Dit jaar brengen Theatermaker en Theaterkrant.nl een bijzondere serie briefwisselingen tussen denkers van buiten het kunstenveld en kunstenaars zelf: Brieven aan de Kunst. Tweemaandelijks vragen we mensen uit andere domeinen – vreemde ogen dwingen – om wetenschappelijke, journalistieke, beleidsmatige, politieke, filosofische, medische of sociologische interpretaties van de wereld om ons heen te verbinden met artistieke interpretaties. Een kunstenaar geeft antwoord.

Waarin herkennen ze elkaar? Hoe kijken ze aan tegen de uitdagingen die ze dagelijks tegenkomen? Met welke legitimiteitsproblemen kampen zij? Hoe verhouden zij zich tot de samenleving? Zo starten we in de meest letterlijke zin een dialoog tussen de wereld van kunsten en de wereld van wetenschap, beleid, gezondheidszorg, sociale zekerheid, markt en civil society.

De eerste brieven zijn geschreven door bestuurskundige Albert Jan Kruiter, oprichter van het Instituut voor Publieke Waarden, en theatermaker Merel de Groot. Ze worden gepubliceerd in het Februari/Maart-nummer van Theatermaker en over twee weken hier op Theaterkrant.nl. In het April/Mei-nummer van Theatermaker verschijnen de brieven van historicus Thierry Baudet en schrijfster Karin Amatmoekrim.

Als achtergrond bij de briefwisseling gebruiken we de (Engelstalige) Krakelinglezing van de Britse kunsteducatie-expert en Kunstschouw van de stad Amsterdam Paul Collard. Daarin signaleert hij het einde van de ‘grote narratieven’ waarop publiek gefinancierde kunst dreef en pleit hij voor een nieuwe rol voor de kunsten. De lezing is hieronder na te lezen.
Brieven aan de kunst is een initiatief van het Instituut voor Publieke Waarden, Fonds Podiumkunsten en Theatermaker.

Night of Endurance – A Perfect Storm

Paul Collard, Nacht van De Krakeling 2013

Artists and cultural institutions in Holland are facing a crisis, partly financial and partly of image. Huge cuts in public funding have been accompanied by a hostile rhetoric which has sought to demote the importance of the art to, at best, marginal relevance to society. While the rhetoric has started to ameliorate, the deep cuts in funding remain. How did this happen and what does it mean for the future?

We should be clear to begin with is that this is a crisis in public funding of the arts and culture. It is not, from my perception, yet a crisis in artistic output. Dutch culture and artistic output remains vibrant and energetic. I am no expert on Holland as a whole but I was, as you know, lucky enough in 2010 to spend a few weeks in Amsterdam visiting cultural institutions and meeting with artists. While the impact of the funding cuts on cultural output generally cannot yet be assessed the natural creativity and deep cultural intelligence of the artists and cultural activists in this City suggests to me that the arts and culture will continue to flourish. However, it may need to find new forms of expression.

But I also think that the events of the last couple of years do mark a seismic shift in the relationship between the arts and public funding, a perfect storm of changes that are important to reflect upon.

In my view the funding of the arts and cultural institutions by the state, either at national, regional or local level are driven by narratives . These represent an understanding of the purpose and value of the arts and they underpin the specific decisions and funding streams that the public sector establishes. It seems to me that the ‘perfect storm’ which hit the public funding of the arts in Holland happened because a number of key narratives had simultaneously reached the end of their natural life. In particular, those who were responsible for funding the arts were able to develop their own narrative which saw a distinction between valuing the arts, which they claimed to do, and funding the arts at traditional levels, the need for which they questioned. The question that I will explore tonight is therefore not what is the value of the arts to society, but why should government fund them.

Let us begin by exploring the narratives which I feel had reached the end of their natural life.

