Black Lives Matter: Against Racism in the Arts

Yesterday, we stood with our comrades on the Nelson Mandela Park in Amsterdam Zuid-Oost. Today, after two weeks of silence and contemplation, we speak up about the institutional racism we see in the Dutch arts world and in Platform BK. Read here what we must and will do to overcome it.


Black Lives Matter protest in Amsterdam Zuid-Oost, June 10, 2020. Photo: ANP.

As an interest organization, we must always ask ourselves: whose interest is it exactly that we work in? Whom do we represent, and whom do we fail to represent? The Black Lives Matter movement has been a reminder to us of how very white our organization is. Exactly for that reason, it is our task to acknowledge and fight the existence of racism in the Dutch institutions, in our organization, and in our minds. We must and do commit to social justice for all people, including those who do not share our white privilege. We call upon other predominantly white (cultural) organizations to do the same: to take responsibility and turn it into action. As Desmond Tutu said: ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’

The fact that a core issue in the current debate is the (possible) removal of statues, shows that institutional racism is not least a problem of cultural heritage and memory. This includes the cultural heritage of tomorrow, which is created today. Even within the very white Dutch art world, the issues of diversity and inclusion have been noticed and are on the agenda of grant-giving organizations. From next year onward, all cultural institutions that receive public funding are required to play by the rules of three codes: the Fair Practice Code, the Code Good Governance, and the Code Diversity & Inclusion. Struggling against institutional bias and inequality, Platform BK has been giving a lot of attention to the development and implementation of these codes, especially the Fair Practice Code, over the past years. In our responsibility to address institutional racism, we have to focus more closely on the Code Diversity & Inclusion in the coming years.

Many cultural organizations see these codes as tools of governance. Obey, or receive no funding. If this is true, if the cultural codes are mere bureaucratic requirements, boxes to check, the talk of Diversity and Inclusion does not undo racism. In that case, the Code will – as some fear – become a paper tiger which allows woke-washing: keep white institutions white but throw a hip-hop concert every now and then to keep up appearances. To truly fight racism, we must change the structures of power that shape society and, with that, the art world.

But we cannot dismiss the codes that easily, either. For we must not forget that the values engraved in these codes do not come from the top. These codes were established by the field, bottom-up: these are our codes. And we should not forget that we have to keep each other accountable in this collective obligation to not only uphold the codes, but also the values they represent. The field needs to keep the government accountable for the fact that it requires organizations to live by the codes, but does not provide the resources to do so in earnest. These codes are highly necessary, and should not be allowed to lead to the instrumentalizing of otherness.

Codes change institutional realities, but they do not automatically change value systems or power structures. Next to institutional boundaries, such as quota, we need on-going, critical debate in the public sphere. What is it that these codes really do? And is that in line with their ‘spirit’? In order to keep this debate alive, Platform BK is currently working on two texts on the Code D&I, to be published in the coming months in our Retort series.

Furthermore, we have to work together and mobilize existing networks and collective knowledge. We’ll continue to work together with our partners in Beeldende Kunsten Nederland (BKNL), de Creatieve Coalitie, cultural workers, and institutions, in our effort to create more space and possibilities on our road to equality, justice and inclusion in the arts. To do so in the best way we can, we are currently looking to diversify our team.

Platform BK must belong to all of us

Platform BK is a platform belonging to all of its members and followers. To those who want to use the platform to share content committed to struggle against any inequality or injustice, we say: please contact us, you are welcome and we will find a way, together, to platform your voice and provide fair financial compensation for your time and effort.

Many people are tired that they still have to protest racist shit. Because protesting gives strength and energy, but can also be extremely tiresome. To those who are tired of the fight and can use a bit of support, we say: we are here to support you, to take over your struggle for a bit while you rest.

Let’s educate ourselves and donate!

Seeing as it can no longer be expected from people of color to educate white people on their white privilege, we want to share some resources with our fellow whites to educate ourselves:

‘Wit huiswerk’, website full of resources (in Dutch).
‘Anti-racism Resources for White People’, Google Doc full of resources (in English).
‘The Road Map to Equality in the Arts’, conference report, ArtEZ, 2020.
Kaisha S. Johnson, ‘Enough Already with the Statements of ”Solidarity”, Arts World’, Medium, 2020.
Controle Alt Delete, blog.
David Whitehouse, ‘Origins of the Police’, Libcom, 2020.
Ilse Ghekiere, ‘Racism and Sexism in Art Education: A Subjective Mapping’, Rekto:Verso, 2019.
Vincent van Velsen and Domeniek Ruyters, ‘De tijd van loze beloftes is voorbij’, Metropolis M, 2020.

If you are reading this, it is likely that you are a member of Platform BK, and, thus, that you care to contribute financially to a cause you support. From experience, we can say that this support is so, so appreciated and necessary to keep up the advocacy. Please, consider making contributions to organizations fighting for black lives and social justice, such as:

The Black Archives
Nederland Wordt Beter
Zwarte Piet Is Racisme
Kick Out Zwarte Piet
Black Queer & Trans Resistance
Controle Alt Delete

About Sepp Eckenhaussen

Sepp Eckenhaussen is a researcher at the Institute of Network Cultures. From 2020 until 2023, he and Koen Bartijn were the core team of Platform BK.