Thursday morning, several hundred people joined forces at Brussels’ Central Station to march together to the Flemish Parliament, chanting, banging kitchen pots, and displaying their discontent with the planned culture cuts on (often funny) posters. Some wore yellow ribbons on their arms, others half-hid their faces behind yellow mouth masks – a nod to the yellow filters that are now covering 60% of many Facebook profile photos, a popular digital protest against the looming cutbacks.
We spoke to 7 people who didn’t leave it at that but came out to show their faces and make their voices heard in front of the Flemish Parliament. Here, they explain what drove them to participate.
Liesbet, 25, Antwerp
“I am here to support the arts. I’m a costume designer and the cuts will probably affect me directly. I am a young theatre maker, which means it’s likely that I will need project subsidies to be able to start making work. I hope the protests will have an impact, but even if they don’t, it’s important that we let our voices be heard and make some noise, to make sure the politicians behind this know that this isn’t something we’ll easily let go.”
Dirk, 51, Leuven
“I am the artistic director of a youth theatre in Leuven. We work a lot with young emerging artists and fresh graduates who try to create their first works, and for those they of course often need financial support. They’re all asking a lot of questions now: What can we do? Will we ever find a job? We work a lot with theatre and dance students, and they are scared they made the wrong career choice. That’s mainly why I am here, to support the artists. And I hope that people realize that we’re not freaky, weird people working in the arts. Just today a national TV channel published an inquiry looking at who are the people participating in culture, from amateur to pro and across al genres. It’s a very diverse group of people, not a tiny ideological niche group. If you look at the people here today, you can see that this is not just a small bunch of avant-garde artists, but all kinds of cultural actors including amateur theatre for example. It’s a very big movement but they’re trying to push us in a small corner, which doesn’t reflect reality. So I hope that this kind of moment here today can at least help with setting the picture right.”
Dagmar, 26, Brussels
“I work at Argos, the center for audiovisual art here in Brussels. I am here today not only to show our support for the cultural sector but also to show our solidarity with all sectors that are currently being affected by these horrible cutbacks. It doesn’t just concern culture but also social aspects, such as nurses, for example. Everybody was already having a hard time before that. We should all stand together. I think today’s protest will definitely have an impact. More and more people will join – it’s the start of a slow revolution.”
“I am a teacher Karel de Grote University College in Antwerp. We teach art mediation, something which makes us – every single day – notice many reasons why everybody should participate in culture. These large cutbacks would be a disaster for the sector in general and for new, up-coming artists specifically – they need so much support. That’s why I am here today, together with my students. It also will directly affect us: some of the places where our students gain work experience are already panicking: ‘We don’t have money, we’re going to die.’ It’s a very immediate effect.”
“I’m an actor and director at a French-speaking theatre company, Fitzcaraldo. I came here to show my support for the Flemish artists. I belong to the French-speaking community, but I find it very important to be here as well and protest together with my Flemish colleagues, it’s as easy as that. I think that every movement is important and that it is absolutely necessary to show our disagreement with the current situation.”
Maarten, 29, Brussels
“I came to the protests because the culture cuts would be a disaster for many of us, but also for society in general. As a musician, I would have a lot less funding and a lot less opportunities to develop projects. Artistic projects have a lot of value for society and humanity in general.”
Julie, 36, Brussels
“I am here to support artists. In my opinion, the cuts that the Flemish government foresees are a frontal attack on the sector as a whole. I am working with artists – as a legal advisor at a small production structure – and the cutbacks will surely affect me in my work. I think that today’s protests will have an impact; it’s one of many things we need to do. It’s important to convey our unhappiness with the plans they announced. This is the moment to take it out on the streets and not only express our disapproval in writing. It needs to become visible, especially because there are many people in Flanders who do not have a clue what is happening right now.”
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