The pandemic has resulted in greater solidarity in the cultural sector
The Creative Industries Fund NL presented its new policy plan for the 2021-2024 period 'Room for connection' just before the confirmed outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant that part of the plan could go straight into the bin. So what has changed in the past eighteen months during the pandemic for makers and institutions in the design sector and what has the Fund been able to do to provide the necessary support? We reflect on the past eighteen months and look ahead to the future with Executive Director Syb Groeneveld.
At the start of the pandemic, the funds, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Taskforce established by Kunsten '92 and the provincial and municipal authorities, immediately focused their attention on what it would for cultural institutions to lose a significant part of their ticket income. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science subsequently introduced a financial support scheme to partially compensate all institutions supported by the cultural Basic Infrastructure (BIS) as well as those receiving long-term support from the funds for the loss of income. It is important to note that the damage to the wider cultural sector due to the pandemic is far greater than can be compensated through government support.
The Creative Industries Fund NL has implemented the government scheme for the institutions that it supports in the long term. This support has been important to ensure that a festival such as the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven or the Pakhuis de Zwijger cultural centre in Amsterdam or the International Architecture Biennial in Rotterdam had the financial means to continue with their programmes during the pandemic.
And what support was offered to the makers?
The largest share of the support packages for the cultural and creative sector went to the institutions and this helped to ensure the survival of important parts of the cultural infrastructure. As an initial action, this proved to be a very important step and a lot of makers are indirectly supported by the financial help offered to these institutions. At the same time the minister also decided, rightly so and on the insistence of a great many different parties, to allocate funds specifically to the makers since they experienced a significant drop-off in assignments and had to look for other ways to position themselves as creative and inspiring artists.
The Creative Industries Fund NL opted for a number of support schemes to help us support makers and designers.
We saw a significant increase in the number of applications as early as April –May 2020 for our Design, Architecture and Digital Culture Grant Schemes. This was when we all worked from home and our committee meetings took place online. The committee members managed to discuss and assess the applications during these online meetings and it is quite incredible how we managed to continue with our processes and interactions without meeting face-to-face. A word of gratitude is in place for all colleagues and advisors who continued to work throughout this pandemic with so much passion and enthusiasm. We received hundreds more applications for our programmes than usual in 2020, which is why we moved fast to allocate part of the support schemes within these programmes. This enabled us to provide financial support for an additional eighty projects or so in 2020 alone.
In the summer of 2020 we decided to change the Internationalisation Programme into the Temporary Procedure for International Collaboration. We may not have been able to travel abroad but we could still initiate international collaboration projects. The temporary procedure made it relatively simple for people to submit an application to look for international collaboration opportunities. Since the summer of 2020, the Temporary Procedure for International Collaboration has resulted in more than a hundred international collaboration projects. This has made the sector both more agile as well as more resilient and means that people have already developed many new international networks as travel restrictions are being lifted. This is hugely important for the design sector.
The start of 2021 also saw the introduction of our Experiment Grant Scheme for makers who could start their project immediately after having received a positive decision following a simple application and a fast track recommendation procedure. This has resulted in surprising and innovative projects from makers who had never submitted an application to the Fund before. More than thirty experiments have already been started out of a total of a hundred applications received since February this year.
The additional support measures have also allowed us to issue two open calls for the professionalisation of the design practice. We invited design agencies and makers to 'think about the consequences of this pandemic for the way you organise your practice. This can be about collaboration or the provision of a service or it can be about anything really, but do ask for help or use the expertise of others'. This initiative has enabled us to help dozens of agencies and makers. The COVID-19 support packages allowed us to make an additional twenty grants available for 2022 in the Talent Development Grant Programme. The lockdown made it difficult for talented individuals to build their networks, to show their work and to pursue their professional development. Talent development will remain an important focus point for the Fund in the coming post-pandemic years, both within and outside of professional art education.
We started two new programmes with the help of some substantial financial support: Building Talent and the Spatial Design Vouchers. We are investing two million euros in Building Talent and approximately six million euros in Spatial Design Vouchers.
Building Talent is about creating new connections between young designers and established agencies. We had noticed for a while in the architectural sector that it seemed hard for these parties to find each other. This is why we issued a limited call where we asked agencies what type of research they would be interested in supporting in collaboration with a starting designer for a period of three months. We subsequently matched twelve agencies with twelve designers with some very surprising results. Last spring we extended the call to the entire design field, including design and digital culture. Out of the many applications received, we finally selected 31 agencies, and 148 young designers responded to their research proposals. We are currently repeating this open call. With this programme we support five things that are extremely important for this sector: the further development of the young designer's practice, a broadening from the agency's perspective and new forms of commissioning, entrepreneurial skills of young talent and new networks.
