• Genç Kültür in Turkey: "Looking at the role culture can play in society, addressing kids is a great place to start"

    Theatre company BonteHond (Almere) in preparation talks with Atta Festival Istanbul.

    Genç Kültür in Turkey: "Looking at the role culture can play in society, addressing kids is a great place to start"

    16 april 2019
    Cultural attaché Quirine van der Hoeven on the successes and challenges of the interdisciplinary kids culture programme in Turkey of 2018.
    By Simon de Leeuw


    Since 2017, DutchCulture has made 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 Quirine van der Hoeven, cultural attaché at the Dutch Embassy in Turkey, is the second in a series of interviews with the initiators of DutchCulture programmes.

    Taboos and opportunities

    Van der Hoeven – mother of two young kids and residing in Istanbul – knows that cultural life in Turkey is generally not strongly focused on actively involving kids and saw that opportunities loomed. “Turkey has a very large young population, a young and eager target audience.” Dutch artists and creatives – as explored before – have a knack for creating compelling content for kids. “So there is an incredible potential. One and one makes two,” she calculates. But it’s not just about the exports: “If you look at the role that culture can play in society, addressing kids is a great place to start, building on the idea that they have the future."

    In addition, an underlying sense of urgency manifests itself in a recognition of the connecting role that children’s arts and culture can play in Turkish society. Van der Hoeven clearly points towards the need for shared spaces where people can come together and share experiences in this context. “We noticed how divided Turkish society is these days. Just look at the last election results. We believe that focusing on culture can help start conversations and forge connections between people with different outlooks on life.”

    We wanted to start conversations and forge connections between people with different outlooks on life
    Culture for kids

    From Istanbul, Quirine van der Hoeven tells us about the inception of the plan: “I had those programme resources on my radar for some time, when we decided to launch this plan together with DutchCulture last year. There was a strong focus on youth in the Embassy’s and Consulate’s activities already, so this was the perfect match and a logical continuation of some processes we had already started.”

    The programme ran from April until December 2018, launched by the Embassy in Ankara and the Consulate in Istanbul and DutchCulture, and supported by the Dutch Foundation for Literature, Het Nieuwe Instituut, the Netherlands Film Fund, the Performing Arts Fund NL and Creative Industries Fund NL. They jointly directed their attention towards activities that would increase the visibility of Dutch arts and culture for kids. Hence the programme’s official name; Genç Kültür. It translates as ‘kids culture’ and the aim was to broaden the horizon of Turkish children by increasing their familiarity with Dutch culture, as well as raising awareness of the fact that kids are a serious and important target audience for cultural professionals. Among the league of participating actors were: ATTA Festival, Pera Museum, Design Biennial Istanbul, Cinekid, Informel Education – Çocukistanbul, International Children’s Land Film Festival. (For a more comprehensive overview, look here.)

    During Genç Kültür, CocukIstanbul worked together with Wereldmuseum (World museum) in Rotterdam to co-organise a series of workshops in both Istanbul and Rotterdam.
    Forging connections

    The Genç Kültür programme involved a great variety of actors from various disciplines. From gaming workshops on how to tackle plastic waste by Ellis Bartolomeus at a high school in Ankara to lessons in traditional Turkish instruments brought back to Amsterdam from Diyarbakir by the Aslan Muziekschool. “For many of the participants, including Ellis Bartolomeus, it was their first time in Turkey and they expressed great satisfaction from the new partnerships they were able to make,” van der Hoeven proudly says.

    The satisfaction is apparent at the Embassy and Consulate too: “One project that I really loved was the collaboration with Cinekid,” says van der Hoeven upon asked to name her highlight of the 8-month programme. “It involved a one-day ‘train the trainer’ session in Istanbul, in which thirteen organisations - festivals and other cultural operators - learned how to implement three different Cinekid children’s workshops during their own festival or event.” Many of those festivals, such as the Marmaris Short Movie Festival, took place last year and employed the educational workshop and showed Dutch children’s movies.

    Van der Hoeven is excited about the impact that a single day made on the many participating parties. “Cinekid provided them with tools to apply in their own events, and it’s great to see that knowledge being put into practice straight away. More broadly, we made sure that interested parties came from all across Turkey and that there was a way in which we could share a particular Dutch way of working; low-cost and easy to use, but very inventive.”

