The article in the NRC from Saturday, 31st October on the (sexual) violence of Julian Andeweg, written by Lucette ter Borg and Carola Houtekamer, has shocked the art world. We think it’s important to first express our appreciation for the victims and those involved: they dared to speak out and make their painful experiences public. In doing so, they took on a heavy responsibility in addition to their great personal suffering.
At Platform BK we needed time to process feelings of shock, anger, and shame, to organize our thoughts, and take a position. The longer we think about it and the more we read, the clearer it becomes that in this case, it is not an individual artist but the entire Dutch art world that must be held accountable. The cultural sector has not been able to protect all cultural workers (in training) against sexual violence, intimidation, misogyny, stalking, sexism, racism, and other forms of immoral transgressive behaviour that took place right under our noses.
Beyond the Silence
In the media, the reactions have come thick and fast. People and institutions involved have scrambled to save their reputations, the hypocrisy of this has been called out, an interview with Andeweg has been taken offline (a choice that was later clarified) and many other stories of similar cases were shared on social media. ‘Silence is broken,’ writes Delphine Bedel, co-initiator of the Road Map to Equality in the Arts, on Facebook. The post has received wide support. Many others have shared their experiences, encouraged by the coverage of Andeweg’s inappropriate behaviour — some on social media, others in private messages or discussions with friends and colleagues.
Platform BK sees the public discourse around this sensitive subject, in the media and online, as a positive and emancipatory development. It is right that the silence surrounding wrongdoings in the sector has been broken and that looking away is no longer an option. The fact that some are sharing their experiences on social media shows that (art) institutions must offer more and safer opportunities for these stories to be heard. Because while there is no doubt that these stories should be made public, we believe that the way in which they are shared is a matter of concern. We are not in favour of accusing people by name without some form of fact-checking and due process, as happens in some ‘call-outs’. The end does not justify the means of a ‘trial by media’. Societal rage is understandable and necessary but undermining the rule of law is not.
The Danger of Myths
In this discussion it is crucial to recognise and name a number of harmful myths that are prevalent in the cultural sector. The myths that (self-)exploitation encourages creativity, that underpayment brings freedom and emancipation, and that competition among both artists and institutions can increase aesthetic quality have long been the prevailing norm. Along with many others, Platform BK has worked to eradicate these myths in order to strive towards a healthy and safe cultural sector.
How should we as a sector react to the myth, prominent in the NRC article, of the ‘naughty boy’ as an ‘exciting, intriguing, and eccentric artist’? The reactions to the article in the NRC show that within the institutions involved, there was knowledge of ‘impropriety’, but all too often it was thought that this ‘transgression’ deserved a place within the walls of academies and institutions. We see it as the duty of Platform BK, but also of the cultural sector as a whole, to do away with this myth.
Furthermore, we are still being held back by the idea that the art world is an autonomous sanctuary that forms a social vanguard. Violence, abuse of power, sexism, and racism do not only occur in the art world. However, we consider it important that we as a sector reconsider our ‘pioneering role’ as a ‘safe and progressive sector’. In terms of our approach to sexism, we are years behind the film and theatre world, for example.
It is now up to the sector and its institutions to come up with solutions to these systemic problems. On the website Jegens & Tevens Frits Dijcks writes, ‘The Andeweg case is our shared problem. And we’ll have to face it in order to fix it. There is no other way.’ In other words, it is time to re-evaluate the boundaries of what is acceptable and develop a better definition of inappropriate behaviour. Our task is as simple as it is difficult: create institutional structures and a cultural climate in which there is no room for violent and sexist behaviour like Andeweg’s. We must offer alternatives to outpourings in the media and, more importantly, create a climate in which we hold each other accountable.
The institutional translation of values into behavioural norms is not easy, but it is possible. For the last five years Platform BK has been working with various stakeholders within the arts world on a code in which we promise to jointly ensure a strong and resilient field. A field in which this moral code is the foundation for our behaviour. Together we have spoken out for solidarity, transparency, sustainability, diversity, and trust. This process resulted in the Fair Practice Code, which was presented in 2017.
In the Fair Practice Code, we state ‘that the creativity and expression of artists are the heart of the unique value this sector represents for society.’ However, many artists have been robbed of their means of expression at precisely the moment when they were most vulnerable.
Platform BK is therefore of the opinion that a rapid augmentation of the Fair Practice Code, by way of more precise behavioural norms, is necessary. We are advocating this within the BKNL consultative body as a first and necessary step towards the institutional eradication of sexual violence, intimidation, misogyny, stalking, sexism, racism, and other forms of immoral inappropriate behaviour.
In addition, Platform BK will join Mores Online, a contact point to report violence and unwanted behaviour in the cultural and creative sector. Mores Online offers the opportunity to consult an external confidential advisor in the event of abuse in the sector. Furthermore, Mores Online has drawn up a code of conduct that Platform BK plans to adopt. We will urge our network to do the same. In addition, we will investigate whether this code can be linked to the Fair Practice Code in a similar way as the Richtlijn Kunstenaarshonorarium (Guideline for Artists’ Fees) has already been linked to the Fair Practice Code. The fact that the Museums Association and De Zaak have already joined Mores Online gives us hope.
Cultural Change from the Top Down and from the Bottom Up
We cannot assume that protocols and codes alone will lead to the desired change. Compliance with protocols and codes must be monitored, and, more importantly, awareness is necessary at the highest institutional level. Management, boards of directors, and supervisory boards will have to reflect on the functioning of their own positions, their organisations, the internal organisational culture, and the degree of transparency they observe. We will have to find ways to use the code not only as a checklist but as a safeguard for collective values. In other words, a cultural shift is needed (at all levels, but especially at the top) to bring about change along the entire chain.
This does not mean that we are going to wait around for management boards to begin this introspection on their own. We want to start building knowledge and raising awareness in the public discourse here and now. For example, we have learned from the Belgian peer-to-peer initiative ENGAGEMENT, who developed a toolkit to combat sexual violence, sexism, and abuse of power. We also hope to continue to work with Delphine Bedel on mapping inequality. Furthermore, as mentioned above, the theatre world has already come much further in this discussion. That is why we will enter into dialogue with our partners in the Creatieve Coalitie, such as Platform Aanvang, and make proposals for sector-wide knowledge-sharing sessions. With this knowledge, we will then make new, targeted policy proposals, such as an extension of the Fair Practice Code, and invent new forms of solidarity from the bottom up.
Interested (aspiring) members are very welcome to contribute or share their reflections, concerns, ideas, and insights. We can be reached at email@example.com. Of course, we keep our members up to date via our newsletter, website, and social media.
 The NRC article clearly shows that the OM (Public Prosecution Service) and police have also very much dropped the ball. We find this reprehensible, but in this letter, we limit ourselves to discussing the cultural sector and our role in it.
 It should be noted here that the Fair Practice Code does not exist in a vacuum but was implemented concurrently with the Culture Governance Code and the Diversity & Inclusion Code. Together these codes from one value system. By incorporating these codes, combatting sexism and (sexually) inappropriate behaviour becomes not only a matter of ‘fair practice’, but also a matter of good governance and inclusion and diversity. We limit ourselves here to a discussion of the Fair Practice Code, which was drawn up thanks in part to Platform BK.