‘Why do they get to decide what is essential?’ The financial frustrations of the creative sector

Museum plein, usually one of Amsterdam’s busiest spots. The museum quarter boasts four of the city’s museums and is a major tourist attraction. Yet, due to the pandemic, it has become a sight for sore eyes to anyone involved with the cultural sector. 

‘The artist is not present’ by Dadara

Covid-19 has weakened an already wavering creative sector. In March of this year, Amsterdam announced a 21,4 miljoen euro support fund for the city’s cultural sector. Councilwoman Touria Meliani has stated that she stands with the sector and underlines the importance of a broad scale of cultural hotspots, ‘The museums, theaters, nightclubs, art spaces and all of the different creatives are what make our city interesting. We have to cherish that.’  

People underestimate how important art, in the broadest sense of the word, is for our development

Outside of the Amsterdam bubble, not everyone seems to share this opinion. During a press conference at the end of May, the Dutch demissionair minister of health, Hugo de Jonge, was asked why gyms, entertainment parks and zoos would reopen, whilst theatres, museums and concert halls would remain closed. De Jonge answered that ‘people shouldn’t take it personally’ and that he too ‘likes going to museums’, but can live a day without going to one. This sparked rage in a sector that has been hit hardest by the lockdown measures the past fifteen months. 

In her art-filled home in the Jordaan, gallery owner Lia Gieling looks frustrated as she explains how she experienced the past months working in the cultural sector, ‘I have worked in the sector for over 40-years and it has never been an easy sector. Money is and always has been an issue. Yet, in Den Haag there seems to be sentiment that art isn’t essential. Why do they get to decide what is essential?’ 

Privately owned museum The Hermitage Amsterdam is one of the cultural spaces sounding the financial alarm. In order to draw attention to their ‘Keep the Hermitage open’ campaign, the museum organized Hermitage Week at the beginning of April. The week started on Tuesday, April 6, at the telling time of five to twelve (11.55 am). The museum put up posters all throughout the city, asking Amsterdam residents to donate so that the museum can scrape by until the lockdown measures are lifted. 

Sarah Hilhorst studies Art History at the University of Amsterdam and she worked as a museum guide in the Rijksmuseum pre-corona. She lost her job, as well as her hope for the future of the cultural sector, ‘It is with great sadness that I watch the developments in the art sector. People underestimate how important art, in the broadest sense of the word, is for our development. It sparks creativity, teaches us important historical lessons and opens our mind to different cultures. It is unimaginable to me that someone cannot see how essential that is.’

Overall, there is a sentiment in the sector that more structural financial help is needed if we want to maintain a blossoming creative climate. But, maybe more importantly, insiders say a shift in perspective towards the importance of culture is needed. According to Lia and Sarah, politicians in The Hague structurally underestimate the power of creativity. Maybe, if Mark Rutte and Hugo de Jonge take a day off and visit a museum and a concert, they will understand the positive impact art can have. They might even decide that the sector should receive the financial compensation it desperately needs.