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Dutch artists protest covid lockdown of cultural venues by hosting haircuts at shut-down museums

At the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, customers paid for a Van Gogh-inspired manicure while enjoying the painter's famous portraits. (Piroschka Van De Wouw/Reuters)
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Some of the Netherlands’ most celebrated museums, concert halls and art centers opened their doors Wednesday to host hairdressers, nail artists and fitness instructors, in playful protest against what they see as inconsistencies in the country’s coronavirus protocols.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said last week that businesses such as beauty salons and fitness centers would be allowed to resume operations after a strict lockdown that was imposed in mid-December. But cultural venues such as theaters and galleries would remain shut for at least another week, he said.

That proved a step too far for performance artists Sanne Wallis de Vries and Diederik Ebbinge, who organized the Hair Salon Theater initiative to bring hairdressers and nail artists to still-shuttered cultural venues on Wednesday.

The Dutch cultural sector has been flexible and adaptive, the organizers said in a statement, but they believed that the “dire situation” facing the arts should be highlighted. They asked for a plan for reopening the sector and noted that few infections had been linked to arts groups over the pandemic, suggesting that it was possible to resume cultural life carefully.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam was among the several dozen cultural venues that partnered with the Hair Salon Theater initiative. Customers who reserved seats ahead of time were able to get $38 haircuts or $34 Van Gogh-themed manicures while sitting amid the impressionist master’s portraits. (Masking and social distancing were mandatory.)

The Limburgs Museum, located near the German border, hosted a Zumba session in its buildings as part of another campaign that brought exercise classes to cultural centers. People can still sign up for a “mindfulness tour” on Friday at an art museum in The Hague.

Europe faces its second covid Christmas with lockdowns, cancellations and rising cases

On Wednesday, the Netherlands reported a seven-day rolling average of some 35,000 infections, largely driven by the omicron variant. More than 70 percent of the country’s roughly 17.4 million residents have been fully immunized.

Municipal authorities did not all react sympathetically to Wednesday’s events. Several theater houses dropped out of the Hair Salon Theater initiative after local officials threatened to impose fines, according to Wallis de Vries, one of the organizers.

But in an opinion article co-written by some 30 mayors that was published in de Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper, the officials asked the national government to review existing measures to ensure there was widespread “social and political agreement.”

It is impossible to “forcefully convince Dutch citizens of the correctness of the measures through repression,” the mayors added.

“We think and hope and expect that it is impossible for the government to ignore both our actions and the reaction of mayors,” said Wallis de Vries in an email.