[spectre] Jeremiah Day open letter

Josephine Bosma jesis at xs4all.nl
Fri Jun 24 00:10:22 CEST 2011

The following was read at a gathering today about the future of the  
arts in NL at the Stedelijk.

Fifty years ago, against the backdrop of war and a growing consumer  
society, Hannah Arendt wrote "The Crisis in Culture: It's Social and  
It's Political Significance." Seeing the cultural realm disappearing,  
Arendt sought to defend it on the grounds that culture, through the  
practice of honoring the past and present to preserve our judgment  
and taste, offered the capacity for an "enlarged mentality" (Kant) —  
to see the world through another's eyes, and so to build up the  
imagination and the capacity to think. For Arendt, this was  
strengthening the foundation of public life. She believed it was  
precisely the absence of this foundation, thinking in the place of  
another, that allowed totalitarianism to take over so much of Europe,  
to permit people to turn in their neighbors in cities everywhere, and  
so to plunge the civilized world into barbarism.

This argument is not new - in fact the entire European post-war  
framework - a humanism defined by commitment to liberty, social  
justice, and a vibrant public life - was guided by this fundamentally  
conservative insight. This was precisely the rationale for the now  
established tradition of public support for culture all over Western  

 From this perspective, the recent attack on public support for  
culture in the Netherlands - while often seen as coming from the  
"right" - is certainly not conservative. While the planned financial  
cuts are severe, the ideological cut is far deeper. Terms from  
management and marketplace cannot obscure that what is being  
attacked, what is being abandoned, are the lived traditions and  
practices, the guiding principles, of post-war European humanism.  
Given that the Netherlands has historically been a leader in the  
political dimension of the European project, and has enjoyed the  
peace and prosperity this project has produced, for an active  
participant in European and Dutch cultural life to see this anti- 
conservative program gaining momentum is confusing.

The idea that this could be done in response to a relatively minor  
budget problem, and in the name of the public good is radical. As the  
Archbishop in England recently commented, to use budgetary policy as  
a cover for widespread ideological changes to national institutions  
is fundamentally undemocratic as well as a betrayal of the taxpayer's  
money. Damaging the infrastructure of the European humanist project,  
by cutting back and closing cultural institutions, raising the VAT  
tax for theater tickets and art in the Netherlands, while keeping VAT  
discounted for tickets to the cinema and football, is not what people  
voted for.

The contemporary cultural realm of the Netherlands might have many  
failures and wants, but this space of living practice is one of the  
crucial stages for raising questions and critical reflections in a  
public realm threatened with the loss of thinking and judgment. Or,  
in the case of recent debates on immigration, the capacity to see the  
world through someone else's eyes, especially when they are our  

At the time of this writing, those who practice and support culture  
have been roused in anticipation of imminent plans to radically  
withdraw public support. It is constructive to defend cultural space,  
good working conditions, and even particular institutions, but it is  
crucial to put these issues into a broader context. The withdrawal of  
public support is not a matter of fiscal priorities or shared  
sacrifice, but a profound attack on tradition, one that has served  
the Netherlands well for seventy years. Indeed, one of the origins of  
the post-war policy of public support for culture in the Netherlands  
was recognition of the contribution of artists and writers in the  
Dutch resistance of the Second World War. Public institutions of all  
sizes, dedicated primarily to culture, are in turn some of the  
foremost organs of contemporary civil society and true anchors of  
public life. It is barbaric to justify their destruction in the name  
of the public good, for no public good is served by this attack.

Jeremiah Day, co-signed with Rezi van Lankveld, Bart de Kroon, Jelle  
Bouwhuis, Maxine Kopsa, Maaike Gouwenberg, Joris Lindhout, Igor  
Sevcuk, Taf Hassam, Florian Goettke, Rebecca Sakoun, Axel Wieder,  
Laura Schleussner, Hendrik Folkerts, Renzo Martens,Vasif Kortun,  
Marlene Dumas.

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