‘Unfair Covid rules’: Famous Dutch art & culture hubs act like salons, gyms in protest

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‘If personal grooming services are allowed to conduct business as usual, does it make sense to treat arts and culture differently?’ asked the protesters

That the pandemic’s unending stay and relentless waves have badly impacted businesses and institutions is no secret — and the art, culture and entertainment sectors have been some of the worst-hit along the way. Successive ups and downs over the last two years have left people exhausted and frustrated. And so, it’s not entirely unexpected when that rancor boils over.

In a stark instance of this, just days ago, museums and concert halls in the heart of the Netherlands temporarily turned themselves into beauty salons and gyms for a day! Why: Because their move was in outright protest of the Dutch government’s stringent coronavirus restrictions and decision to keep cultural institutions closed.

Over at the famous Concertgebouw, two masked barbers clipped hair on stage, even as the orchestra mellifluously belted out Symphony No. 2 by Charles Iver in rehearsal (the ensemble is allowed to practice, but not to perform to an audience). Similarly, the Mauritshuis gallery in The Hague — home to Vermeer’s famed Girl with the Peal Earring — conducted fitness classes; Utrecht’s Speelklok museum set itself up as a gym. And, Amsterdam’s famous Van Gogh Museum turned itself into a barbershop, hair salon and beauty parlour, all of which have already been allowed to re-open in the country. Among the latter’s services on offer, obviously, was Van Gogh-themed nail art inspired by Starry Night! A barber named Mischa there reportedly joked to the BBC, saying his only concern was being “anxious I will cut someone’s ear off, like Vincent did”.

The event, it was reported, was meant to demonstrate that “if personal grooming services are allowed to conduct business as usual, it does not make sense to treat arts and culture differently”.

All institutions required attendees at these events to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test or recent recovery on the CoronaCheck app, wear masks, and keep physical from other visitors. In total, some 70 museums, theaters, and other cultural venues across the nation took part in the action, moving forward with the plan despite warnings from Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema and leaders in 24 other cites that violations of lockdown restrictions would face repercussions. Later, Dutch authorities handed out enforcement notices to a number of the venues that took part in the day-long protest.

This agitation follows similar civil disobedience measures by bars and restaurants in the Netherlands against some of Europe’s toughest Covid measures. Cafes opened in several cities last weekend despite a government announcement that they must stay closed until February 25 at least.