• Resurfacing global heritage in Kerala, India

    Paliam Palace Museum, Muziris Heritage project, Kerala, India The sash windows with counterweights and the steep roofs are distinctive Dutch architectural elements.

    Resurfacing global heritage in Kerala, India

    18 March 2019
    In south-western India, the legend of a sunken city and the physical remnants of a proto-globalised world spark the imagination. What is the Dutch connection?
    By Simon de Leeuw


    Millennia of cultural exchange, colonial history, and a mysterious sunken city provide fertile basis for India’s largest ever heritage conservation plan: the Muziris Heritage Project. What does it entail and what is the Dutch connection to it, both in the past and in the future?


    It is hard to exaggerate the scope of the Muziris Heritage Project, set up in the southern Indian state of Kerala. It is named after the old port Muziris - once referenced by Roman historian Pliny the Elder as “the emporium of India”- that presumably vanished from the map due to major floods in 1341.

    In recent years, the Kerala Government has been setting up an ambitious and holistic approach to research and retrieve traces of this lost port, but also to present the coastal region’s rich cultural history. Ultimately, the Muziris Heritage Project will be India’s biggest ever heritage conservation project, comprising close to thirty separate sites and museums and spanning a timeline of three thousand years of commercial activity resulting in the presentation of traces left by Roman, Chera, Jewish, Chinese, Arab, Persian, Vijayanagar, Portuguese, Dutch and British passers-by. 

    Demonstrating the diversity of this heritage and the global connectivity of Kerala as a region is among the main goals of this project. Benny Kuriakose, a key figure in the development of this endeavour in his capacity as conservation architect and designer, visited the Netherlands last December upon invitation by the Dutch Embassy in New Delhi. As part of a larger delegation, the aim of his visit was to find expertise to help realize the project, but also to delve deeper into the shared history of Kerala and the Netherlands.

    The Paravur Synagogue is built with a unique blend of traditional Synagogue architecture as well as Kerala architectural styles. Jewish people (Malabar Jews) had been arriving in Kerala since 1st millennia BC for trading, and their communities were mostly settled around today's Kodungallur region (which was then a Roman trading port named Muziris) and Kollam. They received royal patronage and special rights from the local Chera kings such as Cheraman Perumal and established Synagogues at their respective settlements for public worship.
    Dutch connection

    Overtaking the Portuguese as the monopolists of the Indian Ocean during the 17th century, the Dutch saw great strategic value in gaining a foothold in the port of Cochin. In their characteristically exploitative way, the Dutch East India Company interfered in the affairs of local Indian kingdoms to obtain trading rights for valued spices. Together with Batavia and Ceylon, Cochin formed a trade triangle essential to the Dutch-controlled spice trade. Mostly tea and black pepper were strongly demanded resources from along India’s south-western coast. 

    Perhaps we cannot speak of a Dutch era in the same way that we speak of the Portuguese and British eras of colonial rule in Kerala; the Dutch did not show their interest in disseminating the perceived benefits of Western civilisation upon the people of Kerala. They did not build many churches or schools. In the larger scheme of things, the Dutch may have been just a small speck in the long history of Kerala, but a more quotidian legacy can still be perceived.

    Yet there was "tremendous" influence from the Dutch, in the words of Kuriakose. One of the sites of the Muziris Heritage Project showing the architectural footprints left by the Dutch is already open. The Paliam Palace, not far from Cochin, was the official residence of the Prime Minister serving the Rajas of Cochin. Helping the Raja build this official residence, the Dutch incorporated elements of their own architecture with sash windows and its steep roofs. “This style and influence were incorporated and repeated in the building of residential houses even after the Dutch period,” says Kuriakose, “and in the museum inside Paliam we also aim to reflect on how the Dutch have influenced Kerala beyond these material elements.”

    Flushed away

    One of these immaterial elements is a linguistic effect of less glamorous nature. Kerala’s first language, Malayalam, contains the word ‘kakkūs’, taken from Dutch ‘kakhuis’ and is still commonly used for toilet. Considering that ‘toilet’ also is a French loan word used both in Dutch and English, it raises the question whether the object’s banal application will always require a foreign word that can make it sound just slightly classier.  Another contribution made by the Dutch was the compilation of the Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, an extensive 12-volume compendium on the medicinal use of the many herbs and plants that the Dutch encountered in Kerala. 

    Eventually, the Dutch presence in southern India evaporated quickly after suffering a devastating loss in the war against the kingdom of Travancore after the battle of Colachel in 1742. In this fight, the VOC-admiral Eustache de Lannoy was captured by the Maharaja of Travancore. He spent the rest of his life serving as a bodyguard and later as his chief admiral. He became most known for his efforts in modeling and organising the naval forces after Dutch example. He also oversaw the construction of many fortifications along the southern coast and helped Travancore to gradually expand its territory. Ever since this defeat, the Dutch East India Company’s influence remained limited to a number of small trading posts until the British ultimately took over the hegemony on the entire subcontinent.

    Owned shared heritage

    A reflection on the global connectivity of the region’s past also sparks the need for an evaluation of the pressures of modern-day tourism and consumerism on the local environment. How does this fit in with such a large project? Kuriakose: “What we try to do is making the best use of bottom-up practices. We want the local community to use heritage as a tool for development. Conservation of shared heritage in the hands of the local citizens is one of the top priorities because it contributes to non-formal educational programmes about the community’s history and about the global significance of this region.” 

    In this sense, the project depends upon but does not want to cater specifically to touristic demands, despite the short-term incentives that may arise. “Of course we do not deny that tourism can be beneficial,” continues Kuriakose. “It is required, but we want it to be controlled by the local community. We develop projects in which communities are the owners. The project as a whole was different from anything we had done before; there are countless private-public partnerships. The government is looking at it in broader terms, in which the conservation and presentation of heritage are central. In the earlier projects, attempts were made to acquire large plots of land to attract touristic investors and operators, now we do no such things as they prove to be harmful to the sustainability of the local environment.” 