Our other major programme, the Spatial Design Vouchers, links the power of design to the four key themes of the National Strategy on Spatial Planning and the Environment (Nationale Omgevingsvisie – NOVI). Europe faces a number of important challenges such as energy transition issues, climate adaptation, mobility and urban density or contraction. We want to deploy the power of design because it can provide new perspectives and new types of imagination. We also discovered that local authorities throughout the country are often not fully aware of the contribution that can be made by good design or do not know how to access and make use of this. For this reason, we have developed vouchers that can be used by local authorities and semi-public organisations to pay for design professionals. We have a broad network of parties working on transition issues and we are actively looking to introduce these parties to the relevant local authorities. We would like to see good examples being applied in other locations, to share knowledge in the same way the scientific community does and to find out how we can apply solutions elsewhere at less cost. We aim to achieve this through issuing various open calls. Since the start of this programme five months ago, we managed to reach hundreds of interested parties and we will continue with this initiative in the months ahead.
The Open Call Research, Act and Reflect is equally important. With this initiative we intend to reach grassroots organisations that represent different perspectives on our society and do not automatically receive any help through the BIS system or any of the institutions receiving long-term support through the Fund. However, these organisations are an important voice in the industry and, through their programmes, contribute to a culturally diverse and inclusive creative industry. We have set up a separate procedure that has enabled us to significantly invest in a number of institutions such as The Black Archives in Amsterdam and Teaching Design research in Rotterdam. We will repeat this open call this autumn. We hope that this group of institutions will ultimately become part of the infrastructure of the design field that we represent.
If immediate support and compensation was important during the early days of the pandemic, what was the Fund able to do for the creative sector once it became clear that this crisis wouldn't blow over soon?
The pandemic has continuously forced us to be adaptive in our response with regard to how best to support the sector. We are now eighteen months into this pandemic and we are currently reviewing our role for the coming years. Should we shift the emphasis in our policy plan? Based on our observations so far, we think that the three themes of talent development, professionalisation and internationalisation will become increasingly important for the further development of the design sector in the years ahead. We will be holding talks in the next couple of months to find out whether this should lead to changes in our multi-annual budget for this policy period. I very much hope that we will be given the opportunity to extend this policy period since it feels a bit strange to already start writing about the next policy period next year. We, and with that I mean the entire cultural and creative industry, have only just resumed our usual activities and we will need more time.
Whenever money is handed out, criticism soon follows. What do you think of the opportunities that were offered and how well the sector made use of these opportunities?
It is impossible to repair all the damage caused by this pandemic. At first everyone was really worried that the institutions would not survive and that we would be unable to recoup these losses. The critical report from the Boekmanstichting 'Ongelijk getroffen, ongelijk gesteund' about the impact of the pandemic on the cultural sector refers to the need at the time to prioritise support of elementary parts of the cultural infrastructure. Thanks to this support, some institutions managed to build up a reserve which will help them to emerge from this pandemic more strongly. At the same time, we hope to see solidarity in the sector, so that institutions will continue to provide self-employed makers and designers with work. Solidarity is an important principle that is linked to the Fair Practice Code. Without this solidarity, the cultural sector will permanently lose many self-employed makers and designers who may need to find work in other sectors such as construction or retail which has staff shortages and often offer better pay. This would be a real loss for our sector in terms of strengths and talent. We have to improve the way we treat people who are committed to working in our sector to avoid creating our own variant of the brain drain as currently seen in science and the care sector. For this reason, it is now more important than ever that we adhere to the Fair Practice Code in the cultural sector. This Fund is responsible for checking that the applications and current support schemes apply this code throughout the sector. This means that cultural productions are based on decent and realistic budgets. The consequence of this is that, despite an unchanged budget, fewer productions will be subsidised although we will become more resilient as a sector.
How can the creative sector emerge stronger from this pandemic and what lessons can we learn from this pandemic?
There are so many lessons to be learned, of course. Take our particular field for example: we no longer see public space the same as we did before social distancing, we have become accustomed to hybrid forms of events and public presentations, music is performed with a focus on alternative experience concepts; as an example, see the Upstream: Music x Design Grant Scheme. This means that the sector is transitioning to new forms of service and we will continue to focus on this. The six state cultural funds recently launched the innovation labs with CLICKNL, on the instruction of Minister van Engelshoven. The innovation labs will initiate a number of major research projects in the near future looking at the lessons of the last eighteen months with regard to digitisation, spatial planning and new working methods or earning models for productions. The open call has a budget of approximately 3 million euros and opens on 30 September 2021.
What does the Fund intend to focus on in the near future?
We feel a great sense of responsibility for and towards the sector. The annual budget has been increased from twenty million to more than thirty million euros in 2021. The organisation has been expanded to help us manage all applications and to support knowledge sharing. We are providing support for hundreds of additional projects and ensure that this extra money is allocated to the designers concerned. We are working hard to combine the knowledge gained from the projects that we support and to make this knowledge accessible to others.
In the long term, we will continue to focus on promoting artistic quality, experiments/research as well as encouraging professionalisation and good commissioning practices. If we can make a contribution to linking design quality to current themes, we will do what we, as a Fund, were called upon to do when we were established. We remain committed to link the talents of designers and makers to sectors within and outside of the cultural domain, both nationally and internationally. And it goes without saying that we will continue to push talented individuals to look for new perspectives. That is the best thing we can hope to do as a Fund.
Photo: Online lecture Get a Grant event Architect with architect Donna van Milligen Bielke in collaboration with Fontys