the question, but the budget for jazz and improvised music would go up because of the shift in the overall music budget. Unfortunately, in the course of 1982, the House of Representatives decided that the approach to the orchestral system needed further study first. For the time being, no extra money became available for other sectors. As chairman of the Working Group, I wrote an indignant letter to Minister Brinkman. Collectively, the Working Group sent a response to the Lower House with the decision to suspend its work. It seemed to make little sense to make nice plans with an unchanged budget.

The House of Representatives responded with a motion to instruct the Sutherland Commission to also make concrete suggestions for strengthening the non-symphonic offer at an early stage. The minister, through his Head of Music Brester, informed the Working Group that although there was no money now, there really had to be plans for the future. These then already provided direction and impetus. "I trust that even as the financial situation seems to offer less far-reaching prospects, you will be prepared to complete your work. ", Brester said on behalf of the minister. The Working Group went back to work grumbling. The final report - entitled "Has it already begun?" - came in May 1983.

Concert plan, production plan and a fund?

The Volkskrant of Tuesday 10 May 1983 gave an adequate summary of the opinion. The plans maintained the existing structure: a strengthened SJIN as the central body. There would be a Concert Plan and a Production Plan. The former to subsidise concerts on a larger scale and especially more robustly. The second to allow groups to work on productions. The Working Group felt there should be a fund for jazz and improvised music. However, the national cultural funds had yet to be developed-first a Framework Act had to pass through the Lower House-so there was no clear example yet. As a result, a concrete fund proposal could well create a quagmire of lengthy legal preparations, bureaucratic actions and multiple consultations. To be on the safe side, or perhaps over-cautious, the Working Group therefore limited itself to proposing to investigate a fund.

The working group was more concrete on other proposals. The minimum standard for fees had to go up. Fees should also take into account rehearsal time and indirect costs. Administrative handling had to be organised centrally; that took work out of the hands of musicians and organisers. Workshops for amateurs and learning orchestras had to be an integral part of the system. And it was time to also better organise the existing venues and get them working together. Finally, the recently established Nederlands Jazz Archief deserved financial support to continue its existence. The proposed new jazz policy would require an extra 2.4 million guilders (over €1 million).

Quality and innovation?

The sector welcomed the reasoned plea for increased funding. But otherwise, as is common in the sector, there was also much criticism and fuss2. Why focus on workshops and learning orchestras; surely that was pure amateur art? Why no bolder plea for a Jazz Fund? Wasn't the SJIN given too much power? Was there enough focus on venues?

What attracted remarkably no criticism was that the working group did not address the quality of and innovation in music. While musicians like Hans Dulfer or Loek Dikker, on the other hand, were so critical of earlier trailblazers from the 1960s who were now very established, if not supreme, and no longer innovative. 3 Willem Breuker, for example, fell victim to this criticism, sometimes out of chininess, sometimes out of genuine concern. But the Working Group finished its job without describing the substantive context. And also without worrying about following up the advice.

WVC official Frits den Haring wrote to the Working Group that he did not yet want to send a thank-you note: "After all, it is conceivable that your expertise will be called upon again." However, that did not happen. The file was closed for the time being.

Is this art or can it go away?

The title 'Has it started yet?' - in the category 'Is this art or can it go away?' - naturally ostentatiously referred to the kind of music that could lead the untrained listener to great questioning, if not bewilderment. But it unfortunately also turned out to be a prophetic title. For although the Sutherland committee recommended allocating an extra 1.4 million guilders (over 7 tonnes euro) to jazz and improvised music, implementation was long overdue.

Ten to 15 years later, gloomy sounds were still heard at the Nederlands Jazz Congres, incidentally a unique pooling of forces and knowledge. People saw little knowledge of and recognition for jazz in the Netherlands. The number of concerts was declining. The BIM standard was no longer used. The SJIN lost its prominent position and merged into the Nederlands Impresariaat (later the Chamber of Commerce).

Subsidy policy was fragmented. 4Success and innovation repeatedly proved to be opposites. However, in 1997 the number of groups included in the Arts Plan increased from two to seven. And there was more room for incidental subsidies from the Performing Arts Fund.

