From september 15 till october 30, 2016, the 7th edition of BredaPhoto International Photo Festival took place in Breda. The year's theme was YOU.
After decades of a welfare state for everyone, now has come the time for the flexible and resourceful individual. Many see this as an opportunity and grasp it with both hands. People begin their own start-ups or art projects, seeking crowdfunding instead of waiting for subsidy. Residents improve their own neighbourhoods with small-scale initiatives to strengthen the community feeling.
But self-sustainability is not always a choice. It can become a bitter necessity now the government is drawing back from sectors like housing, elderly care, study finance and culture. The ‘participation society’, a term coined by the Dutch, calls on everyone to join in and take up their own responsibility instead of leaning on the government. BredaPhoto will reflect on both the advantages and disadvantages of this current trend. We will look for the creativity as well as the vulnerability of the self-sustaining individual.
Do It Yourself
Arranging your own affairs: it can make you feel proud. Anarchistic punks already said it in the 1970s and ‘80s: ‘Do It Yourself!’ You don’t need the government, nor big companies or your own family for that matter. Record your own music and bypass the big record labels. Start your own magazine instead of listening to media companies. Start your own community centre, instead of waiting for your city council. Do it yourself! Against consumerism and against condescension.
The DIY-culture of punks resounds wherever people take up their own fate, in the Netherlands and abroad. A man from the Dutch city of Leiden designed a new city plan for the historic centre, with space for a big park. To his own amazement, the city council took on his plan. What do we need an urban planning department for then?
Something similar happened in the Frisian village of Reduzum, that has been losing inhabitants since the 1980s. The council lacks the funds to save the village from decline, so the villagers decided to do it themselves. They sold houses, made alliances with the church, government and private parties, and renovated their own village.
That self-sustainability can be a conscious choice, prove the approximately 200.000 Americans who live off the grid. They live in the richest country in the world, but consciously don’t tap into the water, sewage and electricity systems because they don’t want to depend on the state and want to reduce their impact on the environment.
Less tangible subjects also lend themselves to a bottom-up approach. Taiwanese activists proposed to write their own constitution at the beginning of 2015, to make more room for civil rights and social equality. Instead of outsourcing this job to a small political elite, they feel all 23 million inhabitants of the country should be able to have their say.
And what to think of the millions of migrants who venture out to Western Europe in rickety boats? They leave hearth and home in hope of a better future, and take enormous risks.
Opportunities and risks
Does that mean there is no downside to self-sustainability? Not at all. There is a risk that those who are less assertive or determined will not profit from the freedom to ‘Do It Yourself’. People without a strong social network or without enough money to buy care or other services: can they keep their head above water? Will there also be citizens’ initiatives for the worst neighbourhoods of the city? Or for other, less attractive jobs the government now leaves to the market and to citizens? Who will stand up for the weaker individuals of society?
The appeal to self-sustainability thus threatens to cause a fissure in society: between emancipated citizens who can find their own way and can pay for good services, and those who will stay behind through a lack of knowledge, decisiveness or funds. BredaPhoto will look at the opportunities and the risks of self-sustainability, in the Netherlands and abroad. We will look at both the beautiful and the ugly sides. Do It Yourself!