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  • Writer's pictureAfonso Ivens-Ferraz

Local Artists Share Thoughts on Culture Subsidies

Updated: Feb 5

Artists in Groningen are excited about the city's cultural scene despite calls for more investment in culture.

© Jaap van der Welde

A week ago today the Council of Culture, a government advisory body, published an extensive report in which they called for a reform of the national cultural subsidy system, the BIS. They say that funding for culture is unevenly distributed across the country, with the Randstad region receiving an overwhelming majority of it.

Indeed, this has been a recurring issue over the years. In 2020, 80% of cultural fund budgets were allocated to art and cultural groups in Randstad. Through the BIS, the Netherlands’ annual budget for cultural subsidies is divided between the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science, as well as six other national cultural funds.

But in addition to this national system, provinces and municipalities have their own cultural policies, and while demands for an even distribution of funding are justified, not every city outside the Randstad region is fairing poorly. 

What About Groningen?

“The art movement and cultural life in Groningen is growing very fast. I like that it's diverse, multicultural, and free. Being a small city, it's also like everyone knows each other in a way. There's a certain kind of intimacy,” says Barakat Alsaleh, 33, a multidisciplinary artist and cultural coach based in Groningen. “I think it's a very promising city from the point of view of art,” he adds.

Originally from Syria, Alsaleh is optimistic about the artistic and cultural landscape of the city where he has been living for the past several years. However, he does believe improvements are needed in the country’s cultural sector more generally. He explains that more money should be invested, but this should be done “wisely,” by paying more careful attention to who receives the funds.

“I appreciate what they are doing but I feel like most of the money and power has to be with the artists and with the people who are doing the actual thing,” says Alsaleh.

Illustrations by Barakat Al Saleh © Barakat Al Saleh

Another issue, according to the artist, is the unnecessary bureaucracy involved with applying for funds. In his view, the application process is generally not the strong suit of artists and is especially challenging for those who are not native Dutch speakers.

But Alsaleh also feels that artists and cultural workers should take the initiative and strive to work beyond institutional boundaries and limitations. Money alone will not solve the challenges they face, he explains. Rather, a more comprehensive change is needed where the societal value of art and culture is recognized. Art and culture, Alsaleh says, should be promoted for the inherent value they entail and not for the pragmatic logic of what the return on its investment will be.

Also, not all artists see money as an issue. Groningen-based musician Jaap van der Welde, 27, feels that his band, The Homesick, receives sufficient funding when going on tour, in addition to the money they earn with each performance. While not yet a full-time musician, “money is not really a problem,” he says.

Still, he does understand that fellow artists and creatives with fewer resources have a harder time. This year, about €520 million will be allocated to cultural funding out of a total budget of €1.3 billion allocated for culture. This represents 0.3% of total government expenditure.

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