220 Att: Medy van der Laan

Dutch government subsidies for the arts are largely bundled in a single 4-year cycle called the Cultuurnota (Cultural Policy Document). After the closing of application for the Cultuurnota 2005-2008, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science changed the criteria for awards. A new distinction was drawn between "producing" and "supporting" institutions, with the latter being disadvantaged. Schwartz objects and argues for a postponement of the revision of the Cultuurnota until after 2008.

At the end of November 2003, 833 non-profit organizations in art and culture applied for subsidy under the Netherlands Cultural Policy Document (Cultuurnota) 2005-2008. Although they were competing for money from the same limited budget, they are not all comparable organizations. In the alphabetical order of the Cultuurnota categories, they range from Amateur Art, Archaeology and Archives to Museums, Other Cultural Policy and Performing Arts.

The idea of pitting musicians and actors against scholars and policymakers did not come out of the field. It was a measure taken by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) in the early 1990s. Once the Cultuurnota existed, more and more local, specific subsidy programs were discontinued or diminished. For example, until 2001 many cultural organizations with an international program were funded by the Ministries of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through a joint agency known as HGIS-Cultuur. However, as the Cultuurnota 2001-2004 approached, existing HGIS-Cultuur clients were advised to apply there instead. HGIS was intended for starting money, we were told. For structural funding, the Cultuurnota was the place to be. This I happen to know, since the organization of which I am director, CODART, was funded by HGIS-Cultuur and then by the Cultuurnota.

At the moment of submission, all 833 applicants were equally eligible. In 2004, however, after applications were closed, a new distinction between them was introduced by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. On the basis of two contested reports by the Berenschot consultancy bureau, State Secretary for Culture Medy van der Laan singled out 153 of the applicants for second-class treatment. They were put into the new category of "supporting" as opposed to "producing" bodies. The criteria for this split, as well as its late injection into the process, led immediately to protests. Indeed, the step has led to absurd results. Talens Palet, for example, an organization that holds a contest once every three years for amateur painters, went onto the list of "producers," while the internationally renowned Netherlands Architecture Institute, which runs a major program of exhibitions among its other activities, is considered "supporting."

The Arts Council (Raad voor Cultuur), which judges the quality and the practicality of applications, refused to accept this radical, makeshift change in the midst of a careful, long-term procedure. Of the 433 applications on which it advised positively, more than 80 are on the Ministry’s B-list, about the same ratio as the A-list.

On the third Tuesday of September, when the Dutch government presented its budget for 2005, it turned out that the State Secretary assigned greater weight to the relatively offhand judgments of Berenschot than to the Arts Council, with its decades of experience and contact with the field. Overriding the stringent procedures of the Cultuurnota, she introduced a split down the middle among applicants. "Producers" were judged on their merits, while subsidies for "supporters" (among them CODART) were decimated only because they had ended up on the wrong list. While nine "supporting" institutions were granted all or part of the amount recommended by the Raad for the full four years of the Cultuurnota, two are to receive money for only two years and 69 for one year, while another nine had their subsidy entirely scrapped. In budgetary terms, this draconic intervention realizes a savings of a mere three million euros in 2005, while leaving the further future in complete darkness.

In the coming year, Medy van der Laan has let it be known, she is going to revise the standards for art subsidy and hold a new round of applications for the period 2006-08, with the aim of recognizing only one "supporting" institution per sector. Whether this is feasible is very doubtful. The true supporting organizations are not there for nothing. If they are unable to function as intended, neither will the producing ones. Performing arts groups that until now have been able to leave administrative, lobbying and fundraising activities up to their branch organizations are going to have to devote more of their time, energy and funds to these very necessary tasks, which are now being downgraded in the Cultuurnota. What this move amounts to is that the more artistic sectors are being left within the smothering Cultuurnota formula, while the support organizations most in need of long-term security are being shut out of it. The professionalization of arts organizations, which has improved dramatically over the past decade, is going to be sent into a reverse spin.

The three million euros that the State Secretary wishes to save is not worth the price of throwing so many successful applicants into uncertainty. 80 organizations are going to be asked to revamp their priorities to match hers, and to wait until September 2005 or 2006 to know whether they will have funding for the years to follow, with no alternative available in the meanwhile.

I must confess to a considerable degree of sympathy with Medy van der Laan’s aims and even, in general terms, with the Berenschot recommendations. Subsidies for culture, the arts and their supporting organizations should be treated on a more individual basis than in the Procrustes bed of the Cultuurnota. However, to try to revise the system at this moment, after the recommendations of the Raad voor Cultuur for 2005-2008 have been made, is not only unfair, it is also counterproductive. If this path is taken, the next year is going to be a hell for 80 high-quality organizations as well as for Medy van der Laan’s civil servants, who are going to be involved in nerve-racking battles with the field. Why not let them work in quiet concentration on a new system of subsidy for the years after 2008, and to respect the recommendations of the Raad for 2005-2008 as they stand?

The money is there. Thanks to the efforts of Democrats 66 (D’66), ten million euros will be put back on the budget for subsidies. Surely the first use to which that money should be put is to restore the three million that have been deducted from the recommendations of the Arts Council. If the State Secretary funds new policy with that money while bypassing the Council and its clients, she will have weakened the support she needs for her new revision of arts subsidies before it even gets started.


© Gary Schwartz 2004. Published in Loekie Schwartz’s Dutch translation in Het Financieele Dagblad, Amsterdam, 9 October 2004.

This column will not be of much interest out of the Netherlands, I’m afraid, except as an indication that even in this social paradise on earth the fight for shrinking resources is on. It had to be written, though, and it had to be written now. The promised report on Rhodes and reflections on Dutch light will have to wait.


Responses to Gary.Schwartz@xs4all.nl.