Rotterdam’s art council is under fire

Rotterdam City Council wants to dissolve the Rotterdam Council for Art and Culture (RRKC), the advisory body of the same council, from 1 January 2023. It announced the Councilor for Culture Said Kasmi in late May, shortly before the inauguration of the new coalition. Rotterdam’s cultural world reacted with shock. On Wednesday, June 29, the city council will consider it, and it will be decided whether the grant of 700,000 euros annually to the council will be abolished.

1 What does the Rotterdam Art Council do?

RRKC (4.45 FTE) advises mayors and councilors on municipal spending on arts and culture. Every four years, the council writes a ‘Culture Plan’, in which it advises on how the budget for arts and culture (85 million euros for 2021-2024) is to be distributed. The board is not bound by the advice, but usually adopts it.

2 Why has the relationship between municipality and municipality deteriorated?

For some time there have been tensions between the three legs in Rotterdam’s cultural field: institutions, RRKC and councilor. These are inherent in the working method: the council must navigate between the board’s political games on the one hand and the interests of the cultural area on the other. At the same time, the main board is the rector, the councilor lays down the rules of the game and RRKC tries to act as independently as possible.

This collaboration “is perceived as unsatisfactory by all parties”, wrote organizational strategist Thomas van Dalen in a report in 2014.

Recently, the distribution of grants in the Culture Plan 2021-2024 has been criticized. The grant from Museum Rotterdam was reduced from 3.5 to 1.7 million – which de facto meant the end of the museum. According to critics, including PvdD party leader Ruud van der Velden, this illustrated that the RRKC is ‘too close’ to the council and would make political choices. However, the sector was most concerned about the lack of hearing both sides of the argument in the grant process and the lack of opportunity to object. RRKC is then looked at while the college determines the rules of the game, explains RRKC chairman Carlos Gonçalves. The City Council has enforced the possibility of rejection, but it was already too late for the Culture Plan 2021-2024.

3 What else is RRKC accused of?

Two events from the past play a role. One: talk at a municipal committee meeting about the new city museum function for the successor to Museum Rotterdam. Two: Advising directly to the City Council on the eight largest subsidized cultural institutions in Rotterdam. They are both “remarkable maneuvers” and “apparent expressions of a game of power,” a critical report from consulting firm Rijnconsult said in February. This error has been acknowledged and the Council has apologized. Councilor for Culture Kasmi: “We pay RRKC to give us advice. Then we decide if we should do something about it. The RRCC became involved in politics. “At the same time, the researchers conclude that there is no indication that the Council is not complying with the procedural agreements, even though the RRCC is pushing the boundaries.

4 What is the immediate reason for wanting to abolish RRKC?

The aforementioned Rijnconsult consultancy – with the title Out of the groove – points out that the position of the RRCC is often unclear and that the Council wants to prove its position too much. Apart from the four-year cultural plan, the recommendations from RRKC are largely unknown in the area. As a result, the RRKC must constantly fight for its own interest and relevance. As a result, the relationship with the municipal council and with the municipality’s culture department has been damaged, and RRKC has become more isolated.

The study offers six alternative scenarios, ranging from housing the RRKC in the municipality to abolishing the RRKC and establishing a new ‘cultural council’ for the capital region of Rotterdam and The Hague. “I have considered all scenarios and dissolving RRKC is the best option,” Kasmi says when asked.

5 How will the cultural sector react to the dissolution of the RRKC?

The report Out of the groove has not been well received in the cultural sector, partly due to the lack of transparency. In addition to the respondents’ anonymity, it is also unclear how many and which organizations were interviewed. “I think it is too weak and ill-founded research for such a radical decision,” says Walter Ligthart from Theater Rotterdam. “The councilor draws a conclusion from a report that does not call for such a conclusion,” says organizational strategist Thomas van Dalen. Several institutions do not want to respond with their name in the newspaper, for fear of a bad relationship with the municipality. “If we are too critical, will we no longer receive subsidies?” says one. Another: “An institution dissolves because it has a too independent role when it exists precisely because of the independent role. I am now seriously wondering to what extent we may also become victims in the future. ”

Councilor Kasmi does not want to change the independence of the adviser role, he says. “Independent counseling still exists, but one can also organize oneself differently.” How is not yet clear.

The RRKC called the decision “unhealthy” and “administratively negligent” in an official response. The Council recognizes that change is needed, in part due to structural changes. If it is up to RRKC, the organization will now belong to the municipal secretary, to be a little further away from the councilor. RRKC also wants to be able to advise the municipal council and the municipal council.

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