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The Netherlands cries out for culture

This month saw the start of the campaign 'Nederland schreeuwt om cultuur' (The Netherlands cries out for culture). If the cutbacks in cultural subsidies are implemented on the scale announced by the new government – around 20% of the national budget for culture, if the national broadcaster also faces a huge drain on resources and if the taxation on tickets for theatre and concert performances rises steeply, then many organizations and initiatives will perish and a great deal of colour will disappear from our cultural life. The parts of culture oriented towards entertainment and decoration, established art, that which is of undisputed quality, will survive, but they will also come to dominate the landscape at the cost of cultural renewal. Hopefully a Maecenas can still be found who is prepared to be adventurous, but I fear that a future of ever more predictability, monotony and tedium awaits us. Cultural renewal will have to pay, certainly if the heritage sector, including the museums, are to be spared somewhat, as is anticipated.
Obviously a society needs to take good care of its heritage – this contains its DNA profile built up over centuries –, but it must also be aware that this DNA profile is constantly being added to. Every day, including today, culture is being generated anew and the possibility for experimentation in that area is in society’s interest, just as we also find it entirely normal to invest in research, education, healthcare or technology. In the eagerness with which the cutbacks in the area of culture are now presented, I sense an atmosphere of rancour and retribution: those are bad and short-sighted counsellors.
Art that really makes a difference is provocative, must be provocative, because change, innovation, the development of new ideas and insights rarely occurs automatically. A culture that is able and allowed to flourish is to the credit of a civilized country, it creates international allure, gives society resilience and makes life within it endurable. The culture of today will become the heritage upon which people in the future will build.
That’s why I too cry out for culture: because I am concerned about indifference and about decline, because I feel that a culture must be encouraged to renew itself and because I fear that we are about to marginalize the contemporary arts to such an extent that we begin to find them corrupt.

Evert van Straaten
November 2010

Image: Julio Gonzalez (1876-1942), Head of a screaming farmer’s wife, 1941, pen and ink on paper, 20,1 x 15,6 cm. Donated by Roberta Gonzalez, 1955