It is true, Corona obliges everyone to improvise. And yes, that is no easy task for policymakers like you. But it should not get any more absurd. As the entire cultural sector is closed down for a second time, without a perspective on when we’ll be able to reopen, you now launch a cultural activity grant. It is like you are giving someone on intensive care a three-wheeler as a gift.
You have foreseen EUR 36 million. That’s a significant sum of money. Certainly for us, individual artists and artworkers, who saw the project subsidies fall to one ninth of that amount last year. So that’s good news. We can now help out a lot of people who saw their work disappear as a result of the crisis and who are now in deep trouble.
But, dear Jan, is this activity grant really the best way to distribute these expensive pennies?
First of all, is it not a little odd to issue grants for public events when all those public events are now suspended indefinitely? Admittedly, online formats are also possible, but this doesn’t change the crux of the matter: in a context in which it will be hard – if at all possible – to present our work for months to come an activity grant doesn’t really seem a convenient choice.
Moreover, you decided that this grant can only support one-day events with – fair – one-day contracts. For the preparation of this magical one-day event, however, we are not allowed to draw up contracts and foresee payments.
Have we now understood that correctly? You are asking us – at a time when we are struggling to pay our rent – to think, write, compose, direct and rehearse unpaid? And then, with quick projects, to entertain the public for a day, to ‘give people a taste of the diverse Flemish cultural life’?
We are perplexed. We thought that by now you had understood what artists do and what it takes to create meaningful artistic projects. Dear Jan, a fair remuneration presupposes a contract for the days you are working. Including all those preparatory costs in one day’s contract? How can we then build up social rights – you know that story by now, don’t you? Should we work without insurance during those head over heels rehearsals and preparations? Not so fair after all.
With our precarious payments, we can’t manage to build up a strong statute or a structure of our own, so we quickly only call an interim employment agency. But oh no, that brings us to the next problem. Wa can’t apply for this grant in our own name, without a structure. Once again, we are forced into a dependent position.
As artists and artworkers, we are used to put a lot of work into a grant application and we are (rightly) judged firmly on its content. For this subsidy you have now decided to limit the workload, for which we thank you. But what you ask is now really very limited: you don’t even ask us what we actually want to do on that one special day. Does that not matter to you at all?
So it’s all about speed – true, we asked for it ourselves – but now it all has to go very fast with this ‘first come first serve’ principle. And we still have to call KVS to submit the grant for us! This certainly raises our eyebrows: are you sure that these much-needed resources will really reach the right people in this way?
Previously, you decided to invest as much as EUR 100 million in construction projects, part of which it European crisis money. Bricks for new infrastructure projects: projects that you secretly already had in your pocket even before the crisis emerged. This may well be a nice support for the construction industry, but it is not an answer to the crisis situation in the cultural sector. The economic study that your own administration commissioned from Graydon on the impact of the crisis on our sector does not call for investment in bricks anywhere. We in the Committee on Culture already joked about this: that you call us, the artists, the cornerstones of your policy, but that you rather invest in stones for new cultural institutions.
During that very same Culture Committee, we were already talking about your activity grant. At that time, we were not even the only ones to speak out loud and clear against it in the face of imminent closure. We did the same in the Culture Crisis Cell.
The fact that we now have to protest against 36 million additional funds is also quite absurd for us, dear Jan, we admit it. However, the crisis we are facing is unprecedented. What we need today is not one-off undirected measures. What we do need are targeted and co-creative policies in the long run. In a crisis, we must all work together, and not only in the cultural sector. To date, this has not happened sufficiently. And that is disastrous for the future.
That is why, dear Jan, we are addressing you today not only as Minister of Culture, but also as Flemish Minister-President. This crisis will go on for a long time to come. Other Corona-waves will follow on this one. What we need is a director who puts a lot of actors, a dramaturge and a scenographer on stage to write a story together.
With that story we mean: a well-thought-out crisis culture policy with targeted measures that intervene where the needs really lie. With attention for the talent, energy and meaningful work that now withers and pulverizes, because the money that is meant to drag artists through this crisis does not always end up with them. With attention to the mental resilience of our many colleagues, who feel the courage decrease with every wave. With attention to our colleagues from the non-subsidized field who are no longer able to pay their subcontractors, including us. And with attention for a public that is entitled to a well thought-out and high-quality offer, not a one-day flight. You hear it, Jan. We are not just standing up for ourselves. That, too, is what a crisis calls for.
Such a story is a collective story, which comes about from a joint effort: culture workers and policy makers who join forces – across interests, disciplines and policy areas. In such a collective story, everyone takes each other’s insights and proposals seriously. In such a collective story, consultation is not a ceremonial moment, but a concrete reason to come up with much-needed solutions together.
Such a story is backed up by a budget tailored to a crisis that will continue to have a serious impact for at least another year and a half. A budget that makes this crisis a priority, not infrastructural or other dossiers that have been on your desk for years. On this we stand strong, dear Jan.
Such a story could ensure that, after this crisis, we will once again be able to play, show and share to the full – with or without activity grants. But at the same time, such a story will understand that this will not be possible for some time yet, and therefore focuses on employment and bridging, but also on creation, development and innovation. Never waste a good crisis.
That story, dear Jan, could be yours. We are happy to share it with you.
The ball is in your court.
State of the Arts