Threats to the Institut Néerlandais (but not the Fondation Custodia)

19/7/12 - Museum - Paris, Institut Néerlandais and Fondation Custodia - Times call for cutbacks as we all know, and the Netherlands is no exception : in order to lower expenses, the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry has decided to eliminate its funding for the Institut Néerlandais in Paris, as of 2015, meaning it will be forced to close.
"It is indeed no longer possible, given the extent of the fixed costs at the Institut and the budget cuts for cultural activities abroad, to finance a cultural program of quality" is the explanation found in the press release which also adds that a new "more profitable" model must be found. It is strange to see the need for "quality" and that of "profitability" mentioned in the same statement by a cultural, hence non-profit, establishment ; accounting logic does not apply in this case. Language classes as well as literature and debating sections will be the first to go. With them, a certain number of jobs as well.
Following the announcement, the Institut’s Conseil de Surveillance[Supervisory Board] [1] submitted its resignation collectively. Indeed, the decision to eliminate this subsidy is all the more debatable as it was taken by a minister who himself resigned, and outside the confines of the Dutch Parliament. However, we should point out that it proceeds from a general context of drastic austerity measures affecting most of the Dutch museums, to the point that some of them, such as the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, thought they would have to close their doors not too long ago.

What does this mean for the Fondation Custodia ? Ger Luijten, its director, reminded us that it is totally independent and is thus not directly concerned by these restrictions. Nevertheless, it collaborates closely with the Institut Néerlandais, renting part of the Hôtel Turgot which it owns, from it and which the Institut will have to leave. Should this happen, cultural programs will be overseen by the embassy. Yet, the active role of the Institut Néerlandais in the Parisian artistic world is known to all ; furthermore, it is instrumental in helping to spread Dutch culture notably by way of its exhibitions of contemporary art organized annually at the same time as the old master shows at the Fondation Custodia. The library will remain open to researchers as it is run by the Foundation which owns most of the art works held there.
This is not the first time that the Institut has been threatened with closing : the idea had come up in 1989 already but abandoned after strongly unfavorable public opinion. The same thing seems to be happening today ; there is a wave of support in Holland and a petition - which we will present here - will soon be launched. Members of the Institut Néerlandais have also submitted an appeal against this ministerial decree.
So far, nothing has been made official : as the minority center right government of Mark Rutte resigned last April, after the failed negotiations with the extreme right party concerning cuts to the public deficit, early parliamentary elections will be held on 12 September and the results could change matters.
In the meantime, we would be interested in knowing just how much would be saved by closing the Institut Néerlandais ; as the Institut members point out, there has been no published study of its profitability until now. Will the money saved make up for the loss of such a prestigious showcase ?

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, vendredi 20 juillet 2012


[1] Made up of his Excellency Hugo Siblesz (president), Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in France ; Pierre Nijnens (vice-president), lawyer, president of the Board of Admnistration of the Fondation Custodia ; Margot Scheltema (treasurer), vice-president of the Supervisory Board Schiphol Grou ; Jet de Ranitz (secretary), president of the Board of Administration of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Amsterdam ; Maarten Asscher, director of the Athenaeum bookshop, Amsterdam ; Hendrik Driessen, director of the Musée des arts contemporains De Pont, Tilburg ; Annemie Vanackere, artistic manager, Hebbel am Ufer theater, Berlin ; Johan ter Molen, director, Musée national Paleis Het Loo.

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