[spectre] New Media Art Organisations in Netherlands lose funding

Christopher Salter csalter at gmx.net
Wed Jun 15 15:44:51 CEST 2011

Dear All,

I have just returned from the Netherlands (in residence at STEIM, which is one of the institutions which will be affected by the cuts) where I was engaged in many discussions with artists and curators about the Zijlstra announcement. The slash and burn cultural policy from Zijlstra and the VDD is another neo-liberal attempt at privatization, not only of subsidized culture but all other public goods.  The policy is both reckless and, at the same time, divide and conquer. By shifting the larger majority of funds to the established cultural institutions, Zijlstra can argue that he is supporting Dutch culture (and national heritage) while at the same time, creating a Social Darwinist hierarchy among institutions. An across the board cut effecting all cultural institutions would enable the potential for lobbying between the high cultural institutions (the Nederlands Oper, the Rotterdam IFF, the Rijskmuseum, etc) and the alternative scene. By funding the big institutions (who also know that they depend on the alternative scene for talent), he creates a two tiered system and weakens the possibility of a united front.

Despite everyone's best intentions, it is unlikely that Zijlstra will be convinced by online petitions from artists and arts organizers. This is his chance to make history for himself by reversing a Dutch cultural policy that has been long in place.  Polticians (at least those nowadays) only care about votes. So the only way to reverse these decisions is to make Zijlstra look like a fool in front of the other politicans and the Dutch, European and international public based on European and international pressure. This article in the NY Times from last October provides a somewhat useful overview of the situation: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/23/opinion/23iht-edbickerton.html

The main thing to keep in mind through all of this is that the media arts are not being singled out. ALL small and medium scale institutions (including post graduate education programs) are. The situations for the visual and performing arts is equally disastrous, especially since these fields (particularly the performing arts) have no chance whatsoever at even connecting to the so-called "creative industries." In other words, this is not the time to argue for the benefit of the media arts and continue a ghettoization that makes such cultural policy's as Zijlstra's so easy to implement. In the face of cuts to the public welfare system in general, the arts budget is peanuts. The larger question is one of the necessity of subsidized heterogenous culture, in general, across all different scales and areas.

If one wants to organize a letter writing and email campaign (such as what happened when the City of Frankfurt tried to shut down the Frankfurt Ballet), then it should come from united and more influential fronts rather than just the media arts sector.

1. From the international perspective, we need to marshall the connections we have as leaders of festivals, institutions, etc. to try and encourage the directors of international (and particularly, european) cultural institutions (both public and private (the alliance francais, the goethe institute, the british council, the canadian and quebec art councils and many other organizations) to write letters to the Dutch parliament and to get those letters out there as much as possible. Furthermore, there has not been a single story since the Zijlstra announcement in the international press (for example, the Herald Tribune). Why is this?

2. What does the EU Commission's cultural policy body think about Zijlstra's proposal? http://ec.europa.eu/culture/our-programmes-and-actions/doc411_en.htm. Can the argument be made that the Dutch arts cuts will have a strong effect on Dutch institutions to participate in European cultural policy and projects (again, across all institutional scales, from small to large) due to the lack of diversity across scales and types of cultural practices? It seems to make sense that the letters should also go to the Commission DG urging a response from Brussels (http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/vassiliou/contact/commissioner/index_en.htm_

3. The Dutch situation is far more complex because none of us outside of the Hague really knows what is going on but one strategy is to have the heads of the large institutions write in the press and to the government that the policy will affect ALL cultural institutions and general cultural life in the Netherlands. Letters from Pierre Audi (the director of the Nederlands Oper and the Holland Festival), the head of the Rijksmuseum, etc.  will go less on the deaf ears of the politicians than letters from unknown institutions.  Do any of us have those connections or, thinking six degrees of separation, do we know people that do?

Furthermore, if new media is to be merged with architecture and design into a "creative industries" fund, then at this point, (and this is the Faustean bargain), dutch cultural institutions that are seen as Topgebieden (this is what was framed by Zijlstra) because they have the potential to connect to industry, should begin to gather as much support from the business community as they can. I know that Virtueel Platform has these ties as a start so they should start to be marshalled. This doesn't mean that everything should be dissolved into business. It means that there are smart people in the business community out there who know that a vibrant alternative culture is necessary for general economic growth and development, particularly a cultural sector like the new media art  that can bring about new ways of thinking about technical tools and processes (this is not just instrumentalizing language - after all, we are all entangled in larger social-technical structures whether we use open source software or prioprietary tools). Richard Florida's rather despicable arguments in The Rise of the Creative Class are one place to start and even though I abhor them, there might be something there at this time when the politicans are so eager to please the business community. What would the Dutch politicians and public say if those in the creative industries (whom they wish to support) should make it known that the cuts to the broader cultural sector would have a larger economic impact than at first seems apparent (not just the ancilliary income that culture as part of the leisure dollar/euro generates) and that there should be the attempt to support a diversity of institutions. 

One might learn from what is taking place next week in Montreal. At a time when European countries are debating the necessity of subsidizing culture and particularly, the new media arts,  the CALQ (the Quebec Arts Council) is engaged in a massive focus study to see if they should funnel even more longer term funding and support in terms of research, production, dissemination into new artistic practices involving technologies. The CALQ has invited a large group of artists, organizations, curators and people from the business sector together to discuss the necessity of a new kind of funding structure and strategy for "digital culture" in general. Why is this? Perhaps, because there is a bit more of an understanding of a larger ecology at play in Montreal and Quebec (which is more European in its cultural policy than the rest of Canada and certainly the US)  among the digital arts, the business community, the academic institutions who have a stake in the training of artists and designers for the different "industries" (commercial and non) and artists/designers in recognizing the cultural and economic advantages of having a rich culture, whether one sees it as a feeder for the creative media industries (people after all have to pay their rent) or just having a vibrant climate that encourages people to move to the city to work and live.

Again, this a Faustean bargain but face it,  in the stages of late capitalism and an international neo-liberal uprising in which we are in, none of us can afford to take sides.  

my two cents.



Christopher Salter, PhD
Director, Hexagram Concordia Institute for Research-Creation in Media Arts and Technology

Associate Professor, Design + Computation Arts
Faculty of Fine Arts
Concordia University

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Christopher Salter, Ph.D.
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