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Johan Rudolph Thorbecke (1798-1872)
The Dutch government has a long tradition of standing aloof from giving a contextual judgment over art. The starting point is the statement of Thorbecke (a Dutch statesman who indeed is called the founder of the Dutch parliamentary democracy) made in 1862 and quoted here: government is no judge of art and science. This was later erroneously repeated as: art is no business of government. Thorbecke did not wish to say that government should completely abstain from stimulating a flowering art life. It would indeed have to create the required conditions. This condition creating characteristic still is an important point of view.
Arts and Crafts
The Arts and Crafts movement in England began primarily as a search for authentic and meaningful styles for the 19th century and as a reaction to the eclectic revival of historic styles of the Victorian era and to ‘soulless’ machine-made production aided by the Industrial Revolution. The founder of Arts and Crafts was William Morris (1834-1896). He was convinced that the beauty of everyday products would elevate humanity and thus also society to a higher plan. The artistic element in industrial products was in this case still the ornament. Machine production was disapproved by him, because art could only be produced by humans, not by machines. His ideal appeared unachievable, because products became too scarce and too expensive to reach a wide public.
The Bauhaus (1919-1933) founded by the architect Walter Gropius was an architectural and applied art school funded by the state. On account of the emigration of many of the Bauhaus artists to the united States in 1933 abstract painting and functionalism in architecture (The International Style) would become of major importance in the western art world until late in the seventies. In addition the Bauhaus teaching methods were adopted in the western world, which in fact strongly promoted the spread of Modernism. After 1923 in particular the objective of the Bauhaus was to train artists in industrial production. In 1925 Bauhaus founded an anonymous partnership so that it could also sell products. The time before the war was clearly not ripe for these functionalistic products, because the sales did not succeed.
In the Deutsche Werkbund established in Munich in 1907 artists, manufacturers and shopkeepers were represented with as objective the functional and aesthetic improvement of industrial products. The movement tried to replace the natural forms of the Jugendstil by a more formal and utilitarian design language. At its peak the group had more than three thousand members. Important members included Peter Behrens, Walter Gropius, Henry van de Velde, Mies van der Rohe.
A brief history of the cultural policy in The Netherlands
by Hestia Bavelaar
It is worthwhile asking oneself how the government went about the cultural policy in the past. This gives a clear picture of the valuable aspects of policy from the past as well as the hiatuses and any obsolete ideas in the current policy. In general it may be stated that somewhat belated the Dutch government is aiming at the promotion of architecture and design in a structured manner. Only recently, in the eighties of the twentieth century, a clearly defined policy for these areas was created. Before this time an incoherent system of government measures, that was scarcely based on clearly defined objectives, was the order of the day.
For some years there has been an ever growing realisation that the Dutch art policy and in particular the subsidy system in The Netherlands require renewal. It is remarkable that the criticism was coming from the inside; the volume Second Opinion published in 2007 in which various solutions and suggestions from various points of views and quarters were presented with regard to a better art policy, is an initiative of the Mondriaan Foundation and the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture (Fonds BKVB). For the first time in the history of the cultural policy, there are voices proclaiming that the Thorbeckian principle -‘government is no judge of art and science’- should be abandoned. In some respects a parallel to the mentality of the seventies may be observed. In this decade, which has in the meantime become almost mythical, an important social role was allocated to creativity, art and architecture. The mission of art to elevate man from his one-dimensional materialistic existence and the design of our living environment in its most ideal form, had to invite the development of the ‘playing man’. The motto of the then most acclaimed artist, Joseph Beuys, ‘everyone is an artist’ was the most significant expression in this respect. The similarity between now and the seventies is not only limited to the application of art and culture to improve society, but may also be observed in the care for the environment and the accompanying ideas about the development of durable products.
1945-1980: Government as stimulator of civilisation and welfare
Although the seventies, which were, partly, an effect of the ideals of the sixties, form the pinnacle concerning faith in the formative and cohesive power or art, it can be seen in retrospect that the cultural policy of the whole period from 1945 until the beginning of the eighties have a strong ideological character. Just after the war government involvement in the arts was to a major extent based on the ideology of the urban civilisation offensive. It was based on the conviction that the beauty of art has an elevating effect on mankind. In the sixties and seventies art and culture even became part of the welfare policy. This was connected to the faith in an achievable society, where artists would be able to make an important contribution. Furthermore, in the sphere of democratisation the participation and dissemination of art was high on the agenda. The social component of the policy, in fact, came to the fore in the extremely pro-artist approach of the legendary Beeldende Kunstenaars Regeling (BKR) as alma mater of our creative fellow man. Since this was an open final regulation and art was a favourite occupation in the milieu of the ideal of free development in the seventies, the number of artists grew exponentially in this period. A salient detail is that these monies originated from the ministry of social affairs, which confirms once again that this was a social and no cultural regulation. The selection process took place at local level and the quality requirements were very pleasant to put it mildly.
