European governments try suffocating the Arts

As the wave of new liberal governments are blowing strong over Europe certain areas seems to be harder hit than others. The Arts are not appreciated, artists are expected to work more and more for free or look on their profession as a “normal business”, opera houses and orchestras are being forced to close down and hundreds upon hundreds of top class performers are facing a dire future with unemployment and no pensions. The Swedish government, until a few years ago a forerunner of social equality and blind support of the Arts, will be presented with a research paper, put together by the in Scandinavia important Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, proposing that the student funding and student loans for Art educations should be heavily cut or scrapped altogether for some courses due to artists struggle later in life to get work.
This is mild compared to the Netherlands where, late last year, the influential leader of The Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, proposed a cut in the culture budget from current €800m to €200m starting as early as 2012/2013. This has created an outrage among artists and intellectuals in the BeNeLux countries with protest marches and group actions on social networking sites. What the result will be is not yet totally clear, but the cuts seems to go through, if not as heavy as initially suggested. There is still some voting to be done, but it does not look promising. The government in the Netherlands has also decided to go their own way in how the cuts will effect the major art institutions. Bigger and, it has to be said, more important world class institutions like De Nederlandse Opera and The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra will hardly feel the hit with minimal cuts while smaller, still top class, institutions like the Nationale Reisopera, the foremost touring opera company in the Netherlands, and some provincial orchestras will face cuts of up to 60% percent in their budgets. That activities could go on like before is hardly possible. Theaters and orchestras employing hundreds of singers, instrumentalists, administrative and other staff will have to change their company strategy and let most people in full-time positions go and then heavily rely on freelancers. But where will the freelancers come from in ten years if there are no smaller companies where to start a carreer? As Guus Mostart, current Intendant at Nationale Reisopera put it in an article in the Guardian UK the other day, “the loss of smaller companies who support younger artists and young composers is even more worrying than what’s happening at the bigger companies. They are the breeding ground for the future of music.” This is something we have to bare in mind.

So why this tendency? Why does the Arts scare governments like never before? Nothing major has changed in how it is performed, nothing is significantly different from, say, 1993. It looks more like the general political climate has changed, and thereby the way political parties and governments look at the Arts and how it should be funded. The last ten years or so governments have started to talk about theaters, opera houses and orchestras in terms of “businesses” and that they have to start re-evaluating their “company and corporate structures”. But these are not terms applicable to major Art institutions. They never have been and never will be. Would anyone pay €1800 for a night at the opera? Probably not. €985 for a concert of Adés and Stravinsky? Hardly anyone. Not even three hundred years ago was it possible. That’s why there were private patrons, supporting the Arts and its artists. The system of private and corporate sponsors is well developed in the USA (with numerous downsides to it too, it has to be said, but more on that in another post) and the UK has done a pretty good job at introducing it to their art institutions with tax relief etc. The rest of Europe seems helplessly behind, fumbling in the dark simply applying the cuts without having a complementary system in place.

When politicians complain that the Arts are expensive, they are right. Opera is one of the most expensive art forms in the world. Keeping a museum like the Louvre in Paris is an enormous burden on the state finances. But the art is what defines us as countries. The different styles, free ideas and creative minds is what have, and still in this moment are, making our society move forward. We need the Arts, in all its various forms and shapes. We need them to provoke us, to give us new ideas, to give us an alternative universe where we can taste another era, another time. Where we can escape. If the politicians aren’t prepared to take their responsibility, invested in them by us in democratic trust, we will have a very bleak future to look forward to.

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Filed under Arts Funding Cuts Europe, Arts Funding Cuts Netherlands, Culture

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