Herb Prooy: Poverty & the arts

Herb Prooy thinks this government’s arts policy could bring back the starving artist in the garret.

Artists are turning into the pariahs of society. Some 150,000 people in the Netherlands call themselves artists. These painters, sculptors, film makers and designers constitute 1.5% of the working population.
Most of them are academically trained and self-employed. Over 35% is surviving on an income of less than €10,000 a year, about half the legal minimum wage.
Many still think artists still live off the ‘BKR’ ruling, a hand-out from the state for which it gets a work of art which is left to mould in a damp cellar until the rubbish collectors take it away.
The image is one of a lot of drunken scroungers who produce junk every one in a while.
Unfortunately, most members of government and parliament are doing little to correct this image. Not one politician has stood up and fought the very tight corner in which this segment of the working population finds itself. With irritating condescension these people, who have often spent a lifetime spouting nonsense at the expense of the taxpayer, point out that artists simply have to become more entrepreneurial.
What nonsense. Artists are entrepreneurs through and through. They are a group of extremely talented people who in the performing arts alone manage to touch, move and inspire 16 million people a year. They just don’t get much of an income out of it and often one that forces them to live below the poverty line.
Consciously or unconsciously, this cabinet, supported by a majority of MPs, is killing off artists. The €200m cut back on the arts means that hundreds of artists will sink further into poverty. The VAT on art is being hiked from 6% to 19% and will increase to 21% at a later stage. That will make their work even more difficult to sell, especially in these hard times.
While billions are being spent on labour market stimulation, tax advantages and benefits for other groups in the working population, any financial support for artists is seen a superfluous subsidy. This is contrary to article 19 in the constitution which says the state has a social duty of care for all its citizens.
Herb Prooy is an entrepreneur in the field of ‘software as a service’

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