The municipality of Amsterdam decided that art and culture should be “stimulated” in the districts of Zuidoost, Nieuw-West and Noord. And she asks residents to participate. One of the best examples of the distance between government and the citizen is the definition given to art and culture. Where the municipality formulates it poorly according to Western references, there are richer and more interesting forms in the South-East, the New West and the North.
Where we, residents, define our culture on the model of existing informal aid organizations and the expression of solidarity in the broad sense, originating in countries around the world, the municipality exclusively uses a Eurocentric interpretation. But is it strange when, in colorful neighborhoods, power, money and information are still concentrated in a white void? People have their mouths full of magic words like diversity and inclusion, as long as it remains a color display game in the foreground. And above all, as long as it stays cozy. Because cozy doesn’t threaten the status quo. Because in fact, sharing or giving up power and space is terrifying.
It is high time that councilors, administrators and officials stopped being surprised. And that they quickly take concrete action to remedy this serious error in our system. The municipality must consult with whom it allocates public space in neighborhoods where seated residents have less and less space. She must also be wondering how it can happen again and again that the so-called explorers and conductors of art and culture in multi-ethnic neighborhoods are almost always old and white. And who then listen in Amsterdam-Noord to an organization which calls itself the Cultuurtafel Noord, but which does not represent the culture of the North at all.
The first two sentences of their website believe that “the culture of the North has grown tremendously in recent years” and that “the North is being discovered as an exciting new nightlife area”. Guess how the board for this grow table is set up. Is it a coincidence? Is it awkwardness? Or is it a deliberate policy?
The arts and culture funds should also consult themselves to whom they allocate public funds in neighborhoods where applicants are neither rooted nor specialized. Neighborhoods which in no way represent the applicants, but where they shamelessly apply with the help of magic words for grants on the back of social problems and take up more and more space. Where local residents are mentioned in plans and budgets without their knowledge or consent. And neighborhood funds whose committees do not reflect the neighborhood, it does exist.
Finally, the municipality should never again use the word “participation” if the mandate of residents is not guaranteed in black and white.
Rapper and writer Massih Hutak (1992) writes a column for Het Parool every week. Read all its columns here back.