The Liberation of Arts Philantropy

An introduction to the changing role of arts philanthropy in the Dutch visual arts.


Since 2022, Platform BK has critically examined the rise of arts philanthropy in The Netherlands. To finalise this research project, former co-director Sepp Eckenhausen has edited the reader ‘De bevrijding van het mecenaat’, including texts by Liesbeth Bik, Helleke van den Braber, Timo Demollin, Nous Faes, Roel Griffioen, Anna van Leeuwen, Sofia Patat, Jack Segbars, Renée Steenbergen, and Olav Velthuis. The text below is the introduction to the reader.

The full, Dutch-language booklet, which was co-published by Platform BK and the Institute of Network Cultures, is available in print and as a .pdf here. At the bottom of this text, you will also find links to every text in the reader available on our website in English.

A ‘Totally Irrelevant’ Enumeration

In 1994, De Appel in Amsterdam established the Curatorial Programme, the first study programme for curators. Many of the participants became curators at renowned institutions around the world. In the periods from 2013-2019 and 2022-24, the Curatorial Programme received long-term financing from the philanthropic fund Ammodo. Since 2020, the philanthropic Hartwig Art Foundation has also contributed to covering operational costs.

In 2010, Voordekunst was founded, the first non-profit cultural crowdfunding platform in the world. Small donors, often from within one’s personal circles, can contribute to culture makers’ projects via Voordekunst. To achieve the necessary funding, Voordekunst often looks for fund-matching. Once the maker has raised approximately 75% of the goal, a cultural fund agrees to contribute the rest.[1] Public funding bodies that have participated in fund-matching include the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts (Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst), the provincial government of Limburg, the provincial government of Gelderland, Almere Cultural Fund (Cultuurfonds Almere), Groningen Art Board (Kunstraad Groningen), the Rotterdam municipal government, and the Mondriaan Fund.[2]

Since 2012, the Niemeijer Fund gives the Theodora Niemeijer Prize to a mid-career female artist every two years.[3] So far, Sarah van Sonsbeeck, Sachi Miyachi, Sissel Marie Tonn, Josefin Arnell, Silvia Martens, and Sara Sejin Chang have each received a cash prize of €100,000. The Niemeijer Fund’s assets come from the estate of its namesake Theodora Niemeijer, the daughter of the Groningen tobacco manufacturer Niemeijer.

In 2012, the Outset Fund came to the Netherlands from the United Kingdom. The organisation is a giving circle that connects midsize donors with high-quality experimental art productions. With the support of Outset, Matilde Cassani created the art piece Tutto, consisting of a firework show, during Manifesta 12 in Palermo and the artist Alexis Blake was able to realize the performance artwork rock to jolt [ ] stagger to ash during the 2021 Prix de Rome exhibition.

In 2013, the Arts Collaboratory was founded by Casco Art Institute in Utrecht. The Arts Collaboratory is a community of 25 arts organisations, primarily from the Global South, which is committed to forging long-term, reciprocal relationships across borders. An important aspect of this collaboration is a jointly managed fund called the ‘common pot’. The money in this pot was initially donated by the humanist fund Hivos and the DOEN Foundation (Stichting DOEN), which distributes lottery funds to social causes. After several years, Hivos stopped its suppport, but DOEN and Casco Art Institute are continuing their collaboration.

On 10th September 2016, the Voorlinden Museum was opened in Wassenaar. The 4,000-square-meter building and the surrounding Clingenbosch sculpture garden were filled with works from the Caldic Collection. The collection is characterised by prominent, specially commissioned installations by equally prominent artists: a light installation by James Turrell, lifts for mice by Maurizio Cattelan, and a COR-TEN steel installation by Richard Serra. Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich is especially popular on social media: the blue space with a ladder and a glass ceiling, which looks just like a real swimming pool, is highly photogenic.[4] Voorlinden and the Caldic Collection are owned by the chemical industry tycoon Joop van Caldenborgh.