Access for the deprived

The first narrative has its origins in the 19th century with the growth of the cities and the development of a huge impoverished working class dislocated from the rural communities. During this period a movement arose which argued, accurately, that if there were no public interventions these people would spend their lives without any access to the arts and culture. If no one built libraries, these people would never see a book. If no one supported musical performances, no one would get to hear music. If there were no theatres, then they would never see a performance. Initially these cultural initiatives were funded by the newly enriched capitalist classes. They built museums, and theatres and public libraries. They paid for concerts and performances. Initially local authorities and national government also played a small part but gradually the responsibility for the majority of the funding of this cultural infrastructure fell to the public sector. This narrative remains one that you still hear being developed by supporters of the arts, but it no longer has any credibility. Except in the most desperate corners of society, you can no longer argue that without public subsidy there would be no access to the arts. We live today immersed in music, surrounded by rich visual imagery, consuming hundreds of TV channels where, amongst the rubbish, there is a continuous supply of some of the greatest artworks , whether documentaries, performances, plays, films, or concerts. And nearly all of this is provided by the private sector in its many forms. And this is not confined to the supply of conventional art forms, but there is an abundance of affordable culture represented in so many other forms, such as fashion and food.

Nor can it be argued that the audiences of the great cultural institutions – who are the main beneficiaries of public subsidy – are the deprived and dispossessed of society. In reality, for complex reasons I won’t analyse here, these cultural institutions are actually full of those who could afford to pay for the access they enjoy.

I acknowledge that in some quarters this narrative has evolved. Now the argument is made that without subsidy certain artforms would struggle to survive, evolve or reach and audience. But it is not at all clear that there is much public sympathy for those artforms affected. They either tend to be the big expensive traditional artforms such as the opera, the orchestras and the ballet, or to exist at the extreme end of contemporary culture, and this was not what was intended when the great movement to provide access to the arts evolved.

So we have to accept that the argument that without subsidy there will not be access to the arts no longer carries weight.

State responsability

The second narrative is related to the way in which we understand the purpose of the state – of Government whether local or national. As Europe emerged from World War 2, an overwhelming majority of its citizens believed that the state should be responsible for the delivery of the most important things that society needed. This is the period that saw the establishment of the national health in the UK bringing universal free health care to all, the extension of free education across most of Europe right up to and including university, the nationalisation of transport infrastructures. Of course there were some who opposed this in Western Europe, but it had the support of the majority. In Eastern Europe this commitment to the idea that the delivery of everything of importance was the responsibility of the State was even more marked. In Holland there was an interesting variation of this through the ‘pillarisation’ of society. In this model the central government played a much smaller role, but this role was effectively taken over by the various pillars which provided everything from schools, to newspapers and radio stations to cultural activities. It was nationalisation in a more pluralistic form. The underlying narrative was that if something was of value to society it should be delivered by Government or its proxy.

This narrative is clearly shifting. In most European countries there is a move away from the provision of universal free benefits by the state to world in which most things are provided by the private sector, and the individual pays for their use at the full cost of the service. Where free or discounted benefits are still on offer, other ways to make the private sector assume responsibility are being explored. Private insurance now replaces (or is in addition to) taxation to guarantee you can afford to use the service when you require it.

Cultural education

One of the reasons for this change in approach stems from our better understanding of how these state sponsored services are consumed. Where I live in Newcastle the population in the city has one of the worst predicted health outcomes in the whole of the UK. In some parts of the city life expectancy is up to 20 years less than the national average. Over the last 20 years there has been a huge investment in the health infrastructure. There are two excellent teaching hospitals, a very good network of general practitioners, first rate and easily accessible emergency health services. Anyone can have immediate world class health care. Over the same period there has not been any change in the difference of the expected life expectancy between the poorest parts of the city and the richest. This is because people from more affluent backgounds expect and indeed demand good health. Those from poorer backgrounds do not expect it and so don’t make use of the opportunities that are provided for them. It is a problem of failure of demand not failure of supply.

We saw exactly the same phenomenon in the field of cultural education between 2000 and 2010 in England. The Labour Government wanted to engage a much higher percentage of young people in cultural activities. One of their initiatives was a nationwide extended school programme. Extra money was found to allow schools to stay open from 3 pm (when they would traditionally finish) until 6 pm for those pupils who wanted to stay on. Schools were encouraged to fill this time with cultural activities and to involve the pupils in choosing and designing the activities that were to be provided. Schools responded very positively. They consulted their pupils. Pupils were enthusiastic. A whole range of cultural activities were provided. Pupils turned up in significant numbers and to all appearances the programme was a great success. But when attendance at these programmes was analysed it revealed that the huge increase in attendances was the result of pupils who were already engaging doing a great deal more, without their being a significant change in the percentage of young people being involved.

