Some warnings, no fines yet as cultural sector protests Covid lockdown
Over 70 museums and more than 60 theaters protested against the coronavirus lockdown on Wednesday by offering gym classes or opening as hair salons, massage parlors, or beauty salons. So far, some cultural institutions have received official warnings for breaking the coronavirus rules, but as far as is known, no institutions have been fined or closed.
Cultural institutions believe that they can open as safely as non-essential stores and high contact professions, which the Cabinet allowed to open this past weekend. But museums, theaters, and concert halls are still locked down.
A "handful" of theaters decided not to participate in the Hair Salon Theater action after their municipalities announced they would enforce the coronavirus rules, co-organizer Ed Struijlaart said. He called it "sad" for the theaters that wanted to participate but dropped out due to the threat of enforcement. "But we understand. This is a playful action, and we don't want it to get out of hand." The theaters that decided not to participate are located in Apeldoorn, Emmeloord, and Nijmegen.
He said the harsh words from mayors in the Netherlands was not something he anticipated. "That exemplifies our motive for doing this. The cultural is not being taken seriously. They let the hospitality industry remain open [in last weekend's protests], but they want to enforce it when it comes to us."
According to the Museum Association, over 70 museums also took action on Wednesday. A handful adjusted their plans in consultation with the security region that covers them. A few dropped out of the action, another demonstrated online, and one other moved their activities outside. It had received few reports of problems occurring during the campaigns, as of 3 p.m.
Most museums gave gym classes, because sports activities are allowed. Others opened hairdressing salons, similar to the theaters. Others pretended to be a shop. Beauty salons and non-essential retail was allowed to open back up over the weekend as a first step out of the coronavirus lockdown. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, for example, which joined in with theaters by masquerading as a hair and beauty salon, dozens of people got a trim or a manicure, while listening to stories about Vincent van Gogh.
Words of warning in Amsterdam
Over 60 theaters took part in the protest. Struiljaart has not yet heard anything about fines or institutions being closed down. "We assume this will end without a hitch. It is such a sympathetic action. You cannot imagine, for example, someone like Youp van 't Hek from the Kleine Komedie being clubbed by the riot police. I want to appeal to empathy from The Hague and enforcers. Let us make our point."
Van 't Hek had not performed by 3:30 p.m., but his colleagues, Brigitte Kaandorp, Freek de Jonge, Henry van Loon, and Claudia de Breij were all able to take to the stage at the Amsterdam theater while spectators were given haircuts. The Kleine Komedie received an official warning from the city to stop the performances. The theater was undecided if it would allow Van 't Hek to take to the stage, though he said he wanted to continue despite the possibility of sanctions from the city.
"It was announced and is therefore expected. The consideration we are now making is whether we will stop or continue," said director Jörgen Tjon A Fong.
In the end, Van 't Hek performed despite the warning, and no further action was taken by the city. The audience left the theater by 5 p.m. "It was great, magical and delightful! So many happy people again! Thank you Amsterdam!!!!" wrote initiator and comedian Diederik Ebbinge on Twitter. He came up with the showcase idea, and approached De Kleine Komedie, which immediately joined.
The municipality of Amsterdam also gave the Concertgebouw an official warning for opening against the rules. The Concertgebouw opened a hair salon between 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. Up to 50 customers could get a haircut while listening to the Concertgebouw Orchestra rehearse under the guidance of conductor Susanna Malkki. Visitors had to show a coronavirus access pass and ID before entering.
The municipality said it recognizes that cultural institutions are having a hard time, but "the rules apply to everyone." "The warning is the first step in enforcement," said a spokesperson for Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema.
A spokesperson for the Concertgebouw confirmed that it received a warning, but only after the doors were closed again. No enforcers visited during the action. "The mayor already announced by letter that a warning would follow if we opened. That was not a reason for us to cancel the opening. We wanted to make our voice heard, especially now that everything is open where many people go, like IKEA." The warning will have no immediate consequences. "If you get more, you have to close. But we are already closed, so that's not an issue."
Rotterdam theater threatened by police organized crime division
Rotterdam authorities also issued two warnings in quick succession to the Walhalla Theater about 30 minutes after their program began. The theater said that Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb then threatened a police intervention, prompting the theater to close its hair salon.
Director Rachel van Olm called the afternoon a success despite the shutdown. "We made our point. We just had to let you know that we're here, and what we think. I feel responsible for the employees, the artists and the public. I don't like the threat of police intervention and I don't think that's a nice language either."
Van Olm was angered by a warning letter the theater received on Tuesday evening from the commander of the specialist police unit that tackles organized criminal activity considered subversive to Dutch society, such as money laundering, loansharking, and drug trafficking. "It kept me awake at night. Now we are considered criminals," she said. "We comply with all coronavirus rules. We are working on making this neighborhood the nicest neighborhood in the world here at Katendrecht. I demand an apology about the 'tone of voice' in the letter," she said earlier on Wednesday.
When asked about this, a spokesperson for Aboutaleb said that its the city's job to enforce the coronavirus restrictions. "That means that violators will be addressed, warned, and action will be taken when something is excessive."
Alderman Said Kasmi, who handles cultural issues on behalf of the city, paid a short visit to the theater on Wednesday afternoon. "I'm not here to enforce the rules, but to promote the culture in this city," he said.
The local branch of Kasmi's party, D66, requested a debate with Aboutaleb for Thursday in response to the warning letter sent to the participants of the protest. The group had hoped for more understanding from the mayor and aldermen. "The cultural sector has found a safe and fun way to express dissatisfaction with the current measures, and I find this response from the Board to show little compassion," said party chairman Chantal Zeegers.
In the debate, she wants to learn if the mayor and aldermen understand the reasons for the protest, and why communication with participants was only made so late that the action could not secure city approval.
Shows moved online in Delft, Cancelled in Leeuwarden, Continued in The Hague
Delft security enforcement teams stood guard in front of the Rietveld Teater there on Wednesday morning, prompting the organization to adjust their participation. "We preferred to avoid discussion and any possible hassle at the door between enforcers and the public, volunteers and artists," said the theater. Hair salon customers were welcomed via a livestream.
Pier21 in Leeuwarden also cancelled a planned storytelling evening on Wednesday, after the municipality had only given permission to continue their protest outside. According to the theater, it deviated too much from the original plan the protest initiators had in mind. "In addition, our actors have been left out in the cold long enough."
The Fries Museum in Leeuwarden decided to move their activities outside, where they provided yoga training.
The Hague gave the Koninklijke Schouwburg an official warning while its performance was still happening. According to an employee, the enforcers said the performance had to stop at 1:30 p.m. As this was when it was scheduled to stop, the performance went on without change.
A music performance in the Amare cultural center in The Hague started at 3 p.m., with street enforcement teams entering soon after. They took photos as evidence, and said the theater would be reported. The show was expected to end at 4:30 p.m.
The concert performance stars students from the Royal Conservatoire, which has been a tenant of the building since last week. It was scheduled to be held in the entrance hall, where more than sixty people would watch the performance while sitting on the stairs. Business director Leontien Wiering welcomed the spectators. "We miss you, we miss the audience," she said.
Museum workouts to send a message
The Centraal Museum in Utrecht offered retail services, selling flower bulbs and seeds in the same gallery spaces hosting its Botanical Revolution exhibition. "But then a few nice gentlemen came to tell me that this was not what was allowed," said the museum, which stopped its shop.
At the Oyfo Techniekmuseum in Hengelo, people were given the opportunity to complete a dance exercise between the machines on exhibit. Law enforcement officers appeared half an hour after they started, but by that point all activities had been completed.
The Jenever Museum in Schiedam also fared similarly well. "The municipality of Schiedam was forced to maintain the coronavirus rules, despite its understanding for this action. At around 11:45 a.m., it was requested to end the protest by 1 p.m., and subsequently, that was done," the municipality said.
The municipality of Maasgouw banned the opening of the Thorn Museum. "At 10 a.m. the mayor called to say we had to send away all the people who were coming." The museum had planned a day of gymnastics, with a rowing machine, and leg and back strengthening exercises, a metaphor indicating that the museum has "to make do with what we have, keep our backs straight and stay on our feet."
Children also participated. About twenty children danced with Dolfje in the Children's Book Museum, did strength training with Kikker and pilates with Pippi Longstocking. The director of this museum, Aad Meinderts, expressed what many colleagues thought. "Hello, we're still here! We have behaved long enough as the teacher's pet."
"The statement has been made," said the Museum Association at the end of the afternoon.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times.