Showing solidarity: Aanvang! gathers after decisions FPK

On 16 August, the organization of Aanvang! gathered on Zoom with a group of theatre workers – actors, musicians, theatre designers, directors, collectives, dramaturges and writers – to express their concerns and share their ideas and needs with regard to the budget cuts in the arts. How to show solidarity with each other, the field, and with audiences?

Aanvang! is an association that strives to communicate the needs of everyone working in the performing arts. One of the ways it does this, is by organizing encounters where participants discuss the state of the arts. Aanvang! wants to protect and support the pluralism and strength of the field and wants to maintain a lasting sense of solidarity. Their last live event, before Covid-19, was The Evening of Solidarity at International Theatre Amsterdam.

This Zoom meeting began with an introduction to allow all those present to explain why this meeting was urgent for them. The first concerns were voiced. ‘It shouldn’t be: one group in, another one out’, one says about the allocation of funds by the Performing Arts Fund, the FPK. The general frustration about the system and its results is clear: ‘We have to lobby to get those 15.8 million Euros back on The Fund’s budget,’ a statement that is made quite a few times.

There is general agreement that the FPK budget is insufficient, which is especially frustrating for those companies who received a positive advice but weren’t eligible for funding because of the Fund’s limited budget (‘onder de zaaglijn’, in Dutch). ‘Once the subsidy stops, there’s no longer any guidance, you don’t even receive a concluding advice.’ Judging from the many makers nodding along, it is a widely recognized need.

People are worried for many reasons. One major worry is how companies that will no longer receive FPK funding can grow as professional organizations. Another worry is the responsibility assigned to those art institutions that receive government funding as part of the BIS (‘Culturele Basis Infrastructuur’, funded directly by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science) to distribute the subsidy in their respective geographic regions.

After the introductions the meeting continued with the question: how can we create a powerful statement? This group agrees the field is in need of more visible actions. Visible to audiences who are currently unable to visit the theatres because of Covid-19, and visible to politicians. ‘Because the cultural field is an essential employer.’

Several actions have already been taken. The NAPK (Dutch Association of Performing Arts) has started several initiatives in collaboration with Aanvang!, Kunsten ’92 and De Kunstenbond. All four are committed to the interests of the field. Kunsten ‘92 wants support packages to compensate the 15.8 million Euros that is no longer part of the subsidies. Aanvang! has asked theatre workers what the FPK has meant for them and collected these answers to present to the Minister of Culture. The NAPK and De Kunstenbond are developing a survey about job opportunities in the performing arts.

Another campaign has been set up by the jazz field, where many ensembles have lost their FPK funding. They have written an urgent letter to Wouter Koolmees, the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment. One theatre company has placed an advertisement in the newspaper to generate a buzz. Local companies, many of them unrelated to the theatre or the arts, showed their support by also placing an ad that underlined the message. Participants agree that the performing arts need backing not only from colleagues and from politicians,  but from other organizations too.

As the conversation on short-term solutions continued, another question arose: how do we prevent the same scramble for funding and recognition from happening again four years from now? The group agrees that while it is good to see so many initiatives to represent the field, a negative consequence is a sense of fragmentation. ‘We need a single, loud voice.’ Others aren’t sure: will a unified voice represent the pluralism represented within the performing arts?

At the end of the meeting, the question still remains: how to show solidarity? All of these campaigns and meetings contribute to a sense of standing together, but is the sum of it enough to be seen and heard beyond our own circle?