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zondag 18 oktober 2020

The expected misuse of the 'corona crisis' for cutting public art budgets

(This entry is in English)

By Hans Kuiper
 I got a question:

 "How do you foresee the next upcoming financial scarcity in the arts and culture sector"

this is my answer:
The expected misuse of 'the corona crisis' for cutting culture budgets by governments, with 'neo liberal approaches'.

Message of Hans Kuiper to Jacopo Calonaci (artist & writer), 2020.
I see big problems for independent producers in the arts sector. 'Crisis' situations like these are, to my opinion, always a prerequisite for (big) budget cuts with a 'crisis argument'. This happened in the 80's already (when I started at the uni) and happened most recently in 2010-2012. In The Netherlands it's mostly the consequence of VVD ( a so called "neo liberal" party, not even liberal because they don't lower taxes for , working, citizens, but only for multinational companies) kind of policies.

As I see them, the "neo liberals", socially spoken (in the sense of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu), as politicians with a bourgeois culture consuming preference pattern, that means they see art as 'luxury goods" to be traded on an 'art market', even "investments" in an economically unsure time and so 'established art brands' are preferred. What used to be called "the haute bourgeois" seem to have a specific cultural taste: preference and maybe even longing for classical culture (in music, in visual art referring to representing 'reality'), a preference for art as a tangible product (in stead of a performative product) and have little interest or clue about contemporary art, theatre, music etc. which seems to be not the domain of 'bourgeois culture'.

In general, the "corona crisis" might be the 'wet dream' of the neo liberals will lead to a new era of 'austerity', just like after the crisis of 2007-2008, that started as a crisis in the financial sector.

Even when current 'western' governments are spending money in all economic sectors suffering from the 'corona crisis', this 'money creation' will work inflationary and will surely lead to a coming new period of 'budget cuts" and "austerity".
Macro economically though, austerity, the cutting of all government expenditures, is very disputable. Many economists are proponents of the 'anti cyclical budgetting policies', which in short means highering of governemental expenditures to take over "the failing markets".So, contrary to austerity. "Neo liberal" governments , although they are already grabbing for 'socialist measures for the rich (saving of 'crucial sectors' in which is their invested capital) and neo liberal measures for the poor (let the market do its work)", are they expected to grab to 'austerity' again?

The doom scenario is: (Subsidized) culture will suffer, as in neoliberalism it is not seen as a vital economic sector. Plus, politically probably too oppositional to neo liberal 'bourgeois' policies and approaches towards 'society' and its definition of 'valuable culture'.

Add to that: the general lack of cultural education in 'western culture' of the last decades and you might have created an electorate that will back cutting budgets in fine arts in particular and choose for backing 'vital economic sectors'. So, to my opinion it might be also the consequence of the worsening of education. In general, kids get less and less a 'real culture' education directed on professional production anymore and are bombarded with 'entertainment' and 'garbage' via the mass media and seem to be 'conditioned' to become "culture consumers".

That is also one of my themes in my projects, like the Neoschlager. It is using the 'products' of the 'culture industry' (theory of Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno', read it, especially the chapter on 'culture industry'), formerly seen as 'low culture' and reintroducing it into 'high end' contemporary art institutions and transport it into the "high culture domain" of visual arts .

For The Netherlands, in general I expect big budget cuts, but they were already there in culture in The Netherlands. I mean for primary 'producers' like you and me, it will be harder to find locations to show or perform. Less money for less artists. Less daring, because the established institutions are , artistically, mostly run by managers and art historians and not by artists. These art historians think they can define what contemporary art is all about, but that is non sense. Artists themselves do this, but the 'class of art historians' , because they make a living of this, try to get the positions to define the contemporary art discours. Unless artists take over those institutions or start them themselves.

That's why I believe there is more future in artist initiatives than in the bigger institutions (that are all subsidized sometimes in combination with sponsorships by big business). 

This movement might be adversable, social politically, when, 'pro contemporary art and culture' social movements and political movements are able to become big and get more social, educational and, in the end, political influence. 

This happened a few times before in The Netherlands, last in the 60's-70's. At that time the social welfare state was built up by a coalition of social democrats and christian democrats (who still believed in their social mission before they too were taken over by big business) The VVD-CDA conservatives since the 1980's have not brought much new, they only tried and try to take money from all these social democratic projects and transfer them to private business interests. So they take money from higher education (which is now expensive, even in the NL), from culture, from social projects , from unemployment benefits, from social housing, from health care etc. This is what all happened, since the 80's in the Netherlands. General tax levels for labour stay high (see Thomas Pikety)

The corona pandemia, has shown now also that the cuts in health care in The Netherlands of the last decade made the problem worse than necessary. Two hospitals in The Netherlands were closed last 5 years (one in Amsterdam West, the Slotervaart Ziekenhuis), the IC's (intensive care units) were cut from 1800 to 1200 beds. Now they need many more in the NL. The current government is getting back the 'boomerang' of their health care budget cutting, the corona crisis is a crisis they can not just ignore and shows their incompetence big scale. But what interests me is not so much healt care problems, although it also effects me, but what are the potential consequences for the art domain?

As art and culture are by a mere 'economism' not defined as generating tangible 'high return products or services' (except maybe for the top of the commercial art market which is booming again like never before, but doesn't much mean for actual 'art practices'), they might be one of the first sectors that will lach structural financing by governments still trapped in ideologiues of the 'free market' .

How can art domains become independent from these political budgets, that by nature tend to swift alongside the changing political 'waves of the moment'? I think the art domain has to face the painful question: how to find independence from politics (especially its financial control)?

It is dependent on the press and other public intellectuals to make the consequences clear.

For culture: even when the sector is a business (the culture industry), there is no direct financial gain for the 'big investors', so that's why neo liberal governments will never enlarge budgets for culture, that might turn critical towards them in the end and the governments will use any chance, like corona, to cut these budgets.

There might be a solution in creating associations that are "self financed" by (basic democratic) membership constructions combined by ownership or control of the art infrastructure (exhibition spaces, necessary equipment, personnel resources, educational facilities etc.).

So, in short, corona will be misused to cut social and culture projects, institutions, and 'save' all those businesses that are run by the neo liberal "policy makers" . The 'business model' of 'hard core market' companies' (insurance and the like, like banks and ' large private investors') profits are nowadays largely based on using the state to enlarge their profits.

And spending on culture means , in that vision, less public money to the private sector. That's why I think "self organization" of art domain institutions and 'creative entrepreneurs' is necessary to counteract the planned 'austerity' and cutting of social, art and culture budgets.  

We have to prevent the theft of public money (taxes) for private interests! That means we have to politically organize the art and culture sector in such a way that its claims are as strong as the so called "valuable" industries.

Message of Hans Kuiper (artist & cultural initiator) to Jacopo Calonaci (artist & writer), april 2020.