    Equally harmful was the effect of the heavy floods that struck Kerala in August 2018. In the way that it impeded the development of a number of heritage sites, it echoed the disappearance of the once legendary port Muziris. “The impact of the floods was very high, as a lot of areas were affected by the floods,” says Kuriakose. The project was slowed down considerably, but in totality the damage was limited. Once Kerala recovered, the project regained its momentum again too. The visitor numbers have picked up again and are now back to pre-flood levels. “All the projects do reasonably well. Nine museums are now open to the public, of which three had to be closed due to the floods. And many other sites will open in the coming years.”

    Ensuring resilience can be called a forte of Kuriakose. He was involved in the rehabilitation of many houses and structures affected by the 2004 tsunami in Tamil Nadu. As he said in an earlier interview: "One major factor for the success of any of the rehabilitation projects is the involvement of the beneficiaries in the planning and construction process." Here, too, the involvement of local stakeholders forms an important part of his particular vision of sustainable architecture.


    Some three months after the floods, the Kerala delegation - including Kuriakose - came to the Netherlands in an action-packed visitors programme set up by DutchCulture and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands.“We realised what we were lacking; technical guidance and assistance. The Dutch museums we visited are very advanced when it comes to the presentation of objects and the use of digital technologies,” says Kuriakose. In addition, primary sources from the National Archives in The Hague can shed new light on the region’s history. “Those records are unique sources of information, and as such, they need to be studied. We need to train our own museum researchers in deciphering and interpreting old Dutch texts and cartography. That’s why we hope to set up capacity-building programs with the help of the Cultural Heritage Agency, the National Archives and the University of Leiden.” 

    Another intended effect of the visitors programme is to establish collaborations with some of the museums with the goal of creating new exhibitions on Dutch heritage in India. Kuriakose is hopeful: “This what we are discussing in the next few months, and there is a constant and constructive dialogue between the Government of Kerala and the Dutch embassy in New Delhi. This visit has been very fruitful.” 

    Read more about the Muziris Heritage project.



    Muziris Heritage Project
    Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands
    State Government of Kerala
    Kochi Muziris Biennale
  • Exhibition ‘Reuse, Redevelop and Design: How the Dutch Deal with Heritage’ travels through Russia

    Naro-Fominsk silk factory

    Exhibition ‘Reuse, Redevelop and Design: How the Dutch Deal with Heritage’ travels through Russia

    14 March 2019
    The Russian edition of the exhibition ‘Reuse, Redevelop and Design’ turns out to be a big success in Moscow and St Petersburg in 2018.
    By Lenka Boswijk


    Russia and the Netherlands share a century of cultural reciprocity. Russia is one of the focus countries in the Netherlands for Shared Cultural Heritage. The exhibition Reuse, Redevelop and Design is a interesting example of the current exchange of expertise between Russian and Dutch heritage experts. It showcases some of the best practices of dealing with heritage.

    Post-industrial urban development

    Restoration of historic buildings and giving them new functions is one of the most urgent tasks at the post-industrial stage of urban development. This fully applies to both the Netherlands and Russia. The evolution of production technologies, the withdrawal of electrical plants outside residential areas and the development of industrial zones and their transformation into full-fledged urban areas open up many opportunities for the exchange of experience and cooperation between Russian and Dutch specialists: architects, urbanists, restorers, sociologists, developers, and civil servants.

    Interactive public program

    The exhibition, which is based on a book by Paul Meurs and Marinke Steenhuis, showcases creative solutions of how Dutch architects and planners transformed old and abandoned buildings into new landmarks, residential complexes, and societally useful facilities. In the exhibition, these solutions are presented through interactive installations and video interviews with the authors of the book and participating architects, conservators and heritage experts.

    Equally important is the interactive public programme around the exposition. Dutch heritage experts – among whom Robert Winkel (Mei Architects & Planners), Anastasia Smirnova (SVESMI), Jean-Paul Corten (Cultural Heritage Agency) and Paul Meurs himself – held various presentations In Moscow and St Petersburg. During panel discussions and workshops, Dutch and Russian professionals exchanged ideas on topics such as urban planning, regional development, and restoration of tangible artifacts. At the opening of the exhibition in Ivanovo, Robert Winkel shared his experience of rethinking storages in Rotterdam and Gouda and gave his outlook on a 19th-century Naro-Fominsk silk factory.

    Traveling the country

    The aim of the traveling exhibition is to reach heritage professionals, urban developers, regional developers, architects and the general public in various cities in Russia. Upon the initiative of the Russian Province Foundation, it was on display in Ivanovo at the beginning of 2019. On March 14, the exposition opens in Krasnoyarsk and over the next two years, it will travel to Kazan, Tula, Ekaterinburg and possibly other cities in Russia.

    The original exhibition was on display in The Hague and São João del-Rei in Brazil in 2017. Eva Radionova (Novascape) curated it for the Russian audience in collaboration with the Embassy of the Netherlands in Moscow, the Consulate-General of the Netherlands in St Petersburg and the Cultural Heritage Agency. The Russian edition is co-created by AUIPIK, National Agency for Management and Use of Built Heritage in Russia.

    For more information about Reuse, Redevelop and Design and the latest updates, have a look at Holland Heritage. 

    Photo Naro-Fominsk silk factory: NVO

    Paul Meurs
    Mei Architects and Planners
    Silk factory Naro-Fominsk
    Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands
    Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Moscow, Russia
    Robert Winkel
  • Dutch Trail in Palermo, Italy: “Artists have benefited hugely from the worldwide attention”

    'The Soul of Salt' by Patricia Kaersenhout. Photo: Wolfgang Traeger

    Dutch Trail in Palermo, Italy: “Artists have benefited hugely from the worldwide attention”

    12 March 2019
    According to cultural attaché Bas Ernst of the Dutch embassy, this interdisciplinary programme has been of great value for Dutch artists as well as for Palermo.
    By Sara Luijters


    Since 2017, DutchCulture has been making it possible to bundle Dutch cultural activities abroad and present them in an attractive way in interdisciplinary programmes. These programmes are developed by Dutch Embassies in the focus countries of international cultural policy in collaborations with Dutch partners. This interview with Bas Ernst, cultural attaché of the Dutch Embassy in Rome, Italy, is the first in a series of interviews with the initiators of DutchCulture programmes.   

