This post is also available in: Dutch
A little over four years ago, Mariska van den Berg, Yvonne Grootenboer, Jack Segbars and Yuri Veerman and I founded Platform BK in response to the budget cuts implemented by the Rutte I-government. In all the discussions on art and artists in the media and political debates, we missed the voices from the cultural field itself. There was no organization that could speak for the cultural field, from the perspective of the artist, curator, designer or writer, using their words and arguments.
It was clear to us from the beginning that we would not want to engage purely in political lobby or focus on the philosophical side only. We knew, that in order to achieve anything, we had to think beyond financial terms and that we should also activate the field itself. We call ourselves ‘an active think-tank for the arts’: a platform from which to think about the role of art and artists in the society we (want to) live in. We transform those thoughts into actions and projects and try to emphasize the connection between theory and practice with everything we do. We work together with other organizations that know how ‘the game’ is played in The Hague. We supply them with information and bring forgotten or overlooked topics to the agenda. These topics are informed by what happens in the field, by our members, or by our own experiences.
In the past four years we have almost exclusively functioned thanks to our volunteer workforce. I have personally worked 2-3 days a week for Platform BK and have intensely enjoyed and learned a lot from that. After the summer however I will pass on my role as chairman and daily leader. Although the work is by no means done, it’s time to make space for others. It has been a huge privilege to work and speak with and for so many different people. Noticing the effects of our activities and the appreciation from our members and others in the field has been incredibly rewarding. Because of this noticeable impact, we have never had trouble finding volunteers. Our team was recently strengthened by some fresh new forces: graphic designers, a web designer and a studio policy researcher. Our platform’s identity will soon receive a makeover and our expertise keeps growing.
The list of projects we have initiated, the actions we have taken on, the investigations we have conducted etc. is long. Take a look at our website: Retort (opinion pieces in response to cultural policies and coverage on art in the media), The Initiative (a growing inventory of artists initiatives in NL), Art Matters (a collection of essays on the relation between art and politics), Neoliberal Iconoclasm (mapping the effects of the Rutte I art cuts), Blijfjijzzp’er (successful action against abolition of tax deduction for independent entrepreneurs/zzp-ers), Clusters (gatherings by and for members), debates and information meetings, Letters to the cultural ministry and the Raad voor Cultuur (Arts Council), and more. As an ongoing activity we can now add research into studio space policies, and before summer, a draft for an artist’s fee directive will be completed!
Despite all these achievements, we have reached a limit. We can no longer rely solely on volunteer work, the workload is simply to large and the task too important. In addition to that, it’s harder to maintain and improve the quality of our work than it was to initiate it. Platform BK focuses on a number of core issues but has acquired a certain professional standard and responsibility. The driving forces behind that standard (team spirit, personal commitment, know-how and knowledge) are not inexhaustible and have to be fueled and renewed constantly.
As of October 2015 our organizational structure is based on a core team that steers volunteers, reaches out to members and partners and communicates the work of Platform BK to the outside world. Unfortunately, payment of the team is still sub-standard (and this is a euphemism) something which goes very much against our own values: a reasonable fee for professional work.
We do not receive structural subsidy and we want to keep it that way. But this means that we are dependent on member’s contributions to keep the office running and realize our projects. At this point in time we do not have enough members to achieve this properly. Without an influx of new members, Platform BK will continue to exist, but at a slower pace and by canceling a number of planned activities. This would be a shame, because we are at a momentum where we are ready to increase our range and scope: Platform BK would like to raise awareness, advocate and drive issues on a larger scale than we have been doing now. However, a larger scope that includes more research, presence and programming, demands more working hours, travel costs and infrastructure. We need the means to do that.
Hence this letter: a call to all our members to help Platform BK grow and become future-proof. We don’t even need that many new members. We have 350 today. That is a great base, because if every member brings in one other member, we are good to go. One. That’s all. Two is also fine.
It might feel uncomfortable to ask people to sign up and support Platform BK (believe me, we know all about it) but from experience we know that a personal approach works best. And there is nothing to be embarrassed about: Platform BK has a great track-record by now! Ask your colleagues in your studio complex or at the academy where you teach. Or try it as a conversation starter at the next opening: hey, Platform BK needs some support, are you a member? Many people are, but many are not. Why not? Maybe they’ve been planning to sign up, but keep forgetting to do so.
When I ask people to sign up, sometimes, I hear that they whole-heartedly support Platform BK’s cause, but that they would rather not commit. The want to stay ‚independent’. But have a look at our members list, do you see any people there that have given up their independence by supporting Platform BK? I’ve been working for Platform BK since 2012, and I actually feel strengthened as an independent artist, because the Platform advocates the issues I face, and it collectively investigates and articulates our positions. I feel supported by this organization that reflects from the field about our independence and communicates it to the media, unions, funds and policy makers. And that does not back away from emphasizing amongst our own constituency, that artistic independence is not as self-evident as it seems. Indeed, a future government could decide to cut it away altogether.
If all our current members bring in one new member, Platform BK will become a strong organization overnight. That would allow us to proceed with energy and bundle our capacities together with increased strength!
Chairman and co-founder of Platform B