During this period, CCE did a major piece of research into the habits of young people when it came to engaging in cultural activity. This painted the same picture. We found that engagement in cultural activities was largely determined by the educational qualifications of your parents. If your parents had a degree, you could expect a considerable amount of cultural engagement. If your parents had no educational qualifications you would expect to have little or no cultural engagement. For instance, 25% primary school children whose parents had degrees did more than 10 hours of cultural activity a week after school. However, if your parents had no educational qualifications, half of you would do nothing.

Most striking however was the picture that emerged about demand for cultural activity. What we found is that those who did the most, wanted the most more, and, for the most active, their demand for cultural activities is almost inexhaustible. So if you increase the supply, as the Labour Government did, those who are already active simply engage more often without their being a significant increase in the percentage of the population engaged.


A similar pattern can be seen in Newcastle and Gateshead, the twin cities in the North East of England in which I live. Between 1994 and 2004, those of us active in the cultural sector were able to find the funds to invest £250 million in new cultural infrastructure. An incredible array of new cultural facilities including contemporary art centres, huge concert halls, refurbished theatres, and new and improved museums were built and the money found to operate them. The city now has a wonderful cultural infrastructure and cultural life. But the investment had the same result. Those of us active in the cultural life of the city became more active, those not active remained inactive. The percentage of the population engaging did not change.

This inevitably raises important questions. How much supply is enough for those who want to engage? At what point does the Government say enough is enough? And if the problem is a failure of demand as opposed to a failure of supply, is Government able to shape demand. Certainly the present Government in England is fiercely opposed to the idea of Government influencing demand, and this view can be seen being increasingly common around Europe. Most people believe that Government has some role in meeting the legitimate demands of voters. But very few people are comfortable anymore with the idea that government should shape demand. Trying to force people change to change the way they think feels too much like George Orwell’s book 1984 and the idea of Big Brother.

It is here that I think the unfortunate phrase that the arts are ‘a hobby for leftwingers’ gained traction. I think that the idea it encapsulated was that of a group with a particular interest trying to force that interest on others, for the purpose of having more of it themselves. Certainly I remain passionate about the idea of opening up the world of the arts to everyone, for the enrichment of life that this brings, but I have to accept that how this is done raises fundamental questions. Certainly, the days of addressing the issue by simply increasing supply are gone. At the same time Governments are increasingly successful in arguing that the value they place on something is not reflected in the amount they will invest in it. They can value the arts, they claim, and not subsidise them, if subsidy is not the most effective way of ensuring an adequate supply and demand. Subsidy must bring clear benefits to society, and in terms of engaging more people in the arts the evidence that this can be achieved by funding it is weak.

Artist as visionary

The third narrative that I think has reached the end of its shelf life is that of the artist visionary. This narrative is probably as old as Christianity, and owes its origin to the particularly Christian narrative that ‘God was made man’. In this narrative, art is seen as revealing the inner essence of humanity, the ultimate truth behind the veil of everyday life. And since that inner essence is in fact divine, within the Christian tradition at least, that output is worthy of deep reverence. Artists were seen to be those best able to reveal that essence, and since it was their own essence they revealed, it gave them godlike status. We could not get enough of their revelations about their inner selves because in so doing we were making contact with God. It turned artists increasingly inwards and probably had its peak in the 19th century, the Romantic age, where the ‘tortured artist’ cursed by their ability to see the world as it really is’, and in so doing had stared on the face of god, now roams the world like the ghost of the flying Dutchman.

In a largely secular world, the innermost reality of the artist is no longer perceived to be divine and more frequently seen to be boring. In the UK, this is probably best illustrated by the Tracey Emin artwork exhibited at the Tate in London as part of the Turner prize shortlist, in which she displayed her actual bed, with soiled sheets, littered with empty cigarette packets and bottles of alcohol and covered with a sheet on which she had woven the names of all her ex-lovers. Divine essence? I think not. You can see that while you believe that artists were connecting you with God (or his nearest equivalent), there would be overwhelming support for the idea that they should be funded. When all you get is insights into their messy lives the argument collapses.


