Parliament Approves Funding Cuts
After fierce debate in parliament this week and amidst a storm of protests across the country, opposition proposals halting Dutch government plans to dramatically cut cultural funding failed a vote in parliament today.
The debate marked a return to ideology. No longer do both left and right agree that the state should support the existence of a basic cultural infrastructure.
The left claimed the moral high ground and argued on the side of civilization. Last Sunday’s demonstrations against this governments seeming vendetta against art and culture was dubbed the “March of Civilization”.
But "Culture needs to be financed by visitors and donors," retorted Member of Parliament Bart de Liefde from the conservative VVD. "Sometimes you need to cut a tree down to let it blossom again.”
Most on the right apparently agree with the sentiment that artists are like beggars unwilling to work. Populist blog Geenstijl went so far as to rechristen the protest march “March of the Arrogant Beggars”.
There are, however, inconsistencies between rhetoric and action. Funding for the more renowned institutions like the National Ballet and the Concertgebouw Orchestra will mostly go untouched, even though they have the reputation and network that could make it easier to find sponsors.
And educational institutions like the renowned Rijksacademie voor Beeldende Kunsten (National Academy for Visual Arts), which was founded in 1870 by King William III will disappear. This is odd – not to mention tragic - given that government funding for education is the norm in other sectors from engineering to law and medicine.
Vulnerable heritage will also receive a massive blow as the Museum Boerhaave, the National Museum for the History of Science and Medicine, will have to close its doors once the stated cuts are realized. The museum has a unique collection of treasures concerning Dutch scientists who excelled at discovery throughout early modern history.
Some critics agree that certain cuts are a fair topic of debate, but stress it's the way the government is proceeding that makes these sudden decisions so dangerous. Institutions have no time to search out alternative funding options, which means years of work and programming will just end.
Vice Minister Halbe Zijlstra, the man responsible for these cuts, has proudly boasted in the press about his lack of cultural knowledge even calling it an "advantage rather than a disadvantage seeing so much has to be cut.”
The 43 year old is known for being a fan of hard rock band Metallica (a picture of the band is reportedly on his office walls) and a reader of Dan Brown novels.
During last weekend’s protests the current National Poet, Ramsey Nasr, described Zijlstra as an "Orc" in a deriding speech: "Art, knowledge and altruism distinguish men from animals … This government is returning us to the animal kingdom," he said.
One group of artists took out advertising space in The New York Times last week. The ad screamed: “Do not enter the Netherlands - Cultural meltdown in progress.”
Dutch weekly magazine, De Groene Amsterdammer, designed its cover this week to exactly mirror Zijlstra's party, the VVD’s, campaign style. “Cutting funds is no art,” (in Dutch the nuance is that the government took the easy option) the cover read underlined in that familiar orange.
Amsterdam based design and research studio, Metahaven, tweeted that this now-familiar style has become an “austerity meme.” They (Daniel van der Velden and Vinca Kruk) also published this piece calling the current government despotic.
Designer Richard van der Laken of De Designpolitie - the graphic design studio behind the VVD campaign - calls it "an honour" that his design is now used in this way. He is not so happy about our earlier article on this and says he doesn't want to be associated with the policies of this government. He says he worked for the VVD as he believes in democracy and thinks every party in parliament is worth his services.
We find it a bit bewildering that this week on the top page of the De Groene Amsrerdammer’s website De Designpolitie could be credited with two of the designs.
Alongside the magazine’s own take on the VVD campaign style was the weekly Gorilla image that strongly condemned cultural funding cuts. A sharp axe hovers ready to cut. De Designpolitie is the studio behind the Gorilla column.
When design.nl contacted the De Groene Amsterdammer they said they did not know that De Designpolitie were the original designers of the VVD campaign.
Meanwhile this weekend in Paris a huge poster is draped across the façade of the Pompidou Center quoting one of France’s late presidents, Georges Pompidou (1911-1974). "L'art doit discuter, doit contester, doit protester."
Art must discuss, must contest, must protest.
Images: main from top ad in The New York Times, cover of this week's De Groene Amsterdammer,
De Designpolitie Lesley Moore's Gorilla column, Halbe Zijlstra.
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