Retort #1 Which direction?

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The outlines of the second cabinet of prime minister Rutte are becoming clear. Representatives of a former ideological discord will now work together: traditional social democrats and the modern liberals. The PvdA (the Dutch social democrat party) has been an avid supporter of the Third Way movement since the nineties, so nowadays its political course can easily be reconciled with the VVD (the liberals). The PvdA embraced the market economy and capitalism is recognised as default.

Left- and rightwing populism has pushed both parties into extremes recently, but what will happen now, now they’ve become dependent on each other? What is their core ideology now they’re no longer compared to their shadows the SP (Socialist Party) and the PVV (Right-wing party, lead by Geert Wilders). Prime-minister Rutte (VVD) made a resolute attempt to differentiate, however both parties have irreparably grown towards each other. The centrifugal forces are rooted in polarisation by both wing parties, which are left out of this new coalition.

By proposing the commercialisation of healthcare, a new social loan system, reforms in the labor market and the cleansing of the WAO (welfare for the disabled), the PvdA adheres to liberal principals. Restructuring of government finances, the benefit principal, enhancing productivity, reorganisation and efficiency, all these concepts became a natural part of the social democracy, although with the rough edges smoothed off. So the remaining differences between the two parties are: hard or soft.

The Dutch system of mortgage tax deduction, used by the liberals to flaunt as champions of the owning class, can now finally, without loss of face because dictated by the crisis, be forced into a compromise. But where is the vision? Where is the sincerity that makes a difference?

Jet Bussemaker is the prime candidate for the position of minister of arts. During the last administration, under pressure of unbridled populism, reactionary conservatism and a mantra of liberal market principals, art producers, the artists and its institutions were hit hard and framed as devourers of subsidy and even parasites. What will the minister do to stipulate an answer to these turn of events? According to Zijlstra (the former secretary of arts), the tone of voice of the debate was too hard, but he refused to admit that he propagated a substantial move, a coupe against a widely accepted practice, staged by an unstable coalition. The cultural field, once widely accessible, has turned into a badland under the doctrine of the benefit principle, audience numbers, market rules and populist anti-elitism.

A country’s cultural infrastructure mirrors its ideas about culture. Well, minister, these turned out to be: market economy, the benefit principle and heritage preservation. According to the VVD there is no place for government involvement in any living art form. The results are known to you, or should be, as our future minister of culture: the presentation institutions are hit hard, many will have to close, and opportunities for individual artists have seriously diminished. The Mondriaanfund, a key institution in the distribution of subsidy, now has a double workload while its financial means have been halved. The cultural field has been brought up to par with neoliberal ideas of market economy and a small governmental influence. The process of this coupe was the same as with all other measures of the last cabinet: headstrong and polarising. The unwelcome advise of its own advisory board, de Raad voor Cultuur, was ignored. A substantial part of the represented electorate, and the way this representation was organised, was treated with contempt, with the sole purpose of pushing an own agenda and honouring personal preferences. Ruling became partial representation.

What will the PvdA do about this state of affairs, the social binding of arts and its role in society in general? What is the vision of the PvdA of culture in a society? Can we imagine art based on liberal principles? Is an art production, solely based upon benefit principles, imaginable? Is this condition not, in itself, an acceptation of these principles in cultural productions? And, more importantly: is the PvdA satisfied with the general state of culture? Can she be satisfied with the current image of arts and culture in society, and the way in which it has been discredited?

The announced agreement set up by the new coalition offers little hope: despite the resistance shown by the PvdA during the reign of Rutte I, there is almost nothing in the plans to counteract these trends. There is no compensation for the austerity measures. And, more importantly, since the main critique of the arts sector wasn’t about money, many of the opportunities for cultural production, necessary for a lively cultural field, have been cut away. According to us, a society is only strong if it takes care of the arts. Art is a shared expression of us all, and serves us all.

A government which refuses to be responsible is a scared government. A government which is, in fact, scared of its citizens. It is this exclusion, this non-exchange and authoritarian coercion, which enraged the people in the field of arts. It’s now up to minister to get the dialogue started again and to present a shared vision on the role of arts in society.

Jack Segbaars is an artist, curator and writer.

This essay is a “Retort” written at the request of Platform Beeldende Kunst. “Retort” is an initiative of Platform BK and aims to direct the debate on art and culture with timely responses to cultural policies and coverage on art in the media.