    Dutch Trail

    When Bas Ernst submitted a proposal last year to produce a Dutch event as a parallel track to the main programme of the twelfth European art biennale Manifesta in Palermo, his initiative was enthusiastically embraced by Manifesta director Hedwig Fijen and her team. This resulted in what they called Dutch Trail, which was supported by DutchCulture, the Mondriaan Fund, the Creative Industries Fund NL, the DOEN Foundation, the Prince Claus Fund and the European Cultural Foundation. In Dutch Trail, which was given a prominent place at Manifesta 12, work and input from various Dutch artists, thinkers, designers, architects and universities all came together, focusing on the Manifesta 12 themes: migration, climate change and data streams. Works by Patricia Kaersenhout, Claudy Jongstra, Richard Vijgen and others were exhibited in fabulous locations such as dilapidated Sicilian palaces that had never before been open to the public. “I was talking to the owner of a food stall on a square in Palermo. The man had lived in the city all his life, but he had never seen the interior of the Palazzo Forcella de Seta. Now he was finally able to go inside,” Ernst says.

    It is important to make the creative sector visible and to be able to make a difference in that way
    Social themes

    The theme touched on two urgent social issues of our time: immigration and climate change. “The Dutch programme fit in nicely with the main theme of Manifesta 12 as well as the policy of Palermo’s mayor, who wants to reach closure regarding the Mafia past and foster a dialogue between cultures. The programme exhibited, among other things, poignant images of the enormous influx of refugees in Sicily. A cultural event offers a prime opportunity to talk about this and to focus attention on the city’s reality.”

    The themes of coexistence, migration, climate change and data streams were also clearly represented. Ernst particularly liked the work The Soul of Salt by Patricia Kaersenhout. It featured a mountain of salt from which the public could dig out small scoops to take home. The salt references the salt which slaves would refrain from eating because they thought they would become lighter and could fly back to Africa. It also refers to slaves crossing the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean on their way to plantations, and it’s the salt of all the tears shed during slavery and colonialism: “Her work is part of an ongoing conversation about our own colonial past. I found it very beautiful and was deeply impressed. I also have a great personal interest in tech, and the work of Richard Vijgen, visualising data streams, appealed to me enormously.”

    Bas Ernst sees the same themes recurring at other cultural events. “I’m in Milan right now for the opening of a major international design exhibition Broken Nature at the Triennale di Milano. Again, work is being shown that deals with current changes in our social and natural environment. Creators like Richard Vijgen and Bregtje van der Haak, who participated in Dutch Trail, are also part of the official Dutch entry here, which was opened by Minister van Engelshoven. As the Dutch Embassy and Consulate General we are supporting several Dutch projects, including Theo Jensen’s spectacular installation Strandbeest which is dedicated to the oeuvre of Leonardo da Vinci. After the triennial in Milan, we certainly want to start some new projects in Palermo. Thanks to this programme we know there’s a lot of interest in new collaborations with Dutch artists.”

    A cultural event offers a prime opportunity to talk about the city’s reality
    Investing in cultural life

    The biennial has given the city of Palermo a huge boost and has been fruitful for relations between the Netherlands and Italy too. Ernst: “Our relationship with the city authorities already was good, particularly thanks to King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima’s state visit to Palermo in 2017, during which they made appearances everywhere in the city. The attendance of Dutch artists has enhanced our relations even more. When Dutch ambassador Joep Wijnands left Rome, he received a beautiful letter from Mayor Leoluca Orlando stating the positive impact Manifesta 12 had on the city. Palermo has quite a few difficult issues to deal with, ranging from organized crime to the influx of refugees. Under the leadership of Orlando, Palermo has become more and more a city of citizens. A lot of changes are happening. Where a few years ago I had trouble dodging the cars and scooters whizzing past in the old city centre, they have now taken steps to ban cars and people are cycling through the streets. Recently a new museum opened where the well-known Italian Valsecchi family is showing their private collection; in the beautiful baroque Palazzo Butera, with a view of the sea. A few years ago that was unthinkable. Investments are once again being made in the cultural life of Palermo and the presence of the Dutch Trail in the city certainly made a contribution to this.”

    Manifesta 12 was part of a much larger programme to celebrate Palermo’s role as Cultural Capital of Italy 2018. In Italy, cultural policy and tourism are often intertwined, and figures show that the number of overnight visits from Italian and foreign tourists increased by more than 13% as a result of this unique programme. “That’s a result that definitely strikes a positive note with Italian local policy makers when asked to consider investing in large cultural events,” Ernst says.

    Investments are once again being made in the cultural life of Palermo
    International focus and collaboration

    Manifesta 12 received a lot of international media exposure, with extensive reviews in The Guardian, the New York Times, Die Zeit and the Dutch press, Ernst says. “That’s been a great boon to the Dutch artists. The opening also received a lot of attention in the Italian and regional media, and the city of Palermo was covered in posters and banners. It will have been hard for anyone to miss the fact that Manifesta 12 was in the city. The opening days in particular were very well attended by international professionals. I saw many curators and museum professionals from northern and central Italy on those days.”

    The programme has also spawned scores of other relationships. Among others with the University of Palermo, whose students worked together with TU Delft, the Architectural Association and the Royal College of Arts in London. Together they researched possible future scenarios for the city of Palermo and the impact of immigration on the city and its vegetation. The results were incorporated in the exhibition Radical Gardening, which was on show in the former mill of the San Antonio monastery. 


    In Ernst’s opinion, the choice of Italy as a venue for Manifesta has absolutely had a positive impact on the visibility of Dutch artists and Dutch cultural institutions in that country and the rest of the world. “It is important to make the creative sector visible and to be able to make a difference in that way. Cultural relations are shaped in the countless exhibitions, presentations and concerts that are organised by both sides. They also flourish at large international events such as Manifesta, the Milan Design Week, the Biennale and now the Triennale in Milan: all places where the international art world comes together and where the Netherlands is strongly represented. It is the ideal springboard for contacts with the rest of the world.”

