Save culture! Stop the cuts!

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In the run-up to European elections, we, in the cultural sector of society, are launching an appeal:

Save culture! Stop the cuts!

In Europe, art and culture are being stifled and discarded as an inconvenient burden. They are being sold off and hacked to pieces. The current policy is to cut back on public investment in culture, accompanied by the slogan that culture is nothing more than a superfluous luxury. It is as if art and culture are not by and for everyone, every bit as necessary as water and energy, and as essential as bread.

Support for the arts is being chipped away piece by piece. It began with a few innocuous savings in the name of ‘efficiency’, but has now reached the stage where some member states of the European Union are trying to pummel it altogether into oblivion, to create a ‘tabula rasa’. In Spain, expenditures for culture have been reduced by almost 40 percent, and by a quarter in the Netherlands and Great Britain. In major cities in Germany and Belgium, a reduction of 10 to 30 percent is currently being discussed. Portugal and Slovenia have simply done away with the Ministry of Culture altogether. In Poland, barely 0.6 percent of the country's budget goes to culture, while in Italy it's a mere 0.2 percent. And for the budget of the European Union: 0.05 percent, from which the European Commission and the European Council are cutting off yet another third. Where will it stop? Everywhere, from European to local levels of government, an apparently irreversible movement is under way.

A corporate takeover

While cultural policies are being hollowed out like marrow from a bone, the CEOs are putting the market into effect, yelling, "Be creative!" These are the concepts they are promoting: less government and more market, less art and more industry, less a collection of small initiatives and more a single uniform giant, fewer means and more competition.

The European Commission begins its "Green Paper on Cultural and Creative Industries" (sic) as follows: "If Europe wants to remain competitive… it needs to put in place the right conditions for creativity and innovation to flourish in a new entrepreneurial culture." European Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou argued in Flagey, in Brussels: "I see a new état d’esprit among cultural stakeholders and also among decision makers. Not so long ago, it was taboo to line up culture and the economy."

This is how the corporate takeover of culture is being decided. Under the banner of ‘Creative Europe’, we are witnessing the growth of a capitalist cultural enterprise that "will create new possibilities for surplus value" ("Green Paper”). In this way, artists will be transformed into producers of merchandise, while culture and art are reduced to commodities.

For ‘Creative Europe’, return on investment takes precedence over the artful, and copyright prevails over a text or song. Visual artists, musicians and poets must gear themselves towards demand, organizations have to ‘downsize’, and bookshops have to limit their stock. It is the triumph of mediocrity, the stereotype, the tasteless and sensational. In this way the machinery of cultural enterprise can make the most of the work of those who make culture. The uniform discipline of the market does not allow a ‘hundred flowers to bloom’.

Culture and works of art are not merely the raw materials for products made on a conveyor belt. Art should stimulate thought, touch the emotions, confuse... Culture lifts human sensitivity to a higher level. The state of a civilization is determined by its culture.

Tableau vivant of a demolition

- The libraries in England are dying. 500 urban bookshops either have already closed their doors or are threatened with closure. 250 libraries have closed in Denmark.

- Greece has just 2,000 keepers for 19,000 archeological sites.

- Germany has eliminated one out of five orchestras, even though 37 out of 168 orchestras have already disappeared since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

- In Athens, the public television station was closed down, although the staff continued to broadcast programs. The police put an end to this 5 months later.

- In Spain, the Renoir cinemas are closing, the only ones that show foreign films in their original version with Spanish subtitles. There was a time when this was seen as a contribution to countering the weak language knowledge of the Spanish. This time has passed.

- The annual Magyar Filmzemle has been discontinued: the output of the Hungarian film industry is zero. In Portuguese cinema as well there is "nothing new to show".

- In Madrid, the Prado, the Reina Sofia Museum and the Teatro Real have lost two-thirds of their operational budgets.

- Cultural projects such as Lascaux in France have been suspended.

- In Dublin, the James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw museums are often closed due to unpaid staff.

- In Poland, the so-called ‘Quangos’, or quasi-NGOs, are trying with desperate courage to prevent the abolition of Polish culture in the countryside as well as the complete disappearance of libraries, cinemas and music and art schools.

- UNESCO has berated Italy because it no longer manages the site of Pompeii and allows illegal construction there. France, too, is letting its heritage languish. In Great Britain, 3,000 statues and buildings are in grave condition.

- The Italian Institute of Theatre has closed. The State Archives of Italy can no longer preserve thousands of valuable historical documents.

- In Antwerp and other Flemish cities, social and artistic workshops have suddenly stopped receiving all funding.

- In Hungary, the backbone of cultural activity is being broken, yet large amounts are being spent on an exhibition of Hungary's heroes, kings and saints. This is using culture in the service of a policy of national identity.

- In France, the sales tax on books has risen sharply; the same has happened to admission tickets in Spain and Portugal.

- The Amsterdam Dance Group and 10 other Dutch performance companies have ceased operating in 2013 as a result of the cutbacks. Five other groups are considering whether or not to continue.

- The only surviving opera in Greece is staging ‘light’ productions only. "Nothing is more European than opera," said EU Commission President Manuel Barroso. Yeah, right.

- Academies and art institutes are downsizing, while registration costs are being piled on. Opening up the inexhaustible creative potential of youth is difficult. And so, much cultural wealth remains undeveloped.

Everything that is wiped out is gone, forever. Soon there will be no more stages on which to act out these tragedies.


