Art and business uneasy relationship
In Romanian mythology, Fortuna was a personification of both fortune and misfortune. Represented often blind, with the steering oar in her hand, she stood for the capriciousness of life.
Fortuna as well was the artwork that one could see during the whole month of March in the center of the Gustav Mahler square in Amsterdam. It was a big luxury yacht, 23 meters long, 7 meters high and 6 meters wide (sometimes accompanied by colorful balloons) that seemed to have lost its way.
Keeled over in the square in the neighbourhood of the big companies, in between ABN Amro’s headquarters, it looked abandoned, catastrophic and… small. Its misfortune was to be banned from the water and the conviction to spend whole the month in the middle of the square, frequented only by the wind and by hurries businessman wearing blue suit and brown shoes. The emptiness of the square outside of business hours brought to mind the emptiness of the sea.
The idea of this artwork dates back to 2012, when Leonard van Munster (author of Fortuna ) was an artist in residence at Zuidas (Amsterdam business center) and came with a plan to place the luxury yacht in the middle of the Gustav Mahler square. By doing so, he wanted to give the people who work and live in Zuidas a sense of wonder and inspiration, having in mind struggles they have to face in the time of crisis. For him the yacht was a metaphor of pursuing one’s dreams, discovering new worlds and grasping new challenges. The financial center of Amsterdam, where the idea of pursuing dreams and embracing challenges is a vibrant one, seemed to be an appropriate place.
To be able to execute his work, the artist needed money and Amsterdam Fund for the Arts an organization that support artistic projects linked to the city, has promised to give some, but it was not enough. The rest of it was planned to find through “donations” made by the multimillions revenues companies based in Zuidas. The plan was easy, the amount needed was 15000 euros, the idea for the project was corresponding to the neighbourhood and as van Munster counted, support from three companies could be enough… Only, no one was replying positively for the calls. The companies were pushing him off one after another, always with a good excuse. After a long time of knocking to the doors, it seemed impossible to obtain any funds for the project. And it would possibly never happened if wasn’t for the owner of the Yachtcharter Aalsmeer , Elbert Bonhof, who found the idea appealing and decided to rent one of his yachts, Elling E4 for the time of one month to be keeled over in the center of the square. For Bonhof it looked like a good way to promote his company.
The artwork that was to symbolize the financial crisis and the determination to overcome all the adversities, became the image of uneasy relationship between the independent art and private sponsors. Companies supposed to be the one who will take the responsibility for financing the art after the budget cuts in 2011, seemed not to rise to the challenge. Depending on the big enterprises in obtaining some money to fund a project (as Dutch government wants it to be) transpired a pipe dream (at least for now). It was not the first struggle for the money, Leonard van Munster had to fight. He mostly works with the sitespecific art and with each of his projects he strives the most obtaining the fundings, sometimes he is simply very tired. A bit frustrated he remarked that he understands that as an artist nowadays he is expected to be as well a cultural entrepreneur, but if he has to scrape money together five days a week, when he will have time to be an artist (1)
Cultural budget cuts were initiated by the conservativeled parliament in 2011 and finalized in 2012.
From 2012 to 2013 the government financing for the arts dropped by 22 percent, and in the beginning of 2013 many of the cultural arts organizations had to be closed or merged.
Ann Demeester (exdirector of De Appel art center) rightfully pointed out that it will be much more difficult for young artists to work professionally, as the budget cuts will influence most of the institutions that are the bridge for artists into the professional world (like talent development organizations and postgraduate institutions) (2) . Cutting the budget for arts in such 2 fast manner gave institutions no time to try find new partnership, learn how to obtain funds from the private companies, look for new or larger audience. It left young artists unprepared, bouncing from one company door to another, doomed to contemporary corvÃ©e which fall under the name of (free) internships, looking for a better luck.
There was this big yacht keeled over in the middle of the big, empty square, where no one is visiting and wind can sing his song of the loneliness. There is still hope, that one day (like this ship, that was taken away after one month and gave back to its natural habitat of water) as well companies will be able to wake up and start investing in the new art. How long it will take, it is hard to say.
(1) Daan van Lent, Strandt het jacht Fortuna op de Zuidas?, NRC, December 17, 2014 (entered August 10, 2015)
(2) Nina Siegal, Dutch Arts Scene is Under Siege, The New York Times, January 29, 2012 (entered March 4, 2014)