Slashing Culture

Last night I went to a contemporary dance performance. Ever since it finished, I have been contemplating the utter shame of government budget cuts to the cultural sector.

Like many other countries, the Dutch economy was greatly affected by the credit crisis. Here, too, banks were bailed out while unemployment climbed steadily. More people than ever have had to use the services of food banks. The elections of 2010 led to the painfully slow formation of a right-wing minority government (supported by Geert Wilders’ problematic Party for Freedom), which finally resulted in budget cuts that largely affect vulnerable populations and sectors; disabled people, people living with little means, students, education, and culture are footing the bill for mistakes made by the wealthy.

In The Netherlands, culture is largely subsidized by the government. Not just “high” culture, but amateur arts, music lessons for children, concerts, libraries, and museums as well. These subsidies are being slashed by more than 20%. To add insult to injury, the BTW (value added tax) tariff for performing arts tickets (theater, dance, concerts) will go from 6% (used on necessities and products whose purchase the government wants to stimulate) to a whopping 19% (the tariff for luxury items). Yes, you read that right: a 13% tax increase. But it’s okay, the government says, because culture is something mostly consumed by the elite anyway.
The new policies represent a 180 degree turn from government in the 1990s, which deemed culture so important that they made visits to concerts, performances, and museums mandatory for all high school students and even created an accompanying high school course called CKV (cultural and artistic development).
Protests have yielded no results. Peripheral and neighborhood libraries will have to shut their doors, performing arts companies are currently battling for the right to stay afloat, the consequences for amateur arts are as yet unknown.

All of this has been swimming through my mind since last night. Not because of the topic of the performance I saw or because of anything anyone said but because once again, as I sat watching the stage, the dancers, and the dancing, I was able to completely lose myself in creativity and beauty. I was able to marvel at the way in which movements of the human body can evoke emotions in an audience. And as one of my friends put it, through watching this performance, which has no direct link to my everyday life, I was nonetheless able to reflect on my own life. I was able to reflect on society, on culture, on sex, on performance, achievement, strength, weakness, while at the same time not thinking of anything but what was happening right in front of me.

As a single citizen, I am quite powerless. The protests achieved nothing; the government has made up its mind. The only recourse left to me is using my money to support the arts. But as a student with little money, and with the tax increase looming over us all, that is hard to do. I’ll try my very best, and implore all of you, if you can, to do the same. Support your local arts. Go see a performance, even if it doesn’t completely seem like your cup of tea. And if you are in The Netherlands, go see Anatomica by Dance Works Rotterdam / André Gingras. They, like so many other companies, need your support.


By Nanna Freeman

Anglo-America-loving Dutchie with a grad student twist and a mad dash of self-mockery.

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5 replies on “Slashing Culture”

I’m not sure if you’re a West Wing fan or not, but there’s a great scene (there are actually several, come to think of it) in which Toby defends public funding of the arts. The line that sticks in my head is “The age of Elizabeth was also the age of Shakespeare” – that there’s a connection between good governance and culture. And I definitely think that’s true, so when budget cuts like the ones you’re talking about start happening, its not a good sign!

It’s bad enough when things like this are happening in a single country, but we’re seeing it globally, where countries that once valued (or at least pretended to value to enhance their image) the arts and public access to them are just dropping blades all over the place. Depressing.

Oh yes, we definitely like to Americanize. When we had health care reform some years ago, they were actually talking about the “American model” as an example. And our old prime minister was completely star struck when he met Dubya.
We need to be less ‘starstruck.’

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