Speech by the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science, Mr Rick Van Der Ploeg

During 47th TEH meeting in Amsterdam, April 1999

It is a pleasure for me to take the floor. I welcome all of you to our big little country, the biggest of the little one. I hope that in between the programme of this conference, you will have the opportunity to see something of the Netherlands. For those of you who have been here before, you may have noticed the Netherlands has grown greyer but also more colourful. Let me explain. More and more people in the Netherlands have reached the age at which their hair turns grey. On the other hand, the population of young people is more and more ethnically divers.

No wonder that cultural preferences differ in this country. Old people attend the more traditional or high arts, such as symphonic music, drama and opera. Young people prefer poplar arts such as pop and rock music, video art and films. The young have a culture of their own.

Different preferences of different generations are of all times, one would say. Once the wild at heart get older and settle down, they start to appreciate the traditional arts. But there is a reason to believe otherwise. The social-cultural planning office of the Netherlands has found enough evidence to be able to predict that the young generation will stick to their preferences, as they grow older.

With this development in mind, we may expect that in the 20 years time, traditional arts will be less attended, if not to say less appreciated. At the same time a golden future awaits the contemporary arts preferred by the young nowadays. Whether these predictions will be become reality remains to be seen, but a major change in the cultural landscape may be expected.

Your network, TransEuropeHalles, is right in the centre of the changes. You are all united by one thing: to accommodate contemporary culture in buildings which were designed to accommodate factories, markets, slaughterhouses or other enterprises. I suppose one of the reasons for your choice of accommodation was a lack of appropriate buildings for your activities. Also in Holland, that is the case for most of the accommodations were the culture of the young is programmed. But also among Trans Europe Halles there is a member, 013 from Tilburg, which is the first accommodation in Holland that was specially built for the culture of the young, in this case, pop music. On the

The protection of traditional arts because of a decline in audience is an ill-motivated policy. IT does not only emphasise the decline itself: it also reduces these arts to museum pieces. It’s better to win the interest of the young generation. They need the possibility ton learn and to be exposed to the traditional arts. Thus they will find out what they like. Therefore I encourage and support organisations to develop educational programmes for school children.

Supporting contemporary arts in order to get a grip on it, it is also not an option. Most contemporary arts are to a much great extend self-supporting and should not be made dependant on state support. Being self-supportive means independence.

And even if you would want to get a grip on it, this would be impossible. A contemporary art is divers and dynamic, and that is the way it should be? But it would wrong to think popular culture is always self-supporting. Especially in areas where experiments take place or popular and traditional arts are mixed, or where boundaries of arts disciplines are crossed. These are places that the government can support, for they are most vulnerable but yet most promising parts of the popular culture.

So laissez faire is not a choice. In order to give the young the freedom they prefer and at the same time the knowledge they need, traditional and popular culture have the best support they can get. This asks for an active cultural policy and even more active cultural organisations.

I believe my observations are not only true for the Netherlands, but also for otherEuropean countries. In many countries at different levels of government one has to cope with the fundamental changes in the cultural behaviours of young people. The same is true for cultural organisations. Centres like yours, where the young are a major part of the audience, are the places where popular cultures, be it western or non-western, can and should meet and mix with traditional cultures.

It is your responsibility to do so, and it is my responsibility and that of all cultural policy makers through out Europe to facilitate you in doing so.

The EU could play a role by giving some additional funding to those activities, which could be seen as the operation of the network. In my opinion, this should however not entail subsidising the dining and wining of happy few. What counts in the end is that the consumer profits. Such a target should always be kept in mind. I have the impression that Trans Europe Halles is well aware of this fact. The mobility of staff between the members of your network is, I believe a good way to transfer know-how. In this way Trans Europe Halles is able to transcend a culture of meetings and conferences.

I therefore hope the present meeting will deepen the cooperations beetwen your centres close to the working floor but wide enough to reach the young in Europe.