Dutch cut their losses on the subsidised art mountain

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FANS of contemporary Dutch art are in for a treat. The Dutch government is about to unload 200,000 items, accumulated as part of an effort to support struggling artists.

The programme amounted to a cultural version of the Common Agricultural Policy, with the state guaranteeing artists a good wage in exchange for the odd canvas. However, odd is probably the word in many cases. 'Some of them would dash off a few after the bars closed and deliver them, still wet, the next day,' said a Dutch expert yesterday. 'Then they got their salary for the year. Probably 50 per cent are very mediocre.' The scheme was described by one arts expert as 'completely barmy'.

The policy ran during the 1960s and 1970s, but became vastly expensive and was terminated in 1988. Only now is the Dutch government getting around to clearing out the cupboards - and warehouses - of surplus art. They will be given over to galleries, museums and schools, not burnt as some reports have suggested. But the Dutch government is likely to keep the best for itself.

Those rejected out of hand by the last office canteen will be given back to the artists concerned, some of whom may be dismayed that the passage of 20 years has failed to make the market any more receptive to their genius.

The end of the art mountain is one bit of evidence that the Netherlands is continuing to slaughter sacred cows in its drive to bring government spending under control. The budget, announced yesterday, aims to cut the deficit to 3.25 per cent of annual national output in 1994, down from a huge 10 per cent in 1984.

The Netherlands continues to spend 2bn guilders ( pounds 614m) a year on the arts, or about 1 per cent of government expenditure - proportionately four times what Britain spends. It is administered through independent arts foundations. The embassy in London has recently been modernised, and the Netherlands runs regular arts exhibitions in London, including a forthcoming display of photographs by Ed van der Elsken.

But as the budget shrinks, the Dutch are worried that the historic commitment to the arts will go the same way as the warehouse of contemporary art. Simon Mundy, director of the National Campaign for the Arts, recently returned from comparing strategies with his Dutch counterparts, Kunst '92. 'They're going through a massive and painful restructuring process,' he said.

Many of the Dutch dilemmas will be familiar to British arts administrators. Orchestras that have only recently been merged face closure, as well as regional theatre groups, said Mr Mundy. But some of the proposals for cuts would make British arts administrators salivate. They would make theatres and orchestras find 15 per cent of their funds from private sources - most British bodies need more than 50 per cent.

THE HAGUE - Queen Beatrix yesterday urged the French public to vote in favour of the Maastricht treaty on Sunday, Reuter reports. 'In France they are holding a referendum. Let it be known from here that we have the wish and conviction that it will be a 'yes',' Queen Beatrix said in a traditional address to parliament which coincides with the release of the national budget.