After the corona crisis, the cultural sector is still in bad shape and did not always receive support from The Hague, says Wim Pijbes. He calls on the Cabinet to show on Budget Day that artists are indeed warmly welcomed.
Would you like to earn the same amount today as you did twenty years ago? None? The cultural sector does that. And that must change.
Last weekend, the annual Amsterdam UIT market ushered in the new cultural season. For many museums and venues, there is still little cause for rejoicing. Many predict an uncertain future between hope and fear. It is also important to countless individual artists, musicians, writers and other creators in our country.
Visitors still fail or decide to buy a ticket at the last minute. Vermeer, Stromae or any other heartfelt blockbuster can count on a massive influx, for the other cultural offerings the sector will have to work hard this season.
And that’s why the cultural sector focused on the future together with politicians and politicians at the Paradis debate in Amsterdam on Sunday. How to respond to the next wave of corona, energy costs, inflation and the war on the continent, according to the organizers. Good questions, because in recent years the sector has been more closed than open and, like everywhere else, struggled with price increases and a lack of manpower.
What was not on the agenda on Sunday, but extremely urgent, is to quickly create clarity about the upcoming Cultural Plan period 2025 -2028. In addition to a thorough repair of many years of derelict maintenance of the general cultural budget. Prince’s Day is the perfect time for this.
the inheritance law
Because what is happening? Every four years, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) distributes the state grants after advice from the Cultural Council. Municipalities and provinces follow this system, with various institutions receiving grants from the lower governments attached to it. The process for submitting plans and the necessary advice is fixed, as is the timeline for assessment and award.
For many, this procedure starts at the end of this year with the collection of data, agreements for the future, multi-year plans, etc. For example, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science allocates 413 million euros annually in the current Culture Plan, which runs until the end of 2024. In addition, the State Museums receive 217 million in subsidies through the so-called Inheritance Act, which brings the total amount up to 630 million euros.
It is considerably lower than twenty years ago and of course worth less than today. In Minister Bussemaker’s previous Cultural Plan (2017–2020), in addition to the contributions to the National Museums, 380 million could be used annually for institutions and cultural funds. Her predecessor Halbe Zijlstra, after drastic cuts of 200 million euros annually, was left with 326 million euros for the period 2013-2016. In the years 2009-2012, 530 million euros could be distributed (at that time including the national museums).
Going even further back, you can see that under State Secretary Medy van der Laan (2003-2006) the total national cultural budget amounted to 655 million euros and Rick van der Ploeg, State Secretary was able to allocate at least 657 million euros annually between 1998 and 2002. At the beginning of the century, public spending on culture amounted to 710 million euros.
Fine grinders will no doubt say that one year this or that was part of it or not, the fact is that the freely available budget for institutions has been structurally eroded in two decades. The growth in fixed costs (wage increases, inflation, rent, energy costs, insurance premiums, pension costs, regulatory burden) was stronger than the increase in variable income.
Recovery, renewal and growth
Fixed income (subsidy) is no longer sufficient for the increased fixed costs, variable income is then used to cover the fixed costs. It goes wrong once. Fortunately, during the corona crisis, the previous cabinet made funds available for ‘recovery, renewal and growth’. However, 170 million euros have been fully earmarked for the coming years to mainly absorb the consequences of corona, but also to prevent earthquake damage to national monuments in Groningen. Useful and necessary, but the sector does little about it.
There is investment money. Less than two years ago, the government announced on Budget Day that “(…) future generations should be able to live in a Netherlands with good care, good education, a livable environment and enough money to spend on their own ( . . .)’ set aside 20 billion euros for a National Growth Fund to stimulate knowledge development, physical infrastructure, research, development and innovation. Little has come of it. Proposed infrastructure projects suddenly turn out to be plans for yesterday’s world. More asphalt is not the future.
If you want to connect people better, you invest in culture. One condition is that institutions and artists are duly honored. Cultural policy is by definition a long-term policy, so anyone who says they want to stimulate knowledge development, research, development, innovation and connect people invests in the creative and cultural sector.
Several of our artists, photographers, DJs, architects, choreographers, designers and musicians belong to the international top, and we can be proud of that. The insult of Rem Koolhaas about his plans for the Binnenhof, the shameful words of the ministers during the corona press conferences or the unnecessarily long closing of the Dutch museums unfortunately show that the politicians are not always understanding.
Precisely for a dynamic sector bursting with talent, which time and again proves to excel in what our country increasingly lacks: vision, vitality and trust.
So let’s start appreciating it better. And then on Budget Day, structurally increase the current Culture Plan for the years 2025-2028 (and beyond), which was completely disrupted and obsolete by corona.
Don’t leave the industry in the dark any longer and take another look at the budget at the beginning of this century. Add that to the current price level: 710 million plus a correction according to the CBS price index gives a little more than a billion euros.
Wim Pijbes (Veendam, 1961) is an art historian and administrator. Since January 2017, he has been the director of the Droom en Daad Foundation, a private cultural foundation that invests in culture in Rotterdam. This piece previously appeared in the Volkskrant.