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In the 'tompouce economy', culture leads the way in green;

The doughnut - American delicacy of Dutch origin - is popular. Personally, I prefer the tompouce. The name sounds posh French, yet it is a much-appreciated Dutch treat, mainly thanks to HEMA.

British economist Kate Raworth took the donut as a metaphor her alternative to the current growth economy. She argues that economic science has a very one-sided understanding of 'value'. Her donut model leaves enough room on the inside for a fair distribution of what the earth has available and ensures on the outside that we do not deplete the earth. Raworth uses the United Nations sustainability goals ("sustainable goals"), based on our core values, such as clean water, fair work and good education.

The donut model for a more green and social economy inspired me, but unfortunately Raworth also failed to capture culture as a value. With the tompouce, I therefore add another model to the donut. In the new economy, I advocate a stronger role for the arts, culture and creative industries sector, collectively 'the cultural sector'. The tompouce model refers to the three layers that characterise this pastry and gives a new charge to the significance of culture - incidentally also education, science or care - for the economy of our society.

It's all about content

The top layer is the 'hard' economy that funds much of what the culture sector provides. Conversely, culture also contributes a lot to the development of that economy. Just think of the music and gaming industries. The substrate forms the basis for those working in this sector. These demand a fair and in many ways sustainable design of their labour market. The middle layer is what ultimately matters: the content. Which is attractive, relaxing, reflective, comforting or confronting.

On the labour market component, but especially on the economic upper layer and content offerings, the sector still has a lot to work out. This involves theory and principles, but also practical, concrete matters. This is the right time to work hard on this, now that the Council for Culture recently advised on the future cultural system and a new cabinet will take office sooner or later anyway. And we do not need to make a very precise distinction between subsidised parties and free-market workers in the process.

It is up to economists to throw themselves intensively into issues raised by Raworth. For example: how do we help economic science get rid of this one-sided view of value? How do we colour it with shades of well-being, happiness and beauty? Or: is contraction an absolute necessity for the donut society; could we perhaps do with just a little less growth? Or should we instead keep growing, but responsibly? (Whether we can, opinions are divided on that).

Meanwhile, the cultural sector needs to describe its position in the future economy. For example, on the basis of the question: how do we establish a content-rich and diverse cultural offering as 'sustainable goal'1? Or the question: How can we make the significance of culture count economically, even if hard figures are sometimes lacking?

Social contribution

The cultural sector can already show how it contributes to society, in healthcare (musicians at the bedside or museum visits for people suffering from dementia), education or design. But also, for instance, with 'design thinking': artists who use their discipline and originality to think about major social, political and environmental issues. In the meantime, the sector should above all continue to develop new good practices, nationally and locally. When it comes to employment, there is tremendous growth potential here. And the good thing is: in general, culture places little burden on the environment. Conversely, designers and artists can therefore be used more for ecological innovation.

In addition, the cultural sector is relatively small; it is therefore ideally suited to many pilots for the 'new economy'. Here you can experiment well with basic income, cooperative work, collective insurance or lifelong learning (the sector has developed its own 'tool PPO' for permanent professional development).

Art has value of its own accord. This is why some artists in particular are allergic to naming other than its autonomous meaning. And of course, good art and design immediately show their essential value to those who are sensitive to it. But that is not everyone. Otherwise, culture, important for every people, would have been missing kidney from the list of values in the United Nations' sustainability goals.

Let's make the contents of this tompouce even more tasty and versatile, appealing and accessible to all consumers. Let's provide the pastry with a sustainable bottom layer and top layer (with a touch of icing), suitable for a fairer and more ecological society.

ERIK AKKERMANS is a consultant, publicist and administrator in the cultural sector. He was quartermaster and chairman of the labour platform for the cultural and creative sector Platform ACCT as well as of many other cultural organisations. In 2022, the Boekman Foundation (knowledge centre for arts and culture) published his essay "Naar een tompouce economie".


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Erik Akkermans

Director, consultant and publicist.View Author posts

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