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Utrecht Arts Education embroiled in fighting divorce

It was a chilly Thursday evening before Christmas 2023 and a grim atmosphere hung in the wedding hall of the old Utrecht city hall. Where during the day countless Utrechters were saying yes to each other, two partners were now facing each other. They no longer looked at each other, each had gathered their own supporters. There were angry words from one, bewildered words from the other. Members of the Utrecht city council sat in, and didn't know what to say for a while.

The quarrelling partners occupy a triple A location: Domplein 4-5 in the heart of downtown Utrecht. A guarantee of happiness, you might say, but the reality is bitter. After years of suffering at the Utrecht Centre for the Arts the old spouses, the music school (DUMS) and the theatre school (UTS), are engaged in a rock-hard battle for power. That battle already cost the fortunes of housemates DansCentrum Utrecht (DCU) and Dom Under, the foundation that provides access to the Roman remains under Domplein. Both have since left the premises. 

Roman wall 

The stake is formally the management of the building that houses the oldest Roman wall in the Netherlands. but behind the scenes, other interests are at play. There is also a battle of directions: music school people have trouble getting through a door with theatre people. The strict discipline of the music school is hard to reconcile with the playful anarchy of theatre people.

Loyal readers of this site know that the old KLA went through a very protracted death struggle. After the city council decided, following Rutte 1, that arts education should be left to the market, the Utrecht Centre for the Arts had to look for its own income. This ultimately failed, and so the ambitious centre, which was behind the successful DOX company, among others, was declared bankrupt in 2018.  

In order to keep the premises at the centre for cultural education, it was up to the orphaned partners, who could now stand on their own two feet, to run things together. That has now stalled. In the struggle, which has been going on for years, the Dance Centre has found its own place elsewhere. DomUnder has fled to the VVV's neighbours, still refusing to help pay for its management. 

Unyielding staff

The remaining couple, Music School and Theatre School, stood that December evening facing each other in the wedding hall and did not come to terms. Mediating words from the Theatre School, agreeing to a way out offered by the municipality, fell dead at the feet of a monumentally intransigent Music School staff.

The municipality no longer wants to put the management of the building in the hands of DOMUS, a foundation that formally includes representatives of all partners. The conflict between them makes that impossible. It has now even reached the point where the board of that management foundation is indistinguishable from the music school. In their reaction pieces, the authors themselves also keep confusing DOMUS with DUMS, and these are not just typos. 

So there needs to be an independent manager, who can keep the fighters apart, and ensure, for instance, that a BHV officer from the Music School is present at the theatre school's late hours, that both institutions can also use the foyers, and that the Marnix Hall, the pièce de résistance of the maze-like building, can be used by everyone again. Because that is not what the Music School wants. 

Opaque organisation

Of course, if it were only about that - indeed wonderful - hall, there is a sleeve to be found. But there is also a problem in DUMS' organisational model. Like the Theatre School, the Music School is a foundation that receives subsidies from the municipality, among others. Under or alongside that foundation, however, the music teachers are gathered in a cooperative that collects their contributions in the form of rent that the music teachers pay for their classrooms. 

Thus, the cooperative is not an owner charging rent, but a tenant of the foundation that has arranged subletting, with the foundation also renting out the halls to third parties, such as Utrecht music festivals and Amsterdam ensembles. How much money is made from this is unclear, as annual records cannot be found, but apparently there is enough income to keep things running for their part of the property. 

Passive municipal council

So handing over the management to an independent body, which would be best for all pupils, teachers, students and guests, becomes difficult if it is at the expense of a tradition formed over years with a somewhat unclear structure where revenues are unclear and commitments with many third parties have been made by DUMS. 

That the Music School will continue to defend its interests to the bitter end, if necessary, is a possibility no one dares to rule out. The 'After Us The Deluge' which emerged from a conversation I had with the Music School people after the meeting sounded ominous, especially since at the same time a climate march was moving around City Hall. Here's where things won't get better. 


So the fact that things could get so out of hand also has a bit to do with the passive attitude adopted by the municipality all these years. Although both the music school and the theatre school can exist thanks to subsidies from the city of Utrecht, the music school relies on the entrepreneurship of the cooperative. Unfortunately, it is not rich enough to take over the entire building. 

Now the Utrecht School of Music would prefer to have its part all to itself. "The rest of the building the municipality can rent out to other party members," argues the joint board of DUMS and DOMUS in a submitted piece. It says something about the relationships between them. 

The city council will make its decision in early February. 

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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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