Speech by Prince Constantijn on the occasion of the 2022 Prince Claus Impact Awards at the Royal Palace Amsterdam
What does the Prince Claus Fund do? Why is culture so important. What is the value of art? How does it scale? Every year, I get these generic questions about the Prince Claus Fund.
And every year I respond: “don’t ask me. Experience it for yourself. See what powerful and amazing people receive our awards and the issues they are fighting for.” Those we are honouring today are responding to the climate emergency, imagining alternative futures, working to include un- and under-represented communities, highlighting the urgent need for social justice, heritage conservation, freedom of expression.
And then I’m typically asked: But how does it add up? How are they making an impact? Isn’t this just a drop in the ocean? Our awardees are working locally, close to people. Where it really matters: in the places that the systems forget. And yet their impact may actually be regional or even global. The Fund helps to amplify this and make it visible.
The questions about culture keep coming back, even some of you may have them. So let me zoom out for a moment. As we celebrate here today, ware raging in Ukraine and Yemen with the aim to oppress and negate local culture. Brave people are risking their lives in protests in Myanmar, Iran, and China, where they are fighting to defend their culture, retain their identities, express themselves, be recognised and listened to. One of our Award recipients today, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, is imprisoned in Cuba for his art, and his battle for the freedom of expression.
The people we support are not fighting with weapons, but with creativity and imagination. They are at the forefront of a global struggle to defend open democratic societies; to ensure that our fundamental freedoms are respected; and to pass this on to next generations.
If we cherish the rule of law and fundamental rights we cannot take this lightly. We’ve got to stand together to defend people’s right across the globe to express and develop themselves. These rights need to be lived. Children across the world need to experience them and come to cherish them, so they will also defend them. And in time will also stand up against oppression, hate, intolerance and xenophobia.
Our deepest desire is to be happy. To be heard. To be acknowledged for who we really are. To be safe and live a life in freedom. For many here this vision seems obvious. But it isn’t. It needs to be re-imagined time and time again. Each generation must sharpen it, give new words to it, compose music and imagery for it, express and celebrate it.
The conquest starts small. Person by person. House by house. School by school. Neighbourhood by neighbourhood. Respect is built bottom up. Culture is lived every day. It is a basic need that is in us. It is who we are; not something abstract to be admired or vilified.
The questions I mentioned at the start, reflect a world view in which ‘valuable’ seems interchangeable with “quantifiable”, especially in economic terms. Culture is seen as a luxury, an idle past time. In this view, each intervention is only relevant if it is rolled out at scale. The human dimension is lost. And how does this world view tally with our deepest human desire to be happy?
In this cynicism they fail to see that culture is the weapon to fight authoritarianism. Which is why cultural actors and activist are among the first to suffer. In their vulnerability lies their power. They hold the key to a better world, a mirror to expose injustice, a different voice to express humanity.
The culture that the Prince Claus Fund supports is the voice of people, not of systems. It speaks to intuition and the heart more than just reason and machinations of power. When people cannot dress how they like, listen to music they want, read books that inspire, interact on the social media channels of their choice, they will eventually rise up.
The Fund supports young as well as experienced artists who are the catalysts for change. To give them the strength to persist, be creative, take risks, be challenging, and help imagining another world. We are committed to feeding their drive, to supporting resilience in creative individuals especially in places where independent thinking and creating art are dangerous and difficult.
Today is the first time we are presenting Impact Awards to 6 outstanding cultural practitioners who have demonstrated extraordinary resilience and made significant achievements in their own fields.
You represent a range of disciplines and contexts, from architecture and filmmaking to visual arts, performance, poetry, and philosophy. You address different issues and encounter different obstacles: often including economic disparities, deep rooted cultural assumptions, prejudice, and social stigma.
Neither of you have chosen an easy path; you have had to overcome resistance to your efforts and even worse. We and future generations are indebted to you as your insistence and resilience ensure that the path to a better world is not yet overgrown. That there is light that can inspire us to do more and better.
It therefore is my great honour to present to you the 6 Prince Claus Impact awardees of 2022.