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European Expert Meeting on Percent for Art Schemes

Session Six: Dutch Examples

The Netherlands : Hans van den Ban, Chief Government Architect's Studio

'The Special Case of Art in Prisons'

Hans van den Ban is coordinator of the team of art advisors to the Dutch Chief Government Architect's Studio (which, in addition to Hans, comprises Jean Boumans, Tanja Karreman and Huib van der Werf). The organisation and methods of this studio [1] are described in a book published last year Kunst bij Rijksgebouwen 2000-2003 (Art in Government Buildings 2000-2003) and in the information about the percentage scheme handed out (see: percentage schemes).

As motto for his presentation Van den Ban chose a quote by Bob Ross 'Lets give this Cloud a little Friend'. His presentation focused on a practical example which has recently been completed, the art programme for the penitentiary in Zwolle . During the last ten years the prison system in the Netherlands has been a booming business : 25 prisons were built in the period from 1994-1996, another 15 between 2000 and the present, and more will follow.

Three years ago art works were placed in the new wing of the penitentiary in Zwolle. Based on their experience with these works the organisation did not really want any more art. They thought the work was rather museological and preferred an application which would move the residents in some way or other.

The prison was built in the Nineties and, without prejudicing his predecessor, Van den Ban felt that the art installed at the time had little to do with the users. For example, a painting by Jac Bisschops which enters into a formal aesthetic relationship with the prison building was hung up during this period. On the other hand, in 1997 Krijn de Koning placed an object at the entrance of the new wing which functions as a waiting room for visitors. This is an example of how it should be.

During his visit, Van den Ban spent a day in the KREA: in this department prisoners work on creative projects, with a very limited budget, with several guards and creative teacher Jan Wierda. A workshop on making clothes was going on at the time. This made him decide to spend half of the available art budget (90,000 euros) on this department, with the objective of setting up a series of workshops on making T-shirts with transfers. The budget was spent on the necessary materials, the T-shirts and fees for 10 artists. Thirteen sessions of about two hours took place, spread over two years, and both male and female prisoners of all ages participated. Van den Ban showed examples of the T-shirts realised by the following artists: Frederico d'Orazio; Henk Schiffmacher, alias Hanky-Panky, a famous tattoo artist; Marlene Dumas; Sylvie Zijlmans and Hewald Jongenelis.

Participation in the workshop was voluntary and within a short time the sessions were so popular that a limit had to be placed on the number of T-shirts allowed per prisoner. A total of about 800 T-shirts were made and the 45 portraits from the project are currently hanging in various government departments. The materials and the equipment are now being used in another prison. KREA used the documentation from the project in the protest against impending cutbacks, as a result of which the department would have disappeared. The pictures on the T-shirts fade after five washes.

The big question is: can state finances be spent on projects like this? After all, this project consists of a series of workshops rather than a work of art.


Tom van Gestel wanted to know what happened to the originals (both those of the prisoners and the artists). In most cases they were thrown away. Madeleine van Lennep asked whether projects like this are unique in the Netherlands . Most representatives indicated that work is also carried out in prisons in their countries. Jesper Chris tiansen thought that actually working with the prisoners themselves was fairly unique.

Hans van den Ban explained a few considerations again. Art in public space can always count on (a percentage of) the public being interested. In prisons 99% are not interested. This makes the situation difficult. There must be absolutely no duress involved in art here, on the contrary, it must represent free space.

According to Van Lennep this applies not only to prisons but to public space in general. Van den Ban agreed with this but said that you have to realise that art in public space also represents the state. This is even more so in prisons.

Maggie Bolt acknowledged this. The discussion on other agendas and objectives for art (in the social field) entails the risk that it will become a method of coercion. She referred to an example of literary workshops in prisons. Incidentally, it is difficult to document the success of any such activities as material concerning prisoners may not be published because of privacy and security considerations.

Adrian George pointed out that, furthermore, it is not always desirable to announce the success of programmes of this kind since a lot of people simply do not want prisoners to have a 'good time'.

The Netherlands: Tom van Gestel, Foundation for Art and Public Space, SKOR

'Project Beyond Leidsche Rijn'

Tom van Gestel is artistic leader and project coordinator of the Foundation for Art and Public Space, SKOR [2] and presented the project 'Beyond Leidsche Rijn'.

