Will not impose numerical targets on individual art institutions

"It is important to establish standards, but we will not impose numerical targets on individual institutions," says Minister of Culture Anniken Huitfeldt in a commentary on increased pressure on European art institutions.

Minister of Culture Anniken Huitfeldt. Photo: Ministry of Culture/Wenche Nybo.

Norway’s Minister of Culture vigorously denies that Norwegian art institutions may face demands resembling those directed against the Van Abbemuseum in The Netherlands.

“We have not considered following the lead of the Labor Party politician from Eindhoven,” says Minister of Culture Anniken Huitfeldt, herself a Labor Party politician, commenting on the intensified culture-political circumstances at many European museums and art institutions. During the week of 17 October it became known that the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, is the most recent in the series of museums facing new requirements regarding popularization and self-generated income.

During that same week the Van Abbemuseum’s 2012 budget was debated in the city council of Eindhoven.  In a resolution endorsed by Dutch Labor Party representative Arnold Raaijmakers, the Van Abbemuseum was requested to address a broader artistic audience (“not just the artistic elite”) and re-evaluate its action plan, which currently is based partly on core values such as “radicalism, multiculturalism, hospitality, and development of knowledge.”

The proposal ended with a demand that paying-visitor numbers should more than triple from the current 51,750 to 170,000 and that the museum’s self-generated income should thereby increase by 900,000 Euros to 1,000,000—which in turn would be subtracted from public-money contributions to the museum. This would come in addition to cuts of 200,000 Euros already approved. After an intense counter-campaign by Museum director Charles Esche, there was wide-ranging debate in the Eindhoven city council 18 October, and the conclusion was that the case must be carried forward for new action 15 November.

Although this is a local case in The Netherlands, questions concerning popularizing, target-number definition, and increased demands for museums’ self-generated income are in the foreground in all of Europe, including Norway. Thus we asked the Norwegian Minister of Culture the following questions in an email exchange:

How do you regard the situation in Europe making cultural life—perhaps particularly the area of contemporary art—come under double political pressure: to increase income and popularize the program?

Economic downturns are contributing to similar difficulties in the cultural arena throughout Europe. The rise of the Norwegian cultural field is thus unique in the European context. I’ve been clear that I don’t want to inject myself into technical and professional artistic evaluations.

Is the Norwegian situation in culture politics such that we might see similar demands made on Norwegian art museums?

Regarding audience numbers and income, the spotlight is on institutions that receive substantial public funding. On the other hand, there’s little purpose in setting that kind of target figure on an individual museum. We have no intention of doing that in Norway.

What does it mean that a Labor Party representative is making this proposal in The Netherlands?

We have not considered following the lead of this individual politician in Norway.

What kinds of demands for results are reasonable to place on an art museum? How can these things be balanced against the desire and need of art institutions for technical and professional independence?

It’s important to place requirements on institutions to assure that funding is used in correspondence with established goals and assumptions. The large institutions operate within precisely defined major goals, targets for results, and related indicators—and these are developed and discussed in dialog with the institutions. Established and fine-tuned goals must also assure that the institutions have a framework of action giving them a good basis for carrying out their technical and professional tasks.