    Read more about Dutch Trail (Dutch)

    Mondriaan Fund
    Creative Industries Fund NL
    DOEN Foundation
    Prince Claus Fund
    European Cultural Foundation
  • Afscheid Yvette Gieles

    Afscheid Yvette Gieles

    7 March 2019
    Na 17 jaar bij ons en voorloper SICA gewerkt te hebben, heeft Yvette Gieles eind 2018 afscheid genomen van DutchCulture.

    In uiteenlopende advies- en communicatiefuncties heeft Yvette zich ingezet voor de internationale mobiliteit en zichtbaarheid van Nederlandse kunstenaars en culturele organisaties, met de jaarlijkse Buitengaatskaart als een van de blikvangers. In de afgelopen twee jaar was zij gedetacheerd bij het Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau in Den Haag, waar ze meewerkte aan de ontwikkeling van een model voor een periodieke rapportage over cultuur in Nederland. De publicatie ‘Het Culturele Leven, 10 culturele domeinen bezien vanuit 14 kernthema’s’ verscheen afgelopen november.
    We bedanken Yvette voor haar bijdrage aan SICA en DutchCulture en wensen haar veel succes.  

  • China’s opportunities for artists: “There is a hunger for European art”

    Erwin Olaf exhibition in SCoP, Shanghai

    China’s opportunities for artists: “There is a hunger for European art”

    7 March 2019
    In recent years, China has become one of the world’s economic, scientific and technological superpowers. For artists it also offers exciting opportunities.
    By Bambi Bogert


    China is a priority country in the Netherlands’ International Cultural Policy 2017-2020. And with good reason. Because whereas funding for the creative sector in the Netherlands has been subject to major cutbacks in recent years, China’s economy is booming – and with this comes an insatiable appetite for arts and culture from the western world. Add to this the size and exponential growth factor of this vast territory, and it’s easy to understand why China offers seemingly limitless opportunities for those willing to venture east.

    Hunger for European art

    “In the Netherlands, an obscure performer is lucky to reach an audience of several hundred. But in China, this translates to several hundred thousand,” says Bart Hofstede, Counsellor, Head Department of Culture, Communication and Education, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Beijing. “Right now there is a hunger for European art like never before. This is just one of many things that makes cultural exchanges with China so incredibly exciting.”

    With this in mind, the Dutch Embassy decided to invite a delegation of Chinese employees from various diplomatic posts to visit the Netherlands. “The idea being that they develop a better understanding of our cultural landscape, the various cultural organizations and our funding processes,” Hofstede explains. “China is such a big country, that we have diplomatic posts in eleven different cities, each covering their own territory. The Dutch diplomats visit home at least once a year. But of course we also work with local experts, who are essential in helping our resident Dutch artists navigate the Chinese rules and regulations, customs and traditions. They are our eyes and ears on the ground. Of course they know China through and through, but how much better would it be if they also had firsthand knowledge of the arts scene in the Netherlands? That’s why we decided to organize this trip.”

    Bookstores are looking for opportunities to host international events. I’m sure they would welcome a chance to work with Dutch authors
    Useful experience

    With funding from the Dutch government, six Chinese delegates were able to spend a week in the Netherlands, where they met and visited with various ministries, public cultural foundations, municipalities and iconic representations. A visitors programme was developed and led by Ian Yang, DutchCulture’s China Advisor, together with the Dutch Embassy in Beijing. Aside from teambuilding, brainstorming, and discussing work strategies and practicalities, the main focus was on promoting Dutch culture in China and stimulating international cooperation.

    “An incredibly useful experience,” according to Wenjun Li, who works at the Dutch Embassy in Beijing. “It gives us a very clear picture of how things are organized in the Netherlands, which helps me do my job. The most important thing is learning about the structures and procedures surrounding the cultural foundations. It’s very different than in China, where culture plays an important part in everyday life. We like to sing and dance, play music and make movies. But we don’t really feel the need for specialized organizations or events – we just do it ourselves. I can’t really say one is better than the other. We’re just different.”

    Children’s books

    Amy Chen of the Dutch Consulate in Chongqing agrees. “I’ve worked for the consulate for a long time now, but I’m new to the cultural field,” she says. “We need to promote Dutch culture, so it’s important for us to understand it. I have much more clear ideas about the different cultural funds now, what they can and cannot do. This is very important information for me to bring back to Chongqing and introduce to our local counterparts, so we can decide on the best ways for artists to collaborate with each other. For example, we met with people from the Dutch Foundation for Literature, and a lady who was promoting children’s books. This is a potential market in China, we have a huge demand. Before we came to the Netherlands, we had no contacts in this field. So even if we had wanted to promote it, we wouldn’t have had a clue where to start.”

    Michael He of the Dutch Consulate in Guangzhou also feels there are ample opportunities for Dutch literature in China. “The literary scene is developing incredibly fast, bookstores are spreading like wildfire all over the country,” he says. “They don’t just operate as stores, but also as cafes, public meeting points where people gather and hold interesting conversations. Many of these places are looking for opportunities to host international events. I’m sure they would welcome a chance to work with Dutch authors. Especially when it comes to children’s novels. Chinese parents don’t want their kids playing computer games all the time anymore. They want them going to museums and to bookstores, and reading actual books. International books, as well as Chinese. Last week we organized a storytelling event with the Guangzhou Children’s Library, where the Dutch consul read a story by Max Velthuijs. The children learned a few words in Dutch. And the story was read aloud in Dutch, then translated into Chinese, so that they could listen to the original language and learn something about Dutch culture. Events like these are hugely successful. There really is a huge interest in Dutch language and literature.”

