Sjarel Ex, Director of Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam

The directors of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Centraal Museum Utrecht, Kunstmuseum Den Haag and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, four of the Netherlands’ most important municipal museums have written to the councillors responsible for culture in those cities, with a copy sent to Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister for Education, Culture and Science, appealing for financial help in weathering the current crisis.

Sjarel Ex Director of Boijmans said, “If the central government joins forces with the four major municipalities, we as municipal, internationally important museums of contemporary and modern art, with our great responsibility in the cultural ecosystem, can continue to perform our function. Without additional financial aid to process the corona losses, the museum field withers into gray areas.”

Here is a translation of the letter dated 5th May 2020

To the councilors responsible for culture in the following cities

Robert van Asten, Den Haag
Said Kasmi, Rotterdam
Anke Klein, Utrecht
Touria Meliani, Amsterdam

With a copy to Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister for Education, Culture and Science

In the current era of corona, it becomes clear once again how incredibly diverse the cultural sector is and how the visual arts are organized differently from, for example, the performing arts. Whenever sectors raise their voices to point out the importance of culture to politics, it takes time for the various players to organize. After all, we are all different and have such a strong focus on our own identity, which makes the differences as big as the similarities. We, the directors of the four major urban museums, are very concerned about the future of the unique and relevant cultural infrastructure of our cities. The four major museums are home to the four major museums of modern and contemporary art in the Netherlands. This is a unique function, which is supported by only the municipalities and which plays a pivotal role for a large fabric, which works in those cities, and which is also of great importance nationally and internationally. We make hundreds of loans per year available from our museums to the field, a function that benefits all smaller museums.The visual arts and design sector in Eindhoven, Maastricht, Groningen and Haarlem are also hit hard without support from the government. The national government, municipalities and provinces should work together to keep that going.

After a support package of 300 million euros for culture was presented by Minister Van Engelshoven on 15 April, we took a breath of relief. And we were the first sector to be helped. However, it soon became clear that the package of conditions hardly provides any aid to municipal and regionally subsidized institutions and the rules for non-government subsidized institutions are so strict that our museums are only supported in the event of imminent bankruptcy. It also turned out to be aid for the first three months, while we know that with the one-and-a-half companies, our own income is falling dramatically. The ministry assumes that all equity must first be consumed before knocking at the counter. Perhaps unnecessarily: this applies to the majority of museums in the Netherlands (around 70%). Fortunately, dear aldermen, all four of us do not immediately get up. Fortunately, because as major players in the four major cities, we each hold a very central position in the fine-meshed network of visual arts. And, we believe, we are indispensable for the maintenance of those networks and thus the cultural climate in the city. The Stedelijk, Kunstmuseum, Boijmans Van Beuningen and Centraal Museum function as major privatized urban museums on the one hand as an attractive destination and on the other as an important cultural client in our cities and in this country. The international relations of the four major museums form a unique network across the world. We are indispensable for the makers, for the artists and designers in the cities, for the galleries, for art education, for education per se; for the many self-employed persons who organize exhibitions with us, maintain and restore our municipal collections, produce our printed matter and social media; we also train future curators, educators and art marketers in the context of talent development. We do this in addition to our role as an urban attraction with a major economic impact. Provided that visitors from outside and many can come at the same time.

In the first few months without an audience, we were able to survive with the support of the NOW scheme, the regular municipal subsidy and gifts from private individuals and funds that have supported our activities for years and continue to do so now. Our employees maintain the security and storage conditions for our precious municipal collections. And if we are allowed to be open again later, we will only be able to admit the public sparsely. Programs that we develop within and outside our museums for third parties, for schools and groups, for business, neighbors, schools and abroad are under pressure due to the loss of a large part of the visitor income. However, we will only be able to make exhibitions on a small scale, we will hardly attract sponsors, we will not be able to attract tourists and day visitors to our flagships and therefore not to our cities. And so our artists, designers, writers, researchers and large flexible shell of art handlers, restorers, exhibition builders do not offer any income; not keep our galleries on their feet; our talents do not provide museum training; not receive our schoolchildren; fail to meet our incredibly important inclusion targets; not lend a helping hand in neighborhoods that need us, not play our role in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht; not play our role in the Netherlands and in the world. If the central government and the large municipalities of the Netherlands that are financially intensively burdened by corona measures do not join forces, we will not be able to function as municipal subsidized but internationally important museums in the major cultural ecosystems, and the museum field will become gray. Because you are all four, as G4 councilors, with the task force, with the interest organizations, with the funds and with the national government, we call on you to ensure that this disastrous situation does not occur. We believe in our special responsibility for the chain, in our indispensable function in the living and art climate within our cities and also in the country. And we are convinced that you also believe in this. That is why we ask you, together with the other partners, together with the national government, to urgently look for ways to support our base in such a way that we can continue to fulfill our cultural-social role in the near and further future. We ask the municipalities, provinces and the Minister to support the urban and national chain of museums for contemporary and modern art in order to compensate for the corona losses, which is a major responsibility of the State, because this exceeds the regular funds and resources of the municipalities.


Sjarel Ex
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Rotterdam

Bart Rutten
Centraal Museum Utrecht

Benno Tempel
Kunstmuseum Den Haag

Rein Wolfs
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam