Safety Measures, Simone C. Niquille. Dutch Pavilion WORK, BODY, LEISURE. 16th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, FREESPACE.

Photo: Daria Scagliola

What do the numbers say? Edition Italy, where design and festivals flourish

Italy stays what it has always been: an inviting, fertile and inspiring cultural context, especially for the design and performing arts sector.
23 July 2019
by Tijana Stepanovic


Under cover of night on September 3rd 1786, one of the most influential thinkers of our history, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe left Germany incognito, to go on the journey of his life. A journey to the country of his dreams, “where the lemons grow”: Italy. He went there to regain himself and his voice as an artist. With his journey Goethe set a trend.

In this article I would like to shed light on some of the most important trends, facts and correlations that characterize the Dutch cultural activities in Italy in 2018. These activities were so numerous that they make Italy the seventh most visited country for Dutch artists. Which shows that Italy remains what it has always been: an inviting, fertile and inspiring cultural context for artists and art-lovers.

Big shots

To start with hard numbers: in 2018, 370 Dutch artists participated in 586 cultural activities across Italy, that took place at 240 venues across 117 cities around the country. The majority of cultural activities are connected to three major events: the Milan Design Week, the Venice Biennale and Manifesta 12, which took place in the city of Palermo in 2018. These three events together attracted a total of almost 1 million visitors.

Milan Design Week

This is the global benchmark event for the design sector, where more than 150 Dutch designers and companies presented their work in 2018. The number of Dutch participants is always very high, which indicates that the Design week is a stable point in the agenda of our designers. Under the umbrella of the Milan Design Week a manifold of events are taking place every April in the Northern Italian city. Its central happening is the Salone del Mobile. The Fuorisalone is a set of exhibitions and presentations invading all the Milanese neighborhoods and suburbs and the Salone Satellite presents young designers under 35. Each of these branches of the Design Week made it to the Italian top 10 event list in 2018 and together attracted almost 500.000 visitors. It does not come as a surprise that the week of the Salone is the single most busy week in Italy in the whole year for designers and artists from the Netherlands.

Dutch Invertuals at Salone del Mobile, Milan2018. Photo: Barbara Medo/Dutch Invertuals
Venice Biennale of Architecture

In 2018 the Venice Biennale of Architecture attracted 275.000 visitors. During the Biennale there were 34 events presented by Dutch artists from group exhibitions to screenings, readings or symposium. The Dutch Pavilion which is traditionally organized by Het Nieuwe Instituut, was centered around the theme WORK, BODY, LEISURE. The exhibition was based on a collaborative working method of makers from diverse fields and examined architecture’s response to emerging technologies of automation.

Dutch Pavilion WORK, BODY, LEISURE. 16th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, FREESPACE. Photo: Daria Scagliola
Manifesta 12

This edition of Manifesta has set the goal of conceiving a profoundly new approach to biennials, aiming at a real long-term impact for Palermo citizens. Palermo Atlas created by OMA was the foundational step of Manifesta 12 that served as a blueprint for Palermo to plan its future. The biennale had a special Dutch focus: a program called Dutch Trail, initiated by the Dutch Embassy in Rome, curated and produced by Manifesta and made possible by, among others, DutchCulture. Dutch Trail involved 4 Dutch artists in the main program, besides that presentations of 3 Dutch galleries, and several Dutch artists and groups in the collateral events. More than 200.000 art-lovers visited Manifesta in 2018. This huge presentation and the interest in it nuanced the usual geographical distribution of cultural events and number of visits in Italy: the dominance of Rome and the Northern cities of Milano, Venice, Bologna became somewhat balanced. This tendency, the interest in South Italy is expected to continue in 2019, when Matera will be the European Capital of Culture.