On October 17th, 2017, it was announced that the international star curator Beatrix Ruf would resign as director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. During Ruf’s three-year-long tenure, the Stedelijk presented several high-profile exhibitions with work by Isa Genzken, Jordan Wolfsen, and Ed Atkins, among other blue-chip artists. Nevertheless, the Board of Directors decided to let Ruf go, effective immediately, due to an apparent conflict of interests.[5] Aside from her well-paid full-time job at the museum, Ruf turned out to have twenty ancillary functions and her own consultancy firm that made a profit of €437,000 in 2015.[6] Ruf made this money advising big collectors, including collectors who had donated works to the Stedelijk Museum.

In August of 2019, the Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam closed its doors for seven years for a major renovation, during which asbestos would be removed and a new entrance would be built. The costs were estimated at €223.5 million. €168.9 million was contributed by the municipality of Rotterdam. The additional millions would have to be funded privately. Wim Pijbes, director of the philanthropic foundation Droom en Daad, offered a gift of €80 million.[7] One of the conditions was that Droom en Daad would get a seat on the museum’s board of directors. The museum and the municipality could not agree to this demand, and the donation was rejected.[8]

In September 2021, an important step was taken towards the opening a new museum for contemporary art in Amsterdam. The Amsterdam Arts Council (Amsterdam Kunstraad) and the City Council (Gementeraad) agreed to a plan made by the philanthropic Hartwig Art Foundation to develop a cutting-edge international museum in the Zuidas area. The two-person board of the Hartwig Art Foundation consists of Beatrix Ruf and Rob Defares, philanthropist, collector, and former member of the Supervisory Board of the Stedelijk Museum. The museum will be housed in a former courthouse, which the Amsterdam Municipality will purchase for this purpose from the National Real Estate Agency (Rijksgebouwendienst) for €26.8 million.[9]

On November 5th, 2021, King Willem-Alexander officially opened the Boijmans Depot, the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum’s new art depot building, in the Museum Park in Rotterdam. The simple shape (which reminds many people of a plant pot) and the mirror cladding the imposing building immediately gained international renown. The buidling of this depot is the result of a ‘unique public-private collaboration,’ according to the museum’s website.[10] In addition to a contribution from the Rotterdam Municipality, the philanthropic foundation De Verre Bergen contributed €27.6 million to the construction.[11]

As of April 2022, it’s possible to visit an impressive former underground water basin in Delft. This is the exhibition space of Radius, a centre for contemporary art and ecology. The property is owned by real estate developer Robert Lekkerkerk, the father of founding curator Niekolaas Lekkerkerk. The location was renovated by Lekkerkerk senior’s real estate firm and has been rented to the art organisation for a friendly price ever since.[12] On 10th July 2023, it was announced that the Mondriaan Fund would provide €110,000 in yearly support for Radius for two years. This consolidates the public-private collaboration.

On July 2nd, 2023, the statue Moments Contained by Thomas J. Price was unveiled on the Stationsplein in Rotterdam in the presence of State Secretary for Culture Gunay Uslu. A larger-than-life Black woman stands confidently in the middle of the square, with her clenched fists in the pockets of her tracksuit bottoms. The public’s response was universally positive. Moments Contained, it was said, became an instant Rotterdam icon.[13] The statue was gifted to the city by the philanthropic foundation Droom en Daad.

In April 2023, two intensive ‘listening sessions’ took place at the Stedelijk Museum, in which critical thinkers and artists made proposals for the future of the institution. These sessions form the inauguration of Buro Stedelijk, an experimental place for art that operates as an independent department of the Stedelijk Museum. The museum offers Buro Stedelijk space within its walls. Long-term funding for the staff and programming are donated by the founding partners Fonds 21 and Ammodo.

On July 14th, 2023, the Dutch Photography Museum (Nederlands Fotomuseum) announced big news. Thanks to a gift of €38 million, the museum was purchasing the imposing Santos warehouse building. Birgit Donker, the director of the museum and former director of the Mondriaan Fund, was delighted with the new, larger building, where the museum will reopen its doors in 2025.[14] The gift was funded by Droom en Daad.

