June 2015, by Jeroen Schilte &samhoud consultancy
People create value; for other people, for organisations or society. But how do you create valuable people? In our professional lives we have Great Places to Work who put lots of effort in employee development. In daily life there is education, sports and all kinds of developments and confrontations with the ‘unknown’ that build our personality and make us creative and valuable. One of those building blocks is art & culture.
In fact it’s more than a building block – it is a tipping point in people’s personal development because it connects knowledge with meaning and with the senses. So it is highly valuable. But are people prepared to pay a lot of money for it? We asked Tjerk Ridder, a young artist, and Marjolein Theunissen, a young cultural entrepreneur, to reveal the value of art: “People are pretty ignorant. Art is not just about paintings and men in tights. Art and culture inspire people to reach goals.”
“The other day I ran into a councilor of my city. He said: “You know Tjerk, I am about to go into a debate and plea to get you some money”. Artist Tjerk Ridder (1973) shares this with a surprised expression on his face. “Why did he say this to me? Yes, I am an artist. But I have received money from the government to do my work only a few times. I am an entrepreneur, I have products that I try to sell. To me the business element is part of the recognition to exist as an artist. One of the most interesting things being an artist is to estimate the value of art. What is the value of inspiration, beauty, reflection, touching people’s emotional depths? You see, an artist looks at the world, takes into consideration human relationships and the relationship people have with nature. And then he translates what he sees. An artist stretches to approach beauty as closely as possible. I visualize my search towards that core in order to provide people with hope and faith in a world of confusion. You can imagine that this working field requires full attention – it goes on 24/7. I went to drama school but didn’t finish it. That course tremendously lacks attention for cultural entrepreneurship. Some say an artist needs luck. I think an artist has to give fortune a helping hand. A successful artist is someone who can make a living out of his art, who doesn’t see it as a hobby. As an artist your work is based on passion, belief and conviction. So, in order to sell it, you must materialize it in a product that represents a certain value.”
Marjolein Theunissen, a cultural entrepreneur who owns the websites cultuurbewust.nl and shopcultuurbewust.nl, shares the thought that art and culture are of great value to personal development. “The funding issue in art and culture should be a government responsibility”, says Theunissen. “Dutch comedian Sjaak Bral said: “If the economy goes down the government always first tends to save money on education, healthcare and arts and culture. And what do you get? Stupid, unhealthy and boring people.” The sad part is that art and culture are always weighed in terms of financial value. That muddies the discussion. Culture has everything to do with life. We have nature and culture and culture is what all people do. If that didn’t exist then people wouldn’t exist. Culture connects. The problem is that culture is a broad concept. People think art and culture are about paintings and men wearing tights. But it is far more than that – it connects through food, music, theatre, meetings and gatherings. Culture structures people’s lives. It’s just not instantly visible. I have chosen to explore a different path and build a business model on culture. I bring together artists and consumers and let them decide what is inspiring and worthwhile.”
Ridder: “Artists have an image problem. The perception is that they tend to do their own thing and not relate to the needs of society. That perception lives in artists themselves and it lives in parts of society and in parts of politics. And if they don’t relate to the needs of people then they are free to do as they please, but they shouldn’t expect to make a living out of it. In fact, there is no difference between making money with selling groceries and making money with theatre seats to watch a play. It’s just a matter of convincing people of the value that your product adds to them. Art and culture are very impactful means for personal development. And what do we need personal development for?” Tjerk raises his hands and smiles: “We need personal development to create value, be it to your beloved ones, be it to society, be it to the stock market. People give soul to a product or a service. The chemistry in a team is hardly ever defined, a healthy relationship between people is hardly ever addressed, the social component in work and society is hardly ever calculated.”
“But what is calculated”, Theunissen adds, “Is the price of a beamer, travel expenses, hotel costs, building a website, printing a book. Those costs are easily validated. Costs for personnel are always difficult, but accepted in most businesses. Not in cultural projects. In cultural projects it is not done to bring people to do a play, make music, design furniture, make sculptures, paintings, multi-media educational programs. Many productions cost a lot of money and couldn’t see the light if it weren’t for subsidies or donations. That is true. But do people realize the real value of, for instance, education or health care? In the Netherlands students pay 1700 euros a year to go to college. Many of them really think that this amount covers the costs. In reality the government subsidizes a great deal of the extra costs. The same goes for health care. We all pay our monthly insurance but that amount isn’t enough to finance health care. The government adds a lot of money as well. The difference with culture is that people want it for free. That is how it goes.
So let me try to explain the value of culture. Culture is about personal attention. For example, in a play or in music you ask attention and you give attention. People love to get attention. And while consuming culture you discover that people react surprised that they get attention. Isn’t that sad? It reveals their low self-esteem. Culture brings that to the surface, but it also offers help because culture stimulates human interaction. And there is a tipping point in emotional development. Interaction is confrontational so you have to pull people across the threshold. It’s a calling to do that, a passion. My passion is to stimulate people to participate in cultural events. That is the foundation of my company and my business model.”
Ridder: “I actually think the government should have that awareness too. Education and culture need to integrate to overcome the barriers. Money is not the issue, raising and educating children is. If people aren’t used to watching art and culture they will not do it, even if it’s free. They will not connect. It is like a peg. Each person deserves to have a peg. A peg is your reference which forms you throughout your life. Without it, you lose grip. Artists create pegs and the government should secure them. Artists also move people to hang their peg somewhere else. A peg carries immersion and enriches people’s lives.”
He continues: “I did this art project – You Need Others To Keep You Going – in which I hitchhiked from Utrecht to Istanbul… with a caravan. Drivers needed to give my caravan and me a lift. To thank people I talked with them about their goals in life. My phrase was “My dream is to hitchhike to Istanbul with a caravan and for that I need others to keep me going. What is your dream and what or who do you need to keep you going?” People were excited and open and shared what they wanted. I let them write that down and canned their message. My gift to them was a canned message with their goal inside. The whole journey was about exchanging value. If you only give, then you will run down. If you only take, you’ll end up isolated. You need to be open to receive people’s attention. Many people asked me: what country was the best to hitchhike in? Which people were the most helpful? But I didn’t experience differences. What stunned me was the similarity of the people who helped me. And believe me, they had all very different backgrounds. For instance, I was helped by an African cook living in Germany and not far from him I met a German family with two small children. Completely different lives. But as I said, they all helped me because they had a mentality of entrepreneurship, of taking action, of being open to the unknown. These are the people who ask themselves: “Is my peg in the right place? Do I allow myself to keep moving and enrich my vision. Do I grant myself the space to be?”