Traditionally, the Netherlands has not had a great tradition of privately commissioning art, at least not to the same extent as in neighboring countries. Nevertheless, in recent years there has also been hope for patronage in our country. This, small or large, should largely take over the government’s role in economically difficult times. Without even saying it out loud. The Protector as the new messiah or will the government remain the dominant funding party when it comes to culture?
I do not consider a heavy reliance on patronage and sponsorship, as is the case in, for example, the United States, to be an advantage. In addition, sponsorship of culture has tended to decline rather than increase in recent years. Protection is growing, also in the Netherlands, but the cultural sector is not yet prepared for this. There are examples in the Netherlands of institutions that are a good example in this regard. Neither the Van Gogh Museum nor the Mauritshuis gave rise to the fact that Shell is a polluting company that would give a negative association to the museum when the sponsorship contract with Shell was broken. But take it from me that this is actually discussed at length in the boards. I know for sure about those museums, and I also know about the Rijksmuseum, that they have a policy in this area. But there are quite a few who don’t.
Above all, there is the question of the origin of the money. Are you taking money from the American Sackler family who made billions from the addictive Oxycontin? Volkswagen, the company that falsified its own CO2 test results? Do you do business with a bank that has been convicted of money laundering?
I take ING as an example. In 2019, the ING summit acknowledged the prosecution’s conclusion a year earlier that the bank had facilitated money laundering between 2010 and 2016 and thereby “structurally violated the law and was guilty of a wide range of criminal acts”. The bank acquitted the prosecution for a sum of 775 million euros. One would not want to do business with such a bank, one might say (and the national government put its money where its mouth is. But in the cultural sector it was deafeningly silent. ING was, for example, well represented in the Supervisory Board for the Concertgebouw, the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Concertgebouw Fund (including Hans Weijers, Ralph Hamers, Robert Reibenstein). ING anti-money laundering commissioner Joost Kuipers was chairman of the Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg until 2018. While art institutions sometimes want to set a social example, the point is forgotten when the board is composed.
Dependence on private lenders, patronage, sometimes leads to conflicts. According to some sources, the Rotterdam Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, which has been closed for seven years for a major renovation, missed out on a donation of tens of millions from Stichting Droom en Daad (the Van der Vorm family’s cultural charity foundation) when it refused to give the generous donor a place in the RvT. But I think it is more important that it is the task of the national government to support the renovation of such an important museum, not necessarily the Van der Vorm family. Furthermore, I believe that you cannot ask Rotterdam, which already spends so much on culture, to pay such sums. The municipality has now earmarked 236 million euros for the renovation of Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. The government should support this, as was the case with the Rijksmuseum.
Denying certain forms of patronage is not very Dutch. We like everything when it comes to money. The Dutch way of doing business is sometimes considered a combination of merchant and priest. It seems that the merchant spirit, when it comes to patronage, far prevails, and the priest is briefly sidelined. What is crucial is that an institution stands for something social and, in order to remain credible, must also take this into account in its patronage policy.
I am not arguing for another code, the cases are too specific for that and there may already be too many codes (Culture Governance Code, Diversity, Fair Pay), but I am in favor of formulating a policy for each institution: both for sponsorship and for patronage.
This column was previously published in Vakblad fundraising, volume 24, number 6, which was published in December 2022.