The city council is due to vote next week. Surveys conducted by Berenschot consulting firm and I&O research this week show that art and culture hardly play a role in the election. On the issue of topics that are important, the collection ‘culture, music and events’ dangles almost at the bottom, a good chunk after green, where one tackles waste and even civic participation. Only five percent of the respondents mentioned culture as one of the three important topics, and one percent as the most important topic.
Also read this article on Heerlen: ‘Cultural policy is also social policy’
At the same time, there are significant differences between the amounts the municipalities spend on culture. On average, a Dutch municipality in 2019 inhabitant EUR 17 net for museums, EUR 5 for cultural heritage and EUR 51 for ‘cultural presentation, production and participation’ – the grant for stages, companies, art education, art purchases and the like.
In the latter category of ‘living art’, there are more or less predictable frontrunners such as Amsterdam (142 euros p / i), Rotterdam (150 euros p / i), Assen (159 euros p / i) and ‘winner’ Tiel (167) . euro p / i). On the other hand, there are municipalities that have nothing on the budget for art and culture, such as Oudewater and Hardinxveld-Giessendam, while the ‘artist villages’ Laren and Blaricum also lag far behind with 10 and 11 euros per.
Culture competes with care
These large differences can arise because the municipalities are not obliged to ‘provide culture’, as they are, for example, for youth care, social support and education. And the money for all the (partially compulsory) tasks comes from the same pot, so the culture (swimming pools, libraries, stages, music lessons) must compete directly with the youth care, the elderly care and the waste service.
That pot is the Municipal Fund, the ‘free to use’ budget that the municipalities receive from the government (which makes up about half of the total municipal budget). But as the Groningen professor of economics in local authorities Maarten Allers even stated earlier this week, NRC said: Municipalities are not getting enough money from the government to carry out their mandatory tasks, especially after the extensive decentralization in 2015, which was not covered by adequate coverage. So even though municipalities are free to spend money on culture, consumption itself has been under pressure for years because municipalities are increasingly in need of money.
“Swimming pools and libraries are the first to die,” said director John Bijl of the Pericles Institute, which aims to improve municipal policy. “It is difficult for the city council members, because it is facilities that are important for the quality of life and the attractiveness of the municipalities.”
The financial need is so great that the municipalities even use the corona support for culture for other bottlenecks, the cultural and creative sector’s task force wrote to the Folketing on Wednesday. Municipalities have received corona support from the government to help their cultural sector. But because the money is not earmarked, the municipalities can also spend it on other bottlenecks, and that is what is happening, says the task force. They want Secretary of State Gunay Uslu to urge the municipality to actually spend that money on culture. A new municipal council could note this in the coalition agreement, the task force proposes. The Association of Dutch Municipalities has a list of recommendations for its members to ensure cultural spending.
Some go further. It is “a mistake in our national political system” that culture is a ‘free’ policy for municipalities, writes Quirijn van den Hoogen from the University of Groningen in Boekman # 130 (publication of the Boekman Foundation) about local cultural policy, published this week. The cultural policy of the municipalities and the national government is inextricably linked, he says. Contrary to popular belief, municipalities spend much more on culture than the state. Two thirds of the public culture budget still comes from the municipalities, the rest from the national government. That municipal money (insofar as it has not been cut) mainly goes to infrastructure – the buildings and places where residents take culture, such as libraries, theaters and concert halls. Where the central government is more responsible for the production of culture, the question for the municipality is ‘how can that culture have an impact on the local population’, says Van den Hoogen.
The Cultural Council also announced in a “heart cry” on Thursday that it sees a thriving cultural and media sector “emphatically as a shared responsibility of the national government, provinces and municipalities”. “The cultural facilities in the Netherlands are thin in many places.”
A version of this article was also published in NRC Handelsblad on March 11, 2022