Six years ago the municipality of Utrecht approached SKOR in connection with an expansion plan to the west of the city, Leidsche Rijn. A team was formed with representatives from the municipality of Utrecht , the Projectbureau Leidsche Rijn and SKOR for the visual arts programme. The 'Beyond Leidsche Rijn' [3] plan drawn up by this team consists of six elements:

  • Looping: the activities of the communications agency to involve people in the project;
  • Action Research Project: temporary and fast, a sort of hit & run, interventions by artists in the residential areas;
  • Artists' houses; artists reacting to urbanisation.
  • Directing artists; a number of artists think along with those involved in the urban planning for Leidsche Rijn;
  • White dots: areas in the country which have not yet been filled in are used for temporary projects;
  • Parasites: artists develop new spaces in the form of mobile architecture and works of art.

SKOR introduces every programme with a temporary exhibition. The exhibition 'Parasite Paradise' introduced the parasite element. Luc Deleu developed an urban plan for an area in which 20 mobile units with different functions were brought together. (http://www.parasiteparadise.nl/). In the Artists' houses project, 'The Building' was realised, based on an idea by artist Stanley Brouwn. It consists of two rectangular beam forms placed at right angles on top of one another which are used for programming exhibitions. The space will stay at this location for a few years and subsequently be moved elsewhere. It is the heart of the ongoing exhibition 'Pursuit of Happiness' . You could say that 'Parasite Paradise' examined the hardware of the location (the architecture, urban planning structure) and that 'Pursuit of Happiness' focuses on the software (the people, the users). This exhibition examines a contemporary, topical theme.


Katharina Blaas wanted to know who the administrator of the exhibitions is and how the projects are financed. The team responsible for Beyond Leidsche Rijn consists of four people. They determine the themes for the exhibitions and projects and choose the artists. A budget is available (under certain conditions) for the project developers in Leidsche Rijn to finance permanent commissions. SKOR looks for additional money for the temporary exhibitions and events. Parasite Paradise was, for example, financed from a fund for experimental housing. In the Netherlands there are also always the familiar culture funds. If SKOR deems it necessary, it can also use its own money for a project. The development plan for Leidsche Rijn runs until 2007 and SKOR will continue to carry out projects until 2008.

SKOR sees it as its task to realise special programmes and for this you have to be very persuasive. In the case of this project in Utrecht , things worked differently: the municipality and project developers themselves wanted to cooperate in the project and sought help to protect them from political changes. A special organisation was set up for the project, which functioned more or less autonomously, although there is a link with the city. It is certainly helpful if an organisation has its own funds.

The Netherlands : Jeroen Boomgaard

'Strategies and Tactics: Theory and Public Space'

Jeroen Boomgaard is Lecturer in Art and Public Space at the Rietveld Art Academy in Amsterdam . Boomgaard's publication One Year in the Wild (Amsterdam 2004) appeared in 2004. He went into several theoretical aspects of art in public space in the final lecture and led the closing discussion which followed.

Boomgaard based his remarks on art in public space on three core questions: What is public space? What is the role of art in it? Who actually makes the decisions about public space?

Thoughts on public space already have a long history, including theories by Walter Benjamin (the flaneur), Baudelaire (revolt against public space), and George Simmel and Richard Sennet's 'Fall of Public Man'.

Contemporary public space is, however, not as clearly defined. The street and the square (Boomgaard spoke primarily about these aspects although in the last couple of days we have spoken mainly in terms of buildings) are open to everyone. And in discussions about them there is an almost utopian atmosphere: terms such as meeting and experience are often heard. So what we are talking about here is a space with a great many connotations, as a substitute for what is apparently missing in normal space.

In the past the street was left in peace, it was for transport, but was not an element in the greater scheme of things. The concept of the street as space for experience emerged in the sixties and seventies. Situationist Guy Debord defined the street as the last place where things really happen. It was actually open space and consequently the ideal spot for protest, debate and combat. The street was used as a podium for political and social actions.

The role of art

Artists who go and work outside museums use the street, too. The Fluxus movement is going to use the street for its actions. Visual artist Stanley Brouwn gives the daily experience of public space a central position when he asks passers-by to trace out how he can get from one point to another. The street rapidly becomes not only the place which celebrates daily life but also an opportunity for artists to make their point clearly. They develop their experiments here.

