Dutch Budget Cuts Jeopardize The Future Of Media Art
Over the past 15 years, the Netherlands has emerged as a haven for new media art and design. Several of the world’s leading organizations and media art programs, including STEIM, Waag Society, V2_, Submarine Channel, WORM, Mediamatic and Netherlands Media Art Institute are stationed there and have contributed greatly to the advancement of media art research and practices. But that’s all about to change thanks to a series of budget cuts to the arts infrastructure of the Netherlands that will effectively liquidate all of the government funds supporting the aforementioned organizations.
There has been unrest about the cultural future of the Netherlands ever since the new right-wing government took office in September 2010. Many feel the government used the lingering worldwide economic crisis as an excuse to propose substantial cuts to the art and culture budget, a proposal that was followed by many discussions, protests and resistance in the cultural field. The final decisive debate was held on June 27th in The Hague and on the night of June 26th, approximately 2,000 people walked the 25km from Rotterdam to The Hague in protest as part of the March for Civilisation. Unfortunately these initiatives didn’t help. Not only did the government pass the decision to cut €200 million from the €900 million budget, the tax on tickets for performing arts will also increase from 6 to 19%.
The organizations together wrote a letter to the government in reaction on the new arts policy and Submarine Channel made the following SOS clip:
Arts orgs in the Netherlands are all reeling from the cuts, particularly those in the contemporary arts, since the cuts hit fringe organizations the hardest—slashing funding by 100% in many cases—while imposing minimal cuts on many of the larger, more established organizations.
The new media art sector in the Netherlands has been considered an independent sector for only a brief period of time. Therefore, the Netherlands doesn’t have a leading New Media institute yet, like MIT in the United States, that can lobby the government. According to Hajo Doorn, Director of WORM, this was always an advantage precisely because there were many different, small organizations that could experiment in a very free way, leading to innovative ideas. Nowadays, it’s clear that this is also a disadvantage, because a sector with a leading institute cannot be so easily swept away from the cultural map. Doorn also emphasizes that not only will organizations receive less support, there will be significant cuts in talent development and production companies. There is no priority for the development of young talent, which impoverishes the sector.
V2_, one of the most innovative media labs of the world, will lose its structural funding. “The consequences for V2_ are not entirely clear yet," says Danielle Meijboom, "especially since the establishment of the newly-created fund is not yet known. But as the letter to the government also makes clear, structural research and development will be impossible, which means that our specific expertise, which we are renowned for in the world, cannot be conveyed from 2013 onwards. This shocks in particular many foreign organizations. V2_ is in the international top when it comes to new media labs, and from abroad, people always have been very impressed by the fact that the Netherlands invest in innovation and progression. This image of the Netherlands, an image that the current government advocates, will thus quickly be destroyed as a result of the cuts in new media and e-culture. It seems that the government is not really aware of this.”
This New York Times ad, which reportedly cost $26,000, ran on June 23.
At this time, no one really knows what the future will bring. The former structural institutional funds will be redirected to a new Fund for Creative Industries, whose mission is to stimulate social and economic values of the creative industries as a whole. But it is unclear what the Fund will support and what their budget will be.
Protests have not had the desired effect (yet), but continue. At the same time, the affected organizations are looking to the future and coming up with new plans in order to survive.
Theus Zwakhals from The Netherlands Media Art Institute says: "Right now everyone is considering restructuring, either by collaborating or merging. It is still unclear if and how that will work. But without structural contribution, many of these organizations are irrevocably lost. On our website anyone can leave a response. We use the quotes for political lobbying and they are posted in our building."
Dutch artists will of course continue to work—the professionals working in new media are creative and resourceful, and project subsidies can be applied for in the new fund and in greater Europe. But the future certainly looks considerably more bleak. The new policy affects everyone with an interest in the cultural sector: organizations will have to drastically cut their programming, and in some cases shutter their doors altogether, with the new lack of funding. Performing arts and music lovers have to pay 13% more for their tickets with the increased VAT and talent development is not supported anymore. The effects of this major blow to Dutch contemporary art will be felt for years to come.