1980-1995: Government at a distance and guardian of quality
At the end of the seventies this uncontrolled generosity of government started to get on the nerves of politicians. The unchecked increase of artists not only became too expensive, but also led to mediocrity and laziness. A reversal of the policy became unavoidable and it was Eelco Brinkman, minister of the ministry of welfare, public health and culture (WVC) from 1982 to 1989 who put the knife to the socially aligned art policy. His ideal was to conduct a more directional art policy where government would operate more at a distance in the arts sphere. The major spearhead of the art policy was the expert quality judgement that was the major selection criterion for qualifying for subsidy. The gradual dismantling of the BKR (finally abolished in 1987) and the founding of the Fund BKVB (1988) and the Mondriaan Foundation (1994) were the major policy instruments for facilitating a flourishing art climate again, where only the so-called ‘top art’ was supported by the government. Now only a limited number of artists could qualify for subsidy and it was quite a tour to be certified for subsidy by the judging commissions, which were populated by the confounded experts in taste, for the funds. In spite of many woes on the part of artists especially in the initial phase of this paradigm shift, it can be stated without reservations that the quality principle still is the core of the art policy.
The nineties: Democracy of culture
It is, of course, true that especially since the end of the nineties and particularly due to the rebellious impact of Rick van der Ploeg, minister of the ministry of education, culture and science (OCW) from 1988 until 2002 other themes were also introduced to the art-political agenda. He is the one who revived the mentality of the seventies by aiming at a larger public by including new subgroups such as the youth and immigrants. The different creative expressions of different groups in our multicultural society were to enter into an inspiring confrontation with each other to break through the hermetic monoculture. By also regarding popular art expression and pop music as acceptable forms of cultural expression his policy caused the commotion required. Instead of the elite culture that developed in the eighties and nineties he promoted the democracy of culture. His policy may be summarized as the stimulation of the quality of popular culture and the popularisation of inaccessible art.
The current policy: distinguishing, participation and renewal
Minister Ronald Plasterk of OCW (2007-)
conspicuously follows the two policy guidelines introduced in the eighties and the nineties, namely quality, positioned by him as exceptionality, and the distribution and democratisation idea of Rick van der Ploeg. This translates into giving more to fewer creators and the promotion of publicity reach. A remarkable correspondence with the period when the BKR came under fire is that criticism of the current subsidy system is becoming ever louder and according to many it has degenerated into a welfare policy again. The model of the commission allegedly maintains an enclave that puts art beyond the pale of social reality. Lex ter Braak (director Fund BKVB) typifies the character of this closed circuit with ‘whoever contributes even a little in art land sits on some commission or other’. Due to the consensus model nobody feels directly responsible for any judgement. In addition the subsidy model promotes a monoculture in which only avant garde design is supported. Consequently a schism between design for the elite and design for society develops in the world of design. On account of the liberal subsidies the subsidised designers allegedly do not exert themselves enough to obtain alternative sources of income. Subsidies cause a disassociation for commercial reality impeding any eventual joining of the business world. In reality this means that creators should position themselves differently in this society and ensure that they can generate their own livelihood.
The item of cultural entrepreneurship explicitly put on the agenda by Rick van der Ploeg continues to grow in importance at this time. It would not be an exaggeration to state that during the past number of years there has been a transformation of art. This did not appear out of the blue, but the various developments seem to have reached a point of culmination and this is also apparent in government institutions. Thus there is an expansion of the concept of art by a fading of the boundaries between high and low art, an overlapping of the various creative disciplines, the globalisation of creativity and the overall importance of the new media. The old western quality standards no longer seem adequate, because the youth culture, the culture of immigrants, fashion, advertising, the vjs, the internet artists and commercial undertakings are being involved. The occupational practice of this new generation of creators (born between 1970 and 1988) are enriched by the above fading of the boundaries between disciplines, forms of expression and media. Digitalisation will cause art and culture to manifest beyond the traditionally accepted institutions to an ever increasing extent. In addition the influence of non-western cultures and subcultures has an undeniable influence on the expansion of western concepts of quality.
It may be clear that the current policy instrument of government no longer adequately provides for these changes. So for example the judging criteria are still largely based on the old artistic practice, where artistic quality in particular was emphasised. A start has been made with the extension of the testing of requests for subsidies to include criteria such as purchases, commissions, prizes, publicity, joint ventures, et cetera. In other words, the designer is now also judged on his quality as cultural entrepreneur. This mentality is of course in line with the enormous popularity of the creative industry and the creative city on the part of government as well as among designers, currently also called creators. In these concepts of the American sociologist Richard Florida art and culture are regarded as major economic factors in our society. This has ensured an upward re-evaluation of the designer who adds his creativity to projects that form a direct part of our society. In addition it is important that policy instruments should be adjusted to the ongoing process of the exceeding of discipline boundaries. At the moment the policy is too fragmented into various cells; art, design, architecture, music, dance, theatre, et cetera. This is contrary to the occupational practice where this division has no longer been current for quite a while.
