Cees de Graaff
c.degraaff [at] dutchculture.nl

Letter to the cabinet on the consequences of COVID-19

Letter to the cabinet on the consequences of COVID-19

Following the letter to Minister van Engelshoven last week, the Culture Taskforce is calling for a relief fund for the sector

DutchCulture strongly subscribes to the contents of the letter below. It was written in reaction to the letter from the Minister to the House of Representatives, responding to MP Jetten's motion last Friday who asking for a support package for the cultural sector during the corona crisis. The minister's promises were considered "far too light", which is why the sector currently targets the entire Cabinet. Read the letter in its original Dutch version here

Letter to the cabinet on the consequences of COVID-19

Amsterdam, March 30

Dear members of the cabinet,

The cry for help that we have received en masse in recent days borders a strong state of despair. The immediate cause was the letter that the Minister of Engelshoven sent to the House of Representatives on Friday 27 March.

The cultural and creative sectors (including heritage) are being hit on an unprecedented scale by measures taken by the national government to combat the coronavirus COVID-19. These measures are necessary: after all, public health is paramount. We also understand that these measures affect many social and economic sectors. Yet, our investigation demonstrates that the sudden and massive stoppage of cultural, educational and other social activities leads to irreparable consequences in the cultural and creative sector. This is related to a number of specific characteristics and bottlenecks in this sector:

-    Limited access to bank (bridging) credit lines, due to the often unique, small-scale and risky nature. Many theatre and AV producers, festival organizations, designers and heritage organizations do not qualify for regular credit from banks.

-    Seasonal and project-based dynamics. Festivals and producers are vulnerable organizations because a long preparation time has to be recouped in a relatively short period of a festival or a tour. The support announced in the minister's letter falls short.

-    Employers and clients work to a large extent with self-employed workers and want to guarantee them a reasonable income. The NOW (Emergency measure Bridging for Employment) in its current form prevents this from happening. The criteria surrounding determining loss of revenue at subsidized institutions are a cause for concern because we fear rules that do not match.

-    The TOGS (Tegemoetkoming Ondernemers Getroffen Sectoren COVID-19) scheme still excludes too much of the cultural and creative sector, and the current criteria are too tightly defined, which means that many cultural and heritage institutions and creative companies that are directly affected (still ) are not eligible.

-    The Tozo (Tijdelijke Overbrugging Zelfstandig Ondernemers) scheme is based on IB entrepreneurs who meet the hour criterion. It is precisely in this sector that many hybrid and atypical employment relationships occur, in which there is no question of employment, but the Tozo criteria are also not met. Think, for example, of freelance musicians who are paid via the artist scheme outside their employment. Excluding this small but vulnerable group from support measures would imply a fiscal ripple for the government and a disaster for the people in question.

The parliament, therefore, calls on the cabinet to work on a support package for the cultural and creative sector through the Jetten et al. Motion; the House has explicitly pointed to the large percentage of freelancers as a prime example of the atypical character of our sector.

The government's generic support package and the additional leniency measures announced in the letter from Minister van Engelshoven are necessary, but they do not offer any relief against imminent bankruptcies of institutions and companies and the widespread loss of income for artists and self-employed persons. Without public revenues, the sector faces a massive liquidity problem. And to be able to restart after the crisis, refinancing is needed to prevent the sector from imploding. In her letter, the minister indicates that she will look at the entire cultural and creative field: subsidized, commercial and hybrid. We do not yet find enough of this breadth, for these categories, in the generic package and the leniency package. We do see an opening, the minister also indicates that he wants to look at additional measures in consultation with the field.

In order to preserve the cultural and creative sector, immediate action is needed. The leniency measures proposed in the letter can be extended to reflect how it is done in countries around us. Set up tax shelters and temporary VAT exemptions to give companies and institutions the opportunity to restart after the crisis.

The key lies in a bridging and guarantee fund that can deal with both short-term liquidity problems and medium-term economic damage, both for freelancers and for companies and institutions. It is all interrelated. The sector is ready to set up this fund with your support, and with the support of municipalities, funds and the public.

We realize that, in this unprecedented crisis, the Minister of Culture cannot solve the problems within her own department and we, therefore, ask for a financial commitment from the entire cabinet to get this fund off the ground.  Now more than ever, a constructive and robust connection with Economic Affairs and Climate and with Social Affairs and Employment is necessary to ensure that the sector can survive and remain valuable for the quality of life, education and the economy in society. Especially in times of crisis, this sector, in all its scope and breadth, offers many people comfort, inspiration and ways to connect.

As a cultural and creative sector, including heritage, cultural education and amateur art, we are committed to this with everything we have. We need you to do this.

With kind regards, on behalf of the Task Force Cultural and Creative Sector, consisting of:

Creative Industry Federation | Federation of Culture | The Creative Coalition | Heritage platform | Arts92

Jan Zoet, chairman