Retort#1 Which way?

The contours of the new Rutte 2 cabinet are becoming clear. The representatives of the ideological dichotomy will try it together: the traditional social democracy in bed with the new Liberals.


Over the past few decades, with the shaking off of the ideological feathers, the PvdA has taken a course that can very well be reconciled with the VVD. Market forces have been embraced, capitalism has been accepted as a generic system. The populism of the left and the right has caused both parties to wave off to the extreme, but what now, now that both are dependent on each other? What is the essence of both sides now that they are no longer profiled vis-à-vis their shadow parties SP and PVV? It’s not going to get any purpleer. Rutte tried to draw a clear distinction, but in essence both parties have inexorably grown towards each other. The centrifugal forces are housed in the polarisation of the outdoor positions, which have now been kept out of this constellation.

“The traditional social democracy in bed with the new Liberals”.
The functioning of the market in health care, the social loan system, the reform of labour relations, the cleaning up of the WAO, all measures in which the Dutch Labour Party could not escape following the uniform regime of the Liberals: the reorganisation of the housekeeping booklet and the observance of the principle of the benefit principle. Making a profit, increasing productivity, restructuring and efficiency – these have also become core concepts of Social Democracy, but with soft edges. These are the remaining taste differences: hard or soft. The mortgage interest deduction, a dossier in which the Liberals had taken hold as champions of the wealthy class, can now, without loss of face because forced by the need for compromise in times of crisis, be transferred to the reasonableness that no one can ignore. But where is the vision? What is the real meaning of a distinction?

As far as Culture is concerned, Jet Bussemaker, as a minister, will assume the final responsibility for the coming legislature. Under the previous government, under the guise of unbridled populism, reactionary conservatism and the mantra of liberal market forces, the production side of the cultural sector, the artist and presentation institutions was hit disproportionately hard and put away as a subsidy guzzler and parasite.

What is this minister going to do to respond to this turn? According to Zijlstra, the tone was too harsh, but he avoids admitting that this is an essential turn, a coup against a widely supported practice, perpetrated by an unstable occasional coalition. Because it is a turn: what used to be a broadly accessible area where everyone could act, the cultural field has now become an area under the doctrine of profit principle, public figures, market forces and populist anti-elitism. In the design of the infrastructure, the country’s idea of its own culture is reflected. Well, Minister, this is the image that has been presented as the principle of national cultural policy: market forces, the principle of profit, the preservation of heritage. In the VVD’s view, there was no room for government intervention in any living cultural expression. The result is known, or should you, as Minister of Culture, be known: the presentation institutions have been affected disproportionately, many will have to close down, and the possibilities for stimulation for the individual artist have been severely reduced. The Mondriaan Fund, the key institute in the distribution of funds, has been saddled with a doubled remit, while the budgets have been halved. It is an alignment of the cultural field with the prevailing neo-liberal idea of market forces and retreating government interference.

The process by which this coup was realized was analogous to the way in which politics operated in the last reign: headstrong and polarizing. The unwelcome recommendations of its own advisory body, the Council for Culture, were ignored. An essential part of the represented electorate and the way in which this representation has been shaped, insulted for the sake of one’s own vision. At the same time, their own preferences were honoured. Governing became a matter of partial representation.

“After all, culture is the shared expression of all of us, and serves all of us.”
What does the PvdA want with this state of culture, the social attachment, the role of the arts? What can the PvdA’s vision of the importance of culture in society be? Is a vision of culture conceivable on the basis of these liberal principles? Is an art production conceivable only on the basis of a profit principle? Isn’t this condition an acceptance of the role of art and culture on this basis? And more fundamentally: is the Dutch Labour Party satisfied with the general state of what a cultural idea should constitute? Can it be satisfied with the idea of what art and culture represent in society and how it is made suspicious?

The announced paragraphs in the Coalition Agreement do not bode well: despite the PvdA’s pledged opposition to Rutte’s plans1 , there is little in the new intentions to discern that wants to counter this trend. No repair of the announced cuts has been negotiated. And that is not even the essence of the culture sector’s criticism, it is not the amount of the money. It is the removal of precisely that part of the artistic field that expresses living culture, a living cultural production.

In our opinion, a society is a powerful society that dares to take care of and embed culture. After all, culture is the shared expression of all of us, and serves all of us. A government that takes its hands off that responsibility is a frightened and anxious government. A government that is in fact afraid of its citizens. Instead, a system was introduced which, as I said, is driven solely by an idea of market forces. It is this exclusion, this nonexchange and this authoritarian coercion that have made those working in the cultural sector so furious. The invitation to the Minister now is to restart this dialogue. To formulate a joint vision on the role of art as a social player.

Jack Segbars is a visual artist. This essay is a response to the recently published coalition agreement of the Rutte II government and was written at the request of Platform Beeldende Kunst. The ‘Weerwoord’ is an initiative of Platform BK and gives direction to the debate around art and culture by quickly responding to current art policy and reporting on art in the media.

About Jack Segbars

Jack Segbars is an artist and writer, who was one of the co-founders of Platform BK. Next to his praxis as visual artist, Segbars regularly writes reviews and articles on art and art-related subjects for Metropolis M., Open!, and PARSE, among other outlets.