While scouring the press release bin for cheap laughs, I came across a story of some legitimate interest: a coalition of Dutch artists recently took out an ad in the New York Times advising "Do Not Enter the Netherlands — Cultural Meltdown in Progress."
As it turns out, this cultural meltdown isn't nearly as cool as it sounds. The Dutch government plans to make drastic reductions in their traditionally generous arts funding, abruptly slashing 200 million euros from the 900-million euro federal arts budget (roughly $290 out of $1.3 billion). This may prove disastrous to the Dutch art scene, which has grown heavily reliant on the teat of Queen Beatrix — many cultural institutions are totally unprepared for the sudden cut, and there's already talk of concert halls shuttering, orchestras disbanding, and frugal painters cutting off their spare ears.
I decided to seek out an actual Dutch artist to comment on this story; after calling all the Rembrandts in the phone book (none of them were the right guy), I remembered that I still had the email address of rapper Faberyayo, the Wayfarer-ed whiz-kid of top Dutch hip-hop act De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig. Yayo generously agreed to represent his nation for a brief email interview:
FIRST, HOW'S THE NEW DE JEUGD VAN TEGENWOORDIG RECORD DOING? The new album is doing great, we've done a really successful nationwide tour, and we're off to do a whole bunch of festivals next.
WHY IS THE DUTCH GOVERNMENT CUTTING BACK SO SEVERELY ON ITS FUNDING OF THE ARTS? ARE THEY JUST ASSHOLES OR WHAT? It's a money thing; it needs to come from somewhere, and in this case, it's coming from the arts.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THESE CUTS? Personally, I think that the arts are such an abstract concept within society that you can't actually put a price on it. You can't force the government to take out a certain amount of the taxpayers' money for it. It still sucks, though. It stings even more because of the fact that the government acquired a whole bunch of Joint Strike Fighters, and if they would have settled for one less, these cuts wouldn't have been necessary. Go figure.
PRIOR TO THIS FUNDING CUT, WHAT KIND OF SUBSIDIES HAVE DUTCH ARTISTS COME TO ENJOY? WILL THE DUTCH HIP-HOP SCENE BE AFFECTED? It's complicated. It has to do with taxes on tickets to shows and stuff. They raised it from six percent to 19 percent, which is effectively coming out of the artist side of the money. Also, a whole slew of smaller government-funded venues is being shut down.
DO YOU THINK THE "CULTURAL MELTDOWN" AD IS A FAIR ASSESSMENT OF THE SITUATION? I think [the funding cuts] are a goddamn shame. On the other hand, though, I think it's wrong to expect the government to just fork over the dough; culture is something alive and made by the people. It shouldn't be solely depended on whether or not the government pays for it.
WHAT DO THESE CUTS MEAN FOR POOR OLD JOHANNES VERMEER? IS HE GOING TO STARVE TO DEATH? Well, he did a while back, didn't he?