On July 16th, 2023, it was reported that Martijn van der Vorm, the man behind both Droom en Daad and De Verre Bergen, had donated no less than €793 million to causes in Rotterdam of his own choosing.[15] This has led to a close relationship between his charitable foundations and the municipality. Droom en Daad and De Verre Bergen have direct access to the Rotterdam municipal executive via a special construction.[16] They have also been exempted from the standard integrity investigations by the real estate department.[17] However, NRC revealed that there is a dark side to Van der Vorm’s activities. His investment firm HAL (Holland-America Line) has been dodging Dutch taxes for years.[18] The tax evasion, however, hasn’t affected Van der Vorm’s warm relationship with the Rotterdam Municipality. According to Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb, the family Van der Vorm’s fiscal constructions are ‘totally irrelevant’.[19]

The Philanthropy Trap

If you look at the lay of the land, you can’t ignore it: patronage is on the rise in the Dutch visual arts.[20] From a couple of tenners to many millions, generous donors are handing out money and goodies left and right. Success stories and excesses often make the papers: a big prize, a beloved statue, a case of tax evasion. But you hardly ever read about the larger structures: patronage as a phenomenon.[21] Which interests are driving the rapid rise of patronage in the Netherlands? How is philanthropy changing the art world? And how does the increasingly complicated ‘mix’ of public and private money affect the power structures in the field? No 1,500-word newspaper article can answer questions like these.

In order to nonetheless encourage discussion of the systemic role of patronage among arts workers, the organisation I worked for, Platform Beeldende Kunst, published ‘The Philanthropy Trap’ in 2021.[22] In this essay, visual artist Timo Demollin discusses the disruptive position of three new philanthropic funds, Ammodo, Droom en Daad, and the Hartwig Art Foundation. Whereas philanthropists have traditionally been interested in high-profile success stories and masterpieces, this new generation of philanthropists distinguishes itself by providing (long-term) financing to medium-sized, socially engaged, and critically minded art organisations. Their contributions go towards covering salaries, buildings, and experimental programming. ‘That sounds good—the more money that goes to the arts the better,’ Demollin writes, ‘but it testifies to a creeping systemic rot.’[23] Three decades of systematic budget cuts have made public art institutions increasingly dependent on patronage. This gives private interests more power in shaping the public display of contemporary art. Tax benefits and an image boost are a bonus for the patrons.

‘The Philanthropy Trap’ had a big impact. It was read thousands of times. We received emails for and against it, and lively discussions arose on social media. The organizations discussed also took note of the article, though without making this known publicly. We were even contacted by the Dutch Association of Property Traders due to alleged misrepresentation of Dutch flash traders—the profession of Rob Defares, the patron behind the Hartwig Art Foundation. With a concrete, sharp, and accessible description, Demollin had in one fell swoop made it possible to understand and discuss the rise of a new patronage.

However, the danger of media logic lurked: a short period of intense attention, followed by oblivion. It was therefore important to forge ahead and further encourage the public conversation about patronage. Demollin and I decided to jointly organise De staat van mecenaat, a one-day symposium on the culture of giving in the Dutch art sector ten years after the budget cuts, which took place at Framer Framed in Amsterdam on April 30th, 2022.[24] This event brought together most of the very few public thinkers who had substantially engaged with the issue of patronage in the Netherlands.[25] These experts discussed the topic with each other and with artists, representatives of institutions and public funds, and, of course, private donors.[26] The result we aimed for was an intense and critical, but most importantly constructive conversation between various stakeholders in order to map out the current and ideal role of patronage together.