However, as soon as the street is discovered, it becomes a place for regulated contact and control. Since the Seventies the space has become more and more regulated and focused instead of a free zone. It is precisely because it is a free zone that a need for rules arises in the first place. And so we develop various zones for various experiences within the public space. The publicity space which Tamson Dillon quoted in her presentation is an example of this.

Another example is a group of artists who worked under the name of the Arnhem School. The artists, with a minimalist background, placed concrete / stone structures in the public space which were supposed to form an extra impetus for experiencing the space. The objective was to make people more human in the midst of a built-up environment. Movement amidst these elements was supposed to make people experience the world differently, more authentically.

The term 'authenticity' may, as a term, have run dry in our opinion, but it is still used a lot by project developers when describing the experience which should be absorbed in such a specific zone. Only recently an Amsterdam project developer spoke of an 'authentic district for authentic people'. When asked precisely what he meant by this and where the non-authentic people were supposed to live he was unable to give an answer.

Our public space is already used and filled to a large extent: what can art add? Art's task is made even more difficult by the conditions attached to commissions. Commissioning authorities always want conflicts solved in works of art (the work must be unexpected, but still fit in; deny the space but make it easier to experience, etc.). Every problem associated with the space is, as it were, placed on the artists plate.

Sometimes the artist is also expected to make a feature of the social aspect of the space. All things considered, this is a remarkable development, because art must fulfil a social role while the municipality itself has apparently abandoned it.

Artists are often called into projects in public space because of their different view on things. This is the function attributed to the artist. Boomgaard thinks that this is, in essence, rather odd: the government awards the commission of reintroducing the social element and the unexpected to another party within the framework of the percentage scheme. The artist therefore has to hide the fact that the social and the unexpected have disappeared from the public space.

Who makes the decisions about public space?

Constructions based on Public-Private Cooperation (PPS) seem very interesting as regards the development of these projects but, according to Boomgaard, they obscure the matter of responsibility. He thinks that these arrangements work very badly in art projects because, ultimately, nobody has any real responsibility.

He mentioned the example of Zuidas (South axis) Amsterdam which concerns a large plan, for which there are already a lot of investors but, as yet, no users. This project has a system of PPS but the private parties (the project developers) have repeatedly blocked the drafts so that things are being held up.

The lack of clarity regarding art in public space is a direct result of the lack of clarity in the definition of public space itself. The first thing that an art committee therefore always does is to reformulate the commission. This is a good move. Ultimately you want to work towards a meaningful art programme, and a better connection between the location and the artwork is often needed before this is possible.

But there is no real theory available for realising this. Boomgaard thinks that Michel de Certeau's theories, described in his Practice of Everyday Life, could provide guidelines.

De Certeau states that on the one hand we need large meaningful systems (such as laws and the media) but at the same time always try to get out of them. We try, as it were, to live semi-legally, more or less at daggers drawn. This means that we mould our daily life to suit us as far as possible. The terms De Certeau uses for this are strategy and tactics, which he elaborated in terms of space and place.

In this context, strategy means how issues are taken out of time and place by those in power and is about laying down generally applicable systems and the field of power. The term tactics in this connection means getting the rules to suit you; it is about temporary actions in the field of power and it is bound to existing practices and conditions.

If we translate this to the situation of art in public space it clarifies a great deal; as soon as something is public space, it ceases to be truly public space. It is given a name, the government takes charge, draws up a strategy and rules and monitors security. It was a vague area, but now it is labelled “for public use”. Placing an artwork in the space, certainly if you talk in terms of 'forever', is the same as the government hoisting a flag there saying 'this is ours'.

Negative reactions to works of art can, therefore, also be seen as appropriate reactions to the placing of that flag. They are often easily dismissed as arising from bad taste or a lack of awareness of art but they are a logical reaction to the definition of the space by the government.

The reformulation of a commission is a way to get the art work out of the domain of strategy and into the domain of tactics. An example of how this can work is the prison project presented by Hans van den Ban. Works of art in buildings are, however, almost always part of the strategy. They cannot be annoying or the strategy does not work.

If we wish to think in a meaningful way about the development of art in public space, then we must think in terms of strategies and tactics.

[1] See also the website: www.rijksbouwmeester.nl

[2] www.skor.nl

[3] More information on the projects can be found on the SKOR site and at www.beyondutrecht.nl.