With the aim of contributing to an enabling environment for the arts, the Dutch government created a culture and development program for South Africa in 1996. The local culture fund, which has a total budget amounting to € 500,000 a year, is practically unique. Only the Dutch embassy in Cairo has a similar program and just recently a smaller budget for culture was allocated to other embassies. The program in South Africa has two focal points: cultural education and support for the cultural infrastructure.
"We don't support artists as such as we don't want to judge art creations", says Margriet Leemhuis, cultural attaché at the Dutch embassy in Pretoria. "Also, we feel that South Africa should reserve some budget for this." On a few occasions, well-known Dutch artists were invited to give workshops, such as dancer Emio Greco and painter Corneille. "They gave the workshops for free, which is the beauty of it", says Margriet Leemhuis. Also, the Embassy supported a series of publications on South African contemporary artists and brought a group of Dutch break-dancers to Durban.
A change in policy occurred recently. "Previously we could answer to the needs in South Africa very quickly", says Margriet Leemhuis. "We gave kick-off subsidies to new organisations, and were flexible. However, we would decide who received money. We believe it is better to leave such decisions up to South Africans. Therefore, we intend to work together more closely with local organisations, such as the Arts and Culture Trust. In Durban we found an agent who assists us with finding interesting projects and organisations. The advantage is that we can provide opportunities to more organisations."
Ten years after apartheid ended, Margriet Leemhuis sees a lot of changes within the South African cultural sector. "More and more artists' organisations are being set up, and they are very active. There is more dialogue between artists and the government now, which is important for strengthening the cultural sector. The art world in South Africa belongs to the most progressive sections of society. Race is not so important anymore. Artists dare to ask questions and be critical. They need to be given the space to raise issues. That's why it is important to support culture. When I look at how much we spend on culture annually, it is nothing compared with the whole budget for development co-operation. Still, you can perform miracles with that amount. So why shouldn't we?"
March 30th 2004 the Dutch Embassy will organise a workshop on culture and development called 'The Power of South African Culture' in the Cultural History Museum in Pretoria for its partners and cultural organisations. For more information: http://www.dutchembassy.co.za