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After the government announced budget cuts of 200 million euros within the cultural sector, the art world was in uproar. But what do the figure-heads of Dutch design have to say about the future?

By Jeroen Junte / 15-12-2010

The Dutch design-sector is laconically undergoing the planned budget cuts within the cultural sector. "There's no point pitying ourselves, because the Dutch design world can stand on its own two feet."

Yearly budget cuts of 200 million euros within the arts and culture sectors, those are the plans by the current government. In addition to scrapping the WWIK (the Work and Income law for Artists) for beginning artists (10 million) and raising the tax rate from 6 to 19 percent on events (90 million), there will be large subsidy cuts (100 million). Whether the  organization applying for a grant is able to generate its own income will play a big role, something which seems detrimental to the design sector.

On the other hand, the government wants to spare 'creative industry that contributes to the economy' as much as possible. On the whole this is "no reason to start pitying ourselves", says Renny Ramakers, director of Droog. "Because the Dutch design world can stand on its own two feet. Designers such as Hella Jongerius and Marcel Wanders, but also relatively young talents like Maarten Baas and Joris Laarman, enjoy great international success and don't need any kind of support." Something Ramakers does argue is the continuance of starter's grants. "The question is: would these designers have become so successful if they weren't given the opportunity to freewheel for a while after graduating, without the pressures of commerce, thanks to a starter's subsidy. That's how they managed to develop a personal and adventurous design style from which they - and now the whole of the Dutch design world - are reaping the seeds." The international promotion of these designers, through supporting book publications or being present at events, is essential. "Young designers just don't have the resources to do such things, even though the may be ready and willing."

Job Smeets, who together with Nynke Tynagel forms the successful duo Studio Job, says the starter's grant he received at the beginning of his career formed "that all-important boost". Even though applying for the grant shouldn't be underestimated. "It's a lot of work, especially when your applications gets rejected a few times. It really isn't a handout." Since his international breakthrough, he rarely applies for funding. "At a certain point it's easier to finance a project yourself, than to go down the long road of applying for a grant."

Still, for established designers it should be possible to apply for subsidy for an outstanding project, Ramakers states. "A renowned designer such as Jurgen Bey sometimes initiates projects that don't make any money, but are essential to the development of the design field." In addition to being a commercial company, even Droog is partially a subsidized foundation that initiates experimental projects. One of the Droog foundation's recent programs is the development of an internet site for downloadable design. "We offer young designers a platform from where they can sell their designs. They have to establish their own source of income, which seems to work well. Designers are creative enough you see."
This experience is shared by André Klein, head of the department of Visual Arts at the Sandberg Institute, the master's course at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. "During the evaluations of ex-students we noticed that 80 percent of the visual arts students find work outside their original field of education. The percentage is much lower for designers. They tend to be a little more inventive when it comes to creating work."

Ed Annink from Ontwerpwerk sees opportunities for more private investments within the design sector in the current climate. Annink, who is a designer himself, has started an investigation into the possibilities for companies to "buy shares" in young designers. "These companies could, for instance, finance young designers' research and receive the first offer for the production rights of the final design. Also, there should be more room for individual benefactors who stimulate young designers in exchange for, say, advice."
But a government who completely shuts down the money flow is regretful, Annink thinks. "The Dutch design world is a multicoloured carpet with much fabric. It wouldn't hurt to vacuum it. As long as the colours don't vanish. The multiformity is the layer of compost that everyone in the design discipline profits from. Without experiment there is no innovation, and without innovation there is no economic growth." To separate the dust from the colour, the government needs to work closely together with the established sector institutes. "Harsh choices about who or what stays out of the line of fire during the budget cuts will be inevitable."

A more critical evaluation for subsidy grants doesn't have to be a disaster, agrees Ramakers. "Maybe it's good to focus on real talent." The duration of the grant can also be lowered according to the Droog director. "When the Wanders and Jongerius generation started out some fifteen, twenty years ago, Dutch design wasn't such a phenomenon. Thanks to new forms of communication such as the internet, and a heightened interest for Dutch designers in the industry as well as the gallery world, new talents are discovered much quicker. Young designers who, for instance, haven't become successful after a few years, need to make room for the next lot."

In addition to - specialized - financial support, the government should profile itself through bold and daring, home-grown design: "from stationary to the embassy, to the kit worn by the Dutch football team", says Annink, who initiated Design & Government, a research project into the positive contribution thought-through design can make to government policies. "Good design doesn't just strengthen the bond between citizen and government, it also helps international prestige and export opportunities within the design sector."

Schools should also "re-orientate" themselves, believes Annink. "Designers nowadays need to be multi-disciplinary. A graphic designer needs to be able to tackle issues in the public domain and a product designer should be able to create a vision on interior design. This starts during education."
At the Sandberg Institute, creative director Jurgen Bey has made a start at integrating the various courses such as interior architecture, graphic design and visual arts. That said, the art academies are dodging the bullet when it comes to the planned budget cuts of 200 million euros. "It's extremely unsure whether things will remain that way," says Klein, head of Visual Arts. "The first signs of a flailing art climate are already visible at the Rietveld Acadmey, which had 5 percent less applicants this year. A decrease in applicants can be a disaster to the quality of the entire art educational system. Even for the design courses."

Finally, even the museum world is being forced to make "harsh decisions" thanks to budget cuts. Thus, the Zuiderzee Museum won't  be present in Milan this year, says director Michael Huyser. His museum provided some important commissions for designers such as Studio Job, Maarten Baas, Joost van Bleiswijk, Kiki van Eijk and Scholten & Baijings. "We can't afford the purchase of such items any more. It's a real shame that this kind of art/design is losing its arena. Even though these exclusive art objects aren't really up-to-date."
The Zuiderzee Museum is shifting its focus to design projects that show the creative process. Also, the museum wants to concentrate on contemporary design that has a direct link to traditional pieces from its own collection. Huyser: "In 2011 we will present a large exhibition about industry and craft. We are literally and figuratively close to reality."

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