Statement: Jet Bussemaker about the impact of art

“When today’s artists connect the worlds of imagination, expertise and technology, they give us wings to lift Europe to a higher plane and raise our thinking to a higher level.” Jet Bussemaker, Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science, addressed the crowd at the closing night in the Stedelijk Museum. Read the full statement:


Dear friends, ladies and gentlemen,

A couple of years ago, Dutch author Pieter Steinz wrote a wonderful book entitled Made in Europe. In the opening lines, he writes: “When I think of Europe, I think of the Matthaeus Passion by Bach, of the Citroen DS, of ‘Back in the USSR’ by the Beatles, films by Fellini, French cuisine, English gardens, Dutch Masters and Greek tragedies. I see Europe as the epitome of shared culture.”

His point being: if you want to make a case for Europe, look at your shared culture as an alternative to economic and political arguments.

The developments of the last few years show that Steinz is right. Many of us are questioning the strength of the economic integration model, and political populism is threatening to divide Europe at a time when – more than ever – we need to feel united. The immigration crisis, terrorism and the financial crisis are threatening to separate our worlds. We should not allow this to happen.

Yet these are problems we can only combat by working together. At times like this, culture can help bring us closer. Yesterday I had to debate in the Dutch parliament about the future of cultural policies, and some of the parliamentarians said: “we need culture more than ever”, and I think they are right. Culture can connect us, for example through art that raises important questions or triggers debate. Another powerful European tradition is that of artists who pull no punches and state their own views directly, as part of the social discourse.

Philosophers, writers and theatre producers who offer us their thoughts on the future of Europe. And that is exactly what happened here, these three days of ‘Recreating Europe’.

These perspectives are invaluable and sorely needed in this day and age. In the past, the debate on European unity mostly centered on the speed with which we should move forward.

Nowadays, many people dismiss European unity as a myth. They see ‘Brussels’ as an abstract body; an institution whose main purpose is to perpetuate itself.

In their view, Europe is a tangle of conflicting interests. Hardly anyone thinks of themselves as European. The concept of Europe no longer inspires, which is precisely why Luuk van Middellaar argues that we urgently need new and improved stories about Europe. Stories that are better than the ones we are currently telling each other and better than the ones told by politicians.

And this is why we need artists who know how to capture our imagination.

Artists with the ability not only to rejuvenate and revitalize the concept of Europe but also to offer alternatives to one-dimensional views.

For centuries, artists have been forging relationships and seeking inspiration across the European continent. They show us how we can inspire each other without giving up our own identities, or compromising our own strengths.

Unity through diversity.

Music, the visual arts, architecture, design: there are many ways in which creativity can break down barriers, cross borders and create something new through unexpected combinations. Ready-made solutions won’t help us tackle the complex problems that Europe faces;we need solutions that are smarter, stronger, better, outside-the-box.

When today’s artists connect the worlds of imagination, expertise and technology, they give us wings to lift Europe to a higher plane and raise our thinking to a higher level.

Artists ask questions others dare not ask, explore worlds others dare not explore, cross boundaries that others wouldn’t dream of crossing. This is the role that artists play and to fulfill this purpose, they have to be firmly rooted in society. One way to strengthen the artist’s position in society, is through conferences such as this one.

Standing here on the last day of this magnificent programme, I have to admit that I envy those who have had the opportunity to take part in the activities over the past few days.

This conference has offered so many opportunities to engage in the debate on Europe while treating those who attended to a multitude of cultural delights.

One example is Stefan Hertman’s one-act play Antigone in Molenbeek, a contemporary version of Antigone in which the Flemish writer turns the spotlight on the subject of terrorism in all its complexity. He also shows the other side of the story. Engaging in public in debate through art and culture is an important task for artists across the continent.

But they must also actively seek out and encourage debate and find ways of involving European citizens in order to forge connections and prevent the separation of worlds.

‘Re-Creating Europe’ is without question one of the highlights of the cultural programme that has been organized in the Netherlands to mark our Presidency of the EU. A common conceptual approach runs through many of the activities in this programme: their focus is more on the challenges that Europe currently faces than on its achievements.

I believe that we not only have to rethink Europe, but, on a more fundamental level, we have to rethink or re-create ourselves. Re-create how we relate to each other. Re-create the degree to which we are willing to accept one another.

I would like to thank the organizers, especially Yoeri Albrecht and Cees de Graaff for staging this impressive event.

This forum was largely made possible through private funding, and I would like to thank the Gieskes Strijbis fund and the Bank Giro Loterij in particular for supporting this event and acknowledging its importance.

From now on, when I think of Europe, I think of the stirring stories and the provocative thoughts from Jude Law, Rem Koolhaas, Benjamin Barber, Ulrich Seidl, Chantal Mouffe, Monique Hendrix and all the other participating artists.

But even more I think of us: we are Europe.

Thank you very much.

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