Role Confusion

An interesting but difficult conversation unfolded during symposium. The speakers’ different perspectives led not to synergy but to confusion. To begin with, there was no shared idea of who was responsible for what and when in this public-private experiment. Steven van Teeseling, director of Sonsbeek and State of Fashion, opened the discussion by stating that increasing taxes would help counteract the excesses of patronage. But an hour later, professor of patronage studies Helleke van den Braber proposed that artists and patrons should shape their relationships amongst themselves. The gap between macro-economic developments and individual practices also led to confusion. Olav Velthuis, professor of sociology and art-market researcher, presented the results of an ongoing international study into the rise of private museums and made critical comments on this phenomenon. The donors present were less than pleased with this sociological interpretation of their personal involvement in the arts. And in the end, it proved difficult to reconcile observations that were critical of the system with the pragmatism that working in the cultural sector requires for many. Nous Faes formulated a concise criticism of the neoliberal policy towards art, and Liesbeth Bik made several pointed observations on the problems of American patronage. But these analyses were far removed from the daily reality of Stephanie Schuitemaker, who, as director of the Outset Fund, mainly focussed on making high-quality art productions possible and supporting individual artists.

If this pile-up of confusion made one thing clear, it was that there is a more fundamental, underlying role confusion at play. This made it almost impossible to have an incisive conversation about the content in which so many different political and artistic visions clashed with each other. In his report on the symposium, artist and writer Jack Segbars concluded: ‘[Due to the prevailing role confusion,] good and disruptive donation practices exist side by side in an amorphous whole that can hardly be held accountable on the basis of equality and democratic values. As a result, disruptive donors have free reign, recipients of donations are at the mercy of arbitrariness, and responsible donors […] unintentionally end up being seen as suspect.[27]

It was somewhat frustrating that this intensive research into the role of patronage mostly revealed role confusion. But, then again, it became much clearer which insights are still missing in the public and political debate. In order to share this knowledge, we have collected the most important results of our research in the reader De bevrijding van het mecenaat. This book includes two kinds of texts: essays that were commissioned by Platform BK and articles published elsewhere by speakers at the symposium. The order is strictly chronological. The result is a time capsule of the discussion around patronage over the past five years. Hopefully, our confusion can provide insights for others and help raise the public debate to a higher level—away from a focus on successes and excesses. Away from a moralistic tug-of-war. Towards a politics of patronage.

Further Reading

Five of the texts in The Liberation of Arts Philanthropy were previously published by Platform BK, and are available on this website in English. You can read them here:

Timo Demollin, ‘The Philanthropy Trap: On the disruptive positions of Ammodo, Droom en Daad, and the Hartwig Art Foundation’, 24 March 2021.

Renée Steenbergen, ‘The State of Patronage: Why private gifts for the arts should not be a political instrument’, 11 April 2022.

Roel Griffioen, ‘Quid Pro Quo, But What Is the Quo, Exactly?’, 30 May 2022.

Liesbeth Bik, ‘Do We Want a State of Patronage?’, 8 July 2022.

Jack Segbars, ‘The Politics of Artistic Labor: Confusion and Responsibility in the Public-Private Knot’, 4 March 2023.



[1] Fund-matching has only recently become a structural instrument to take crowdfunding via Voordekunst to a higher level. The fund-matching programme Long Live Giving (Leve het Geven) was commissioned by Platform ACCT and set up in 2021 and 2022, through which the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds donated a total of €260,000 to more than 400 successful campaigns. See: https://www.voordekunst.nl/blog/in-totaal-meer-dan-28-miljoen-euro-opgehaald-voor-creatieve-projecten-door-middel-van-crowdfunding-en-matchfunding.

[2] See: https://www.voordekunst.nl/paginas/donateurs/matchfunding. According to Voordekunst’s website, these funds donate ‘an average of 25% of the required target amount.’ In total, fund-matching has contributed to 3,337 projects, just over half of the 6,527 campaigns that have been successfully financed via Voordekunst.

[3] Up to and including 2021, the prize was awarded to artists between 30 and 36 years old. Recently, the age requirements were broadened to ‘mid-career’. This fits into a wider pattern of art prizes abandoning their age limits.

