Thousands rally against Dutch arts cuts

Thousands of people across The Netherlands protested plays by the country's right-wing government to make deep cuts into the arts.

Government raised taxes on films, concerts and plays from 6 to 19 per cent

Thousands of people across the Netherlands rallied in support of the arts after the country's new government announced a set of austerity measures that could make deep cuts into the arts.

Musicians, painters and writers were among the throngs that gathered in cities across the country including The Hague, Haarlem and Amsterdam on Saturday.

They're upset over plans by the new right-of-centre government to slash the arts by 200 million euros ($278.5 million Cdn) over the next five years.  The reductions are mostly to the performing arts, with minimum damage to museums and libraries.

On Thursday, the Dutch parliament also approved a proposal to boost sales tax from six to 19 per cent on tickets to cinemas, concerts, theatres and other cultural events.

In Amsterdam, thousands gathered in the afternoon at a central square to listen to music and voice their discontent.

"People are in shock," Canadian musician David Kutz told CBC Radio. Kutz plays tuba for the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, which will be disbanded. It is considered one of the best in Holland.

In fact, the Netherlands Broadcasting Music Centre — which runs the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, a chamber orchestra, the world's largest pop and jazz orchestra, a choir and a library — is to be shut down. It would mark a massive blow to the country's classical music sector.

Arts labelled a 'left-wing hobby'

Kutz, who lives in Amsterdam, says people are also upset over the language the government is using against the arts.

"They've seen this government, which is very right wing, has no concern for the arts — [politicians say] they find that it's a waste of money [and] they actually call it a left-wing hobby."

The organizers of the protests on Saturday say increasing taxes on the arts only makes cultural things an "elitist pastime" and less accessible to those with less money.

The country is now run by a right-wing coalition with the pro-business VVD party leader Mark Rutte serving as prime minister in coalition with the conservative Christian Democrats (CDA).  The glue of the coalition lies with the far-right Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders, who has been vocal about his anti-Muslim, anti-immigration views.

The cuts mimic those made in the U.K. in October, with the coalition government announcing it would hack spending by more than £81 billion ($132 billion Cdn) through 2015. As a result, arts groups face a 24 per cent cut in their funding.