Rehearsing the artist as avant-gardist forerunner

At Stroom, the Hague, Tuesday 21 February, the covenant guideline that regulates the payment of artist’s fee by museums and presentation-platforms was ceremonially signed by the parties involved. The presentation-platforms organized in De Zaak Nu, the artists’ representative organizations Platform Beeldende Kunst, Beroepsvereniging van Beeldende Kunstenaars, Kunstenbond FNV and a substantial part of the museums in the Netherlands1 jointly signed the covenant.


The arrangement was the result of a long period of deliberation between the parties in BKNL. The arrangement is on voluntary basis and it will need further development; the not for profit platforms for example will find it hard to fully comply with the guideline given their limited resources. And it is precisely this level that provides for the possibilities for artists to present their work in the fashion of their choice, and that is an essential motor of artistic production. The new guideline will be monitored, and it is clear that more work needs to be done to address the implications of this widespread supported norm for artists’ fees.
For the year 2017 minister Jet Bussemaker, who was also present, has reserved €600.000 to compensate for these costs for which institutions can apply at the Mondriaan Fonds in an arrangement called the ‘Experimenteerreglement’.2 During the official meeting at Stroom two applicants were ceremonially awarded such grants by the minister: Nest, The Hague and the Watersnood Museum, Ouwerkerk3 to compensate the artists fee partially. This extra arrangement is intended to be transitional, covering for the time needed for this reconfiguration of the budgets on a more permanent basis.
It is clear that this was a much needed covenant. The structurally under-valued position of the artist in the chain op artistic production needed repairing. If anything it is their work and efforts that stand at the basis of the chain, and the remuneration should be organized accordingly. The institutionally weak position now at last has been fortified and even expressed, countering the ever continuing expansion of the idea of the artist as liberal entrepreneurial worker.
Rightfully, there was lot of mention of the artist as the exemplary production-type worker in the neo-liberal conditions that has emerged as the dominant political ideology of the last decade. It was the artist that was willing to work on a precarious basis: on a flexible basis, willing to work underpaid (or quite often for free). Apart from the direct goal to repair the precarious income situation of the artist in the current configuration of production, this arrangement contains a possible deeper political effect.
The meeting was attended by a significant number of SER members4 – an advisory body to the government – indicating the high level of political interest for the guideline, and the potentially socio-political significance of this arrangement. It was also the SER that last year published a report in which the dire conditions of artists and culture workers was acknowledged. The report states that artists are structurally under-payed and their fee is the last budgetary post to be covered, if at all, by the cultural institutes. The overall financial situation of artists was recognized as below poverty levels.
The broad scope of participants to the covenant was also remarkable. Museums more oriented towards heritage (the before mentioned Watersnood Museum and the Van Gogh Museum for example) are on board, as well as institutions more oriented towards the production of contemporary art like the Van Abbemuseum. Also the geographic coverage was broad: the urban as well as provincial institutions were present. It shows the solidarity in the field against the still ongoing ideological attack from the liberal, nationalist conservative and populist parties in the Netherlands. The cultural budget-cuts in 2011 were informed by the neo-liberal and populist sentiments that advocated funding solely on the basis of heritage-value or self-sustainment, under the populist flag of anti-elitism, undercutting the idea of artistic production as a living mode of societal production. By aligning the field of heritage and that of contemporary art, and that of city and province to build a responsible and conscious model production, a strong answer is given to the political frames on the right.
The former avant-garde position of the artist, in our Western liberal societies framed as the individuated expressionist of his/her own artistic views, gets repositioned in the complex of the production-apparatus as a whole, embedded in the institutions as one of the societal institutions. Jokingly, the Poldermodel was brought to the table, referring to that typically Dutch model of consensus-building. Here though there is no consensus in sight yet. The two biggest parties in the poles -on the eve of the upcoming elections-, VVD and PVV advocate a further eroding of the societal fabric, abandoning even the model of collective bargaining agreements, the consensual arrangement between worker, employer and governance. Thereby advocating an ever increasing liberalization and atomization of society, and the continuation and fortification of the neo-liberal and precarious worldview. The cultural policies of both parties are clearly visible in their electoral programs. The sustained assault on culture in general, and the arts in specific, continues: The PVV promises to cut all public funding for the arts (alongside ecological development, public broadcasting and ‘innovation’). The VVD intends to cut the budget for art-education in half.
In light of this, the guideline that was created from within the field of the arts was therefore of interest to the SER and a political feat in its own right. The guideline can be seen as a way to counter the move towards further neo-liberalization, and the agreement can be a basis to build on a fortification of societal fabric. SER chairwoman Mariette Hamer praised the relevance of the new artist fee guideline as opening up the broad discussion on the negative societal effects of continued precarization and the growing share of non-contractual labor of the labor-force in the Netherlands.
Moreover, the agreement between the different parties involved that collectively have taken their public responsibility shows an example how it is possible to reconfigure the ideas on how to organize, perceive and protect societal values. In this partisan struggle it is the cultural worker that might be activated once more.
In an almost sardonic sense the term experiment that usually is used as indication of artistic innovative quality, mostly reserved for the artist, especially within this context, is used here as a governmental tool to restore ‘Welfare state’ qualities considered lost. The experiment might be restauration indeed, the avant-garde may want to look back to the not so far past.

1. Among those: Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven, Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht, Kröller Müller Museum Otterlo, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Mauritshuis Den Haag, Fries Museum, Naturalis Leiden, Nationaal Museum voor Wereldculturen en Keramiekmuseum Princessehof Leeuwarden. Notably the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam are missing in this line-up, relying on their own budgetary system. They argument that a presentation in the museum itself produces value for the artist. They prefer to continue the bi-lateral agreements they have with the artists. The museum here as neo-liberal individuated institution.
2. This roughly translates as ‘protocol for experiment’.
3. The Watersnood Museum is a museum in Ouwerkerk, Zeeland that finds it origins in the catastrophic flood in 1953 in which a big part of the Netherlands was inundated. It focuses on the historical Dutch relation with water. Notably the museum works with contemporary artists who see this theme as a potential artistic given. This model also undercuts the idea of a division between contemporary production and heritage.
4. The Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER) advises the Dutch Government and Parliament on key points of social and economic policy. It also undertakes activities arising from governance tasks and self-regulatory matters, and functions as a platform for discussions of social and economic issues. The Council consists of independent Crown-appointed members, employers, and employees.

Over Jack Segbars

Jack Segbars is kunstenaar en schrijver, en hij is medeoprichter van Platform BK. Naast zijn praktijk als kunstenaar schrijft Segbars veelvuldig over kunst en kunstgerelateerde onderwerpen voor o.a. Metropolis M., Open! en PARSE.