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Rotterdam, June 26 2011

I stand in the breach...

During the protest action Boijmans Bezet a group of (ex) students from within higher art education has employed the Flag of Compassion to focus attention on the lack of future prospects of art students as a result of the planned budget cuts in the cultural sector. Armed with the Flag, walking in a zigzag movement we were the first to occupy the square of the Boijmans Museum. During the various speeches the flag carriers where lined up next to the speakers. Speakers that with convincing arguments appealed the planned budget cut in the cultural sector.

I defend the spirit of the young, that is filled with potential and has a flexible position in society. In doing this I don’t want to limit myself to the cultural sector. The state secretary Mr Zijlstra wants to shift the responsibility for the development of talent to the cultural sector itself, in a similar fashion as this is done in other sectors. To be able to create an understanding of the future prospects of the current generation of talented people it is essential to also see how things are done in these other sectors.

Koen Brams said it clearly: “The so called new cultural policy that Mr Rutte’s government has adopted is the product of extreme neoliberalism and raging nationalism.” And, “Extreme neoliberalism places the full production of well being and prosperity with the individual.” (free translation). Hereby the individual is fully responsible for their ability to act independently, and for fort heir further development. In contrast to this, Mr Zijlstra simultaneously wants to return the financial responsibility for the development of young talent back to the cultural sector itself. I don’t doubt the willingness of the cultural sector to take this task upon them for one moment, as they are already doing this in many different ways, but do foresee a problem in the financial capability of the sector to do this on an ever increasing scale as their financial support system is not that large. As became clear through the various deliberations during Boijmans Bezet the problem is not hidden in the financial administration as most of the money given in subsidies directly flows back into the economy in all sorts of ways and on the other hand, the presence of the cultural infrastructure stimulates numerous other activities. The only dubious negligence in this is that we as the company Art are not able to give a clear image of our cost-benefits at the moment that we have to justify ourselves. Ideally, art is an organ of reflection inside and outside of society, a sanctuary where the goal and the means to get there in no way effectively correspond to each other. Within art entrepreneurship is rather a common denominator then an exception and there has been no other time where so much thought has been invested in the position of the artist in relation to society, scholarship and the market.

I defend the talent of the young. The policies of this government are formed in such a way that we, the once starting out in contributing to the market are individually responsible and should on our own ask the cultural sector for guidance and support in a similar way as this is done in other sectors. In times of financial stability I can imagine that this would work, as then there is space for the development of talent. But this is not a time of financial stability, and this is exactly where the governmental policies fail as they are based on an economic situation that is obsolete and instead become much worse. The accepted policies are filled with ambition that is completely porous, a makeshift mix of ideals and plans that fail to really fit together.
The present young talent is what some economists, looking at the growth of unemployment in the southern Europe, call the lost generation. And while I am still contemplating the epic character of such a title, it does not predict any good, also for my future. According to these same economists this is the next crisis that is waiting to happen, namely the high unemployment among the young talent that have just finished their studies. This is not something that will bypass the Netherlands, if we listen to them carefully. When we, with this in mind once again look at the fundamental policies of our government such as the individual responsibility for ones own well-being and the dependency on the different sectors for the development of talent both pressured by financial shortages, then the lost generation seems a logical result. What kind of neoliberal, only responsible for him or herself, is still going to invest in the possible talent of a protÈgÈ if by doing that his or her personal income and position becomes precarious.

With these kind of prospects in the back of ones mind it is appalling that the government is going to cut in the budget of postgraduate art education where great talent, after careful selection, gets the chance to deepen their understanding of their practice and come into contact with the professional art sector. These internationally orientated, highly esteemed exchange and research homes are well known across the world and in their constitution ideal to stimulate the influx of young talent. In the face of high unemployment among graduates in other parts of Europe, an ambitious government should make an example out of the way postgraduate art education is structured so that it can encourage the establishment of similarly structured institutes in the law, construction and technical sectors that Zijlstra keeps giving as examples. Perhaps with such an anticipating policy a crisis could even be prevented.   

All that is said above emphasizes the reason why it was meaning for me to carry and show the Flag of Compassion during Boijmans Bezet. Even though on that day the emphasis was on culture, raising your voice against this government is about so much more. For me that day was also about the lack of prospects for all the young working professionals, the lack of ambition for the future of the Netherlands and most of all a lack of representation in parliament. With regard to the cultural sector, a lot of damage could have been prohibited simply with intelligent and substantiated policies. Next to the other before mentioned social issues, it is unfortunately these cultural policies where a call for compassion is necessary.

The performance that the various governmental agents enacted in the period that there was still room for some kind of debate about the cut backs, had a strange effect on the feeling of necessity to demonstrate. While the ones demonstrating on the square in front of the Boijmans gave many substantial objections, the often so ill informed statements of the ruling party haunted my thoughts and within all that emerged a feeling of powerlessness that surrounds this entire subject and that I have not been able to shake. I was seized by a kind of cynicism that has its origins in the event of a person not being heard. The question that remains is what kind of instruments you have as a citizen within a community to reach those that make the governmental decisions.

Still I was impressed by the various gatherings on the 26th and 27th of June this year such as Boijmans Bezet, the Mars der Beschaving, the lunch by the water in front of ‘het torentje’ (the office of the prime minister of the Netherlands) and the demonstration on the Malieveld. The serious tone during these days and the moments that culture was visible and in action confirmed my faith in her right of existence. We stood and formed a line of flag bearers on the square, and without announcement or explanation, carried the symbol of compassion as unassailable as possible.

Maurijn Rouwet

Edited and translated by Judith Westerveld


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