    Ellis Bartholomeus gave a workshop to teachers and educators in Ankara. "I let them play Pacman together. Each of the participants can only steer in one direction. It's a great tool for cooperation, communication and leadership at the same time." Ellis designs digital games contributing to knowledge or behavioural insights to its players.
    This was a perfect match and a logical continuation of processes we had already started
    Rabbits on the run

    Another example of a result that van der Hoeven is particularly excited about is the link-up between Dutch youth theatre group BonteHond and ATTA festival. With the help of Performing Arts Fund NL, the collaboration revolved around the production of a Turkish adaptation of the piece Gezocht: Konijn, described as a ‘miniature theatre for the very smallest.’ The piece, which features a wanted rabbit who escaped from prison, has become a big hit.

    The critical potential of the play was recognized by programmers throughout the country. “I guess there is an anarchistic and rebellious element to it that resonates with kids anywhere,” van der Hoeven estimates. “It’s a vintage hide-and-seek game. The rabbits are causing mischief; the police chases them. When we saw that they did such a successful job that really struck a chord with audiences both young and old, we joined forces in order to reach Turkey in its widest sense. We brought the play to lesser-known places such as Van, Malatya, Mersin, Çanakkale and Keşan.”

    We shared a particular Dutch way of working; low-cost and easy to use, but very inventive
    Growing up

    Apart from the audience focus on children, seeking out new partners and audiences in places beyond Istanbul and Ankara is another very clear objective of the Diplomatic Network in Turkey. “We aimed at reaching out to audiences that are not necessarily focused on culture, let alone Dutch cultural expressions,” says van der Hoeven. “This was an ongoing process for us too, and we have to thank the Turkish State Theatres and the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) for opening so many doors to us and discovering new partners. Just last week we were in Eskişehir, in central Turkey. To our surprise, we learned that they had made a partnership with the ATTA festival, and Gezocht: Konijn will be performed over there in May. So apart from all the things that we were directly involved in, collaborations have started to develop independently.”

    After an initial period of guided collaborations within this programme, the seeds have been sown for further future exchange. Van der Hoeven: “Even though the programme ended in December and the ‘brand’ Genç Kültür may not be there anymore, we generated a lot of attention through it, as demonstrated by the many incoming requests of partner organisations, groups, festivals and theatres to set up a project involving culture for and by kids. In that sense, it definitely proved to be a catalyst.” For many projects, the next steps are being developed and so the children’s programme’s children can slowly grow into adulthood.


    Cultural attaché Quirine van der Hoeven


    Find a comprehensive overview of the projects supported during the Genç Kültür programme (pdf).

    Read the first article in this series of interviews with cultural attachés with Bas Ernst in Rome. He discusses the impact of the Dutch Trail as part of art biennale Manifesta in Palermo.

  • How to refuse the world without leaving it: on art & censorship in an international context

    How to refuse the world without leaving it: on art & censorship in an international context

    11 april 2019
    In the run-up to the symposium Artistiek Kompas, Errol Boon wrote an essay on ethical challenges artists face when confronted with artistic censorship.
    By Errol Boon


    What to do when the political regime of the country you are working in as an artist structurally violates the human rights and contravenes values of tolerance? Is it at all morally legitimate to perform in a theatre that is owned by a government that suppresses dissidents and minorities? On Monday April 15 DutchCulture and the Performing Arts Fund NL organise Artistiek Kompas – over je principes als (podium)kunstenaar in het buitenland, a symposium on artistic freedom and censorship. In the run-up to the event, Errol Boon wrote an essay on ethical challenges artists face when confronted with artistic censorship.

    In a quest for new worlds, different audiences, unexpected encounters and illuminating inspiration, Dutch artists can be found in countries all around the world. However, working in an international context often involves considerations about how artists relate to other cultures and regimes – especially when working in countries with regimes that contravene the very values artists express in their work. Moreover, basic artistic freedoms are not always guaranteed in these countries, which is why artists are often required to adapt their works as a condition for performance, exposition or publication. Confronted with these questions, cultural workers make different decisions and employ various attitudes towards foreign cultures. Behind these decisions and attitudes often lie implicit moral assumptions and fundamental beliefs that ultimately direct the way cultural workers operate abroad. Explicating these assumptions can illuminate the underlying discussions at stake in order to make a more thorough and informed choice.

