Culture Fund

Feminist counter-culture and subculture

Drukkerij Las Muchachas

Printing Company Las Muchachas

At first, almost all grant requests, the Dutch ones as well as those from the rest of the world were classified as ‘culture’. Except for women’s businesess, those were referred to the Guarantee Fund. Mama Cash interpreted ‘culture’ in the very broad sense, meaning everything that referred to feminst activism.

Feminist counter-culture and subculture took shape in the form of radical feminist magazines, cafés, printing houses, congresses, demonstrations, women’s bands, and women’s centres and facilities, all financed by Mama Cash. But culture in the narrow sense of artistic expression was also included. Founder Marjan Sax: ‘Art was very important to us. Both art and culture play an important role in social change. We struggled a lot to get that right. For what is feminist art? In the end we decided to leave the interpretation to the artist herself’.

A specific fund for culture
In 1990, Mama Cash created a separate fund, managed by its own Board, to support ‘culture’. The Culture Fund was meant specifically ‘for Culture and the Third World’ (in the first half of the 1990’s Mama Cash started to use the term ‘Global South’ instead of ‘Third World’). Subsidy requests from the Netherlands and the Global South were evaluated by Project Director Will Janssen. She advised the volunteer Board, which in turn decided which requests would be granted funding. As the rapidly growing number of requests from the Global South required some special expertise, Mama Cash founded the Fund for the Global South as part of the Culture Fund in 1991. The fund for the Global South became a separate fund in 1994.

Culture Fund the Netherlands
The Board of the Culture Fund, beginning in 1991, focused on grant requests exclusively from the Netherlands. The Board set up its own set of criteria to help evaluate the large quantity of requests: culture for Mama Cash included everything women do to improve their position in society and to manifest their choices. The Fund paid attention to new ideas and to projects important to the current feminist debate. The grants awarded by the Culture Fund varied from 500 to 5,000 guilders (240 and 2,400 euros). It supported theatre, words, music, dance, film, demonstrations, congresses, centres for women and actions. Costs for personnel, or rent were not funded. The history of women was also considered to be important, and women in non-traditional sports—such as chess, football, or rugby—received grants. Special attention was paid to groups that needed ‘to fight for or defend their position in society’, like black, migrant, or refugee women, older women, girls and lesbian women.

Saintly and slutty

Dames Gambiet


The following is a small selection from the large variety of groups that received money: 2,000 guilders (950 euros) went to a symposium about older women and their future organised by the group ‘A Merry Old Day’; 1,500 guilders (720 euros) went to fund a trial against an insurance company for not covering sick leave salaries during employee pregnancies; 1,000 guilders (480 euros) went to a March 8th meeting of Migrant Women Netherlands. Women’s chess club ‘Queen’s Gambit’ received subsidy to organize the Fenny Heemskerk tournament. Occasionally a loan, with or without interest, or a guarantee would be granted. Artist collective, the ‘Voyeuse’, received a grant of 2,500 guilders (1,200 euros) in combination with a loan of 7,000 guilders (3,330 euros) for the themed exhibition ‘saintly and slutty’ in the Old Church in Amsterdam.

Seed money
In 1997, Nancy Jouwe became the Manager of the Culture Fund. The artistic focus became more pronounced during her tenure. ‘Supporting women entrepeneurs in the art world was important. At the time, women had a hard time getting money if they hadn’t established themselves as artist or documentary maker yet. Solid craftmanship and artistic genius were exclusively associated with men at that time’. (watch interview)

Many artists did not want to be portrayed as women artists; they simply thought of themselves as artists. Furthermore, the mainstream funds to which artists could apply were not interested in small projects. Mama Cash was, and she granted seed money to women artists in small amounts of up to 1,000 guilders (480 euros). Over time, the grants increased in size.

2. Kunstprijstentoonstelling-2001

Art Award Exhibition 2001

Mama Cash Art Award
The Culture Fund was not only concerned with supporting women artists; it also wanted to celebrate women’s artistry. In 1991, initiated by founder Dorelies Kraakman, the Mama Cash Art Award launched with an exhibition of the works of the nominees. Jouwe: ‘The media and some artists regarded the Art Award as a ‘Chick prize’. At the time in the Netherlands, combining social engagement and artistry was not common. Mama Cash wanted to fund work that merged social engagement with beauty and aesthetics with a strong, personal voice’. (watch interview) The Mama Cash Art Award was presented for the last time in 2004. Mama Cash had reached the conclusion that women artists in the Netherlands had taken their place in the art world.

Black Magic Woman Festival

Black Magic Woman Festival

Black Magic Woman Festival

Along with visual artists and theater and documentary makers, Mama Cash also supported initiatives such as the Black Magic Woman Festival in Amsterdam. This festival raised the visibility of up and coming talented black and migrant women artists. ‘Mama Cash was the first fund to grant us a subsidy in 1996’, says Ernestine Comvalius. She has been involved in the annual Black Magic Woman Festival since 1998. ‘A separate festival for black women artists was controversial’, she says. ‘Even now, we have to prove why it is necessary to draw attention to black artists. Mama Cash was the first to recognise the importance of our work. She took the Black Magic Woman Festival seriously. This, in turn, convinced other financiers. Later on, we also received a contribution from the VSBfonds. When we became well-known and others started to finance us, Mama Cash ended her grant support. The Black Magic Woman Festival functioned as a stepping stone for various women to become succesful artists’. (watch interview)

Documentary Festival
In cooperation with two public broadcasting channels, in 2003 Mama Cash invited five documentary filmmakers to create a documentary with the theme ‘Who is S/he?’. Nancy Jouwe: ‘One of the filmmakers was Sunny Bergman. She later became known for documentaries such as ‘Perishable’ and ‘Sunny Side of Sex’’. In 2004, the documentaries were shown at the Mama Cash Documentary Festival. Three of them were broadcast on Dutch television. The documentaries, as well as the festival, were financed by Johanna, a member of the network of Women with Inherited Wealth.

Inspiration for others

Oprichtingsvergadering 'Babaylan'

Oprichtingsvergadering ‘Babaylan’

Mama Cash’s financing of artists inspired others to do likewise. Nancy Jouwe: ‘We possessed a lot of knowledge about, and had developed relationships with women black, migrant, and refugee artists. The VSBfonds wanted to get to know these women through us and learn from our working method’. Mama Cash’s support did not stop at involve money, but also included encouragement for the artists. Jouwe, who now works in the cultural sector, still meets women who tell her: ‘It meant so much to us when Mama Cash gave us that money. She was the first to believe in us as artists’. With relatively few resources, Mama Cash had helped to make women artists more visible and had inspired others to start financially supporting women artists.

Losing visibility
In 2001, the Culture Fund the Netherlands was closed during a structural reorganisation and was merged with the Mama Cash Foundation. Three years later, Mama Cash decided to divide her grantmaking activities into five different regions: Africa, Asia, Latin-America, the Middle East, and Europe. During this transition, the funding of groups in the Netherlands became a part of the Europe programme. By doing so, and by putting more emphasis on funding groups in the Global South and Eastern Europe, the support to groups in the Netherlands gradually lost its visibility in the work of Mama Cash. With the strategic plan 2009 -2013 On the Move for Women’s Rights, the organisation decided to give more money to fewer groups. The number of groups supported in the Netherlands was reduced considerably as a result.