There is another aspect of the nature of artistic vision which is important to consider. I was visiting a school recently in the UK and I asked some children whether they thought it was important to do creative things at school. One girl replied that she thought that it was. I asked her why she thought it was important. She said it was because it made you use of your imagination. I asked her why it was important to use your imagination and she replied: “I think that your imagination makes the world real.” I think that this is a very profound insight and one with which I am in complete agreement. The interaction between the world and our brains is extremely complex, mainly because the complexity of our brains. The mediating device which enables us to cope with this complex interaction is our imagination. It so happens that to do this effectively the imagination has developed the capacity to dream and imagine what is not there. But these are tools designed to help us better understand what is there. For instance, it allows us to anticipate what is round corners. For most creatures, going around the corner is a complete surprise – everytime! And it is this ability of the imagination to produce and predict reality that lies at the heart of all good art.

When you read a book, a work of fiction, what undermines your enjoyment or continuing interest is if the book, despite it being a work of fiction, strikes you as not being real. Different people might choose different moments in a book when that happens but the connection of art to the real is of fundamental importance. This also applies to music, where the moment that it no longer feels real, when the emotions expressed feel inadequate or disconnected, you lose interest. For some people this can happen with contemporary classical music, which seems to them to be emotionally disconnected from their own experience of the world. To others it can happen when listening to country music which appears to them shallow and sentimental. While it is different for different people, it is the connection with reality that makes it important and from which its value is derived.

I think that this had been a particularly strong element in Dutch painting through the ages. While other artists were busily painting kings and princes on their horses, changing their size, shape and looks to flatter their subject, it was Hieronymous Bosch in whose work, fantastical as it was in conception, you began to see ordinary people and the normal world for the first time. This tradition was continued in Dutch art through the centuries with so many artists pursuing a fascination with finding the beautiful in the everyday. Nowhere else in art can you better see the connection between the reality it portrays and the beauty to which it leads you.

Artists Resistance

I know that artists in the Netherlands, and in Amsterdam in particular, have continued across all art forms – in the visual arts, in music, in theatre, in literature, and in dance – to pursue this ideal of revealing the real through their work. But the increasingly conflicted nature of society in Holland makes this much harder to achieve on any scale. The reality being experienced by some groups in the community is so far removed from the reality being experienced by others, that it is now so much harder for the community to share imagery, music, literature or performance. This does not mean that they should not continue to try, but the problem is that the narrative which held that artists were uniquely able to perceive to create images that rang true across society is no longer widely shared. What most people perceive is imagery that is not real to them or obsessive inward musings which seem excessively self-indulgent.

There is an added narrative which is uniquely Dutch which is worth mentioning at this point. After the second world war, artists in Holland enjoyed a position of extraordinary privilege, which in many ways protected them from changes in attitudes which were beginning to affect artists in other Western European countries. This was the consequence of the special role that Dutch visual artists played in the second world war. The Artists Resistance was one of only a few resistance movements to the German occupation that was defined by a profession. It was within this group that plans were forged for the Federation of Artists’ Associations and the Council for the Arts, which were to play a major role in the post-war arts scene. Whilst, ironically, some of the infrastructure which supports this activity was implemented by the National Socialists, the motivation to provide such comprehensive support came from the goodwill generated by the activities of visual artists in the resistance. The idea of salaries just for being an artist, the schemes by which the state would buy up artistic output by anyone recognised as a ‘genuine artist’, the enormous investment in the cultural infratsructure particularly in the cities, was a consequence of a recognition that artists have a tendency to challenge, to oppose dictatorial government, to seek to find new and different ways to think and to reject ways of thinking being imposed from above and that this was important to the functioning of a healthy democracy. I think however over the last 60 years this understanding has faded, at least among the general population , maybe as memory itself fades or possibly because others have taken the role of being the grain of sand in the democratic oyster. The consequence is that while many people continue to believe that artists are a good thing, I don’t think that in many places in Europe they are any longer seen to be essential to the effective working of society.