Government and design
In general it can be stated that only lately the Netherlands government has started attending to the promotion of architecture and design in a structured manner. Only during the eighties of the twentieth century a clearly formulated policy for these spheres was introduced. Before this time there was an incoherent system of government measures that were hardly based on clearly defined objectives. This late conversion of government to design is closely connected to the fact that since industrial design originated in the nineteenth century industry functioned as principal. However, this is not to say that the designer and industry cooperated as a matter of course since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century. The products of the nineteenth century were mainly factory copies of earlier style periods. In England where the Industrial Revolution was most advanced, William Morris with his Arts and Crafts movement reacted to this eclecticism during the second half of the nineteenth century by his efforts to involve artists in the production process again. The ambition to bring art and industry into contact was first realised in Germany by the founding of the Deutsche Werkbund in 1907. This ideal is also reflected in the Bauhaus (1919-1933) founded by Walter Gropius in 1919. In The Netherlands the Bond voor Kunst in Industrie (BKI, Union for Arts and Industry) was founded in 1924. The BKI also tried to make aesthetically sound factory products possible by a close cooperation between artists and manufacturers. The guild glass of Copier is a good example of this.
Before the Second World War government support of the development of industrial design actually consisted exclusively of the financial support of academies and industrial art schools. After the war, when The Netherlands first started developing a clearly outlined art policy a start was made with support of the design sector. This support originated in the ministry of Economic Affairs (EZ), that saw a benefit in a qualitative improvement of industrial production with a view to export promotion. In addition EZ, together with the ministry of education, arts and sciences (OKW, now the ministry of education, culture and science), was involved in the founding of the Stichting Industriële Vormgeving (SIV, Industrial Design Foundation). The objective of this foundation was to provide guidance for good design and to promote market possibilities for Dutch design. On account of a lack of support in the economic sector this institute was closed in 1975. In 1984 a new cooperative union between the ministry of EZ and the ministry of WVC developed on the initiative of the organised occupational field and the employers’ organisation. This led to the founding of the Stichting Industrieel Ontwerpen Nederland (ION, Foundation Industrial Design The Netherlands). This initiative also was not destined for a long life and after six years it closed again.
Around 1990 the ministry of WVC introduced new policy instruments in respect of design. The objectives were improving the quality of design, stimulation of interest in design and encouraging discussion of the subject. These were to be achieved by means of ad hoc subsidies, including subsidies for manifestations, exhibitions, publications and investigations, and by providing individual subsidies via the BKVB Fund. Since 1990 the design policy definitely resorts under the ministry of WVC. To achieve the above objectives the WVC established the Vormgevingsinstituut in 1990 and in 1993 the European Design Centre (EDC) was founded in Eindhoven by means of a subsidy of EZ. The EDC was an initiative of the Academie voor Industriële Vormgeving Eindhoven (now Design Academy Eindhoven) and was intended as a centre of knowledge in the sphere of industrial design and product development. The EDC still exists, but the design institute did not fare so well and at the end of 2000 it had to close its doors on the advice of the Raad voor Cultuur (Council for Culture). The restriction to a few thematic areas, the mainly international orientation and the closed nature of the institution was enough reason for the Council to stop the subsidy.
The year 2001 may be regarded as a turning point in the history of design policy. This was the year when the temporary advisory commission of design presented a report on the design sector to minister van der Ploeg. The commission advocated an integrated government policy by means of which structural cooperation between the various departments (OCW, EZ, VROM, BZ) was to be established. In addition there was a need for improving the contact between the design practice and the production and distribution channels. Better cooperation between design education and the design sector also had to be established. Finally more attention was to be given to the retaining, developing and studying of industrial products. Premsela, the foundation for Dutch design, was established in 2002 to achieve these objectives.
Government was getting well under way according to a cooperative project of OCW and EZ, Ons Creatief Vermogen that was set up in 2005. The objective of this initiative was to give Dutch industry a creative impulse and on the other hand creative industry sectors were stimulated to review marketing possibilities. A separate policy where the design sector is performing a major role during recent years is in the international culture policy. This is caused by inter alia the international interest of Droog Design. From government side there is a lobby for presenting The Netherlands to foreign countries as a design country. The major findings of an investigation in 2003 into the role of Dutch design in a number of European countries, however, led to a relativisation of our fame abroad.