Patricia Kaersenhout: The Soul of Salt / Manifesta 12, Dutch Trail. Photo: Maarten Bul
Disciplines: focus on (social)design, architecture/urban planning and literature

The Embassy of the Netherlands in Rome and the Consulate General in Milan in close collaboration with DutchCulture, the Dutch cultural funds and institutions are giving these three disciplines an extra focus in the 2017-2020 policy period. The prevailing success of the Design Week and the Architecture Biennale stand for itself, but it is also good to point out the achievements in the field of literature. Literature was responsible for 8% of all Dutch cultural events in Italy in 2018. Iperborea, and it’s annual festival, the I Boreali focus on the Northern cultures. In 2018 they published a book, the Passenger-Olanda, including  several Dutch writers, among which were Connie Palmen and Toine Heijmans. Fruit Exhibition, the annual independent art book fair of Bologna invited 12 Dutch writers or publishers for its 6th edition. Besides that Kader Abdolah participated in Italy’s leading literature fair, the Turin International Book Fair.

If you look at figure 1, which shows which disciplines were the most represented in Italy in 2018, you will notice that music also stands out with its 23% of the total amount of activities. If we add to this 8% that the performing arts took up, we see how inviting the Italian stage is for Dutch performers:

Frequent travelers

Four out of the ten top-travellers to Italy work in the music scene. Johan de Meij’s musical portrayal of Lord of the Rings was on stage 28 times in Italy last year. Rhinorino and the jazz musician Ben van Gelder both gave 7 concerts, while DJs Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano performed 6 times.

It is a new element that two organisations especially focusing on children made it to the top 10 travelers to Italy, namely Oorkaan and Usine à Neige. Oorkaan, the only music ensemble in The Netherlands that has dedicated itself exclusively to the creation of high quality staged concerts for young audiences, performed 14 times. Both groups were invited to the prestigious Romaeuropa festival.

Finally, two short-film makers are also on the list of frequent travelers. The Nightshade by Shady el-Hamus was screened on 7 different film festivals throughout Italy, while Catastrophe by Jamille van Wijngaarden made it to 6 festivals.

Shady el-Hamus: Nightshade
Festivals and Fairs

The most popular format for Dutch artists in Italy seems to be the fair and the festival. Among the Italian fairs the Milan Design Week, HOMI – The Lifestyle Trade Fair and Fruit Exhibition book fair stand out when it comes to Dutch participation in 2018.

Festivals make 44% of all types of events and Romaeuropa is surely a leading actor here. It takes place every year since 1986 in Rome and focuses on art, theatre, dance and music. Recognised as the most important Italian cultural festival, it is also on the top venues list for Dutch artists. Gender Bender also makes groundbreaking work in Italy, introducing the public to the new imagery related to gender identities, sexual orientations and body representations stemming from contemporary culture. In 2018 Shailesh Bahoran, Fernando Belfiore and Guilherme Miotto were invited to Gender Bender. What makes festivals and fairs so attractive? Probably the concentrated amount of cultural production and the special sphere these events offer to the visitors.

Figure1: Artistic platforms most represented in Italy in 2018
Figures or stories?

After diving into the data and seeing the fascinating amount of Dutch artistic production in Italy and the huge public interest for arts and design, it is good to remind ourselves that behind each and every entry in our database there is a story. Goethe’s trip would be only one line in the database, but it tells little about how significant and transformative that one trip was for him. And thus for the history of humanity. So, let be this the conclusion. In our time of globalization and profound ecological changes it is an important moral consideration to maximize artistic impact while minimalizing the ecological one; to reformulate the international artistic ambitions through honestly understanding their necessity and value; and finally whenever possible, to thrive for deep, long-term and authentic collaborations.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visiting the Colosseum in Rome, oil on canvas, Jacob-Philippe Hackert, circa 1790 © Bridgeman Art Library/HH

Check out the complete overview of Dutch cultural activities in Italy in our database.

If you are a cultural professional who wants to go to Italy, feel free to contact our Italy advisor Tijana Stepanovic.

For funding possibilities, check out our Cultural Mobility Funding Guide or the websites of our partners Creative Industries Fund NLDutch Film FundDutch Foundation for LiteratureEYE InternationalHet Nieuwe InstituutMondriaan FundPerforming Arts Fund, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Rome and the Consulate General in Milan.

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