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Utrecht arts education embroiled in fighting divorce (Part 2)

The Utrecht School of Music, also known as DUMS, has decided not to apply for a subsidy from the municipality. In a letter the school sent in early April to consultation partners in the Utrecht amateur arts field, the management states: "Our teachers indicated at its foundation that they did not want to be subsidised in order to guarantee independence from the Municipality. However, Cultural Affairs indicated at the time that DUMS would then not be able to move to Domplein 4/5, so it was decided to apply for projects outside DUMS's normal operations via the UMS foundation after all. Now that we have a lease until 2032, the need for DUMS to apply for a subsidy has lapsed."

This announcement raises questions. The Utrechtse Muziekschool, which is a continuation of the Gemeentelijke Muziekschool that merged into the now defunct Utrechts Centrum voor de Kunsten (UCK) in the late 1990s, is one of the occupants of the prestigious Domplein 4 and 5 building, a prime location in the centre of the Domstad. The rent of that building is currently € 30,833.57 per month, excluding energy and service costs. 

Letter on legs

In the letter, it seems as if the Music School, which now collects rent as a cooperative from independent music teachers who teach in the building, does not actually need that subsidy, but merely uses it, through a foundation, for perks. These apparently now yield so much that the rent can be paid even without a subsidy. 

But now it turns out something completely different is going on. On 16 April, the landlord, a.k.a. the Board of Mayor and Aldermen of the city of Utrecht, sent a letter to the city council, which included the following: "It has become clear to us that the situation at association DOMUS is more dire than expected. DOMUS is currently unable to meet its payment obligations and there is insufficient confidence that DOMUS will fulfil these obligations. Also, De Utrechtse Muziekschool (DUMS) has failed to deliver the full justification of the subsidy for the period 2019-2021. It has therefore been decided to proceed with a zero determination of this subsidy."

Half a million in debt

So, in plain human language, this says that the Music School, which claims not to need a subsidy, is not entitled to any subsidy at all. What's more: they have made such a mess of things that they have to repay the money they have received as advances in recent years by return of post. Moreover, there is now a rent arrears of almost half a million euros, and utility bills and service charges have also not been paid for almost a year and a half.

The infighting in the Utrecht amateur arts scene has thus entered a new phase. Earlier, it became clear that a major problem lies in the joint management of the building. After all, the Music School is not the only tenant of the building. The monument is in use by the Muziekschool, the Theaterschool, Danscentrum Utrecht and Stichting DomUnder, which manages the archaeological site under Domplein. However, all partners have since terminated their cooperation with the Music School within the management association DOMUS. The reason is mainly the intransigent attitude of the Music School, which demands the exclusive use of certain spaces. We reported on this earlier: Utrecht Arts Education embroiled in fighting divorce.

No inspection

The letter that the College has now sent to the city council not only reveals the depth of the conflict, but also shows a deep distrust. Indeed, both DOMUS and DUMS, now one in terms of management and members, refuse to submit their annual accounts. This is strange, because surely, as a music school and management association, you should have nothing to hide. We quote the College's letter: "The cooperative DUMS receives subsidy from the amateur arts education scheme 2019-2021 and for 2022-2024 through the UMS foundation. Since the UMS foundation makes the subsidy available directly to the DUMS cooperative, DUMS must account for the 2019, 2020 and 2021 financial statements according to the auditing protocol and reconcile them with those of UMS. It must provide insight into the financial flows and agreements on these between the UMS foundation and the DUMS cooperative."

This throws a different light on the Music School's heroic decision to forego subsidy: in the rather complicated system of cooperative DUMS, foundation UMS and association DOMUS, visibility of where Utrecht taxpayers' money is being spent disappears. This could point to possible unlawful actions, or fraud. At least that is what the Board suggests: "We are considering whether, on the basis of Article 14 in the ASV commission an audit for the current grant period 2022-2024 by an external party." 

All this only makes the Utrecht School of Music's decision not to apply for a subsidy even stranger. Because completely strange is the proposition that they no longer need to apply for a subsidy because they now have a lease until 2032, while that lease had that obligation to get a subsidy attached to it. But of course, you can always refuse something you are not entitled to anyway.

Only then, that rent stops too. Right?

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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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