The cultural Cold War

There is one more narrative which needs highlighting which concerns the world’s post war history. In 1982, I became General Manager of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, a multi artform complex established by artists in the 1950s and occupying, when I arrived a prestigious building in the centre of London with two cinemas, three galleries, a theatre and a number of additional spaces. With my job came the organisations archive. Among the papers I discovered a story, well know at the time, of which I was unaware. In the 1960s the ICA led a movement to create a public art work in London devoted to the Unknown Political prisoner. It was a well supported campaign, typical of the 1960s, when we all wanted to champion the rights of those nameless rebels who had lain down their lives to challenge dictators around the world. What transpired was that the whole campaign was in fact funded by the CIA and the idea collapsed.

This led me to look deeper into the relationship between the contemporary arts and the CIA and an extraordinary story emerged. After the second world war, the USIA, a US Government agency responsible for promoting the US abroad, arranged for a huge exhibition of contemporary US artworks to be toured across Europe, opening in a prestigious venue in Paris. These included for the first time in Europe major works by the abstract impressionists such as Jackson Pollock.

Congress, god fearing and bible bashing as ever, was horrified. This was not how they wanted the US to be promoted abroad. The transcripts of the debates in both houses are extraordinary to read. One congressman claimed, in all seriousness, the Jackson Pollock’s work was in fact a coded description of US military defences. They ordered the exhibition to be closed down and the tour cancelled. The Russians were delighted and immediately offered the disappointed venues across Europe a major exhibition of works from the Hermitage in St.Petersburg. It was a huge success.

And so the cultural cold wars began. The USIA had intended to promote the freedom and democracy which they believed the US represented through its most extreme representation, abstract expressionism. Only a country as free as ours would allow this, the exhibition was intended to proclaim. The Russians however countered with an exhibition which was intended to demonstrate the common cultural heritage they shared with Europe, quite different from the brash and incomprehensible products of the alien civilisation the US represented.


The USIA was devastated by the publicity coup the Russians had pulled off and worried discussions took place at the most senior levels of Government. The Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who had oversight of the CIA, was approached. How could the US continue to promote itself as the defender of freedom of expression without Congress knowing, he was asked.

The Chairman at that time was Nelson Rockefeller, and he was very sympathetic. He was also Chairman of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and he saw a simple solution. MoMA would create an assembly line of hit contemporary art shows for international touring. The CIA would pay using funding that Congress could not see. So for decades exhibitions extolling the virtues of a free art, liberated from the need to serve society and any taint of instrumentalism, toured the world, paid for by the CIA. Those very artists who in recent years have been so eloquent in criticising the instrumentalisation of art, have been able to develop an international narrative in which art is left to find its own form and purpose, because the CIA made this a major strand of US foreign policy. But unfortunately, when the cold war came to an end, it was no longer necessary to be quite so keen on freedom of expression, and vast rivers of funding dried up leaving many artists beached on great reefs of irony. Without the instrumentalism of the CIA, non-instrumental art struggled to find supporters.

It seems to me that the failing of these narratives, each of them fading over very different periods of time, combined to create a vacuum in which the perfect storm was formed. It is happening in many places in the world. I am aware that there is an article coming out in an influential American Journal later next month called ‘The Arts Do Nothing’ which will fan the flames of despondency. It has left artists and cultural institutions extremely vulnerable in a time of financial retrenchment and conspired to see huge swathes of funding removed, cultural institutions of fame and quality swept away and those working in the sector left bemused and, above all hurt.

So to summarise my argument so far, what you have seen in recent months is not the isolated result of an arbitrary populist political coalition that happened to govern in Holland for a few years, but marks the end of constellation of narratives which formed the backbone to the Western support for the arts .

But if I am right what is to be done about it?


In the first place, we must remember that what has been lost is money: not energy, not creativity, not talent, not experience, not hope. Nor, on the whole is the argument being made that we should not value the arts. The question is to what extent should it be publicly funding at a time at which what we fund and why is being systematically redefined.

It is also nonsense to suggest that as a consequence of the cuts in funding art will not be made. As anyone who has worked with artists knows, artists are not driven to make art because they are paid to do so. They will continue to paint, to write, to compose, to invent, to imagine, to plan and to design whatever the circumstances. What will be lost are the spaces in which art can be shared, productions performed, exhibitions displayed and publications distributed. There will be less sharing and this will lead to the impoverishment of society.