    There is a growing need to explore further, and discover interesting underground art and content
    Dutch design

    Another hot contender that has proven popular with the Chinese, is Dutch Design. For many of the delegates, visiting Eindhoven, the design capital of the Netherlands, was one of the highlights of the trip. Michael He: “Of course everybody knows Philips. But Eindhoven as a city is also very impressive. It’s the brain port for creativity and design in the Netherlands. Our visit provided us with a lot of creative ideas and learnings. Dutch Design has already made a name for itself in Southern China, in part thanks to the Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture. We also have several international photo festivals, as well as the Guangzhou Triennial, which focuses on future technology and biotech. I think there are a lot of possibilities in the field of contemporary visual arts, because the contemporary art field in Guangzhou is growing. So Dutch Design is definitely something that Southern China and the Guangzhou region has an interest in developing further relations with.”

    Elva Ma, who works at the Dutch Consulate in Shanghai, feels that this interest is spreading nationwide: “If you talk to Chinese people, everybody knows Rembrandt and Van Gogh. But in terms of contemporary art, Dutch Design is really big. People have the idea that the Dutch are very creative and very innovative. So artists with this kind of approach will probably be received really well in China.”

    Regional differences

    Still, there are important differences between the various regions of the country. Elva Ma: “I think Chinese people in general are very curious. But in places like Beijing, they are deeply rooted in proud Chinese traditions. Whereas in Shanghai, with its background as a harbor city, the people are more accepting of new and foreign ideas. Shanghai used to be known as the ‘Paris of the Orient’. It’s much more openminded and cosmopolitan. And the arts scene is incredibly dynamic. Traditionally Chinese people are huge fans of classical music and ballet. But recent years have seen a rise in all kinds of performing arts, including outdoor music festivals with DJs, EDM, jazz, modern dance… Right now, we’re still somewhat in a transitional period. But as people are becoming more accustomed to big names, there is also a growing need to explore further, and discover interesting underground art and content. It’s very much in development.”

    Be openminded. Don’t get hung up on preconceived notions about our country
    Political sensitivities

    Although politics certainly wasn’t on the agenda during this visit, it’s a topic that can be difficult to avoid whenever China is involved. And something the delegates seem well aware of. “Politically, China is more closed,” Amy Chen says. “I noticed there is more freedom in the Netherlands. It’s part of our job to help guide people through the Chinese cultural landscape with its political sensitivities, that we know so well. Which can be pretty difficult. For instance, I had to deal with a photographer who wanted to exhibit photographs of poor areas, and the Chinese government said ’no’. This isn’t so much to do with wanting to cover up poverty, it’s more about the fact that China is developing, and our government wants to avoid perpetuating negative stereotypical images. In the end, the way it’s presented is crucial. All it takes is one person to misinterpret things, and the project will be shut down. For us, this can be difficult to explain. Still, that’s what we’re here for. And it helps when we have an understanding of your culture and arts, so we can tell you which projects are most suitable for China. This way, we can help advise the best way to explain projects to the local authorities. And make it happen.”

    Greater understanding

    Elva Ma has a message for artists visiting China: “Be openminded. Don’t get hung up on preconceived notions about our country, because oftentimes what you hear and see in the media… some of it’s true, but a lot of it is just stereotyping, and it’s not an accurate representation of what’s really happening. For instance, people are led to believe that pollution in China is terrible, but it’s really not like that everywhere – thankfully! And for artists, I would say it’s better to focus on everyday situations than on tourist attractions. Because true inspiration for art comes from daily life.”

    Michael He believes that ultimately, a greater understanding of one another is the best fuel for creativity. “Historically, there has always been an exchange of ideas. The Chinese taught the Dutch how to make their famous Delft Blue ceramics. And now, there are a lot of Dutch designers and artists who incorporate sinology in their work, and use Chinese philosophy and culture in their products and creativity. It’s important to look at each other and try to see how the other thinks, how their culture works, and develop a sense of synergy.”

    Dutch Foundation For Literature
  • Morocco: la culture est la solution

    Artwork by Adam Belarouchia

    Morocco: la culture est la solution

    4 March 2019
    Myriam Sahraoui toured around Tangier’s hidden cultural gems. There is (still) much to do in the struggle of the imagination against indifference.
    By Myriam Sahraoui


    I recently had the privilege to tour around cultural initiatives in Tangier together with Dominique Kok, a cultural attaché at the Dutch embassy in Rabat, and embassy intern Feline Visser. The purpose of our tour: initiating contact between institutions and the embassy to support cultural activities and projects in the north of Morocco. In its international culture policy, the Netherlands has determined that cultural organisations in Morocco should receive more attention, with a focus on social themes, talent development, and young people.

    Former glory

    After years of difficult negotiations between Morocco and Spain, a small piece of cultural heritage has been returned to the Moroccan government. Le Teatro Cervantes, with beautiful mosaics on its facade, is a remnant of colonial history situated in the centre of Tangier. Every Tangaoui is familiar with it. The Spanish authorities did impose a condition on the transfer: that the now-dilapidated theatre is restored to its former glory. I truly hope that this will be realised but am trying to keep my expectations in check. The elderly concierge, who spends his days on an old theatre seat near the cast iron gate, welcomes me in. I am saddened by the sight of the astonishing theatre hall that has nearly fallen into ruin. Unfortunately, the city is a place that lacks any care or deference for beautiful heritage. How long will the theatre still be here? 

    I grew up in Tangier in the 1970s and 80s, in the suburb of Charf, which today has become part of the centre due to the explosive growth of the city. The new port of Tangier Med generates a lot of economic activity which goes hand in hand with a profusion of newly built hypermodern shopping malls. And with the construction of cheap flats, which are often vacant as they are owned by Moroccan Europeans who only visit in the summertime. The city is driven by economic interests and culture is not a priority.

    Yet, they do exist: the heroes and warriors of art and culture in Tangier
    Culture warriors

    Yet, they do exist: the heroes and warriors of art and culture in Tangier. People who, despite the lack of support, go against the current and fight for the world of imagination. Who create incredible initiatives and artworks in the city using their own resources or with the support of patrons or a foreign fund. We want to get to know them and support them, and that is why we are here.