    These decisions often involve either a moral or an artistic concession, leaving behind a bitter tang of unfulfilled promises
    The value of one’s values

    What to do when the political regime of the country of destination structurally violates the human rights and contravenes values of tolerance? Is it at all morally legitimate to perform in a theatre that is owned by a government that suppresses dissidents and minorities? When, for example, Toneelgroep Amsterdam (TGA) decided to play Tom Lanoye’s Tsjechov adaption De Russen! at the Baltic House International Theatre Festival in St Petersburg and unexpectedly ended the play with a statement about the universal rights of journalists and homosexuals, the director of the theatre was reprimanded for his (courageous) booking of the TGA piece.

    Artists that wish to expose or publish their work in foreign countries, but do not want to interfere too much with the values of a local community, sometimes choose to adapt their work if necessary. When, for example, the Dutch youth theatre ensemble BonteHond wished to perform their play Gezocht: Konijn in Turkey, about a rabbit that is wanted by the police, they had to change the role of the police. BonteHond decided to adapt their piece in respectful collaboration with all Turkish participants, to the extent that everyone could still recognise its artistic vision and the cultural values expressed in the piece. Ultimately, the piece became very successful in Turkey. However, there are many artists that find these forms of adaption impossible and decide not to perform or publish their work in similar conditions. These decisions often involve either a moral or an artistic concession, leaving behind a bitter tang of unfulfilled promises.
    The decisive assumption that determines all these possible ways of relating one’s artistic practice to other cultures is that of the status or value of one’s values. Are the democratic and tolerant values of one's work by definition superior to those that are applied in, for example, Russia or Turkey? Or is it by no means possible to ever place one's values over those of others? These ethical principles about the status of values ultimately shape the moral compass that we are relying on when exposing art abroad. Thinking about possible answers to the question of the value of our values, we could distinguish two rather radical attitudes that mark two extremities between which we could set up the moral compass, namely the attitudes of ‘absolutism’ and ‘relativism’.

    BonteHond, ‘Gezocht: Konijn', Istanbul. In coproduction with ATTA Festival, direction René Geerlings. Photo: Yasemin Taşkın
    The absolutist attitude

    An absolutist or dogmatic stance towards cultural values regards a certain set of values as the superior, objective and universal standard for moral judgements. Adapting one’s artistic work and putting one’s values into perspective would, therefore, be out of the question for an absolutist. Rather, looking at the black pages of European history, we find the absolutist attitude as a legitimization for missionary expeditions, colonializing enterprises and other imperialist ways of imposing one’s so-called ‘higher values’ on ‘underdeveloped’ cultures.

    Although most of us would regard this absolutist attitude as a thing of the past, contemporary critics point out that many international art projects still espouse a form of ‘post-imperialism’, which reproduces the power structures established in Europe’s colonial past. Artists too, such as Miranda Lakerveld of World Opera Lab, point out that international projects sometimes still purport a missionary practice of imposing our ‘absolute’ democratic values on others. Most cultural workers thus seem to acknowledge that a moral compass, that is tacitly or unconsciously set upon dogmatic absolutism was and still is the great risk that we must avoid in international artistic practices.  

    Art has a powerful potential to criticise the world we live in
    The relativist attitude

    On the other extreme side of the spectrum, as a strong reaction on absolutism, we find the attitude of cultural relativism, which is currently represented more strongly in the international arts scene. Cultural relativism implies that since we lack any objective criteria to measure different cultures, and since we can never fully understand any culture except our own, it is disrespectful and intolerant to critically judge the values of other cultures, as a result of which we have to respectfully abstain from judgement and tolerate other cultures’ values. On the basis of a relativist assumption, the adaptation of one’s work in the service of a foreign regime with different values, would not encounter any moral objections (although, of course, possibly still artistic objections).