But we do need to consider how to reconnect the arts and culture with government and society so that their funding will again seem to be desirable. And for this to happen, I think new narratives will be required. But what might these new narratives be?

Quality of impact

I suggest that there are four key narratives that we need to explore or develop. The first concerns the development of our future economies, the second the need for us to redefine our relationship with the countries beyond Europe, the third the need for us to align ourselves with the key political debates that will shape the next few decades of European politics. Finally we need to consider its value to young people. Interestingly to me, in every case the narrative is based not on the quality of the art itself, but the quality of the impact it has on everyone who comes in contact with it.

The narrative concerning young people already attracts considerable support. Obviously this is an area in which I have a personal interest, and which brought me to Amsterdam in the first place. The first narrative, however, is largely economic and relates to the views of European governments regarding the future of the European economy. In this instance, the view is that the future of the European economy will not be based on mineral extraction (mining etc) or on manufacture because the rest of the world has more resources and makes things that we invent more cheaply and more efficiently than we can. Rather, the future will be built on our capacity to create, to invent and to innovate.

In this model governments point to organisations like Sage software, in Newcastle where I live. Sage makes business software for small companies. It is an incredibly successful company selling its software to companies all over the world. Its HQ is in Newcastle, where it employs many hundreds of people, and it earns money everywhere which is reinvested in Newcastle. So it is a very valuable asset to the economy of Newcastle. But why is it there? Only because the two people who launched the company lived in Newcastle, had their families there, and they didn’t want to move anywhere else. This model is seen as key the world over. Your local population is your greatest asset. If they can invent things the rest of the world wants, then you will prosper financially. If they can’t you are doomed.

Innovative potential

But how does Government unlock the creativity and innovative potential of its population. The most obvious place for Government intervention is the only remaining place where the population is the responsibility of Government – when they are in school. All over the world, education remains at the centre of government responsibility. Therefore all over the world there is a new focus on how to unlock the creativity of young people in school. This month alone I have seen the launch of major new strategies aimed at unlocking creativity in young people in Australia, in Chile, in Scotland. You here in Amsterdam have played your part with the signing of the Concordat on the 20th March which is aimed at (to quote me) offering ‘ a major contribution to the wider development of children and young people to become confident, critical and creative citizens’. The arts are now widely seen as a way in which young people can explore and nurture their own creativity developing the potential to be the innovators and job creators of the future. And if young people are going to be able to access the arts to develop this aspect of their personality, then there will have to be artists and cultural institutions for them to work with.

I know that in Amsterdam there are aspects of the concordat that have proved controversial, particularly in relation to the role of theatre and dance. But believe me, looking at the rest of the world, it provides a framework for an incredible investment in the cultural sector from which you can all benefit and which I support. So that is one narrative that is working the world over.

But there is another more complex narrative to consider and it relates to how we define ourselves in relation to the rest of the world.

Gangnam Style

In recent months I have been lucky to travel extensively. I have been in Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Singapore, Pakistan, Qatar as well as many countries in Europe. In fact this evening I am on my way home after 10 days in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

The first thing that has struck me about these visits is the extent to which the debates we are having about the challenges facing art and culture in Europe are completely Euro centric. There is an underlying assumption among most commentators in the West that the rest world of the world has interesting ‘traditional’ culture while we in the West have an almost complete monopoly on creating the culture of the future. For more than a century this has probably been true. The West has completely dominated the creation of new culture in theatre, in cinema, in music, in visual arts, in fashion, in design, in architecture and on and on. In fact, most international debate in the last few decades has been framed in the context of how to ‘preserve’ traditional non-western cultures from the onslaught of dynamic western contemporary creativity. But now I can see this is changing dramatically. The rich traditional cultures of the world beyond Europe are now becoming the engines of new contemporary cultures. We mock at our peril the worldwide impact of the Gangnam Style video because what Psy achieved was the development of a cultural artefact which literally spoke to billions of people across the world. To me in England it was unthinkable even two years ago that a South Korean musician would dominate our music charts for weeks. This is probably the result of my latent racism and obvious arrogance, but it presages a fundamental shift in where our future cultures will come from.

