How are we going to turn the Netherlands into Europe’s most creative economy by 2020? asks Joost Overbeek in his new column. ‘Let the money flow and let’s see what we can do with it.’

Column by Joost Overbeek

Gosh, would you just listen to Minister Jet Bussemaker. Our Minister of Education, Culture and Science aims to turn the Netherlands into Europe’s most creative economy by the year 2020. Quite some statement, is it not? Let the money flow, is what I say, so we can do great things. Terrific.

But, um, what exactly is a ‘creative economy’? Not a creative country, I should point out, but a creative economy! How on earth are you supposed to make that? The cultural sector has only just been flattened by Halbe Zijlstra, Bussemakers predecessor and Metallica fan. Are we now supposed to rebuild the whole sector in the six remaining years? Academies have been turned into organizations run by managers. Are we now going to make them small again? More grants? Difficult.

There really are plenty of creative people out there, as WDCD proves. But can politics really do anything for them? For money, by definition, is definitely not the best fuel to keep the creative machine running smoothly. That you’re not allowed to drink before you turn eighteen, are kept calm with the odd Ritalin, and have to finish your studies as fast as possible — that’s really not going to stimulate things at all. Our iPad kids and smartphone youths are far too spoilt for that. Creativity is born from limitations.

And I fear the government is stimulating a one-dimensional idea about that creativity, one that smacks of ‘good for the economy’. When we want to show Obama just how creative we are, we set him in front of the Night Watch or Mondriaan. And design? Nijntje preferably, our very own Dutch Design mascot. Not sentimentally soft but with a mouth sewn shut so that she won’t laugh too hard, and in primary colours that exude a cheerful sense ‘do normal’ that everybody understands.

You have to be careful when it comes to matters of taste. You have to avoid forcing anything on anyone. Or you’ll end up with too much sameness. Just look at all those identical spectacles and beards walking around these days. Creativity is actually the very opposite. It’s about detachment, about ignoring what passes for good taste. (A drawback of that deviation from good taste is that you – well, me in this case – are never invited to show work abroad, or to hold a guest lecture for design students in Montreal or somewhere. No chance of that, for they want Nijntje, not some whinge bag with cheerfully designed nonsense. Oh well.)

Okay, enough of that negative moaning, Overbeek. As I said, let the money flow and let’s see what we can do with it. Plenty of creatives around, so things are sure to turn out fine.


Graphic designer and commentator Joost Overbeek is owner of designstudio Overburen

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