In Beyond Allegories politicians and artists discuss proposals on the role of art within governance, political mobilization and action.
The position of art in society has been heavily criticized in recent years. The reproach that government funds are misused merely to serve ‘leftist elites’ is widely heard. In Beyond Allegories, art does not position itself as a luxury item for an elite, nor is it a speculative object in the art market, or even an instrument of the creative city, but rather it positions itself as a power that aims for a new imagination – and with that, a practice – of the democratic project.
Chaired by Ann Demeester (Frans Hals Museum | De Hallen Haarlem) and Ruud Nederveen (VVD), Ron Meyer Ron Meyer has led the largest party in Heerlen, the Socialist Party (SP), for the past eight years. Besides his work as a party leader, he works as a campaign leader for the labour union FNV Bondgenoten, where he has had a leading role in the cleaners’ protests since 2009. Brave cleaners who rise up for a better future are for him “the example of strength and progress.” In March 2014 Meyer received the Best Council Member Award in the Netherlands. go to propositionDemocratising the Arts (SP) and artist Matthijs de BruijneMatthijs de Bruijne‘s artistic practice and research often arise in collaboration with trade unions and other labor organisations. De Bruijne was closely involved in the cleaners’ strike of 2012 for better wages, working conditions and social recognition. This strike was the longest strike in the Netherlands since 1933. As part of the cleaners union’s campaign De Bruijne installed a temporary Rubbish Museum in Utrecht’s central station and produced, in collaboration with the Domestic Workers Netherlands, several shadow plays. (www.bruijne.org)go to propositionDemocratising the Arts will present jointly developed proposals on the role of art in relation to cultural representation; Salima BelhajSalima Belhaj is a council member of Rotterdam since 2008 and since 2010 she is party leader of D66 [Democrats '66] in that city. As such she takes an active role in the debate on racism and the debate on culture. In 2011 she participated in the first edition of the project Allegories of Good and Bad Government in W139, Amsterdam. In 2014 she had a decisive role in the coalition debates that led to the formation of the local government of the city of Rotterdam consisting of members of the political parties D66, Leefbaar Rotterdam [Livable Rotterdam] and the Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA).go to propositionPlea for a Free Zone (D66) and Maartje Remmers of theater collective WunderbaumMaartje Remmers is a Dutch actress and member of the Flemish-Dutch theater collective Wunderbaum consisting of herself, Walter Bart, Wine Dierickx, Matijs Jansen, Maarten van Otterdijk and Marleen Scholte. In 2013 Wunderbaum initiated the four-year project The New Forest in which Wunderbaum explores together with civil society organizations alternative models of democracy through theater. (www.thenewforest.nl)go to propositionPlea for a Free Zone will present on the role of art in relation to democratic reform; Dirk Poot (Pirate Party)Dirk Poot has been a spokesperson for the Dutch Pirate Party since 2012. In 2010 the party actively partook in the Dutch parliamentary elections for the first time. Poot was a candidate for parliament at the 2010 elections. The Pirate Party supports a free Internet as a condition for an open and democratic society, as a source of inspiration and knowledge, and above all as a source of critical information. Dirk Poot is also self-employed as an ICT consultant and PHP/MySQL programmer for medical applications.go to propositionMapping the Deep State and design collective FoundlandFoundland is an art and design practice based in Amsterdam; it was founded in 2009 by Ghalia Elsrakbi and Lauren Alexander. With backgrounds in graphic design, art and writing Foundland’s approach focuses on research based, critical responses to current issues. In their practice Foundland draws on unexpected connections, creating alternative narratives to media, reporting through innovative image making and personal interpretation. (www.foundland.info)go to propositionMapping the Deep State (Ghalia Elsrakbi and Lauren Alexander) will present on the role of art in relation to transparency; Yoonis Osman NuurYoonis Osman Nuur is spokesperson of the refugee collective We Are Here and member of the refugee council of the foundation Here to Support. As a human rights activist and politician, Nuur fights for the visibility and recognition of refugees in limbo in Dutch society and law. (http://wijzijnhier.org)go to propositionPolitical Representation Beyond Citizenship (We Are Here) and artist Ahmet ÖğütAhmet Öğüt is a conceptual artist based in Amsterdam and Istanbul. Öğüt is the initiator of The Silent University, an autonomous knowledge-exchange platform led by refugees for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. The Silent University aims to make apparent the systematic failure and the loss of knowledge and skills experienced through the silencing process of people seeking asylum. (www.silentuniversity.org)go to propositionPolitical Representation Beyond Citizenship will present on the role of art in relation to immigration; Carolien GehrelsCarolien Gehrels has been an alderman for the Labor Party (PvdA) in Amsterdam from 2006 to May 2014. In her eight years as an alderman, she was responsible for, among others, economic affairs