Government and architecture
In addition to be a direct principal on national, provincial and municipal levels, government also puts an important stamp on the national economy in its capacity of legislator and regulator. This was initiated by the introduction of the housing act of 1901, which provided that municipalities had to introduce building by-laws with provisions on safety, health and welfare. Since the first policy paper on the area of architecture, Ruimte voor architectuur 1991-1996, was published in 1991, the involvement of government in the built-up area and spatial design of The Netherlands was given further impetus. The ministries of WVC and VROM (ministry of housing, spatial planning and the environment) joined hands to take the artistic quality and functional quality respectively of Dutch architecture to greater heights. In addition to being principal, legislator and regulator, government explicitly also is quality guardian and stimulator. This policy paper formed the basis of an order of architectural institutions and an architectural climate that could be called unique in the world. For the execution of this policy institutions were founded such as the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi), the Netherlands Architecture Fund and the Berlage Institute. In spite of the late publication of this policy paper it must be stated that the Dutch government does know a certain tradition when the guarding of architectural quality is concerned. Already in 1922 when a growing government institution had to be accommodated, the national building service was created headed by a national architect. The end of the Second World War is regarded as a new phase in the building and architectural policy. Then production method and design changed and the scale on which building production occurred was unparalleled. The infrastructure had been largely destroyed and rebuilding was slow on account of a scarcity of raw materials, competent artisans and funds. Central government found itself forced to strictly regulated building activities. In the first post-war years the priorities were operating buildings for agriculture and industry, in second place came the building of dwellings, while the accommodation of government services came later. A new ministry was even created for this purpose; the ministry of public works and rebuilding. During this time government also developed applicable policy areas such as spatial ordering and urban renewal, which gained major importance during the sixties and seventies.
In 1960 quantitative objectives in particular determine the architectural policy; the reduction of the housing shortage and maintenance of job opportunities in the building industry. During the sixties prosperity grew and thus the material provisos for better architectural quality arose. Government proceeded from the essentiality of building density; on account of the scarcity of land and the rapid population growth. This suburban growth cores with high buildings came into being. During the seventies a reversal in the building plans became noticeable. After extension locations were being built on for years, attention shifted in major cities to replacement and renewal and later to concentration. Building projects became smaller in scale and more varied.
At the beginning of the eighties deregulation and decentralisation became new themes in national policy. In many spheres responsibilities and powers shifted from national government to provinces and municipalities. Lower authorities themselves obtained budgets and funds to control and the major municipalities in particular obtained scope to allocate building operations at their own discretion. The detailed building instructions that served as subsidy requirements made way for so-called flexible and generally drafted regulations. This only produced apparent freedom, because they were compiled by officials of VROM, where environmental experts achieved ever growing power. Consequences of the functioning of government at a distance are that control and involvement are considerably less and an ever increasing part is left to market forces. Involvement in social residential building is affected, therefore. Residential operations lend preference to more costly buildings, since these yield more. At the same time there was a strong realisation that a conscious experience of the built-up environment required certain knowledge. An essential component of the architectural policy, therefore, is the promotion of that knowledge through environmental education. A recent development in architecture is that in the field of city branding cities wish to profile themselves increasingly by way of spectacular architectural projects. The main idea is that architecture is hot and has a positive and creative vibration, which again promotes the economic climate of the city. This also presents government with the task to guard against excesses and waste of public money. After the first policy paper the terms of reference of the architectural policy were expanded considerably. In addition to architecture urban building, landscape architecture and infrastructure came into the picture. Other ministries joined: the ministries of OCW, VROM, LNV (agriculture, nature and food quality) and VenW (transport, public works and water management).
In the architectural policy paper of the current cabinet, Een Cultuur van Ontwerpen, the focus is on the stimulation of a rich design culture to achieve a durable, functional and beautiful Netherlands. This policy was inspired by the current dissatisfaction with the lack of spatial and architectural cohesion. One also hears about the trashing of The Netherlands. Designers are called upon to develop innovative solutions that take into account ecological and economic factors as well as social and cultural aspects. This leads to a living environment that is prepared for the expected climatic change and the use of clean energy sources where people may lead healthy lives without getting bored quickly.
All in all it may be said that since the nineties architecture and design will enjoy increasing support and attention from government. However, it remains important to keep reflecting on the optimalisation of creativity and experimenting in these fields in this period of globalisation and mixing of cultures. Government will have to make every effort to give a wide scope to the development of durable and environmentally friendly products. The abovementioned desires also seamlessly join the spearheads of the current cabinet: stimulation of excellence, innovation and e-culture, cultural participation and a more beautiful Netherlands. Attention will have to be given to cooperation with European countries to prevent interesting and promising initiatives are given no chance by red tape and unrealistic norms.