[4] ‘It’s not possible to swim in it, but you can pretend to. Leandro Erlich’s Swimming Pool may well be the eye-catcher in the whole of the Wassenaar museum,’ writes Evert-Jan Pol in ‘Artwork of the Week: The swimming pool in Wassenaar,’ Digitale Kunstkrant, 13th July, 2018, https://www.digitalekunstkrant.nl/2018/07/13/kunstwerk-van-de-week-het-zwembad-in-wassenaar/.

[5] An independent investigation commissioned by the Amsterdam Municipality concluded that Ruf was not guilty of a conflict of interests, but that she could have acted in a more transparent way.

[6] Louis Hoeks, ‘Ruf Steps Down as Director of the Stedelijk Museum (Directeur Ruf van het Stedelijk Museum stapt op)’, Financieel Dagblad, October 17, 2017, https://fd.nl/ondernemen/1222900/directeur-ruf-van-het-stedelijk-museum-stapt-op.

[7] In addition to funding the renovation, this donation was meant for a new ‘Boijmans Modern’ museum in South Rotterdam. Eppo König, ‘“Boijmans Modern” in South Rotterdam Remains Nothing but a Dream (“Boijmans Modern” in Rotterdam-Zuid blijft slechts een droom’), NRC, 20th December, 2020, https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2020/12/20/boijmans-modern-in-rotterdam-zuid-blijft-slechts-een-droom-a4024633.

[8] In the following years, the estimated costs of the renovation rose to at least €259 million due to setbacks, and the reopening is postponed until 2029. A long-standing conflict aroses between the museum, the architects, and the municipality. Museum director Sjarel Ex stepped down, the renovation ground to a standstill, but municipal officials continued working on the project and charging for their time, which caused the budget deficit to run up. These developments were discussed during the AD 010 Debate: How to proceed with the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum? (Hoe verder met Museum Boijmans van Beuningen). See: https://arminius.nl/ad-010-debat-hoe-verder-met-museum-boijmans-van-beuningen/.

[9] In response to this gift to the donor, patronage expert Renée Steenbergen commented, ‘An ex-board member of the Stedelijk Museum wants to start a private museum with the support of the Amsterdam Municipality, which will compete with the Stedelijk.’ Renée Steenbergen, ‘That New Museum is Quite the Cheeky Act (Dat nieuwe museum is wel een heel brutale actie)’, NRC, 2 September 2021, https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2021/09/02/dat-nieuwe-museum-is-een-wel-heel-brutale-actie-a4056879?t=1692796318.

[10] See: https://www.boijmans.nl/depot/partners-depot-boijmans-van-beuningen.

[11] Michiel Kruijt and Bart Dirks, ‘Million-Euro Gift for Boijmans Renovation is Uncertain (Gift van miljoenen euro’s voor verbouwing Museum Boijmans is onzeker)’, De Volkskrant, 15 May 2019, https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/gift-van-miljoenen-euro-s-voor-verbouwing-museum-boijmans-is-onzeker~b2c1f236/

[12] Roel Griffioen, ‘Bread and Circuses: Art as a link in the real-estate chain (Brood en spelen: Kunst als schakel in het vastgoedbedrijf)’, Metropolis M, 2022, pp. 81-86.

[13] Sheila Kamerman, ‘The statue hasn’t been up two months and is already a Rotterdam icon (Het beeld staat er nog geen twee maanden en is nu al een Rotterdams icoon’, NRC, 23 July 2023, https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2023/07/23/het-beeld-is-nog-geen-twee-maanden-oud-en-nu-al-een-rotterdams-icoon-a4170385.

[14] ‘This is our long-cherished dream,’ according to Donker. Bart Dirks, ‘Dutch Photography Museum receives gift of €38 million and buys warehouse in Rotterdam (Nederlands Fotomuseum krijgt gift van 38 miljoen en koopt pakhuis in Rotterdam)’, De Volkskrant, 14 July 2023, https://www.volkskrant.nl/cultuur-media/nederlands-fotomuseum-krijgt-gift-van-38-miljoen-en-koopt-pakhuis-in-rotterdam~b4843113/.

