Category Archives: Arts Funding Cuts Europe

Our architectural heritage matters!

Ever since I started working at the age of sixteen I have had the privilege of working in the most fantastic historical environments. Living in and travelling to equally fascinating cities and countries has also been amazing. And from this I have learned one thing: architecture counts and matters enormously for cities or countries identity and the picture it sends to visitors as well as the people living there. Imagine New York without its high rising buildings, London without the Houses of Parliament with the fairly famous clock tower attached. Imagine Paris without the Tour d’Eiffel, Rome without Colosseum (though the Romans do everything they can making it crumble down piece by piece, but that’s an issue for another day) and China without the Great Wall. Even though one might not be an architectural nerd like myself, these buildings matter. To everyone.

The famous Swedish architectural preservationist and spokesman for the built cultural heritage Lars Sjöberg speaks about an internal, almost like an inherited compass for beauty, when he talks about the history of buildings. If we are to believe him they help us see and understands the world we live in. And I believe he has a point. When buildings are demolished and by bulldozers loaded on a truck to later be driven off to become landfill somewhere, we have lost a part of what we could have referred to as “home”. When big parts of Europe’s old city centers were demolished in the 1950s and 60s we lost parts of our identity. There were good reasons at times, I am the first to accept that, but there were also times when the demolishing frenzy was due purely to laziness from politicians that found preserving our built heritage too tiring and expensive. When the same thing happens today I feel obliged to cry out “hey, wait a minute! Haven’t we done this mistake before?” When this happens I think we have to start thinking very carefully about how we want our children and future generations to experience their environment. Not just when it comes to recycling and the biological environment. The physical environment is equally as important, and often these two causes go hand in hand.

Wanting to preserve the built heritage, whether it’s a Georgian country estate in the Swedish countryside or a Victorian office building in central London, the will and passion to preserve and care about earlier generations historical footprints, the architectural ones being the very rare exceptions one can actually see and touch, the engagement does often coincide with a general passion to take care of the environment too. If only more of us could see the common objectives. The more of us that get engaged in the case of saving our built heritage all over Europe, the more beautiful will future generation’s environments be. And as opposed to us, they will thank our generation for it and not berate us like we berate the generation that demolished the world we could have lived in. World War II made a terrifying and effective demolishing-job for us, though how some people found that an excuse to start a War on Beauty is astonishing. Let’s not continue that war. Let’s make peace and embrace the architectural beauty of our cities and the built heritage in our countrysides. This will be my New Years resolution for 2012.

Happy New Year everyone!

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Filed under Architecture, Architecture Matters, Arts Funding Cuts Europe, London

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