and art and culture. In 2009 she gave the well-known Boekman lecture "Kunstbeleid in een postideologische? samenleving" [Art policy in a post-ideological? society], in which she pleaded for a larger involvement of politics with the arts. At the time she stated this about art: "We may also govern in this area. We may also have an opinion. And we may even judge.” ( www.pvdaamsterdam.nl)go to propositionThe Creative City: A Blessing for Administration but a Curse for the Arts (PvdA) and artist Hans van HouwelingenHans van Houwelingen studied at the Minerva Art Academy in Groningen and at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. His work manifests itself internationally in the form of interventions in public space, exhibitions, lectures and publications, in which he investigates the relations between art, politics and ideology. He publishes regularly in newspapers and magazines. The monograph STIFF Hans van Houwelingen vs. Public Art (2004) offers an overview of his projects and texts and an extensive reflection on his work. The publication Update (2008) describes the permanent update of the Lorentzmonument in Arnhem during the exhibition Sonsbeek 2008 and Undone (2011) presents nine critical reflections on three recent works. (http://www.hansvanhouwelingen.nl)go to propositionThe Creative City: A Blessing for Administration but a Curse for the Arts will present on the role of art in relation to urban development and Mariko PetersMariko Peters was Member of Parliament for GroenLinks [Green Party] in the Netherlands from November 2006 until September 2012. Prior to this, she worked as an attorney, and, as a diplomat. She co-authored the first Freedom of Information Act in the Balkan countries and served as Advisor to the Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs. As a Member of Parliament her dossiers included Foreign Affairs, Defence, Public Administration, Media Culture & Copyrights. She now serves again with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.go to propositionTowards an Extra-Parliamentary Democracy! (GroenLinks), design collective Metahaven Metahaven is a studio for design and research based in Amsterdam, founded by Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden. Metahaven's work—both commissioned and self-directed—reflects political and social issues in graphic design objects and media. The group’s 2010 publication Uncorporate Identity investigated what the International Herald Tribune called the “purpose and value of design in a neurotic and treacherous era of geopolitical instability.” Metahaven’s projects include Black Transparency, a multi-year investigation into the relationship between transparency and secrecy that resulted in a series of exhibitions, talks and a forthcoming book. As part of this project, Metahaven designed a set of merchandise for WikiLeaks—scarves and shirts—which were sold by the organization to circumvent a financial blockade which had denied the organisation the ability to receive donations by other means. Metahaven is affiliated with the Center for Design and Geopolitics at University of California, San Diego. Its founders teach at ArtEZ Academy of Arts in Arnhem, at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam, and at Yale University's MFA program in graphic design.(www.metahaven.net) go to propositionTowards an Extra-Parliamentary Democracy! and artist Jonas StaalJonas Staal is a visual artist whose work deals with the relation between art, propaganda and democracy. He is the founder of the artistic and political organisation New World Summit (www.newworldsummit.eu). Staal is currently working on his PhD “Art and Propaganda in the 21st Century” at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. (www.jonasstaal.nl) go to propositionTowards an Extra-Parliamentary Democracy! will present on the role of art in relation to extra-parliamentary democracy.
The proposals will be discussed by, among others, Tiers Bakker (SP); Manuel Beltrán (artist, student organizer), Jeroen Boomgaard (Lectoraat Art & Public Space, Gerrit Rietveld Academy), Lex ter Braak (Jan van Eyck Academy), Hendrik Folkerts (Stedelijk Museum), Quinsy Gario (poet, artist), Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei (philosopher), Rik Grashoff (GroenLinks), Nicoline van Harskamp (artist), Maria Hlavajova (BAK, Utrecht), Guusje ter Horst (PvdA), Femke Kaulingfreks (philosopher, We Are Here Academy), Erica van Lente (PvdA), Jacques Monasch (PvdA), Merijn Oudenampsen (sociologist), Marco Out (VVD), Rune Peitersen (Platform BK), Bastiaan Rijpkema (rechtsfilosoof), Anna Tilroe (art critic and curator), Romana Vrede (theater maker), Brenno de Winter (journalist), Dilan Yesilgoz (VVD), Hans de Zwart (Bits of Freedom) and others.
In 2011, the art sector was totally unexpectedly accused of turning its back to society, by politicians in their search for budget cuts. “Artists have alienated themselves from their environment,” they claimed. But who is this “environment?” Did artists ever focus on the society as a whole, or did their audience already mainly consist of the wealthy and higher-educated few.
Almost everywhere in Europe art sector budgets have been cut under the pretense of the banking crisis. The louder the traditional elite accused the arts of turning their backs away from society, the faster the arts reoriented itself in a phenomenally opportunistic way back towards said elite. The result of this is that again a small group of people is in charge of setting the criteria of culture.
