The stereotypical image of an artist hard at work in an icy garret tucked away in the poorest quarters of a sprawling European capital is familiar to many. Lengthy periods of poverty and deprivation have traditionally been viewed as integral to becoming a genuine artist. Yet with the advent of corona, the Arts and artists find themselves in an even more precarious position than before. The recent announcement by the British government of an aid package of more than €1.7 billion for the cultural sector has highlighted the struggles here in the Netherlands for support for the arts.  

Due to closure of almost all cultural events, the Dutch cultural sector is estimated to lose a total of €2.6 billion of income this year alone, according to Trouw newspaper. In April, Dutch Minister of Culture, Ingrid van Engelshoven announced €300 million in emergency support funds for the Arts. This was allocated largely to museums, orchestras and theatre companies. But these institutions make up only a small part of the culture sector here in the Netherlands. Overall, this sector contributes 3.7% to the national income and provides 4.7% of employment at a national level.

There have been further calls from political parties and the cultural sector itself for further emergency funding. The Labour Party (PvdA) submitted a proposal for an additional €700 million of funding for the cash strapped sector. An open letter from the Creative Coalition to Minister Engelshoven has also been sent on behalf of  42 interest groups and 50 000 individual cultural workers requesting further financial assistance. Their research shows that freelance performing artists will lose an average of €20 000 in income, per person, in 2020. Although the majority receive financial assistance from the government this lasts just three months.

The Creative Coalition has expressed concern about plans to reduce the Performing Arts Fund by €8.6 million. For many smaller companies in this sector, who are not part of the large Basic Cultural Infrastructure (BIS) group which provides a guarantee of 4 years of funding for members, the Performing Arts Fund is essential for survival. The BIS is organised via city councils and provides substantial funding to many cultural organisations. Rotterdam makes available €81.7 million each year, Amsterdam €73.5 million and The Hague, €56.2 million. Nevertheless, the pandemic has put considerable strain on this large-scale funding.

The Hague in particular is struggling to support its cultural sector. There are 21 cultural organisations that will no longer be part of the BIS in the Hague, compared to just 7 in Rotterdam and zero in Amsterdam, reports the Volksrant. The municipalities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam have both earmarked additional funding for the cultural sector of €17 million and €10 million respectively. The Hague on the other hand has announced withdrawal of funding for one Europe’s largest and most established literature and music festivals, Crossing Borders. This family run initiative has been bringing world class writers like Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and Germaine Greer to The Hague for over twenty years. But this year’s November festival is set to be their last as both national and local funding have been unexpectedly withdrawn.  

Across Europe, governments have responded in various ways to the plight of their cultural sectors, post corona. The Guardian newspaper reports that the Italian government has established a €245 million fund to support the performing arts. While the German government has pledged an additional €1 billion for theatres, museums and similar organisations to help them re-open as soon as possible. In Spain a €76 million package designed to protect the cultural industry was recently unveiled along with specialised financing for cultural businesses worth up to €780 million. Spanish culture minister, José Manuel Rodríguez, called for a consolidated approach to cultural policy in Europe, similar to initiatives like the European Green Deal and the European Digital Agenda.

During World War Two when asked to cut funding for the arts in Britain, then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, is famously and erroneously, credited with responding, ‘Then what would we be fighting for?’ He did however say, that ‘The arts are essential to any complete national life. Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which they are due’. Wise words indeed and ones which all governments would do well to remember in a post-corona world.    Souwie Buis    11th July 2020