    Gran Teatro Cervantes. Photo: Diego Delso,, License CC-BY-SA

    We start our tour at the multidisciplinary centre Tabadoul, which is the Arabic word for ‘exchange’. The French-Italian founder Silvia Coarelli refurbished this old paint factory and turned it into a trendy industrial space with bare walls, a large stage and a ballet floor. The aim is to develop multidisciplinary talents, and they are succeeding very well. The casual centre is frequently visited by talented youngsters who have finally found a place where they can freely express themselves. However, Tabadoul is struggling financially, and the news of a possible grant from the Dutch embassy was welcomed with open arms.


    After visiting Tabadoul, one of the youth coaches named Hassan takes us to Darna, a wonderful initiative that has been located across from the central fish market for several years. Darna means ‘our home’, and it is literally a home for many people, as it offers sheltered accommodation to women and children while simultaneously serving as a cultural centre. It has a small, multifunctional theatre hall, suitable for all kinds of performances. The centre used to work extensively with the many street children that hang around in this medina neighbourhood, but the focus has shifted to young people in general. We understand in passing that street children are not an easy target group as they often have a lot of difficult personal issues. Besides: many young people here are struggling and are rarely exposed to culture.

    I am saddened by the sight of the astonishing theatre hall that has nearly fallen into ruin. The city lacks any care or deference for beautiful heritage
    Cinémathèque de Tanger

    Next, we come to what I personally feel is Tanga’s hippest hotspot: the Cinémathèque de Tanger, also known as the Cinéma Rif. The monumental art deco cinema was rescued from falling into ruin by Yto Barrada, artist and daughter of a wealthy Moroccan family. Not only did she have the building renovated, she also turned it into a cultural venue of (inter)national allure. The interior was tastefully restored in the art deco style. Aside from interesting programming like the Arabic film programme Arabiyat about women in the Arab world, the centre offers numerous educational activities such as school programmes about visual culture.

    In studio Kissaria/Think Tanger
    Kissaria and Think Tanger

    Studio Kissaria and Think Tanger are managed by the passionate creatives Hicham Bouzid and Amina Mourid. This is a place where young artists initiate and execute visual art projects relating to their environment and the city. Think Tanger is even in the process of setting up a residential programme. If you fancy spending some time staying and working in Tangier, this is a very special place.

    I asked artist Adam Belarouchia, a recent graduate from the Beaux Arts in Tetuan and former artist in residence at the Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam, to meet us here. He is currently working on a series about youth gang culture in Morocco and he explains how hard it is these days to exhibit your work as an independent artist. I am happy to introduce him to Kissaria.

    Spectacle pour Tous

    The day after we meet Hamza Boulaiz at Spectacle pour Tous, and it is a meeting that I will cherish for a long time. Hamza’s theatre bus is parked in the inner courtyard of a secondary school, but he first brings us to a small building which he recently opened as a permanent theatre and rehearsal space. The school shows the poor state of many Moroccan public schools. Spectacle pour Tous produces theatre for young people at secondary schools and travels all across the country by bus to play in city squares and towns for anyone who is interested. Hamza is passionate and full of energy; his creed is to never give up. Ten years ago he had nothing, now he owns a fully equipped bus and a small theatre in this school where young people do not get many opportunities in life.

    Ten years ago he had nothing, now he owns a fully equipped bus and a small theatre in this school where young people do not get many opportunities in life
    Les Étoiles

    Afterwards we take a taxi to the working-class neighbourhood of Beni Makada, where we visit the new annex of social-cultural centre Les Étoiles de Sidi Moumen in Casablanca. The Moroccan winter sun shines through the clouds and our taxi driver turns up the volume when he hears reggae legend Alpha Blondie, which really brings back memories of my teenage years in Tangier. Sofia, a cheerful and assertive lady, welcomes us at the youth centre. This is a place where young people are introduced to disciplines such as dance and visual art, and where Moroccan hip hop culture is embraced and can flourish.

    One of the projects at Les Étoiles is in fact the Positive School of Hip Hop, started by the Ali Zaoua foundation and the well-known Moroccan film director Nabil Ayouch, who is currently making a film about the Moroccan hip hop scene. The film will be released in the spring of 2019 and is definitely a go-see: as always, the actors are genuine locals, and Ayouch is unafraid to address contemporary societal issues in Morocco. It’s great that Les Étoiles now also has a location in Tangier.

    The Positive School of Hip Hop, Tangier, Morocco

    On our way home, we meet the extraordinary Maho Sano, the half Moroccan, half Japanese founder of Marocopedia, an online heritage project about Morocco. It is a unique platform that aims to document both material and immaterial heritage through personal stories. But Maho is also the writer of the controversial Moroccan version of The Vagina Monologues, Diali, which means ‘mine’. A performance that has however been staged more often abroad than in Morocco.

    La culture est la solution

    On my way home, I stumble upon the hashtag #LaCultureEstLaSolution. It is a petition circulated by the cultural network organisation Racines, which had to close its doors last December after it allowed the critical Moroccan YouTube-programme 1 Diner 2 Cons to record material inside its building. Thankfully, such restrictions on free artistic expression raise a lot of protest, and many people inside and outside the Moroccan culture scene have signed the petition.

    There is (still) much to do in Morocco.

    Think Tanger
  • Publication: Contemporary Artist Residencies, Reclaiming Time and Space

    International artists residency AADK, Spain

    Publication: Contemporary Artist Residencies, Reclaiming Time and Space

    28 February 2019
    This book raises the question as to what the present role of artist residencies is in relation to artists and the art ecosystem amid transformations in society.
    By Bojana Panevska


    Artist residencies provide space, time, and concentration for making art, doing research, and for reflection. Residencies are crucial nodes in international circulation and career development. They are also invaluable infrastructures for critical thinking and artistic experimentation, cross-cultural collaboration, interdisciplinary knowledge production and site-specific research. The globalization process and the demands of the creative economy have had an impact on artist residencies. Ecological and geopolitical urgencies are now also affecting them more and more. 

