Friday, July 01, 2011

Pay Attention to the Netherlands and the UK

Pay attention to the developments in cultural support in the Netherlands and the UK. In both cases, right-wing governing coalitions are making massive cuts (and massive increases in fees, for higher education in the UK in particular.) But in neither case is the motivation primarily economic. In the UK, it is practically class warfare, but this time it's a revolution from above, dishonestly made by a pair of parties who ran in the last election ostensibly to the friendly left of Labour on many issues, while in the Netherlands it seems that the cuts are being made unashamedly not because they have to be made (i.e. for budgetary reasons) but that the coalition partners, no longer even pretending to represent a broad consensus of the population, can and want to make the cuts from cultural grounds, among them the xenophobic (with xenos, in this case, being both strange (foreign) and strange (novel)).

When I returned to Germany in 2005, after half a decade in Hungary, a constellation of three major funding sources for new musical activity — the German Music Council, the public radio stations, and GEMA — had each, for different reasons and in different circumstances, but tragically in near-simultaneity, made massive reductions in their support. (The Music Council went through a period of serious mismanagement and was "reformed" with music less emphasis on new concert music, the radio stations, while having net increases in fee revenues, found themselves in competition with the privates for soccer broadcast rights, encouraging massive waves of reductions in and attempts to monetize other areas of their operations, most painfully those which exist with no attention, let alone competition from the privates (Neue Musik: bingo!), and GEMA, once governed with some parity between "serious" and "entertainment" composers, left the parity model altogether in a grab by E-producers faced with massive reductions in their income in the post-CD era. ) All this happened rather quickly and quietly and with practically no complaint from musicians, who were in any case largely shut out of the policy discussions. My impression is that most musicians still haven't registered what has happened.

If there is any bright light in the events in the UK and Netherlands, it is the fact that musicians and other artists are not passive. They are taking the developments seriously and are engaged with hard questions about the role of artistic production in society and are, in many cases, speaking loudly and unusually articulately about the actions of their governments in a strong contrast to Germany (or the US, for that matter) where measures of similar gravity just happened with a whimper. In parliamentary democracies, a majority-is-a-majority, so I don't think we can expect much change in these plans anytime soon, but I do think that the governments may have seriously underestimated the charge that their reductions have given to the creative community, intellectually and politically, and the conversations now taking place in that community and with the public at larger may have a greater defining role for the future for both the material support of the arts and its content and mode of production than any of the immediate (and, let us hope, temporary) policies of the present (and let us hope, temporary) governments.

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