Just a few more days. And then Zijlstra, the State Secretary for Culture, will announce how he intends to carve up the state subsidy for culture. On Friday 10 June, his letter will arrive. After that, the world will never be the same again.
If we are to believe the corridors, Zijlstra will spare the big leading institutions as far as possible. The Dutch National Ballet, De Nederlandse Opera and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – the figureheads of cultural life in the Netherlands – should have a lucky escape, relatively speaking. “We’ll be sweeping the stairs from the bottom up”, a Dutch MP is reported as saying. Of course, I’ll be happy if the damage done to us is limited. But it pains me intensely that after the ‘sweeping’, little or nothing will remain of that ‘bottom’ of the sector.
All those small and medium-sized companies will be sharpening their knives. You can count on them resisting – and not only verbally. Already, there are more frequent calls for ‘real action’; shutting down theatres for a weekend, for example. “Then people will experience the possible consequences of the cuts”. Or maybe refusing to perform after the interval. But that kind of action seems to me to be right up Wilders & co’s street. So there will be more radical proposals. “Get together and occupy an intersection or a ministry” is one of the half-serious suggestions I’ve heard at a national meeting.
A sit-in. That reminds me of my own “action past”. Because I once took part in a sit-in myself. It was in the mid-eighties. We students were not going to take it anymore! Precisely what we weren’t going to take anymore I honestly can’t remember. But what I do remember is how excited and euphoric I felt, lying in my sleeping bag in the university hall that night. The building was ours! What solidarity; what an atmosphere! We’d taken the initiative and now the authorities were sure to be willing to negotiate! Until the following morning, that is, when the secretary appeared and single-handedly cut through a chain with simple concrete shears, thus ending the “occupation”. He had apparently left us to it for one night, but now it was enough. What a let-down. The euphoria disappeared for good when a few fellow activists suggested flooding the university’s computer centre in revenge. Things quickly became vicious and destructive. Disappointed in so much stupidity, I slunk off. “Action – tough action!” is not my thing. Though it may feel good for a while, all together like that, it accomplishes next to nothing and usually gets out of hand.
Yet I would understand it if the artists involved despairingly went and occupied an intersection or a ministry in a couple of weeks’ time, along with all the secretaries, marketing staff and accountants who would also be out on the street if so many cultural institutions were closed down. They’d have nothing more to lose. They’d have to do something. It’s better to go down fighting than go meekly to the chopping-block. So there are bound to be a whole host of actions, protest concerts and sit-ins.
The initiators of such actions – those who are fighting for their lives – will shortly start asking those who weren’t hit so hard to rally along as well. After all, we should stand shoulder to shoulder, shouldn’t we? They will start asking the survivors in increasingly loud voices to stand up for the victims and to be willing to keep alive those who have been doomed to death. The answer from the survivors will disappoint them. So they will publicly declare that the survivors have enough money, or – if indeed it concerns the big institutions – even too much. Those big institutions are so rich that they can easily miss a bit. The answer to that will be that top quality costs a lot. But all those smaller companies who are soon going to bite the dust won’t want to hear that. Their rage, which was initially directed at “politics”, will focus more and more on the institutions that are going to survive this decimation. But let’s be honest – what can they actually do about it? Put their own people out on the street, so that fewer people will be dismissed from the other companies? No. You can’t, and you shouldn’t ask someone else to do that for you.
Of course I’m hoping that the Dutch National Ballet will not be in the corner that takes all the beatings. I’ll breathe a sigh of relief and maybe even cheer if the rumours in the corridors prove true. But straight afterwards, I’ll be embarrassed about my joy. Because the misery about to be unleashed elsewhere in the cultural sector is unprecedented in its magnitude and destructiveness. Lives and life’s work will be destroyed there. If only we could end the occupation of our cultural life with figurative concrete shears and let this supported minority government slink away. But that’s not possible.
So we’ll just have to make the best of it. Have a good cry and pick up the pieces. Get back to work again as soon as possible on what makes us stronger. Review the reasons for the Arts being hit so badly. Recognise where our failings were. Get on with making improvements. Infiltrate society even deeper, inspire even more people, discover even more talent and add even more creativity. Those who stay standing after 10 June have a moral duty to do better than they’ve ever done before. Because it was evidently not enough to avoid a massacre. In other words: action – tough action!< blog archive