But it is also worth reflecting for a moment that much of this historic ‘vibrant, contemporary culture’ the west exported was often not inherently western at all. For instance, most of us would probably accept that popular contemporary music in the world is almost entirely African in its origin. It has been filtered through slavery in the United States into African-American jazz and rock and then shamelessly hijacked by young white western musicians such as Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to be resold to the world as western contemporary culture. In truth the creativity and innovation of the West lay not in the cultural creations, but in marketing, packaging and distribution. In future, traditional cultures will continue to be reinvented, but they will no longer be filtered through the west. They will be developed and be owned by sources of creativity elsewhere in the world and unless we are careful we will simply end up as the consumers and not as proactive creative contributors.

This does not mean that we have nothing left to offer, but rather that we have to develop a new post-imperialist approach to cultural production, which is not based on packaging and reselling to the developing world their own cultures – albeit dramatically reinvented. We have to go back and start to rediscover who we are and our own unique cultural assets. Of course, immigration will have changed the nature of our assets and we should not be afraid of exploiting this. But our new understanding can no longer be based on an assumed cultural superiority, but an understanding of what we can offer of real value to the rest of the world. To do this we need to understand how others see us and we need to understand better what the rest of the world is doing. We can also no longer assume any ascendancy in contemporary culture, a belief that this is something we invented and the rest of the world wants. We need to define a new niche for ourselves. It will be smaller and less significant but it might help us survive.

The third narrative requires us to connect more effectively with the emerging political concerns of society, to explain why we are central tothe political debates which will shape our futures. I think that the key themes of these debates will be as follows:

Financial tsunami

The first political theme concerns the relationship between innovation and ethics. A key characteristic of 19th and 20th century Europe was the focus on innovation, but it was innovation without responsibility. Innovators pursued the new without stopping to consider the consequences. Very occasionally, as with the invention of the atomic bomb, some scientists stopped to worry about the implications of what they were doing, but their concerns were quickly swept aside. Even today you hear many innovators, particularly in the sciences, arguing for the freedom to innovate without fear of retribution come the consequences. But it has been this very drive to innovate without responsibility that has done so much damage to the planet in social, economic and environmental ways. Indeed the huge financial tsunami that overtook us in 2008 – and with whose consequences we are still living – is a direct consequence of financial dealers inventing new financial products which they themselves poorly understood and whose consequences they had never considered. My first suggestion, therefore is that we need to argue that we need artists and creative professionals take the lead in a drive towards the establishment of a new model of innovation with moral responsibility. There are instances of artists being carried away like financial brokers to innovate without caring, but generally speaking all art explores and expresses profound ethical positions. So I think that artists can play a key role in developing an ethical approach to innovation

The second political narrative concerns the fundamental purpose of government – social justice. Almost everyone sees Government as being the champions and deliverers of social justice. Over the last 150 years this debate has polarised around the question of the redistribution of wealth. Many could only see social justice being achieved through the redistribution of wealth. Many others argued that the social justice would be better served by protecting property rights. For a variety of reasons there is an increasing disillusion with the effectiveness of wealth distribution in improving social disparity. One reason for this is that over many years Governments committed to this ideal have not managed to bring about any real improvement in the distribution of wealth. For instance, after 12 years of the last Labour Government in England, social disparities had actually increased. In most places ordinary people have got marginally wealthier. The problem is that rich people have got rich faster. Another reason is that wealth distribution is now largely driven by the random distortions of international trade and commodity values which have proved impossible to police. I have recently been in Qatar in the Arabian Gulf. There are 250,000 Qataris in the world, although 1.5 million people live in Qatar. The 1 ¼ million who are not Qataris do most of the work for the 250,000 who are. The reason for this is that a decade ago they discovered €25 trillion worth of gas beneath the sands of this desert peninsula. The world has no mechanisms available for redistributing wealth on this scale. And this level of wealth among such a small community is doing devastating damage.

