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Statement BAK in response to defunding: BAK is a crucial basis in Utrechts cultural ecosystem!


With shock and disbelief we received the report Kleur bekennen (Taking a stance) from the Utrecht Advisory Committee on the Culture Memorandum 2025–2028. The report proposes that BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht, should not be financed in the coming years. This is a devastating blow for BAK, a base that for 24 years has been committed to providing the city of Utrecht with a unique space where art, knowledge, and social action come together in ever-innovative ways. This news also deeply affects even more so all of the artists and other cultural players with whom BAK works, as well as a rich diversity of communities in Utrecht and beyond with whom we exchange and collaborate intensively: from vulnerable communities to the general public; from the community kitchen network to local and international postgraduate fellows; from the students of art academies and universities (including HKU University of the Arts and Utrecht University) to high school students; and from grassroots organizations to established cultural institutions.

BAK is a socially driven cultural institution, but also the only post-academic institution in Utrecht. Amsterdam has Rijksakademie and De Ateliers, Maastricht has Jan van Eyck Academie – and Utrecht has BAK. In the Netherlands, BAK uniquely combines the functions of presentation and post-academy. This offers a distinct opportunity for talent development, as well as the bringing together of the local and the (inter)national in the city of Utrecht. BAK is a place where art’s ability to dream collectively is nourished in order to shape a better world together. We do this through public programming in the form of meetings about urgent issues affecting the city and beyond, and exhibitions, seminars, and performances. We do this through research into social and ecological themes, through the production of new works of art, through the development of new talent, and through education.

The advice recognizes the high artistic quality of BAK’s practice and describes this as “consistent and artistically strong.” The results continue to “seep through into the broader cultural field, both in Utrecht, nationally and internationally.” The advice also values ​​“an intensive relationship with makers and visitors,” as well as “the way in which BAK connects an interesting international network with a solid local network.” In summary, the committee appreciates BAK’s function as a crucial hub, appreciates its thematic depth, the way in which complex content is made accessible to a broader audience, and all of our efforts to integrate social themes into both the program and business operations. It is therefore incomprehensible that the same advice, mere sentences after praising the local network and connections in the city, concludes that there is insufficient exchange with other players in the cultural field, and that the contribution to this ecosystem is considered limited.

The conclusion to not finance BAK is therefore worrying and alarming, not only for us but especially for the city. Particularly when you consider that Utrecht is and wants to be a progressive haven, with policymakers who to this day welcome, support, and protect innovative forms of participatory, social art practices. This is of great importance in times of growing populism and world conflicts, and it is crucial to counter the political misconception that culture is only entertainment or “daytime recreation.” It is incomprehensible how, with a stroke of the pen, the city of Utrecht wants to demolish part of its own progressive cultural infrastructure that it has helped to build over the past decades.

In this context, we also find it shocking to read how Utrecht particularly marginalizes and underfunds the field of visual arts compared to other art disciplines. At BAK we argue for the recognition of visual art and its infrastructure as a crucial component for Utrecht that aspires to be a “healthy city of and for everyone.” We are therefore concerned that other institutions, such as IMPAKT (Centre for Media Culture), are also not supported.

These past days, we have received an extraordinary amount of support from our partner organizations, artists, colleagues, friends, self-organized collectives, and the general public about the importance of BAK for the city and its cultural ecosystem – locally, nationally, and internationally. While we draw strength from this support, we will convince Utrecht that we need art institutions like BAK. We need each other, more than ever.

Team BAK
Utrecht, 6 June 2024

SOURCE: BAK website

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