Debate about spending development resources on culture

December 2003 -

'Development organisations should primarily focus on basic needs, not on culture.' This was one of the assertions discussed during the debate on Culture and Development that was held on 27 November 2003 in Utrecht. The debate was organised by the Students Research Network Latin America.

'I completely agree' was the clear response to this assertion from development journalist Roeland Muskens. Culture and expressions of culture should not be supported by the Netherlands. He believes that culture is important, but that the support of expressions of culture is not an effective use for the scarce development funds made available from the Netherlands. Moreover, the initiatives supported by the Hivos Culture Fund and the Hubert Bals Fund do not focus on the poor. After all, the poor do not attend film festivals.

Bianca Taal from the Hubert Bals Fund pointed out that her organisation strives to make films accessible to poor people in the country by funding a mobile film theatre. She therefore does not agree with the assertion. Development funds, in her view, are not solely intended for combating poverty. 'Culture is an important aspect of development,' according to Taal.'What it is about is the development of the cultural identity'.

Paul van Paaschen from the Hivos Culture Fund also refuted the assertion. Although he agrees that film and theatre do not reduce poverty, he believes that developments in the areas of economy, democratisation and culture are inseparably related. One-sided focus on only economic development has not yielded much to date. According to Van Paaschen, development should be viewed as a broader whole, and from that perspective it is in fact useful to support cultural initiatives with development funding from the Netherlands.