    However, also relativism does not seem to be to the point for the artistic practice of most cultural workers. First of all, many artists – remember the TGA example – do think that there are certain values that apply to every culture in every era, for example concerning the universal rights of man: only a few artists would reject the universal status of gender equality and freedom of speech. Secondly, when one accepts state-censorship out of an idea of tolerance, one finds oneself in a moral paradox of tolerating intolerance, that is: of tolerating the diminishing of the tolerance that made one tolerate the intolerant censorship in the first place. Lastly, we could wonder whether respect for a foreign culture actually involves abstention of critically judging that foreign culture. Does abstaining the other from critical judgement not mean that we do not rather take the other genuinely serious, like when we tolerate a child by saying ‘it’s is just a child’? What’s more, saying that we cannot understand other cultures well enough to criticise them simultaneously excludes us from the possibility of praising other cultures, from the possibility of ‘learning from a stranger’, and from the possibility of other cultures praising or criticizing our culture. These implications of cultural relativism seem to be contra-intuitive to most cultural workers, for whom it turns out that the compass of moral relativism leads to nowhere genuinely.

    Complete neutrality does not exist in the heart of an engaged human being
    From moral dilemma to artistic challenge

    Art has a powerful potential to criticise the world we live in – it enables us to ‘refuse the world without leaving it’, as Albert Camus once wrote. However, when we are confronted with cultures that uphold other values than ours, and especially when we are asked to adapt our artworks in service of these other cultures, we find ourselves confronted with the moral dilemma of the ‘value of our values’ for which neither absolutism, nor relativism seem to be of fortunate guidance. The answer must lie somewhere in between, but is almost impossible to find, let alone to prescribe, since the rejection of relativism ends up in absolutism, while the rejection of absolutism can only be made on relativist grounds.

    A real dilemma can, by definition, never be solved in theory. Rather, the practicing artist needs to engage with it as a challenge over and over again when working in an international context. Hence, the riddle of finding a prudent middle between relativism and absolutism consists in the moral challenge of advocating your democratic values without imperialistically imposing them on others; to represent an open attitude towards different cultural values without neglecting your most precious and fundamental beliefs.

    All in all, this seem to require an open antagonism, a peaceful confrontation between cultures in which we may refuse each other’s worldview, but without leaving the other behind. To acknowledge the differences between cultures, but approaching these differences not hierarchical but rather as an interesting diversity. This entails being loyal to one’s own fundamental values as such, but reserving space to discuss the specific meaning and significance those values may have. Think again about the question of censorship: if a demand of censorship really threatens your moral values as such (e.g. when it violates gender equality as such), it would be problematic to identify yourself any longer with the censored version of the work; but when a required adaptation could shed new light on the meaning of the values you are expressing (e.g. another interpretation of what equality means), it may even broaden up or enrich your perspective. The paradoxical compass of ‘refusing the world without leaving it’ lets us neither leave the mutual dialogue – because dogmatism is always on the watch – nor does it prescribe neutrality and abstention of refusal – because complete neutrality does not exist in the heart of an engaged human being. Where it does lead us remains to be discovered by every traveling artist anew.

    DutchCulture and the Performing Arts Fund NL invite representatives from the (performing) arts sector to participate in our free meeting on artistic freedom in foreign countries on Monday April 15 (language: Dutch).

    Header photo: Oscar Keys/Unsplash

    Performing Arts Fund NL
  • Council for Culture recommends a policy-shaping and agenda-setting role for DutchCulture

    Council for Culture recommends a policy-shaping and agenda-setting role for DutchCulture

    11 april 2019
    The advice issued by the Council discusses, among other things, the added value of International Cultural Policy on top of internationalisation.

    The new four-year cultural policy of Minister van Engelshoven is due to take effect in 2021. In anticipation thereof, she requested the Council’s advice on a number of themes and sectors, and on how the support infrastructure can best be organised. We were obviously interested to hear the Council’s advice with respect to international cooperation in general and its vision on our role in particular.

    The Minister had previously indicated that she wished to concentrate on maintaining the leading international position of top Dutch institutes. She wished to know where more or a different kind of collaboration between the state and the urban regions would help stimulate international and European exchange, and she asked the Council for its view on the division of roles with regard to internationalisation.

