The Dutch government distrusts the citizens. And that stands in the way of a healthy art sector. It became clear on January 17 during a well-attended symposium in Amsterdam’s Veem House. The reason was the essay published in book form by Renée Steenbergen, who also published articles on this page. Many creators were present, and individual art institutions, parties that had been interviewed for Steenbergen’s book, Kunstenbonden, Kunsten ’92 and – not insignificantly – the new director of the Prins Bernhard Kulturfond.
Normally, I’m always a bit hesitant about art symposia. Usually they end up in complaints from below and impotent expressions of sympathy from above against the background of a status quo that never changes. SP’s cuddly grunt, Peter Kwint, then has something combative to say about it, after which the drink lasts far too long.
Not this time. Renée Steenbergen didn’t want to complain about her book presentation, and it worked out fine thanks to the guests: The aforementioned Berhard Fund director Cathelijne Broers, for example, was remarkably open about the changes she wanted to initiate at the country’s largest private fund. Another refreshing contribution came from Jolanda Spoel from Rotterdam, who as director of the Bijlmerparktheater was able to show how demands for diversity and inclusion can collide with practice: In a neighborhood that now has as many inhabitants as Nijmegen, her building the only professional art building.
It was supposed to be about the future and how the artist would from now on take center stage instead of the art institution. And nice things came out of that.
1 Give artists a roof
Art and real estate have an interesting relationship in the Netherlands. Thanks to the separation of grant streams, the municipalities do not have much to say about the content of the art (this is done by the Cultural Council at national level), but all the more about where it is presented. This has resulted in a proliferation of art buildings, making the Netherlands the world record holder for the number of art buildings per capita. inhabitant: theatres, museums, cultural centers managed by foundations.
Meanwhile, many commercial buildings stand empty and countless artists are homeless, especially when it comes to workplaces. The Hague now distributes these spaces to young artists via presentation institution Stroom. This happens in several cities (Utrecht is good at it with the Cartesiusweg area), but the example in The Hague nicely illustrates how artists can enter into a new relationship with their environment through their workplace in sometimes notorious residential areas. It doesn’t make much sense to be elitist in Moerwijk. It produces new art, experienced Artist Collective MOHA and an intense relationship with the neighborhood.
The fact that such art homes are almost always temporary, and only aim to make the neighborhood attractive to project developers, plays no role in the short term, at least.
2: Open your door
Jacqueline Gradjean, until recently head of De Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, is now director of Noord Brabants Museum. Because she noticed that the museum did not seem to have a very close connection to the art scene in Den Bosch, the provincial capital of Brabant, she decided to move into one of the carriage houses and open the door there to engage in conversation with passers-by, but also with artists from the region. According to her, this resulted in inspiring conversations, which could quickly lead to more space for contemporary art at the museum, presented in close collaboration with living artists.
Jolanda Spoel runs the only professional theater building in Amsterdam’s Bijlmer and also opens the doors to anyone who wants to make something or just wants to use a studio. It’s about contact and meetings, and it bears fruit.
3: Really pull out your wallet
A sensible company reserves 2.5 percent of sales for research and development, better known as research and development. “With that money, no one makes demands in advance. It is uncertain what research and development will yield: that is why it is research.’ True words from Rien van Gendt, holder of an enormous CV within boards, foundations, patronage and banking. According to him, art is society’s Research and Development department, but it’s crazy how many hoops you have to jump through to get money for it. And then you also have to explain in detail in advance what you are going to do and what will come of it.
Just give money to artists, no strings attached. Why do you have to submit dozens of pages of applications and justifications, for money that is sometimes not even enough to pay a decent accountant? Why should the result be guaranteed? Questions raised by Van Gendt, which were received with approval by the audience.
When the question was asked directly to Cathelijne Broers, why her foundation always gives the money in two equal parts, half at the beginning and half afterwards, there was a small scoop. Broers announced that she wants to change the crippling situation where, as a grant recipient, you can rarely pay your suppliers during the project: A significantly larger part of the money is now paid out faster.
4: Trust the people
When we as a country give money to the arts, we rarely give it to artists. You get grants from the state and the foundations if you are an institution, preferably a foundation, with the status of Public Benefit Institution (ANBI), and certainly a board with trustworthy names. We trust them more than someone who needs a studio alone or with like-minded people, or a rehearsal room, or something free to invest all their time in a new program.
The great motivation for Renée Steenbergen to write her book is precisely this problem, that artists and ‘makers’ fall outside the system on all fronts and ultimately provide living proof through their precariat that the infamous ‘trickle-down’ effect does not exist. And it also has to do with a deep-seated mistrust of the individual. Even though there are more examples of nice boards in large organizations who got away with the joke than criminals who pretended to be artists.
So we dream a little longer about a world where trust is taken seriously again. Don’t think of an artist as a thief any more than you might classify a parent with a strange last name as a fraud.
That trust will work reciprocally, and it will be good for the ballot box.