Fearful times

"Major cutbacks in the budgets for culture create a climate of desperation among artists and in the cultural world," according to Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou. But her commission and the members of the European Council have brought about this destruction themselves! Furthermore, the Commissioner’s description is not correct: it is not about a climate of desperation, but of fear! Those who are working are afraid to lose their

job. Those who are not working are afraid they will never find a job. Hiding behind the illusion of ‘free’ art are precarious, patchwork careers and the dog-eat-dog rat race.

The duress and pressure to prove oneself in the chicanery of competition is just as high as the incomes of the makers of culture are low. In Germany, a female jazz musician earns an average of 6,921 euros per year, a female independent stage instructor 8,121 euros, a sculptor 10,675 euros, and a female video artist 8,814. In France, half of the incomes in the extended cultural sector are under 15,800 euros per year. The majority of 'free' artists in Europe live below the poverty line.

In this Creative Europe, people become archrivals rather than brothers. The soft ‘wing of joy’ turns into the scourge of hopelessness and fear. It is hammered into us that ‘everyone must cut back, and there are priorities’. The solidarity that this policy is talking about is solidarity against solidarity.

Examination of conscience

The Portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago has called for an examination of conscience: "The moral crisis is (also) that the European Union is incapable of designing and implementing a coherent political policy that remains true to fundamental ethical principles. The moral crisis is that the very people who appropriated the corrupt advantages of a delinquent capitalism are now complaining about the disaster that was so predictable."

We stand behind this indictment. That is why we continue to ask the questions: Who bears the responsibility? Who calls those responsible to account? How should this crisis be dealt with?

The chief economist of BNP Paribas Fortis said, "The only way for the European states to win back their credibility with the financial markets is to cut back hard and let investors see that the population is suffering under the measures that have been taken." IMF director Christine Lagarde claimed, "If Greek children are suffering from these austerity measures, then that is the fault of their parents."

The world has been turned upside-down. The financial and economic criminals go free while the 99% who have been cheated and robbed have to grovel. Impunity reigns and is catered to by European governments that see the crisis as a perfect opportunity to push through anti-social agendas. State-of-the-Union addresses talk about the end of the welfare state. The policy of frugality swims in a grim atmosphere of insinuation, accusation and arrogance: whoever gets into trouble has brought it upon himself, is a parasite and has no right to rely on our understanding. Must we let these statements go without answer? How do we stop the moral crisis that is eating away at the continent like ‘concrete rot’ in, according to Saramago, this "cynical, discouraging time"?

Call for a European Cultural Spring

Our continent needs a cultural scene that represents a completely different Europe, united in a culture of solidarity and social justice. Away from the Europe where not only the fortunes of billionaires and stock market profits, but also poverty and unemployment, reach wuthering heights. Away, too, from the Europe where nationalistic authoritarian tendencies hijack fear and rage with the thundercloud of an extreme-right Golden Dawn hovering above.


We see the signs everywhere. A human chain was formed around the Roman Coliseum in a gesture of embrace in order to denounce that structure's deterioration as well as the bid for it by the Italian shoe king, Tod's. Also in Rome, the renowned Theatro Valle is being occupied. In Germany, a hundred orchestras went on strike with the support of the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Gewandhausorchester in Leipzig. In the Gazi neighborhood of Athens and in Lisbon, graffiti artists let the walls speak. The opera houses of Barcelona, Madrid and Budapest also went on strike. In Thessaloniki, spectators pay for their theatre ticket with rice, noodles or flour. The financially threatened music schools from around Attika gave a mass concert in Athens. Young people from Seelze, Charlottenburg, Essen and Spandau played protest concerts in the city halls to support the preservation of public music education. The Dutch cultural sector has been screaming about culture.

We want to unite European resistance.

We want to stop the austerity dance; we want transparency and control in the cultural field, and socio-economic security in place of uncertainty; we want a tightly woven public cultural infrastructure with appropriate provisions.

Solidarity makes culture great.

We call for a European Cultural Solidarity Day in 2014 when spring arrives in our countries. A European Spring!

Wherever people resist, culture reigns supreme. It is time to join forces.

Brussels, December 2013

Not In Our Name

First signatures:

Joachim Ben Yakoub (Pianofabriek), Daan (musician), Hugo Brutin (art critic), Lieven De Cauter (art philosopher), Wim Delvoye (sculpturist),  Pieter De Vos (producer documentaries),  Tristan Faes (singer), Lieve Franssen (Brecht-Eisler Choir), Bert Gabriëls (comedian), Jonas Geirnaert (TV producer), Pascal Gielen (sociologist, Univ Groningen), Johan Grimonprez (audiovisual artist), Elias Grootaers (documentary filmmaker),  Johan Leysen (actor), Ken Loach (film producer), Helmut Lotti (singer-songwriter), Ludo Mariman (musician), David Murgia (actor), Ramsey Nasr (poet), Lukas Pairon (musician), Lieve Peeters (Dunia), Marijke Pinoy (actrice), Frans Redant (director), Jasper Rigole (film maker), State of the Arts (artists collective), Igor Stiks (writer and scholar, Univ of Edinburgh, Scotland UK ), Sven 't Jolle (sculpturist), Rik Van Caenegem (president union Acod-culture), Walter van den Broeck (author), Robrecht Vanderbeeken (philosopher), Dominique Willaert (Victoria Deluxe), Nigel Williams (stand-up comedian), Fabio Wuytack (film producer)