Social assets, such as affordable rehearsal spaces for choirs, orchestras and theater groups, are at risk of disappearing. Sherlock Telgt encourages municipalities not to waste their social real estate, but to rent it out at a cost-effective price.
“Culture is essential for our society and an investment in our society. It brings people together, challenges and provides new perspectives. Without culture, life becomes meager, dull and pale. Without culture, inspiration, fun and coherence are missing. And without culture, we stand still.”
This text is from Disposition letter for culture 2022: Recovery, renewal and growth from the Secretary of State for Education, Culture and Science, Gunay Uslu, dated 23 May 2022. The letter is crystal clear: think more about the well-being of the population and make sure that this becomes as important as economic profit and economy.
Culture under pressure
Because the culture is under pressure due to the growing poverty in the Netherlands. According to Nibud, 38 percent of Dutch households find it (very) difficult to make ends meet. Due to current inflation and high energy prices, they are finding it even harder than usual to make ends meet.
For minima, the situation is dramatic. The middle incomes are added; this group too must now, for the first time, look for ways to make ends meet each month.
In addition to the declining availability of affordable workspaces, the price of amateur art practice is also coming under further pressure; Sixty percent of amateur artists have a lower or middle income.
Important right now
The war in Ukraine is not only causing rising prices. There is also psychological pressure and fear of an uncertain future. This is exactly why it is important to continue investing in amateur art practice. Right now we need to be able to change our minds, for example by singing in a choir, playing in a theater group, rehearsing with a band or taking a course in painting, sculpting or dancing.
If it becomes impossible, it will be at the expense of our mental health.
We must therefore keep amateur art practice accessible and affordable. But how do we achieve that as a society?
Reserve space for amateur art
Affordable studios and practice rooms are a prerequisite for practitioners of amateur art. Due to all price increases, including the increase in land prices, there is a danger that in the short term the municipalities will place more weight on the economic return than the social return. They will then be less inclined to reserve buildings for amateur art. As a municipality, this removes an important social foundation from society; if you waste your social real estate, you contribute to increasing the social poverty of your own citizens.
The Secretary of State also emphasized the importance of spaces for culture in his letter:
“There will be an arrangement for the larger cities that will stimulate activities and forms of contemporary cultural practice. Together with other authorities, I will think carefully about how we can support the local cultural climate for young people. This will vary depending on the city and region. I am thinking, for example, of rehearsal spaces, breeding grounds, creative hubs and other places where young people organize themselves to create new forms of culture.”
I welcome this goal from the Secretary of State, but unfortunately the reality is still different: there is a lack of social housing and therefore of affordable study and/or workplaces.
Take the situation in Groningen. This is the youngest city in the Netherlands with an average age of 36.4 years. Even after the disastrous corona period, the municipality sticks to closing Backbone050, one of the largest and most important breeding grounds in the city. A place where 100 to 150 young artists, creators, talents and organizations have had an affordable space at their disposal since 2014. Where new forms of art are made. Where until now thousands of people took singing, theater and dance lessons. And where students from the various creative courses were doing internships.
My appeal: Municipal authorities, go not only for financial gain, but create studios and rehearsal rooms at affordable prices for painting and photography clubs, orchestras, choirs, drama clubs, dance groups. Ensure that amateur art societies can continue to pay the rent for their studio or rehearsal space: charge a cost-effective rent – a rent without profit.
Invest in these kinds of places. Right now.
Sherlock Telgt is the founder of the breeding grounds Backbone050 and MAGMA. He is an artist, presenter and workshop teacher. Previously, he was a councilor in the municipality of Groningen