Then onwards to the hall where from ten o’clock this morning the parliamentary cultural spokesmen have been interrogating a whole array of representatives from the cultural sector. At the insistence of the opposition, the committee had decided on this hearing, with the aim of gaining better insight into the consequences of the draconian cuts by the coalition agreement. One by one, the different sectors get their turn. And I’ve been invited to the hour reserved for dance.
But first a quick visit to the gents to check my hair and straighten my tie. I am indeed dressed to the nines and have even brought along my aluminium briefcase especially for the occasion. I look as if I’ve just walked out of a board meeting at Shell or something – under the motto of ‘the cultural sector is as business-like as anything’. When I arrive in the hall, the talk with the representatives from the music sector is still in full swing. So first I take a seat in the public gallery, which is teeming with familiar faces – other directors, but mainly people from sector institutes and advisory bodies. They’ve been sitting there a couple of hours already and sometimes that’s obvious, when for instance their blackberry gets more attention than the speakers. But what do you expect? It’s not like it’s going to get really exciting. The invited guests each get three minutes for a statement, after which the MPs can take turns to ask two questions. The statements are critical but polite, and there is no question of a debate. But that was never the intention; this is a hearing.
We, the dance representatives, had prepared our presentation well beforehand. Each of us would talk about two aspects of the dance establishment; how is the establishment doing, can dance ticket prices increase further, how do we deal with talent development, what is the situation with regard to regional distribution, and what is our international position? They had to be clear stories, we had agreed, and we would present them powerfully. No complaining or sense of aggrievement. Because we wanted to leave behind an impression of a young and energetic sector (after all, we only really got going seriously in this country after World War II), leading the international scene and looking forward to a great future due to our attractiveness to young people. Perfectly possible – providing, of course, it isn’t all messed up in the meantime.
The meeting table is not a round one, but a large half moon shape. The MPs sit at one end and we at the other. Such physical distance doesn’t appear to me to be conducive to the proverbial Dutch ‘polder’ consensus, but apparently it’s more important that this arrangement allows everyone to be filmed from a single camera position in the hall. The hearing could then be followed live on the parliamentary website.
I found the cultural spokesmen alert and interested. Holding meetings is their profession, so it wasn’t noticeable that they’d already been at it for four hours. Except for MP Bosma, from the PVV party, who had apparently suddenly discovered this morning that he had more important things to do. Predictable and typical!
But although they were interested, their questions were rather on the safe side. Lots of attention was given to the academies: was the quality of dance graduates high enough, and weren’t there too many academies? This had been brought up with the other sectors as well, and the representatives from the cultural sector had taken a swipe at professional art education. The committee jumped on this theme eagerly. Actually, it was a good diversionary tactic, as professional art education falls under educational policy – and thus a different budget. But fortunately, the Groen Links MP, Tofik Dibi, asked my Nederlands Dans Theater colleague, Jet de Ranitz, what the actual consequences would be if the cuts went ahead. If indeed there are cuts of 25%, answered Jet, then it would be better just to quit, as we could no longer keep up our international quality. “It’s up to you, of course. But then at least have the balls to tell us we’re not needed any more”. The journalists at the press table looked up in amusement at such unparliamentary language. And yes – Jet’s balls did indeed get into the report of the battle in the papers next day.
We heard from other people who’d attended that the dance sector had presented itself well. That’s great. But has it actually achieved anything? Will anything change in the attitude of the VVD and the CDA, who on this point have been thoroughly stitched up by the PVV? My expectations are not high. Despite the good intentions, a day like this is a bit like a ritual dance. Later on, the MPs will plead in their own defence that ‘at least they have held detailed discussions with the sector’. Nobody can now accuse them of not having studied the material. And in their own circles, the sectors will remark that ‘they strongly pointed out to the cultural spokesmen the consequences of their plans’. In this way, all the parties had an interest in the hearing. Myself included, by the way. Because my invitation meant that I could meet the MPs I didn’t yet know personally. That’s handy for the lobbying process still to come. Because I shall definitely be back in the House for personal talks. In order to sound out the state of their balls...