Can the arts emerge stronger from the cuts?

Can the arts emerge stronger from the cuts?


norman lebrecht

December 22, 2011

In the January issue of wonderfully readable Standpoint magazine, out today, I offer a summary of some of the regeneration ideas I presented at the Dutch Classical Music Meeting in October.

Holland has the worst record of any civilised country in using the recession for an attack on the arts. But are the artists despondent? Not so far as I could tell. On the contrary, they are becoming smarter, sharper, tougher. It’s the politicians who are on the back foot now.

Read my essay here.

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  • You mention that the Dutch government “planned” cuts up to 60% in arts budgets, but you don’t mention how many would be cut that much, or which ones they are. Was it just a few that faced such cuts, or many? You neglect to say. And you only use the word “planned” without telling us what was actually cut and how by how much.

    You also don’t mention that the cuts are only in the Federal budget which provides only about 10% of the public arts funding in Holland. About 40% comes from state governments and 50% from municipalities which have NOT seen significant reductions.

    The Federal budget was reduced from 900M Euros to 700M — a 23% cut – but since the Federal government is the source for only about 10% of the public funding, the *overall* cuts in Holland for public funding are about 5% or less.

    Your portrayal of governments as degrading orchestras by forcing them to play in schools or prisons is also nonsense. Concerts in prisons are virtually non-existent. Concerts in schools are also quite rare. Instead, the children are given price reductions for tickets and taken to concerts in the orchestra’s regular halls – and often for regular subscription concerts. It’s a very important and necessary educational service that the Dutch handle really well. And it is one that the orchestras proudly serve.

    You also leave the impression that the situation with the Federal government’s cuts in Holland represent a norm for government arts funding in Europe. Stats collected by the Council of Europe show this is also not true. Even in the current recession, most of the EU’s 27 members have kept cultural funding stable, and some have even increased it, such as Germany where it was raised 5.1% for next year. The EU has approved a 2.4 billion dollar budget in arts funding staring in 2014, which is a 35% increase – as you yourself reported here on your blog.

    There are sometimes problems with government funding, but it would be best to base your criticisms on factual, straight-forward information. The institutions in Holland that face the worst situation (and that are indeed serious) are those who are largely dependant on Federal funding like the State Radio Orchestra in Hilversum. A detailed report about that situation might better serve your political perspectives.

    • PJ de Boer says:

      Could you show me where you get your figures? What you say about government funding being responsible for only 10% of the arts budget is simply not true for orchestras, if even true at all. It is not true either that municipalities do not suffer from budget cuts, on the contrary. The provincial orchestras especially depend largely on funding by the ministry of culture, and, as an orchestra manager recently told me, the provinces cannot simply take over a part of the subsidizing even if they wanted to do so. The problem with the arts budget cuts in the Netherlands is that the government obviously doesn’t give much for it; they take away the money, and leave institutions to figure it all out for themselves, without however leaving a sufficient amount of time to implement the dramatic changes the loss of subisidy implies.

      Just one thing: the Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy, not a federation, and is not divided in states but in provinces. Referring to the outstanding Radio Philharmonic Orchestra as the “State Radio Orchestra” has a USSR-like connotation which is surely unintentional but quite unpleasant nevertheless.

      • I said about 10% of the funding comes from the Federal level of government, not government as a whole. The rest comes from municipal and “provencial” agencies. I would appreciate any documentation (with sources) you can provide about cuts being made by provincial or municipal agencies. I would also like to read some articles about what is happening with the Radio Philharmonic if you know of any. There is strangely very litte in the English-language media.

  • I double checked my figures for how the various levels of government fund the arts in Holland. In 2006, the Dutch government spent 183 Euros per capita for culture. About 48 Euros came from the national government and about 135 Euros from the provinces and municipalities. That means that about 26% of the funding comes from the national level of government and 74% from the lower levels.

    The recent national level cuts reduced funding per capita by about 11 Euros. That’s a 5.9% reduction of the185 Euros that is spent per capita.

    For comparison, the European leader for funding per capita is Norway at 437 Euros, Denmark at 351, and Austria at 254. The city of Frankfurt leads in Germany for per capita funding at the municipal level with 202 Euros for every resident of the city. The NEA provides about 50 cents per capita in the USA. Even if one accounts for the loss in tax revenue for donation deductions, the numbers for cultural spending in the USA are still far below European norms.