8 maart 2021
This is not “our” policy
Does Jan Jambon want to become the minister who nips artistic careers in the bud, or the minister who really takes artists seriously as ‘the cornerstone of his policy’? These weeks will be crucial! If we are not careful, the precarisation of artists during this pandemic will simply be continued by the policy itself in the years to come.
In the long shadow of Corona, a new Arts Decree is currently being quickly pushed through the backrooms of cultural policy, despite fierce criticism and clear objections from the field. Why now, in the midst of a corona crisis? And why does the ministry so obstinately ignore all the unanimous counter-suggestions from the cultural sector itself?
Last Friday, the Flemish government already approved this decree, including all the disturbing adaptations it contains. Artists’ grants are now being forced into a straitjacket, limited in number and amounts (see the analysis by Kunstenpunt). Projects and structural funding can no longer be combined, while it is precisely this combination that has often led to innovative, collective, artist-run support models. At the same time, ‘core institutions’ (kerninstellingen in Dutch) must and will be created, even if the entire sector has collectively opposed them.
Formatting, efficiency and more chance of politicisation: that is what this new decree dictates (see the analysis by Evelyne Coussens). This cocktail cannot really be called artist-friendly. How are artists supposed to benefit from this?
The approved legal text remains vague in its wording. A ‘slim decree’ is what it is called these days. In practice, a surprising number of crucial details are only fleshed out in so-called ‘implementation decrees’, which no longer come before parliament. The Minister and his officials therefore have a de facto free hand to determine sub-criteria, methods of assessment, distribution of resources, application of fair practice, etc. themselves. What does the minister intend to do with this great freedom for his own discretion?
If this policy is serious about its promise to make a difference for artists, then for State of the Arts the following choices are priorities for those implementation decrees, which will be hammered out in the coming weeks:
- 15% of structural funds for grants and projects. Cornerstones have to be solid, you don’t build them from loose sand. So provide the necessary resources for them. Empty words will not help us.
- Unlimited opportunities for emerging and proven talent, through an accessible system of grants. We strongly oppose the limitation of the number of grants per artist. Artistic careers do not fit into a voucher card. Grants provide continuity and are for many artists in an underfunded sector often the only way to access fair funding. Artists’ grants must therefore be part of a vision of lifelong and career-wide learning and development, aimed at artistic growth. This requires individual customisation: both in terms of the number of grants per artist and in terms of differentiated amounts that take into account the operating costs specific to the art discipline. Restrictions threaten to thwart not only experimentation but also diversity in our sector. Or is that precisely the intention?
- Make sure that artists can also build up social rights. Offering artists opportunities means giving them space and time to work on their practice. This is only possible if attention is given fair remuneration, and social rights can be built up. Grants and project subsidies are not prizes for merit, but a fully-fledged support instrument for the development of the arts. Make sure that the allowances are high enough so that artists can pay themselves decently. The choice between untaxed grants without social rights or taxable income with social rights should not be motivated by poverty. Better after corona? Then give artists the chance of decent social protection.
- Use open & realistic criteria for ‘development’ project applications. In addition to grants, ‘development’ projects remain an important form of funding for individual artists, especially since this kind of essential preparatory work is hardly ever funded by institutions. They create space for fundamental research in the arts / by artists – and given the reform of the grant system in the new decree, they will be even more important. But the administrative burden of applying for project funding is (too) heavy for artists, and the newly added requirement to deliver an output threatens to undermine the importance of research and development. A well-defined and temporary project should not be hampered by heavy procedures or overly strict requirements and criteria, at the expense of innovation and the actual artistic work. Give us a breath and show consideration for our practice!
- Allow for a sustainable development of small organisations. Not allowing to combine structural and project funding effectively cancels out smaller organisations that combine a modest overhead generating stability and continuity with the flexibility and dynamism of projects. Allow the possibility to develop a minimum sustainable annual operation with multiannual project subsidies. Otherwise, there is a risk of all dynamics becoming rigid. Give innovation a realistic chance!
- Make binding criteria of fair pay and good governance! Everyone is talking about fair practice and good governance, but as long as this does not become concrete, it threatens to become an eroded concept. Enforce the new codes for good governance. And develop a nuanced but binding framework for fair remuneration, with clearly defined equitable practices and close monitoring and, if necessary, sanctions, where everyone is jointly responsible for bearing the burden according to their ability. Unpaid performances (rehearsals, creation time, research) must no longer be the ground on which this sector operates. The basic elements for such a policy (sectoral collective labour agreements, right-is-right, model contracts, etc.) have long been ready. Only: no fair practice without a fair share of the total Flemish budget for the arts.
Without these concrete measures, the new Arts Decree will not become a decree for precisely those artists whom the minister, in the midst of a sanitary crisis, says he wants to help out of precarity. SOTA is already warming up to the idea of taking this policy at its word.