Last week in a memorandum titled “More than Quality,” the State Secretary for Culture, acting on behalf of the Dutch government (a minority government of liberals and Christian Democrats, whose hold on power relies on the support of Geert Wilders’s anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV)) announced his new “vision” for the field of culture, which represents nothing less than a violent and sweeping political manoeuvre aimed at the very notion of culture and art, its role in society, and its place within the democratic sphere. With the exception of but a handful of “top international institutions” that will be spared, the entire field of internationally focused and future-oriented artistic experimentation, innovation, education, and development, which has distinguished the Netherlands and given it a leading international position in the field for many decades, is to be demolished practically overnight. Instead of preserving the values of experimentation, risk, and vision, the memorandum leaves us with rhetoric about “strengthening the responsibility and resilience of citizens” and letting “the market” take its “natural” course.
To be clear: Dutch professionals in the field of art and culture are aware of the fact that some cuts in funding are necessary given today’s economic situation and that a recalibration of support may be called for. Furthermore the cuts in arts funding might seem of lesser importance in light of what is happening, with the same brutality, in the fields of healthcare, social reform, education, the media and scientific research, among others. However it is in solidarity with all these realms that we raise our voices in disagreement about the sweeping, overreaching, and devastating broad cuts proposed.
Speaking from the position of our field, we find it essential to point out that what we are facing is in fact an end of an internationally valued cultural climate, which we dare say is unparalleled anywhere in the world. In and outside of the Netherlands, the art world has benefited from the existence of a cultural system of generosity towards the artistic and cultural imagination of the future, which today finds itself under threat of extinction. We must articulate our disagreement with these developments, and our resistance to them together, in order to prevent the following from happening:
In the fields of art and culture, the budget will shrink by 200 million Euros; for visual art it means going from 53,3 to 31 million on an annual basis, taking immediate effect in 2013. Amongst other things, this will lead to:
• A 50 % cut in the budget for stipends and working grants for artists;
• A 50% cut in the budget of the Mondriaan Foundation, the body e.g. responsible for supporting international projects;
• A dramatic reduction of the number of contemporary visual arts institutions receiving state support (which currently include Witte de With, De Appel, BAK, Marres, etc.) from 11 to 6;
• A total withdrawal of all support for art magazines;
• The end of government subsidies for functions now fulfilled by the Manifesta Foundation, SKOR | Foundation for Art and Public Domain, and the NiMK – Netherlands Media Art Institute;
• The end of all public financing of the post-academic education for artists offered in places such as the Ateliers, Rijksakademie voor beeldende kunsten, European Ceramic Work Centre, and the Jan van Eyck Academie.
Given this dramatic situation of the annihilation of government support for broad sectors of the internationally-recognized Dutch contemporary art field, we hope that you—our international colleagues—will respond fiercely and immediately to this extermination of our future heritage by signing this letter and returning it to us. We will hand over all letters to State Secretary Halbe Zijlstra.
Ann Demeester, Guus Beumer, Maria Hlavajova, Arno van Roosmalen, representing De Zaak Nu, various institutions and individuals in the contemporary visual arts all of whom are concerned about the future of the whole cultural field in the Netherlands.
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