The performing arts sector was waiting for it with the fact that it had been discounted: the allocations of the Performing Arts Fund for the subsidy period 2021-2024 published on Monday. It was clear long beforehand that severe weather was on the way. This time, the fund had considerably less money to spend, because EUR 8.5 million was transferred to the so-called Basic Infrastructure (BIS) of central government, which involves an annual subsidy of EUR 200 million. Simply put, the ‘BIS’ is there for the functions or pillars under the performing arts system (orchestras, opera houses, large theater facilities). The Fund awards grants to smaller ensembles, theater groups, festivals and experimental new initiatives.
The fund budget of 20 million euros has been transferred twice for the upcoming arts plan. Of the 202 cultural institutions that applied for a subsidy from the fund, 149 received a positive opinion, but only half (78) will actually receive a subsidy, 34 less than in the past period. There is no money for the rest.
Also read: Many theater companies are struggling due to the loss of subsidies
The situation is similar to that in 2016, when the fund’s budget was also insufficient to support all positively rated applicants. The cabinet then repaired that with an extra amount of 9 million euros. Whether that happens now remains to be seen. Due to the corona regulations, theaters and concert halls can open performances and concerts to the public for a limited period of time for a very limited time. The call for emergency support for the culture sector therefore remains topical for an indefinite period.
The institutions that do receive a subsidy in the next four years scored better according to the assessment criteria applied by the Fund. However, the criteria on the basis of which that opinion was formed are open to discussion.
In her explanation of the awards, Fund Director Henriëtte Post notes “a loud call for a cultural sector that better reflects the multicolored composition of the population”. There is’ momentum for a fundamental ‘reset’ of the sector ”.
That reset is indeed coming, but is it the right one? Diversity is much broader than multicolored alone and it is poignant that genres such as jazz and improvisation with the end of support for the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw, the DOEK foundation and the Instant Composers Pool are in danger of disappearing entirely from the stage.
The criticism immediately flared up widely on social media. A collective action has also already been organized. The Netherlands Association for the Performing Arts fears to be stripped and urges politicians to ‘arrange timely coverage and maintain the vital infrastructure of the performing arts’.
A positive aspect of the new assessment system is that the compression corset of the activity subsidies (money based on the number of performances) has been released. This gives makers more room for their own choices. Also traceable: a choice for customization. Interesting (small) newcomers such as Eva Line de Boer (Euphoria Foundation), the Berlage Saxophone Quartet or Miranda Lakerveld (World Opera Lab) are now also given a chance.
The assessment criteria themselves are more debatable. The applicant’s artistic quality is only one of five criteria and is not assessed on the basis of excellence, but on the basis of the three slats ‘craftsmanship, originality and expressiveness’. Not infrequently, this produces diffuse and / or curious motivations. For example, the concerts of the vocal ensemble Cappella Pratensis (0 euros) are ‘static and distant’ in form – but you can say that of any concentrated performance of early vocal music. The Groningen bard Meindert Talma is “not distinctive” and “little original” – but convincing substantiation is lacking. And the Rosa Ensemble (“excellent musicians”) falls under the cutting line because “the artistic profile is too diffuse due to the large number of different projects”. With more rejections, versatility is identified as a threat to one’s own signature. That scraps because the same concept is used positively with other applicants.
Among the dropouts are notable names. The renowned, award-winning Oorkaan, for example, specializing in youth music theater. And the excellent theater collective Dood Paard. Although this offers ‘socially conscious theater’, the plans – moving into the neighborhoods, collaborating with makers from other cultural backgrounds – are not convincingly substantiated according to the fund. One possible consequence is that applicants will increasingly seek refuge in professional application agencies in the future.
Geographical distribution is also striking in the distribution of the funds. 54 percent of the multi-year project subsidies land in Amsterdam, while the regions north, middle and east together receive 4 percent. The fact that the Basic Infrastructure 2021-2024 has a better national distribution compensates for that picture, and there is also a matching scheme from central government to stimulate cultural innovation in low-culture regions. However, it is noteworthy that it is remarkable that in the East Netherlands region no cultural institution will be supported by the Performing Arts Fund for several years.
A version of this article also appeared in nrc.next on August 5, 2020