This morning, about 30 artists attended the meeting of the Cultural Commission of the Flemish Parliament, where minister Jambon commented his most recent decisions.
What we remember from what was said:
The extra 600,000 euros he found to support a significant part of the projects that received a ‘very good’ evaluation (be aware: all the ‘good’ and ‘sufficient’ projects are indeed completely eliminated) come from the existing culture budget: 500,000 from the Fund for Cultural Infrastructure (FoCi), the National Lottery Fund, and 100,000 euros from the budget allocated for the acquisition of visual art for the collection of the Flemish Community.
A significant part indeed, because not all ‘very good’ projects did come through: the minister decided to cut 14 ‘very good’ projects of 13 smaller structurally subsidized organizations. Jambon: ‘our budget didn’t match with the advised budget and we judged that organizations with structural funding have more possibilities to find alternative solutions than individual artists’.
In addition, Jambon decided to impose a generic cut of 10% on all the budgets awarded by the selection commissions. To put it in numbers: only 77% of the advised funds for ‘very good’ projects will actually be paid. Not quite the positive picture the minister was trying to paint in the commission. Note in the sideline: this 10% generic was a decision by the minister, while the administration advised him to pay out 100%, at the cost of a few projects.
Two-year projects with a ‘very good’ evaluation will only receive funding for one year and will have to be re-submitted for the 2nd year. Jambon: “I assume that projects that are ‘very good’ now will be assessed in the same way next time.”
Finally: the extra money that was found for these projects came from the acquisition budget for contemporary art, a measure precisely meant to support younger artists, so the minister in fact takes money away from exactly the same group.
Regarding the second round of applications, normally with submission date March 15th:
This round is postponed to June 15. Under one condition: if money is found during the general budget revision of the Flemish Government, a process that starts in April. Jambon once again expressed his intention to give priority to extra funding for projects, but did not accept the proposal by the liberal party (its coalition partner Open Vld) who proposed to already allocate this year’s ‘underused’ funds in advance to secure at least a part of the funding for the second round. Jambon: “The 2020 budget is already in deficit.” So no promises were made, quite the contrary.
Also, by postponing the second round, the Minister seems to completely lose sight of the fact that the timing of these two rounds (actually three rounds in a recent past) is intricately linked to the planning and presentation rhythm of the entire sector. These projects are part of a sophisticated system of programs of many organizations and cultural centers. This system is deeply affected and destabilized by these measures, with far-reaching consequences for sector and the public: exhibitions and performances have to be postponed or cancelled, venues remain empty, people lose jobs. All of this for the little money it will save? Postponing round 2 until June will in return imply a delayed decision, while another round will need to start on September 15th… From bottleneck to battlefield.
About the project funds in general:
During the commission, Open Vld and the opposition spoke of a policy of constant improvisation and pleaded to thoroughly study the option to put forward 15% of the overall arts budget for projects as part of planned revision of the Arts Decree, together with oKo, including a better evaluation methodology, so that the recurrent problem with the project subsidies would finally end.
Yes you heard that right: more crucial information: the minister announced that he wants to rewrite the Arts Decree and that there will therefore be adjustments for the structural round this autumn including a review of the evaluation methodology.
What do we at SOTA think about it?
We are pleased with these extra funds, but it not even close to enough and by no means a structural solution. At all levels, this arbitrary arts policy is now stripping away support for artists.
And no, not ‘all’ very good projects will be supported. Jambon’s argumentation to cut out small structurally subsidized organizations does not make sense and again shows a serious lack of knowledge about the field. Some of these organizations, such as Jubilee, are not structurally subsidized to realize artistic projects with that money. These organizations (with max €300,000 of funding, but often receive much less) need this support as much as individual artists and vulnerable organizations. Changing the conditions of the Decree in such a sudden way is bad governance.
Let’s not forget: 600,000 euro remains a straw on a hot plate. Only yesterday the minister triumphantly distributed 3.6 million to other cultural initiatives. We are, of course, pleased that these funds will be made available and that institutions will benefit from them, because they are part of our ecology and also important, but we find it cynical that a project that did not go by the rules of the Arts Decree now benefits from this extra funding, just like that. We can only conclude that the Minister still does not take the importance of projects seriously.
The announcement that the minister wants to amend the arts decree so soon before the next round is a matter of serious concern to us. Is this really achievable? Will everyone, not just the big players, be listened to sufficiently? And what about reviewing the role of the evaluation committees of peers? Does he want to put the sector completely out of play?
We agree with the opposition’s criticism about the fundamental democratic in transparency of this decision and fear for the future. This policy plays solo smart, without knowledge.
And above all: we will keep the pressure on this government high in light of the second round and what’s to come. The cuts in the project funding only went from 60% to 50%, and we have not received any guarantee from Jambon that there will be a 2nd round at all. It must be at least 4 million for us. We will also continue to show solidarity with the protests of other sectors.
See you soon,
State of the Arts