Strong response from the field on decisions FPK

Two weeks ago the Performing Arts Fund NL (often referred to simply as ‘the Fund’) announced its multi-year grants for 2021-2024. The decisions elicited strong responses from the field. 

In June the Council for Culture announced which organisations it advises to form the BIS (Basis Infrastructure for Culture) from 2021 – 2024. With the state funded BIS, the Performing Arts Fund NL is responsible for the majority of the funding in the performing arts in the Netherlands. On 3 August the Fund announced which organisations it intends to grant. The total budget to divide among the performing arts companies was 21 million Euros. The field applied for more than double: 50,700,000 Euros. Like the BIS, these grants are for four years. There is a separate budget for theatre festivals.

The Fund subsidizes music, theatre, musical theatre and dance. For each discipline there is a committee that advises the Fund’s General Director, Henriëtte Post. Committees are made up of professionals in the wider cultural field, but are no longer formed based on members’ individual experience in the discipline that is assessed. 

Organisations can apply in different categories: I, II and III. Applicants in all three categories are judged on the artistic quality of their productions and have to explain their plans, illustrate which qualities their plans have and elucidate how they draw an audience. On top of that, category II and III have to explain what their position is within the Dutch performing arts scene and applicants in the third category are also obliged to describe how the company is embedded. In the first category, three million Euros is available, nine million in the second and five million in the third.

There were 202 applicants in total, only 78 of which are to receive funding. In the category dance, 37 organisations applied while 16 were granted. In music theatre there were 26 applications, 10 of which were granted, and for the category theatre 18 out of 28 applications made the cut, among them the Jakop Ahlbom Company, Nicole Beutler, SHIFFT and Ulrike Quade. Companies that were denied include Bird Productions, Golden Palace, Project Wildeman and Another Kind of Blue. There were 91 applicants in the category festivals. They applied for a contribution for their programming. Only 57 applications were granted, including Holland Dance Festival and Julidans. Here’s the catch: many applicants received a positive advice, but because of insufficient funds they will not see any money. This is what is referred to as below the ‘zaaglijn’ – they didn’t make the cut.

Besides the Fund, which supports the performing arts with funds from the national government, some cultural organisations and festivals can also apply for funding from their own city or province. In an interview with De Volkskrant, Henriëtte Post confirms that many companies apply for multiple funds. ‘These companies aren’t certain where they belong.’ The Fund is criticized for disregarding the geographical spread of its funding. ‘That’s always a difficult discussion, because municipalities aren’t formally obliged to earmark budgets for art. There’s always a risk that their funds are used for other things,’ Post says.

This year, the Fund’s decisions are not the only thing that pushes the field to the limits; there’s also the corona crisis. There will likely be many layoffs due the situation. It will be a challenge to stay afloat, even with the extra support from the government, which is investing close to 46 million Euros in theatre companies, ensembles, festivals and venues.  

Meanwhile, the field is making itself heard. A group of theatre companies who did receive a ‘yes’ from the Fund, including BOG., Acteursgroep Wunderbaum, Touki Delphine and Bambie, wrote an open letter to the Minister for Culture, Ingrid van Engelshoven, explaining the importance of a diverse field and the interaction between the various groups. Theatre company PeerGrouP started the hashtag #bordvoorjekop (which freely translates as ‘inconsiderate’) to illustrate their frustration with the division of the budget. They are inviting everyone to take a picture with a plate (‘bord’) in front of their face (‘kop’) and share their experiences with the Fund and the impact of theatre.

In addition, the VTTE (the Association of Technical Suppliers for Events) flooded the government buildings in The Hague with red light, with several theatres and concert halls participating on 11 August. It is a campaign that started in the United Kingdom by and which the VTTE picked up. Platform Aanvang!, an interest group that spreads solidarity within the sector through talks and meetings, started a petition with the following question: “Why is the FPK essential for your career as a theatre worker?” They will present the answers to Minister van Engelshoven and the spokesperson for culture. Platform Aanvang! organized a talk on Zoom on August 16th about this topic and to talk about solidarity.

These initiatives demonstrate how the cultural field believes it cannot exist or overcome the effects of the corona crisis without support from the government. On budget day Prinsjesdag, the third Tuesday in September, the government announces its final budgetary decisions, and the cultural field will learn its financial status. Will the campaigns and protests help? Will the government decide to add to the budget?

The results of applications for other funds have been disclosed. Critical Space will write a series about these results and the history of cultural policy.

Interview Henriette Post Volkskrant