As many of you will be aware, Noorderlicht Photo Gallery and Photo Festival are threatened with closure if the Dutch government decides to go ahead with advice – by the Dutch National Advisory Board for Culture – to cut €500,000 in funding. That amount represents 50% of Noorderlicht’s annual budget.

As many of you will also be aware, I have been a public champion of Noorderlicht. Last month I described my delight with working with the professionals at Noorderlicht; the post covers all the reasons I believe Noorderlicht is unique, principled and vitally important to the documentary tradition, as well as to all discourses within photography.

I won’t repeat myself here then in this post. Instead, I’d like to look at some of the language used by both the Dutch National Advisory Board for Culture (or the The Cultural Council of The Netherlands, as it is alternatively known) and Noorderlicht.


Noorderlicht has operated since 1980. It’s history and growth is impressive. There can be no mistake, Noorderlicht is of international importance. This is a fact, I think, the Dutch National Advisory Board for Culture has paid least attention to. The Dutch are known for their exception book design, but in Noorderlicht they have an international pioneer in the genre of socially engaged documentary.

Unfortunately, that is part of the problem. The Dutch National Advisory Board for Culture characterises Noorderlicht as having to heavy a focus on documentary work and not enough participation in “the art discourse,  theoretical reflection and experimental development.”

Noorderlicht has publicly responded to the recommendations twice (one, two).

Up front and to the point, Noorderlicht quotes the Dutch National Advisory Board for Culture, listing the most direct of criticisms:

‘The figures for fund raising and sponsoring give evidence of limited insight.’ ‘Disappointing income of their own.’ ‘Because of the complex character it draws only a small audience.’ ‘Conveyance of information by discourse appears to weigh more heavily than visual qualities.’ ‘The number of visitors was very low.’ ‘Concrete plans in the area of education and an outreach to a wider public are lacking.’ ‘There is a concern that the peripheral programming with debates and publications is being privileged at the expense of appealing presentations.’

Noorderlicht does this in order to respond square on:

“Noorderlicht reaches a wider public than institutions that did receive a positive recommendation, has remained critical and self-critical, has generated great enthusiasm and earned an international reputation that the whole of The Netherlands can be proud of. That must not be allowed to be lost.”

Noorderlicht’s overall rebuttal goes into details of how it has “met all criteria.”

Ton Broekhuis, Noorderlicht director, wrote in an open letter to Joop Daalmeijer, president of the Dutch National Advisory Board for Culture:

“I dare to say that the Cultural Council’s final verdict on Noorderlicht was made on the wrong grounds; by this I mean purely theoretical, and certainly in terms of the interpretation of our quantitative data. You advise some whose requests were accepted to generate larger audiences and work on their business model. Noorderlicht has already accomplished these things. And yes, that was at the expense of the elitist, hothouse art debate.”

The politics of funding must also be examined. Noorderlicht argue regional inequalities and bias are at play:

Of the thirteen Northern institutions that several years ago were still financed wholly or in part by national disbursements, only four remain. Certainly in Groningen, where for instance all dance and all visual art is being scrapped, the clear fell is complete. A region where 17% of the country’s population lives is being palmed off with a disproportionately small share in national subsidies. The Council has clearly chosen for the Randstad (the conglomerate of big cities in the west of the Netherlands) and for a number of big players. In itself, this is not surprising: when only 10% of all the advisors come from outside the Randstad, a certain Randstad myopia is built into the process.

Dutch National Advisory Board for Culture also criticised Noorderlicht for not collaborating enough across the Netherlands. Noorderlicht’s response:

Why should Noorderlicht, as an autonomous institution which has set itself the task of operating internationally from the North of The Netherlands, have to show how it works with other institutions in the country? Are institutions in the Randstad also asked how they work together with national institutions in the region? How often do Randstad institutions present their products in Groningen?

Noorderlicht concludes with its view on the recommendation to cease funding:

“[…] The council is making a clear first move in a debate that has become urgently necessary. For whom is art? What is the role of art in society? In any case, Noorderlicht has a less narrow view on this than the Council does.”

This is all very punchy stuff and part of what is now undeniably a noteworthy, frank and public debate.


Noorderlicht has asked supporters to record video messages of support Send the file to Noorderlicht and they’ll post it on the Noorderlicht Youtube page. You have a spare minute?

Ed Kashi, on Noorderlicht Photo Gallery and Photo Festival: “National Jewel […] It is unthinkable to think that Noorderlicht would disappear.”

Other ways to support.


– Joerg Colberg’s Open letter in support of Noorderlicht: “Noorderlicht [has been] an important member of the photographic community for many years, a community that extends beyond regional or national borders.”

Noorderlicht Photofestival faces closure, British Journal of Photography, 22 May 2012.