Statement | Councilor Kasmi, don’t let politics mix with culture’

At the beginning of this month, Councilor Saïd Kasmi (D66) presented how to proceed after the abolition of the Rotterdam Council for Art and Culture (RRKC). This council provided solicited and unsolicited advice to the Executive Board on cultural policy and advised on the four-year distribution of grants. The mayor wanted it gone. It would be different, better.

What is being proposed now is different, but not better. Important decisions are mainly postponed. The cultural sector thereby becomes part of the political-administrative system almost between the lines and therefore becomes dependent on it. After all, it is always about the distribution of money.

The principle that politicians are not ‘evaluators of art’, the Thorbecke principle named after the liberal statesman, is a cornerstone of the system of power and counter-power. This one is in danger of being demolished in Rotterdam. Everyone in the cultural sector will soon have their hands tied, unless the politicians organize otherwise.

What happens?

Councilor Kasmi has abolished RRKC on January 1, 2023. He can do that, but the city council thought it was an unfortunate decision. It remained unclear why this had to be done and above all: how would it go? How to ensure quality and independence in new settings? The councilor criticized the unsolicited advice he received from RRKC, but the city council found it essential.

The vicious discussion was averted before the summer with the promise that clarity would soon come and that all cases that the city council wanted to keep would be accommodated. A proposal from D66 to this effect was adopted by the council with a large majority. A consulting firm was called in and discussions were held.

Now there is a plan. A story full of beautiful words.

There is discussion about the cultural sector as an ecosystem, about cooperation with other sectors such as real estate and finance, about making the sector more robust, about room for grass roots. Beautiful. Totally agree with doing this.

But the question asked – the design of the advisory function – has not been answered and has been postponed. And it’s dangerous, because if we get distracted by the nice-sounding, hollow words and follow that fanfare, we neglect the difficult but necessary answers to the question being asked. Through the process of collaboration and ‘together’, the already close parties become entangled in the same web. Independent and unsolicited advice is under pressure. Like the expert assessment of what does and does not have artistic quality.

also readThis article about Councilor Kasmi’s plans

Because it says about the elaboration of all the fine words: There will be a quartermaster who works in consultation (i.e. management) with a core team, where directors of cultural institutions and officials of the municipality strike. Advice from the quartermaster passes through this core team to the councilor who decides the next step. How will grant applications be assessed and distributed from now on? The quartermaster comes up with a proposal for the period after 2029. Until then, the councilor gives a task for a market party. On the question of how independence and expertise are ensured for the upcoming distribution of the four-year grants for the period 2025-2028? Not a word.

On all three points of independence, expertise and unsolicited advice, the proposal is vague, hidden and risky. It would be good if we read Thorbecke thoroughly again. If we take Thorbecke seriously, then it is unthinkable that you give a task to a market party to make a proposal for the distribution of subsidies. Such a relationship cannot be independent. A temporary organization in the form of a committee that can function independently is then much more obvious.

Co Engberts is a councilor for PvdA in Rotterdam.

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