Dutch cultural sector protests lockdown measures with haircuts, manicures

The tough lockdown in the Netherlands is running into increasing anger from businesses hit by the restrictions. On Wednesday, the cultural sector expressed its frustration by turning museums and theatres into businesses such as hairdressers and nail salons to press home the demand to reopen.

Government has said it will look at possible further easing of restrictions on Jan. 25

A man gets a haircut during a rehearsal at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on Wednesday as Dutch museums, theatres and concert halls played host to businesses that are allowed to open to customers as a protest against their own continuing mandated closures. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

Amsterdam's Concertgebouw orchestra played second fiddle Wednesday to a pair of hairdressers, while Vincent van Gogh's self-portraits were briefly upstaged by a nail salon and barber, as civil disobedience to protest the Dutch coronavirus lockdown spread to the cultural sector.

The Netherlands has been in a tough lockdown since mid-December. Under an easing of restrictions announced Friday, businesses like hairdressers, gyms and non-essential stores were allowed to reopen, but museums, theatres and cinemas, along with bars and restaurants, have to remain closed.

The tough Dutch lockdown is running into increasing anger from businesses hit by the restrictions. Last week and over the weekend, hundreds of Dutch bars and restaurants also opened their doors as a protest against the lockdown they say is crippling their businesses.

On Wednesday, it was the turn of the cultural sector, which saw museums and theatres turn themselves into businesses such as hairdressers or nail salons to press home their demand to reopen.

People take a yoga class at the Amsterdam Museum on Wednesday as part of a protest against pandemic lockdowns. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

"We do not understand and there is no reasoning for it because we have shown over the last two years that it's very, very safe to go to a concert or to go to a museum," said Simon Reinink, director of Amsterdam's Concertgebouw concert hall.

"Actually, it's our profession — crowd management. We know how to deal with large crowds. And we've done it in a very, very safe way."

'You need a mental gym, too'

The resident orchestra, conducted by Susanna Mälkki, played American composer Charles Ives's Symphony Number 2, while two hairdressers cut hair in the historic venue. Across the street at the Van Gogh Museum, a barber cut the hair of 10 visitors and 10 more people got a nail treatment.

"It's definitely a first for us at the Van Gogh Museum," the museum's director, Emilie Gordenker, told The Associated Press.

"I understand that the government has opened gyms but ... you need a mental gym, too, and a museum is a place where people are increasingly coming to find a little depth or reason for their life," she went on. "And the theme of mental health is particularly relevant to our museum, obviously, because of Vincent van Gogh's own mental situation."

The government has said it will look at possible further easing on Jan. 25. While Omicron has sent infection rates soaring to levels never seen during the pandemic, hospital admissions continue to decline.

Culture Minister Gunay Uslu said in a tweet: "I understand the cry for help and that artists want to show all the beautiful things they have to offer us. But the opening of society must go step by step. Culture is high on the agenda."