    In its advice, the Council discusses the added value of International Cultural Policy on top of internationalisation. It emphasises the additional context and significance that this policy gives to individual international activities, and it offers the following recommendations:

    On the internationalisation of top institutes
    The advice refers to ‘top institutes’, as a new type of institute. Thirty-one of such institutes could be supported by the state. According to the Council’s advice, these institutes could be given a higher budget to support their international ambitions.

    On internationalisation and international cultural policy (ICB)
    -    Arrange for ICB to run parallel to the national cultural policy period, so that all parties involved can take account of this in their plans.
    -    The Council sees added value in aligning ICB with cross-sectoral themes of national policy, such as talent development, public reach and themes pertaining to censure or cultural education for children. Regarding thematic issues, the Netherlands can offer an innovative contribution and demonstrate excellence, and more collaboration at the European level could arise.
    -    Ensure the funds save some room to support on-the-go projects and initiatives in the field as part of stimulating and supporting internationalisation, besides through ICB.

    On DutchCulture and the division of roles
    -    Given the complexity of the playing field, clear coordination and role definition remains essential in international cooperation. The Council is of the opinion that it will improve efficiency if DutchCulture continues to concentrate on its policy-shaping and agenda-setting role. This role requires strong positioning within DutchCulture, safeguarding the main themes and tasks but also offering room for personal knowledge and expertise.
    -    DutchCulture should remain financially accountable for trans-disciplinary programmes.
    -    Our renewed database, which offers makers and organisations an overview and tools with regard to internationalisation in practice, receives special mention.

    On internationalisation in urban cultural regions
    -    The importance of internationalisation is mentioned specifically in a number of regional profiles. The Council believes that the ambitions for international profiling could be described more emphatically in order to better utilise opportunities.
    -    Festive international events often contribute favourably to collaboration in the Netherlands and to international ties. Leeuwarden Fryslân Capital of Culture and the European Year of Cultural Heritage are cited as strong examples.
    -    The Council recommends that urban cultural regions use existing infrastructures and partnerships, such as the EU and UNESCO, to pursue their international ambitions. The Creative Europe Programme offers a lot of opportunities. The Council does mention the need to simplify procedures, however.

    Minister van Engelshoven’s letter setting out the principles and the draft grant policy for the cultural policy period 2021-2024 will be published in June. A new International Cultural Policy for the period 2021 – 2024 is expected in autumn.


    Photo: My Life Through A Lens/Unsplash

  • Dutch youth theatre in Egypt: “If there are no lines, you’ve got to find your own orientation”

    'Eitje', performed in Egypt by Maas theatre and dance

    Dutch youth theatre in Egypt: “If there are no lines, you’ve got to find your own orientation”

    4 april 2019
    In March three Dutch youth theatre groups performed in Egypt. An interview about the value of cultural exchange, artistic freedom and lasting relationships.
    By Wladimir Riphagen


    In October 2018,  Mohamed El Ghawy, director of the Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children, visited a showcase event of Dutch youth theatre performances. Upon his visit, he invited three groups to come and perform at his festival last March, with the financial support of the Dutch Performing Arts Fund and the Dutch embassy in Cairo. They were Kwatta from Nijmegen, Maas Theater and Dance from Rotterdam, and de Stilte from Breda.


    We talked to Jochem Smit and Rogier van Erkel of theatre group Kwatta right after performing their show Jabber. For Rogier, this was an experience to remember. “This was more unique and more exciting than other shows abroad.” After their performances in Cairo, they visit a village close to El Minya, a city in Upper Egypt. Gerda van de Kamp, business director of Kwatta: “We were supposed to give one more show. A party venue was transformed into a theatre, stands were improvised, a grand piano was shipped in and then the kids came. There were so many more of them than we expected, so we decided to play two shows. It is truly a privilege to play for these kids, most of whom are looking at a theatre play for the first time and who are really watching and listening, all wide-eyed and amazed. Every other available square meter in the theatre was filled up by the adults from the village who wanted to see the play as well.”

