The decimation of much of the state’s commitment to culture in the Netherlands is both shocking and deeply troubling. For many decades, Holland has been an example abroad – boasting, quite simply, the world’s most remarkable constellation of internationally respected post-graduate institutions for artists and thinkers in the arts, among them the Rijksakademie (founded in 1870), De Ateliers (founded in 1963), and the Jan van Eyk Academie (founded in 1948), which are together responsible for nurturing the work, thinking, and careers of thousands of the most interesting and innovative artists and thinkers active today.
What has been crucial about such institutions is that while they undeniably have produced artists who have been recognized by the market, the criteria for their acceptance in those institutions was not articulated in terms of a market logic, but instead in terms of their wider artistic merit, their capacity for experimentation, criticality, and innovation – all things which do not necessarily translate into the taste of the market.
State Secretary Halbe Zijlstra’s deeply misguided proposal to support only 50 artists on their basis of their ‘success’ and thus according to measureable market-driven criteria would not only perpetuate the market as the supreme arbiter of what counts as quality for a society, but also deems to measure what might be precisely immeasurable in culture: the role that institutions not concentrated on the visibility of ‘presentation’ but instead on post-graduate theorization and production can play both nationally and internationally in the arts and culture at large.
With the elimination of funding to those post-graduate institutions, the state has also announced its plan to effectively demolish initiatives such as Manifesta and SKOR, all of which are currently in danger of simply no longer existing or becoming shadow versions of their former selves. The calculation that the Dutch government has used, to not nominally reduce but in fact eliminate 100% of its support for all these institutions and to reduce the capacities of the Mondriaan Stichting by 50%, is as shocking as it is dangerous: it promotes an idea that one or even a handful of government authorities can in one fell swoop do away with what has been carefully built up in a culture and by a society over centuries. It promotes the idea that a few can decide for all that a precious national heritage – that connects a society to its past but also safeguards its future – will be compromised.
When one considers that Dutch society would thus be robbed of so many of the very institutions that helped make it a model abroad, the brutality of the gesture, which would decimate internationally reputed institutions that have flourished with public support and brought so much back to society, is nothing short of criminal.
The sad fact is that such governmental action will have repercussions not only nationally but internationally in the arts, on many levels, and if it is allowed to pass – that is, if the ministers do not reconsider their responsibilities – other nations will take this monstrous act as acceptable, perhaps even as a model to follow. This is the sad reality of what is happening in Holland. I read in an advertisement in The New York Times that one should not enter the Netherlands, that a cultural meltdown was in progress. Unfortunately, the news seems true, and the Netherlands may be at the brink of forever losing one of the most remarkable qualities that characterized its culture today: not tulips or canals but a vibrant commitment to the arts that will be entirely undone if State Secretary Halbe Zijlstra has his way.
Elena Filipovic is curator at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels