As it happened back in the early seventies I read a Dutch magazine in which was featured a Mayor of a small Dutch town. In it he spoke about artists and how he wanted to encourage the arts to flourish in his municipality. Also in the same magazine was mentioned a Government initiative many years before to make this happen. It was very simple really. Artists would be paid a salary the same as most workers. It was argued, that the making of art was as valid as making bread or driving a train. Art was as necessary and equally esteemed as a bicycle. Indeed, art was the very bicycle of the spirit and soul. Was it Marcel Duchamp who pointed that out? It was decided that in exchange for their production of art, the maker or creator of this art would be paid a salary which would enable him to live comfortably and with dignity. It seemed so pragmatically and so utterly Dutch.
The article struck me as a lightening bolt from the sky. I became feverishly emboldened and I promptly wrote to this Mayor in which I greatly appreciated his aim in encouraging creative work in Holland. At the same time I made enquiries on how the system of creating art in exchange for a salary worked. While in Australia the combination running a business as well as doing art worked reasonably well, it wasn’t as ideal as it could be. The idea of a salaried artist germinated into fertile soil. I could not let go of the idea. At the same time I felt a rekindling of a kind and benevolent Holland. An artistic Dutch Nirvana! . I would again be regaining my home- country. It grew stronger by the day. Gone were the memories of daily rain and howling storms. I pushed aside those earlier memories visiting my friends who put on the TV within minutes of my arrival. Instead, a welcoming home to this lost Dutch prodigal son from Australia emerged like a fata morgana strangely affixed amongst an aurora in a Nordic sky. Of course, it also grew out of all proportions. I was running a head of steam.
I received a letter back from this Mayor advising me to contact him if and when we would arrive. I still had the Dutch nationality and right from the beginning our stay in Australia was decided would be temporary. It was envisaged we somehow would get a house (hut) made of solid pine in a Finnish forest and Helvi would teach and I would paint. Life would be simple and joyous. The Mayor’s article and the Dutch artist salary made us decide to do the ‘simple and joyous’ in Holland instead. Please consider that we were young and idealistic. It was the only way to be. With ageing might come experiences that wilts idealism, or at least blows autumn leaves, sometimes even icy blasts. Of course, to keep going in making art that doesn’t give an income is the slippery slope that bedevils many. The Dutch Government artist’s support whereby the art was bought for a monthly salary seemed so good, manna from heaven. It was so popular many overseas artists flocked to Holland. The art was used to decorate the walls, floors or gardens of public building. Jails, hospitals, parliament buildings, schools, libraries, child care, municipality town-halls, swimming pools, Law-Courts, Family-Divorce courts… you name it, all were flooded with art works.
When those public buildings were saturated with paintings, ceramics, wall hangings, sculptures. A law was passed named ‘the percentage in art acquisition’. It forced all large planned private buildings to spend a percentage of the total building costs on buying creative works to decorate the new building with. It was a boon that created an enormous output of art surpassing the (over) production of the world’s largest EU butter mountain a few years later. Of course, it went without saying that libraries started lending art works as well. People would take a painting home for a few weeks and swap for another one.
In 1973, we sold Gertrude’s cottage, packed as many suitcases we could take on the plane and after landing at Schiphol, rented a car. We slept one night in a hotel near the airport. Next day, after breakfast of ham and cheese rolls and coffee, we drove North to the small town and the Mayor. He was extremely helpful and indeed knew a farmer who had just moved into a new farm house who gave us the old farm-house to rent for the time being. He had it arranged for us. How glorious. We had packed air mattresses for the five of us. (That’s right, between Helvi on holiday in Finland in 1972, with our two daughters and her return to Balmain, we had a third baby, a glorious boy this time). The second night we slept on those air mattresses on the floor of the old farm, quite chuffed that all had turned out so reasonably well.
It was a lovely spring and sunny. That helped a lot.
(more to come)