    Critical insights
    In response, many residencies today actively search for more sustainable alternatives in terms of artistic practices than what the current neoliberal condition allows. With a range of critical insights from the field of residencies, this book asks what the present role of artist residencies is in relation to artists and the art ecosystem amid transformations in society. 

    From community building to digital presence 
    Bojana Panevska from DutchCulture’s Mobility and Advice desk contributed a text with the title Residencies: From community building to digital presence. She writes about four different approaches of organizing residencies that are changing the format not only of the term, but also in the approach of how artists are working and developing a project: “With the constant renewal of old and tested ideas, different forms of hospitality are explored, best practices are rapidly being implemented in different contexts and translated from local to global. Residencies do not exist in a bubble separate from the rest of the (art) world; rather, artists and organisers are actively rethinking their role in the community and society.”

    Panevska explains, for example, how residencies are giving support to artists at risk: “In these times when (western) countries’ borders are opened only selectively depending on specific socio-economic criteria, it is of utter importance to have places where artists can also be safe (and sheltered) to express themselves.” Also, what are the benefits of artist- or self-organised residencies: “More and more artists are taking matters into their own hands by organising residencies. In some way, they are establishing new models for residencies by experimenting with space, time and funding. Very often this is done in a rural area, for obvious reasons of being more affordable, but also of reconnecting oneself with a different surrounding.”

    Contemporary Artist Residencies, Reclaiming Time and Space, editors Taru Elfving, Pascal Gielen and Irmeli Kokko, Valiz 2019. 

    Contributions fom (a.o.): Livia Alexander, Helmut Batista, Francisco Guevara, Maria Hirvi-Ijäs, Jean-Baptiste Joly, Patricia Jozef, Vytautas Michelkevičius, Marita Muukkonen, Nina Möntmann, Jenni Nurmenniemi, Alan Quireyns, Florian Schneider and Ivor Stodolsky.

    You can order the book here.

  • "We don’t present Hollywood pictures that always end well"

    'Jabber' by Theatre group Kwatta. Photo: Laura Luca

    "We don’t present Hollywood pictures that always end well"

    25 February 2019
    The programme Never Grow Up! draws the attention of the USA to Dutch youth performing art, film and literature. An interview with programme manager Anja Krans.
    By Minou op den Velde


    Dutch youth arts are known for their artistic and high quality productions. Throughout 2019 Never Grow Up! draws the attention of the United States to this specific cultural segment. Anja Krans, programme manager at Dutch Performing Arts and Vera Kuipers of Dutch Culture USA of Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, coordinate the programme. Time to raise the question: how has everything worked out so far?

    Never Grow Up! presented at the International Performing Arts for Youth theatrical fair in Philadelphia last January. What can you accomplish in that arena?

    Anja Krans: "IPAY is the largest showcase fair for youth theatre in North America, and an important market for us. Between 400 to 500 professionals are present there. Every self-respecting programmer from the US visits. But there are also people from Australia, Scotland and China. It is the perfect place to create demand for our productions.

    We went there with eight companies who presented themselves in a booth at the fair and tried to sell their shows. Four groups gave a showcase with a full performance - Maas Theater en Dans with Eitje, Theatergroep Kwatta with Jabber, Simone de Jong with Kluizelaar and De Dansers with Pokon. There was a great turnout and I was happy to see that the atmosphere was very open-minded. In the Netherlands, you may spot theatre programmers sitting with their arms firmly crossed, but when Americans like a show, they laugh out loud."

    Is there a shortage of good youth theatre in America?

    "Well, we have noticed that there is a lot of room for youth theatre and youth dance. The Netherlands has many good quality youth theatre groups. This is also the case because the Dutch sector is subsidized, so people can create youth theatre fulltime. We can invest in decors and in quality actors. Youth theatre companies sometimes receive 500,000 euros from the Dutch government and often added resources from the province or the municipality. That is unthinkable in the US. Most youth theatre makers in the US need a side-job.”

    Sometimes Americans feel our productions are a bit over the edge
    How does Dutch youth theatre distinguish itself from what is created in the United States?

    "We are strong in visual theatre and physical play, such as mime, and we are good at music theatre. This is an advantage if you want to play abroad as a youth group. A very linguistic performance needs to be played in English. Because you cannot show surtitles to children."

    What should Dutch companies bear in mind if they want to perform in the US?

    "Sometimes Americans feel our productions are a bit over the edge. Themes as sex, gender, divorce or death can be problematic in the US. While this usually poses no problem at all in other countries."

    What has caused this in your opinion?

    "In America, children are pretty much shielded from subjects like these. It is also related to the funding in America. Because companies are much more dependent on ticket sales, they do not want children, teachers or parents to be offended. Dutch companies earn slightly less than a quarter of their income from the box office. American companies, on the other hand, get roughly 80% from ticket sales. We cannot enter this market with risky productions. You must play it safe. For example: the production Wuthering Heights by Theatre Artemis played on 42nd Street in 2011. Two classes left the show, because it was suggested that someone was taking a shower. There was no nudity, but the teachers walked away. So if you want to play in the US, you have to be prepared to occasionally make artistic adjustments.

    In the US well-known stories or fairy tales are often adapted for theatre, because in that case, no one gets burned. Dutch companies tend to make complicated themes accessible to children. We don’t present Hollywood pictures that always end well. Sometimes our plots are not entirely logical, or we make ironic jokes.

    But if you want to play in the US, you have to take their culture into account. A good example is Jabber from Kwatta, which we presented on IPAY, and which was sold immediately afterwards. Kwatta has toured in the US before. They know the way the wind blows. Jabber is a music theatre performance with jabbered lyrics. Playwright Jibbe Willems has created a new language with words from different countries. It tells the story of someone who is not welcome and is literally chased out of the nest. This way you can offer a stimulating message while bypassing the most sensitive themes."

    Dutch companies tend to make complicated themes accessible to children
    So we can safely say it not easy to conquer the American market.

