19 May 2017

Appeal to the new government: maintain an international perspective

A high-quality art sector is vital to the creative and innovative reputation of the Netherlands abroad. Will the prospective new government commit to this?

Crowds of visitors at Bosch by Night (photo: Ben Nienhuis), CCTV tower by Rem Koolhaas in China, Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven

It’s good doing business with a country as creative and innovative as the Netherlands. Art and culture bind people together, not just domestically but also internationally. As tensions across the world increase, it is essential to maintain and to foster people’s interest in each other and their mutual recognition. That is why a robust international cultural policy is vital to the Netherlands and should be embraced and pursued by the prospective new government. 

Icons, Hieronymus Bosch and Dutch Design
Who are responsible for the creative and innovative reputation of the Netherlands – who are our calling cards? The top 10 of the NRC Cultuur Top 100 (2016) of Dutch figureheads abroad is impressive: Ivo van Hove, Rem Koolhaas, Marlene Dumas, Rijksmuseum, Irma Boom, Anton Corbijn, Jaap van Zweden, Tiësto, Hella Jongerius and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. And that’s just a small sample from a highly diverse range of artists and institutions that are the envy of the world. On the international stage, the Netherlands is seen as one of the leading actors in the cultural arena and in the creative industry: we are the country of both traditions and innovation. The Netherlands represents a cultural haven, where influences from around the world converge. Indeed, our international icons did not just drop from the sky: it takes a vibrant cultural climate that nurtures talented individuals and affords them opportunities to grow and flourish. 

Supporting policy is also required to introduce international visitors and professionals to our creative and innovative cultural sector here at home. Take the extremely successful Hieronymus Bosch Year by the Noord-Brabants Museum; or the Alma Tadema exhibition by the Fries Museum, which is now traveling on to Vienna and London; or see the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. Regions in the Netherlands increasingly need a strong creative sector as a means to put themselves on the map, to reach out to large (international) audiences, and as a way to stimulate employment opportunities. Cultural institutions play an important role here, and precisely these institutions depend on international cooperation and hence a favourable policy in this field. 

Cultural diplomacy
There is a great deal of interest abroad for the Dutch model of international cultural cooperation. The Netherlands prioritises reciprocity and long-term partnerships, and a combined agenda of culture and diplomacy. This way, the entire Dutch cultural sector can benefit fully from international contacts and cooperation. But this policy does depend on continuity and the commitment of multiple departments; not just in the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, but also in Foreign Affairs and Economic Affairs. The most recent Buitengaats, in which DutchCulture has been compiling data about the Dutch cultural export for over fifteen years, shows that the export of Dutch artists and cultural institutes within Europe has decreased in the past four years, while it has increased to other countries. Especially in those other countries (for example China, Brazil and Indonesia), it is difficult to gain access to the right levels without the Dutch government’s support.  

The cultural sector also plays an important role in the Dutch economy: it represents 2.25% of the GNP, while cultural tourism amounts to 5.4%. Its share in the total employment opportunity comes to 3.9%. A diverse and high-quality cultural offer also makes the Netherlands an attractive place for international businesses and employees.
On 18 March, the chair of the Council for Culture, Marijke van Hees, already addressed the prospective new Cabinet: “It is about much more than just economy and money. It is what binds people together, with emotions and values that can be expressed in diverse ways. It is something of every time and age. It is important to realise that it’s not just a hobby of the world today.” That is precisely the point. It is also important to realise that our national art and culture sector cannot do without a international policy and that it is in the interest of our country’s international relations to pursue a strong cultural policy. We therefore ask the new government to commit to this. 

Arno Brok – Chair of the DutchCulture Supervisory Board 

Cees de Graaff – Director of DutchCulture