Cultural makers hope for money from care or housing

“Is this a pragmatic solution to pay the bills?” That question was put to D66 MP Jorien Wuite by debate leader Jörgen Tjon A Fong on Sunday during the annual Paradiso debate. She said she was convinced that the cultural sector should use its “imagination” more often for social problems such as housing shortages, the accessibility of health care and sustainability.

More than two hundred people, mainly administrators of cultural institutions and organisations, attended the Paradiso debate – a twenty-year tradition at the start of the cultural season, fueled by interest group Kunsten ’92.

A dilemma that was woven throughout the afternoon: do artists and cultural institutions want to be more involved in ‘social issues’? Or, as Member of Parliament Wuite immediately said, is “utility thinking” lurking?


Jeroen Bartelse, duo chairman of Kunsten ’92, opened the debate with the concern that with the fall of the cabinet, the reconstruction work that had started under the leadership of State Secretary Gunay Uslu (D66, Culture) would get bogged down. “Uslu was just speeding up tackling persistent bottlenecks.”

Bartelse mentioned, among other things, the ‘disrupted’ labor market, the need for better pay and better working conditions (‘fair practice‘) and less bureaucracy in subsidy procedures. Such regulatory pressure now costs the sector 94 million euros annually, Kunsten ’92 has already calculated.

But the debate was mainly about financial vulnerability, which – as other participants in the debate also emphasized – stands in the way of the realization of plans.

There is still less money available for the arts than in 2012, when the Rutte-I cabinet implemented large-scale cutbacks in the cultural sector. OCW figures that director Jan Jaap Knol of the Boekman Foundation showed in Paradiso show that government expenditure on the arts in 2021 were 20 percent more limited than ten years earlier, not counting the (incidental) corona support. In other cultural sectors, such as libraries and film, government expenditure has increased since then.

Knol also pointed to the uncertain role of municipalities, which annually provide 2 billion euros in cultural subsidies – much more than the approximately 1 billion euros that the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science structurally spends on this. The municipal tasks for the cultural sector are not laid down in law, unlike those for libraries.

This could lead to large deficits in the ‘gorge year’ of 2026 – when new funding rules seem to jeopardize the government’s contribution to municipalities. Knol: “Clear goals like a law [voor het gemeentelijk cultuurbeleid] describes, that gives more guarantees for support.”

But a law is not enough, argued public administration expert Martijn van der Steen. “The culture sector focuses its lobby too much on legislation that should safeguard municipal expenditure, he thinks. “We just need more money for culture.” Otherwise, said Van der Steen, there is little point in promoting regional distribution of cultural subsidies. “If no money is added nationally, you have to divide the same cake over more regions.”

Earning power

On Sunday, no one really seemed to believe that a new cabinet will structurally increase cultural subsidies. One solution kept coming up during the debate: if artists get involved more in social discussions, this is interesting in terms of content and good for the ‘earning capacity’ of the cultural sector. Money from, for example, healthcare institutions or housing associations then ends up with cultural institutions in a roundabout way.

In June, consultancy firm Berenschot published the report In the spotlight with the same message, after research commissioned by the House of Representatives. Several speakers that Kunsten ’92 had now invited to Paradiso also advocated this approach.

Robert Vroegindeweij, director of the provincial Music School Zeeland, talked about the Cultural Board Zeeland in which entrepreneurs think along about ‘connecting culture and business’. “That has already generated 360 ideas.”

Bijlmer Parktheater director Jolanda Spoel also welcomed funding from other sectors. “In terms of facilities, the Bijlmer is a forgotten part of the city, all the energy of cultural makers now goes into survival.”

Moreover, collaborating with organizations outside the cultural sector fits in with what makers themselves want, she said. “Many artists have both feet in society.”

Read also about a collaboration with artists on climate at Utrecht University: Climate experts bring in the imagination