Lots of movement, little effect

One wonders if upgrading this sub-sector ever actually got off the ground. Michiel Scheen (former chairman of the BIM) in his blog has given an unhappy overview of developments over the past decades5. The lack of attention for this type of music on the stages, the lack of fair pay, the difference in social position with salaried musicians in orchestras, not that much has changed.

Scheen argues that especially the many policy changes and reorganisations have damaged the sector. For example: a Fund for Jazz and Improvised Music did not come about, but we did see successively the Fund for Amateur Art and Performing Arts, the Fund for Stage Programming and Marketing and the Performing Arts Fund. Concert subsidies went successively from the SJIN via the Netherlands Impresario to a variety of schemes at these successive funds. And that leaves aside Scheen's cuts from 2012.

Or the abolition of the WWIK which has been of great significance for self-employed musicians and musicians; some 10 million went to performing artists. 6Scheen points out that something special did happen in the meantime from the field itself. In collaboration between Kunstenbond, BUMA and Senna, and then also reluctantly the Performing Arts Fund, the National Podium Plan was created. This is where musicians (pop, jazz, world music) and smaller venues can go for quick-fix contributions to the fees, with a reinforced emphasis on fair pay. The standard for remuneration to performing musicians was raised from €265 to €325 per performance in three years.

Beyond genre boundaries?

I wondered whether we are gradually moving beyond the era of a policy specifically focused on jazz and improvised music. Should we continue to demarcate genres, if at all? As director of the Utrecht Conservatory of Music at the time, I wanted the abolition of the usual departmental structure: classical, jazz, pop, world music. This led to a lot of criticism among the departments and to me feeling a little too ahead of my time. (And then again, I was a non-musician) But that was also 25 years ago now. Surely we have made progress in breaking down barriers?

Jazz musicians who were up in arms against the transformation of NPO Radio 4 into NPO Radio Klassiek will not experience it that way7. And the Culture Council's latest BIS opinion 8 also makes it clear that while all genres are similar, some are slightly more similar than others.

If no ensemble in jazz and 'light music' qualifies for a place in the basic infrastructure due to lack of quality or for other reasons, should the Council not establish that one or more places are vacant? And shouldn't every possible effort be made to fill them properly? The Performing Arts Fund also has a limited share of jazz and improvised music.

So apparently, the time for a policy specific to this genre is not over at all. Put more cynically, has it already begun?

===

ERIK AKKERMANS is a director, consultant and publicist. He was chairman of the cultural and creative sector labour market platform Platform ACCT and of various other organisations. Erik Akkermans was, among other things, director of the Federation of Artists' Associations and as director responsible for the conservatoires of Groningen and Utrecht. He chaired the committee that advised the minister on Jazz policy ("Has it started yet?". Plan for Jazz and Improvised Music, 1983) and led the evaluation of the Fonds Scheppende Toonkunst. He was vice-president of the Netherlands Promenade Orchestra. In 2018, he guided the provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel in their administrative role in the merger of Het Gelders Orkest and Orkest van het Oosten.

1 Jazz and Improvised Music in the Netherlands, Now and Later, 1981, unpublished.

2 "The jazz sector is known to be critical, especially of itself. In the Dutch cultural sector, few arts disciplines are as critical of their internal organisation as the jazz sector." Thus the report of the 1997 Dutch Jazz Congress.

3 Eddy Determeyer, "How sick is Dutch improvised music", report of a group discussion in Jazz Nu, no. 6, 1982 mmv Pierre Courbois, Hans Dulfer, Rindert Meijer, Ernst Reijseger, Bert Vuijsje and Rudy Koopmans.

4 Report of The Dutch Jazz Congress 6 March 1996 and 15 March 1997, Utrecht. Article Frans van Leeuwen in De Volkskrant 3 March 1995: 'Always wear a tie'.

5 Michiel Scheen, Towards a better functioning Jazz policy in the Netherlands, http://jazz-in-nederland.blogspot.com/

6 Podiumpeiler 2011, research Atlas van Gemeenten commissioned by Muziek Centrum Nederland and Theater Instituut Nederland, Utrecht 2011

7 Press release BIM 6 July 2023: "World Music and Jazz protest leads to constructive conversation with NPO summit and plans for more inclusion"

8 Raad voor Cultuur Advies over de Culturele basisinfrastructuur 2021-2024, p. 39 ff, The Hague 2020

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