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Bring in 953 million with a VAT increase on culture? Wilders' protocabinet certainly can't do maths.

The new far-right cabinet is not going to cut back on cultural subsidies, even though ending subsidies for art altogether was one of Wilders party's sacred points. That those subsidies are virtually untouched should really be the big news after the presentation of the agreement between PVV, VVD, BBB and NSC, on Thursday, 16 May. That just wasn't the news. 

Because the news was that the extreme right was going to increase VAT on culture from 9 to 21 per cent, and everyone jumped on top of that. The umbrella organisation Kunsten 92 mainly warned against the destruction of experimentation and innovation. There are just many reasons to believe that precisely experimentation and innovation will not be affected at all by a 12 per cent increase in sales tax. After all, on the production side, this increase is neatly compensated for in the subsidy, while a ticket price increase here will hardly affect ticket sales. The people who now choose to buy tickets for experimentation and innovation will not be deterred by those few euros extra. 

Art for the rich

Moreover, the price increase due to the higher VAT introduced by the previous Wilders cabinet Rutte 1 in 2011 was maintained by many art buildings, even when that measure was repealed a year later.

We get the evidence for that from the evaluation of that last time the Dutch right raised VAT on culture. That was in 2011, the house was too small and the action was soon reversed. The question now is whether that was a victory in the battle fought over the much more extreme cuts of 200 million to the national culture budget. It may also simply have been that the effect of that VAT increase was nil.

That this is not impossible is evidenced by the 2014 published evaluation of the measure. In 14 pages there, the study shows that the expected effects on attendance at the quality performing arts failed to materialise: negligibly fewer tickets were sold. The authors of the study also conclude that much of the art that was affected is attended by people who make their decision not because of price, but because of the quality they expect. So that art is - and was - elitist, whether you pay 9% or 21% VAT on your ticket. 

Popular art is just the dupe

Where the VAT increase could have an effect is with the big commercial producers. These target a less affluent audience, which does have a serious choice. So the Association of Theatre and Concert Hall Directors does have a point with their response: "The VAT increase mainly affects commercial producers and municipally subsidised venues in the region. Stages depend on commercial producers for 88% of their offerings, such as cabaret, musicals and family shows. Especially outside the Randstad, where subsidised supply is less frequent, the drop in demand and loss of income will be greatest. Compensation from municipalities is unlikely, as there are already cuts to culture ahead of the 'ravine year'."

Thus, the cabinet for the common man hits the common man hard in the wallet for the few luxuries in the otherwise deeply sad existence.

However, the question remains how Wilders et al. arrive at a revenue of 953 million. In 2011, they assumed a revenue of 48 million for the performing arts sector, which eventually stalled at 39 million, because the crisis meant turnover was lower anyway. 

8 billion turnover in art?

That leaves 914 million in revenue that should come from a 12 per cent increase in sales tax. Simple arithmetic then yields a total turnover in the cultural sector of somewhere close to 8 billion. That the incoming cabinet estimates the cultural sector to be so big is a thing. We can rather assume a possible revenue from the VAT increase on culture of something around 100 million. If all goes well. Or against, depending on which party you voted for.

You may now be curious as to the reason behind this fuss. It suits Wilders that the Culture Sector is now protesting so loudly against the VAT increase. As a result, less attention has been paid to the fact that one of the far-right politician's long-held, deep wishes to end cultural subsidies has been sacrificed.

This is what the man is all about for his main point: chasing the few thousand people who come to the Netherlands seeking safety into our parks, railway stations and alleys, so that the population's sense of insecurity increases and he wins the next elections with two fingers in his nose with a programme that promises a crackdown on his self-made chaos. 

That might be a better focus for the cultural sector.


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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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