    "Indeed, internationalisation is never easy. In the eyes of the US we are a very small country. Blockbusters from ITA, previously Toneelgroep Amsterdam, with Ivo van Hove, and the NDT, are in demand. But beyond that, success is not guaranteed. Internationalisation is a slow process, because when you are booked, it is always for the following season. In that regard, it is great to see that that our youth theatre has found a way in. A week before IPAY I received a message from Shanghai. The programmer has come over specifically to see Dutch work. Kluizelaar from Simone de Jong will definitely play in Shanghai and at the Edinburgh International Children's Festival.

    De Dansers performed on Friday evening. Pokon is quite a physical performance, in which the dancers themselves make music, roll over the ground and play around with plants. It is slightly unpolished, but it was well received, as De Dansers have now been booked for 11 performances in 2020 at the Kennedy Center. That’s one of the most important venues in the US. A great icing on the cake."

    Never Grow Up! is a cooperation of Dutch Performing Arts, Dutch Culture USA of Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, Eye International, Netherlands Film Fund, Cinekid, Dutch Foundation for Literature and DutchCulture.

    This is part 3 in a series on Culture for Kids. The occasion of the Conference International Culture for Kids was a joint initiative by DutchCulture, the NAPKHet LetterenfondsDe Nederlandse Museumvereniging and Cinekid.

    Read part 1: Het kindvriendelijke kinderportret, by art historian Rudi Ekkart (Dutch)

    Read part 2: The Netherlands: Europe’s playground, by Hans Luyckx

    Dutch Performing Arts
    EYE Film Institute Netherlands
    Netherlands Film Fund
    Dutch Foundation For Literature
  • Cultuur en internationalisering in de provincie

    Cultuur en internationalisering in de provincie

    21 February 2019
    De conferentie Cultuur werkt voor de provincie ging over de kansen die cultuur biedt voor de regio’s. Bijvoorbeeld op het gebied van internationalisering.

    Op donderdag 14 februari nam Frank Kimenai van de Creative Europe Desk deel aan de door Kunsten 92 georganiseerde conferentie Cultuur werkt voor de provincie. Deze stond in het teken van de kansen die cultuur biedt voor de diverse regio’s in Nederland buiten de randstad, bijvoorbeeld op het gebied van toerisme, economische ontwikkeling, sociaal maatschappelijke vraagstukken en natuurlijk internationalisering. Actuele materie, gezien het feit dat deze regio’s op dit moment hun culturele regioprofielen naar het ministerie van OC&W hebben opgestuurd ter voorbereiding op de nieuwe kunstenplanperiode en de Provinciale Statenverkiezingen. 

    Cultuur met de blik op Europa
    De dag begon met een inspirerende openingslezing door rijksbouwmeester Floris Alkemade over de grote ruimtelijke opgaven in Nederland van dit moment en het culturele perspectief daarin. Daarna werden de aanwezigen onderverdeeld in vijf deelsessies die focusten op de verschillende onderwerpen die spelen in de regio. Frank Kimenai nam deel aan de deelsessie Cultuur met de blik op Europa, waar hij samen met Marjolein Cremer van de European Cultural Foundation een korte presentatie gaf over de verschillende mogelijkheden voor Europese cultuursubsidies. 

    Aanbevelingen voor provincie
    Er ontstond al snel een levendige discussie over de verantwoordelijkheden en ambities die provincies hebben met betrekking tot internationalisering in het algemeen, en de kansen in Europa in het bijzonder. Hieruit volgden een aantal aanbevelingen:

    - Zorg voor een stevige, goed gefundeerde culturele infrastructuur, inclusief fair practice code
    - Formuleer, vanwege het belang van de verbinding tussen regio/provincie en Europa, een Europese agenda op alle niveaus
    - Maak cultuur (kunst en erfgoed) een integraal onderdeel van deze agenda
    - Laat je daarbij inspireren door het Noord-Brabantse model

    Meer weten? Lees hier het verslag van de hele conferentie. 

    Kunsten '92
  • Report on fair international cultural cooperation

    Photo by Chouaib Brik for Unsplash

    Report on fair international cultural cooperation

    21 February 2019
    DutchCulture gathered 40 international experts in Amsterdam to discuss values and practicalities of fair(er) international cultural cooperation.
    By Maarten Bul


    This closed meeting at Broedplaats Lely in Amsterdam followed the publication of the toolkit Beyond Curiosity and Desire: Towards Fairer International Collaborations in the Arts earlier in 2018, by IETM with On the Move and DutchCulture, focused on issues influencing expectations and engagement in international and intercultural activities.

    As a next step in addressing the points raised by the toolkit, the meeting aimed at offering an opportunity for funders and institutions to discuss and exchange their perspectives, as well as develop shared intelligence to move forward in embedding such practices in our respective organisations and ways of working. The focus of this meeting were the conventions and practical issues in funding international activities, which can be summed up as follows:

    Mutual understanding
    - We acknowledge the overall context is unequal, making international cultural cooperation unequal a priori.
    - We strive for transparency and sustainability to resolve unfair and unequal cooperation.
    - Feedback needs to be cherished and serves funding organisations to create a flexible architecture.
    - We work with each other rather than for each other.
    - We need a humble attitude at the core of developing fair programs, funding and collaborations.

    Practical recommendations
    - Set the example – be an inclusive and reflective organisation. Practice what you preach.
    - Be flexible – there is no one-size-fits-all in funding and international cooperation.
    - Reach out – proactively cater to audiences that normally might not apply.
    - Give true agency - trust those you collaborate with.
    - Evaluate in honesty – do not predetermine the results.
    - Be aware of language – be more inclusive in your communication.
    - Include politics - rules and regulations curb fairness. 

    As DutchCulture we will continue to work on understanding fair international cultural cooperation and create tools to distribute shared intelligence and ways of implementing practical frameworks. The gathering in 2018 functions as a blueprint to organise follow ups and discuss the topic with a range of professionals with different perspectives. This way we hope to identify universal values and conflicting perspectives in order to address those in detail.

    In 2019 we will organise a new day to contemplate issues involving shared heritage.

    The full report can be downloaded on the left side of this page.

    Read more about the toolkit