Redistributing quality of life

So if redistributing wealth is impossible what other forms of social justice can be achieved? This debate is now focussing on achieving improvements in the quality of life of your general population. Although money does have an impact on quality of life, for most people achieving a reasonable quality of life is more important than getting rich and for Government it may be more achievable. I think that this could be very important for the arts and culture. For instance, Europeans now live for a long time after retirement and they want to know what will make those long years of retirement pleasurable and worthwhile. The British/French cultural commentator Francois Matarasso has recently published a book on the arts and old age. He points out that one of the big divisions in the cultural world is between the professional and the amateur. The professional spends the whole day practicing their art. The amateur works all day, and practices their art in their spare time. But what becomes of these differences after retirement? There are now many people who devote their later years to the production of art. Some earned their living from it before retirement. Some did not. But after retirement neither earn their living from their art and all of them spend most of their time doing it. So what now is the difference? Matarasso’s book also points to the many ways in which creative production adds value to life, and this inevitably involves more ways of consuming culture. These people may wish they had more money than their pension allows, but it is not what motivates them. What they want is the opportunity to pursue these interests. So I believe that the arts will be able to argue that participation in the arts is a powerful means of redistributing quality of life.

The third important political theme is likely to focus on the development of more sustainable ways of living. As many commentators have pointed out, we cannot continue to build economies based on consumption. The planet simply does not have the resources that would allow the rest of the world ever to consume on the scale that we in the west have done over the last two centuries. What is required is a rebalancing of our ways of life, to develop means of production which minimise the use of resources and through which we can all make a contribution. In my view the arts uniquely provide a means through which this dream can be realised. New, local, recyclable personal cultural outputs can fill the need of people to make their lives worthwhile and to come to define themselves, not in terms of what they earn and thus can consume, but in terms of what they can make out of nothing and hence contribute.

In this context it would be interesting to consider a book by the Dutch artist/sociologist Hans Abbing who wrote a quite influential study in the early 2000 with the title Why is the artist poor?. In this book he tries to understand how it is possible that pumping more money in the arts doesn’t produce wealthier artists, but only more equally poor artists who produce more art. He uses this analysis to critique the funding structure and suggest that it is inefficient in reaching it goals. But I wonder whether in fact he was pointing to a feature of the cultural sector which may be of enormous importance. It maybe that this inability to get richer in material terms despite the hard work and commitment they bring to their work reflects, not just an interest in matters other than the material but models a different way of living, one which maybe in fact the way of living we will all need to learn. Is this perhaps one of the most remarkable ways in which artists will lead point the way to a new and better future

And if that is the vision for the future to which we should aspire then perhaps we should stop worrying about a world without funding and instead invent the new world which makes do without. Certainly now is our chance to find out if we can make the world a reality.

Learning to live together

My final narrative acknowledges the importance of De Krakeling, whom we have come together tonight to celebrate, and the many other cultural activists in Amsterdam whose work I so much admire. There is, as many of you will have heard me argue elsewhere, a crisis in education. Around the world, there is an obsession with an educational paradigm focussed on learning to know, acquiring knowledge, or learning to do, developing technical skills. In fact these are but two ‘pillars’ as UNESCO argues, of the four pillars of education. The other two are learning to be and learning to live together. For the future of society, and indeed the world, we must educate young people to understand that they have the power to make the world a better place, and this means discovering, who they are, how they work and their own unique potential. This is what is meant by learning to be. It is even more important that we help them find an ethical and moral framework which will shape their behaviour when they are adults. It means learning to taking responsibility for the environment, for ethical behaviour at work, for helping others, for having less so others can have enough. This is what is meant by learning to live together. In my experience, only the arts has the capacity to truly help us understand who we are and to teach us to behave in ways which will make society function effectively.

And in my work here two years ago, I was able to see that in Amsterdam the combined efforts of a cultural sector focussed on young people, has made extraordinary strides in this direction. You will remember the story I told in my report to the City of talking to a young immigrant boy who had described to me a racist episode he had experienced elsewhere in Holland. I said to him: “but surely this happens in Amsterdam” And he said: “No. In Amsterdam no one would dare behave like that.” I believe that those of you gathered in this room tonight have made a major contribution to bringing up a generation who not only know who they are, but have found new an effective ways of living together. And so my final narrative is that a major justification for funding the arts is indeed you – those of you who have come here tonight and most of all De Krakeling for their work over the last 35 years. Long may it last.

Paul Collard, 28 maart 2013