[15] Joep Dohmen, ‘In the wake of the philanthropist with €800 million (In het spoor van de weldoener met 800 miljoen)’, NRC, 16 July 2023, https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2023/07/16/goed-geld-uit-het-belastingparadijs-a4169807.

[16] Maurice Geluk, ‘How the ultra-wealthy Van der Vorm family buys power and influence in Rotterdam (Hoe de steenrijke familie Van der Vorm macht en invloed koopt in Rotterdam’, Vers Beton, 18 November 2020, https://www.versbeton.nl/2020/11/hoe-de-steenrijke-familie-van-der-vorm-macht-en-invloed-koopt-in-rotterdam/.

[17] Dohmen, ‘In the wake of the philanthropist with €800 million (In het spoor van de weldoener met 800 miljoen)’.

[18] Dohmen, ‘In the wake of the philanthropist with €800 million (In het spoor van de weldoener met 800 miljoen)’.

[19] Michael Persson and Robèrt Misset, ‘Who are the secretive family making Rotterdam rich—with money being withheld from the city budget? (Wie is de geheimzinnige familie die Rotterdam verrijkt – met geld dat de staatskas wordt onthouden?’, De Volkskrant, 3 June 2023, https://www.volkskrant.nl/kijkverder/v/2023/de-geheimzinnige-familie-die-rotterdam-verrijkt-met-geld-dat-de-staatskas-wordt-onthouden~v744981/.

[20] Originally, patronage implied the direct support of an artist by a patron who offered them financial security and, at the same time, freedom in the artistic process. Patronage on this fundamental level hardly ever occurs in the Netherlands. ‘Patronage’ and ‘philanthropy’ are used in this collection to describe monetary donation practices in money and donations of goods (namely artworks) for cultural purposes. The terms ‘philanthropy’ and ‘patronage’, a term specifically used for philanthropy in culture, are used interchangeably in this anthology. The scope of philanthropy/patronage varies slightly per article. For example, sometimes private museums are included, while other articles don’t address this phenomenon.

[21] It’s worth noting that the better-informed articles on patronage are virtually all published by NRC or De Volkskrant. Follow the Money, De Groene Amsterdammer, Metropolis M, and Vers Beton contribute to the public debate less frequently.

[22] Timo Demollin, ‘The Philanthropy Trap: On the disruptive positions of Ammodo, Droom en Daad, and the Hartwig Art Foundation (De fuik van filantropie: Over de ontwrichtende posities van Ammodo, Droom en Daad en Hartwig Art Foundation)’, Platform BK, 23 March 2021, https://www.platformbk.nl/de-fuik-van-filantropie/.

[23] Demollin, ‘The Philanthropy Trap (De fuik van filantropie)’.

[24] The full programme can be found via the Platform BK website. See: https://www.platformbk.nl/livestream-de-staat-van-mecenaat/.

[25] These experts were as follows: Helleke van den Braber, professor of patronage studies at the University of Utrecht; Olav Velthuis, professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam, specialised in the art market; Sofia Patat, who worked as a fundraiser and business director for large and small art institutions and has written about this in several publications; patronage expert Renée Steenbergen; and Roel Griffioen, a researcher and activist who has written multiple articles on the topic of ‘real estate patronage’.

[26] These were as follows: Liesbeth Bik, artist and chairperson of the Academy of the Arts (Akademie van Kunsten); Kristel Casander, director of Voordekunst; Nous Faes, sociologist, policy advisor, and opinion maker in the visual arts; Yvonne Franquinet of the Amsterdam Art Fund (AFK); Marjolein de Groen of Collectie DE.GROEN; Stephanie Schuitemaker, director of Outset; and Steven van Teeseling, director of Sonsbeek and State of Fashion.

[27] Jack Segbars, ‘The Great Disappearing Act: Confusion and accountability in the production complex,’ a report on the symposium The State of Patronage, Platform BK, 1 July 2022, https://www.platformbk.nl/de-grote-verdwijntruc/.

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.