Saving the arts dutch style

Saving the arts dutch style

Dutch artists are given a big national virtual stage

The covid-19 situation is very hard on artists worldwide as we well know. But in The Netherlands they found a way out. 

Artists have been given more perspective since one Dutch music-composer had a brilliant idea that suddenly made it into one of the most unprecedented mega media-projects in his country with hundreds of new tv- and radioprograms helping out the performing arts during this time of crisis through offering them the biggest virtual stage possible until June this year on a daily basis via a new dedicated arts channel on tv and periodically on all the other major tv- and radio channels of the main national public broadcaster NPO in the country and all of this financed by the Dutch government.

We really do miss going out to concerts, seeing bands, going to Glastonbury or a showcase of a new and promising singer-songwriter in a small pub venue. Unfortunately no can do. And that is the same anywhere in the world right now and it looks like we will enter a second season of this too.

The artists self-stream their living room performances and thus attract only their most dedicated followers. meanwhile there are not so very encouraging words of advice from the British secretary of culture suggesting toward artists to reconsider their career and even to opt out of it to find a job anywhere else.

The British government also recently wasn’t very helpful by neglecting the interest of British artists to be able to perform abroad asap without hindrances or additional costs, the latter being something they now however all have to accept, only making things worse and therefore jeopardising the future of the whole music industry in the UK.

In the Netherlands things aren’t quite different except that last October Stephen Emmer, an international composer/artist from Amsterdam, suddenly realised that the performing arts, and certainly music, and the media belong together as both actually need each other for obvious reasons, they have a complementary benefit to each other: the one creates original content, the other transmits it to a large audience. so this is the common ground where you could say: we help each other in good times, so why not help each other in bad times?

Emmer thought this reason enough to give this a shot by posting this on his socials in late autumn followed by initiating an online petition including the hashtag: #savetheartsonradioandtv. Within a week he got response by a most diverse selection of very well known and lesser know Dutch artists, soon to be followed by executives from almost all major art organisations in the country, who all readily signed the petition. This was picked up by an editor of an artsprogram on Dutch state television who said that he wanted to see if he could help persuade the broadcasting organisation called VPRO to support this petition as a whole.

Emmer next got in touch with the chair of the NPO, the national broadcasting organisation in the Netherlands, comparable to the BBC in the UK and asked if she, Shula Rijkxman, also wanted to help the entire performing arts industry of the country by offering them the biggest virtual stage through making a special tv channel available for the purpose of having artist present their new shows this way instead of waiting for the theatres and venues to open up again and by having their new creations broadcasted they could make some money to help compensate their loss of income and turnover in the live circuit.

Soon almost everyone within the NPO got involved and approved of the idea and saw the enormous importance of it and...the potential. Next up though was however: who are gonna pay for this all?

Emmer got in touch with the special taskforce of the Dutch ministry of culture, who were brought in to action straight after covid-19 struck in March last year. The taskforce also immediately saw the importance of this and did manage to put this on the agenda of the Dutch secretary of culture, Ingrid van Engelshoven, who after just one more nightly phone-conversation with the chair of NPO, decided to make available an extra aid budget of 10 million euros to give the performing arts more airtime on dutch radio and television.

Also noteworthy was to put this budget under a so called Fair Practice Code to guarantee that most of the budget would benefit the artists and not say the entire staff of the broadcasting organisation or to produce f.e. more news- shows. The NPO then decided to add another 4 million euro to this aid budget, which after all is also money provided by the government for the broadcaster to fulfil its tasks of which one is to help viewers with providing more relevant content in emergency situations, Emmer found out in the legal research he did by interpreting the media law.

Since January 100s of requests, ideas and pitches of people all over from the creative industries are selected to help out the most needy and also carefully avoiding to only invite the usual suspects and already established artists. The aid budget is enabling the NPO to devote all that airtime for the performing arts until June this year and therefore it now has become one of the most unheard of media-megaprojects in the country with hundreds of new tv and radioprograms helping out the performing arts during this time of crisis.

A colleague of Emmer in Belgium, Esther Lybeert, former singer of the band Hooverphonic, also picked up on the idea and her tweets on this went viral in Belgium. This is how she also got in touch with the state television broadcaster over there, VRT, but the language barrier and the cultural differences in the country seem to get in the way of any concrete decision making.

When Emmer approached several of his musical colleagues in the UK such as Midge Ure( Live Aid) and Herbert Gronemeijer in Germany, they all immediately saw this as also a good kind of project for their own countries, but up until now in both countries the red tape barrier still needs to be broken.

But maybe this can now be triggered by showing that over in the Netherlands the state, the broadcaster, the artists and the fans all have found an agreement on doing this whilst the whole country is still in quarantaine and someone somewhere in the UK or Germany might read this and think: we should certainly try to do something similar here too.

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