We, Ron Meyer (Socialist Party, Heerlen) and Matthijs de Bruijne (artist, Amsterdam) unite in our struggle against a limited view of art and culture and against a culture dominated by the rich. We ask policymakers, artists, and museum directors and cultural institutions to address the following question: Who is your audience?
1. Art as a Means of Expression
Everyone in our society has the right to develop himself or herself; art and culture have an important role and are crucial ingredients in this development. We want the political sphere to invest in artists who seek and activate debate within society. Above all, we advocate for artists who have a critical stance towards our current society and believe more in the “we” than the “I”.
We believe in the timeless principle that a society invested in art and culture enables as many people as possible to reap the benefits of art. Art and culture might then, by definition, not only belong to those who already appreciate important paintings or interesting images.
However, today, investment in culture is important for another reason: at this moment, not only is our economy facing a crisis, but also our notions of democracy and classic forms of community. Art as a means for democratic expression of identity, cruel reality, and stimulating perspectives, of hope, doubt, struggle, and connection, is more important than ever.
Let us provide an example. In 2011, hundreds of protesting cleaners created their own Rubbish Museum at Utrecht’s central station with an exhibition of objects the cleaners had found while working. Each object symbolised a unique cleaners’ story: from a syringe with which a cleaner had accidently punctured himself to a Bible to a vibrator to a teddy bear. Many artists and even more cleaners were skeptical at first. They said that art and the cleaners’ cause could never go together. Nothing proved further from the truth: the Rubbish Museum became an important point of connection and cooperation between cleaners and art — and vice versa — as well as an important means of expression. In the middle of Utrecht’s central station, cleaners appropriated art as a means to express their pride, identity and critique of society to thousands of visitors.
2. Art at the Centre of Society
In recent years, the provincial town of Heerlen in Limburg has been going against the grain by investing extra money in art and culture. The accompanying “Cultural Spring” — and within that, an implicit claim for the importance of culture in times of crisis — is supported by many of Heerlen’s citizens. If a financially struggling provincial city like this can find the political motivation and civil support to invest in art and culture, then such action is possible anywhere.
One of the buildings Heerlen has activated as an art space is Schunk, located in the city centre. Since its use as a store in which mineworkers used to buy their products, Schunk, which resembles a glass palace, has become a multidisciplinary cultural institution that brings together an architectural institute, a visual arts collection, an exhibition space, a library, and a music and dance school. The remarkable display windows are now used as exhibition spaces.
Schunk also organises projects in neighbourhoods and schools. It is a public space, an accessible cultural palace, aimed to bring as many people as possible from Heerlen into contact with art, literature and music. In many ways Schunk is a good example of a vital cultural scene, highlighting the lack of investment in art in other areas of the Netherlands. Yet however positive initiatives like Schunk are, as well as less accessible museums, they must ask themselves: Who saw our exhibitions, which segments of society? How do we reach those who have never passed through our doors?
These questions then incline us to ask: Why do we isolate our art and culture in places we know the majority of people will not visit? Why does art play such a limited and passive role in our public debates? Why do artists not seek the connection or confrontation with those who hardly ever or never visit a museum or theatre? And thus, how do we make sure more people feel “ownership” in one way or another over the imagination and inspiration that art lets forth?
“It is not about bringing art to the people, but about showing art in relation to the interests of your audience,” according to Jean Leering, former director of Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. People’s interests have many layers and levels. When art wants to play an active and imaginative role in our democracy, it should seek to occupy each of those layers and levels. Accessibility is about more than an open door. Accessibility is about using that open door to move in both directions, to bring art beyond the threshold and towards the people.
Let art take to the streets!
Iedereen in onze samenleving heeft het recht zich te ontwikkelen. Kunst en cultuur kunnen een belangrijke rol hebben in deze ontwikkeling en een cruciaal ingrediënt zijn. Wij willen dat de politiek investeert in kunstenaars die het debat met onze samenleving zoeken én maken. Wij zoeken kunstenaars die kritisch zijn op onze samenleving en méér in ons dan in ik geloven.
In de afgelopen jaren heeft de Limburgse provinciestad Heerlen tegen de stroom in extra geld in kunst en cultuur geïnvesteerd. De bijbehorende ‘Culturele Lente’ (en daarmee impliciet het belang van cultuur in tijden van crisis) wordt door veel Heerlenaren gesteund. Als een financieel armlastige provinciestad als Heerlen de politieke wil en maatschappelijke steun kan vinden fors te investeren in kunst en cultuur dan kan dat overal. Midden in het centrum van Heerlen staat een glaspaleis Schunck genaamd. Een oud-warenhuis van glas waar ooit de mijnwerkers hun waren kochten, is nu een multidisciplinaire culturele instelling die een collectie beeldende kunst, een tentoonstellingsruimte, een bibliotheek en een muziek- en dansschool verenigt. De niet te missen vitrine van het voormalige warenhuis wordt gebruikt als tentoonstellingsruimte.