    Lisa Groothof and Dwayne Toemere of Maas theatre and dance had similar experiences. They performed their play Eitje not only in a theatre setting but also in a roofless, unfinished mosque in a working-class neighbourhood. This performance probably had the most significant impact on the crew. Groothof: “People showed up from all over the neighbourhood; they really swarmed in. Both kids and adults were watching with the same energy and the same sense of excitement. That was awesome. And it makes you realize again: age doesn’t matter.”

    We’re not all that different. In the end, it’s about universal themes such as solidarity, loneliness and death

    Jack Timmermans, artistic director of de Stilte, gave two master classes during the festival, one to graduated dancers and one to 15-17-year-olds who are training to become classical dancers. Timmermans was impressed by the participants’ devotion and determination. He, therefore, regrets not having been able to work together for a longer period of time, as he would have liked to forge a lasting link with Egypt. “We’re not all that different. In the end, it’s about universal themes such as solidarity, loneliness and death. But our methods do differ, and you’ve got to build some initial trust. We, the Dutch, don’t tend to really improvise a lot anymore. Whereas in Egypt, everything revolves around improvisation. Those are two extremes, and both have their goods and bads obviously.”

    Timmermans quotes Mohamed el Ghawy as an example. “He says: ‘Egyptians are much better at driving cars.’ From my perspective, that’s not the case, because the traffic is chaotic and with a lack of road markings there seems to be no system; everyone just does as he pleases. But you can look at it the other way: if there are no lines, you’ve got to find your own orientation. That definitely has its value too.”

    The festival’s director receives praise from various perspectives. Timmermans: “I really admire the way El Ghawy handles things. He is persistent and knows how to find the right avenues for funding.” Van de Kamp is equally laudatory: “It was fantastic to work together with the people of the Hakawy Festival, who have done everything in their power to make things happen in this special place. It required some improvisation skills by Nik Tenten and Thijs Kemper, the technical team of Kwatta. Performing in the province of El Minya - where there are almost no paved roads and where hospitality is ubiquitous - was incredible.”

    Both kids and adults were watching with the same energy and sense of excitement. It makes you realize again: age doesn’t matter

    But what is really the use of touring around the world with Dutch plays and performances? At Maas, this is a contested topic. Toemere: “What is the perspective on sustainability? What can we set in motion? Also, for me as a vegan and someone who is worried about the climate, these are serious matters to be thinking about. Is it really okay to get on a plane for just one performance? At this point, we’re facing more questions than answers, but we have to keep thinking about it.”

    For the Kwatta team, it’s very important that Jabber is performed all around the world. They have been to many different places already. “I think Jabber shows that the world turns into a great place if you keep looking at it with curiosity and  a sense of wonder,” explains Van Erkel.

    What does anyone gain from closing the doors to countries where not everything happens the way you’re used to?
    Artistic freedom

    Artistic freedom is an issue in Egypt. The domain of free expression is increasingly threatened in the last couple of years. For example, as reported by NRC, Egyptian guitar player Rami Sidky was detained for allegedly cooperating on protest songs, although in fact he was not involved in the production of these songs. The actors of Kwatta and Maas did not experience any limitations to their practice first-hand. During Kwatta’s workshop, Jochem Smit and Rogier van Erkel mainly concentrated on the exchange of artistic knowledge, while the topic of artistic freedom remained undebated. Perhaps there was not really a need to do so, something that has to do with the target audience. As El Ghawy indicated in an earlier interview with DutchCulture, theatre for kids is not seen as much of a disruptive force.

    The workshops mostly provided insightful experiences. “The way I had always perceived Arabic had always been this kind of harsh language. But when you’re working with Egyptian actors you can really experience that it has something very soft and beautiful too. My view is now definitely more nuanced.” The artists also noticed that the Egyptian theatre sector is in dire straits. Smit: “There is a shortage of infrastructure, such as the lack of theatres to play in. Also, there is little room for the development of exciting young prospects.”

    Maas’ theatre makers always think before they decide to perform in a particular country. Toemere: “Because what are you going to do? What are you contributing in a country where there is less freedom? The conclusion for us is: we want to add something to the theatre experience of children. That’s our idealism, that’s what it’s about in the end. And on top of that: what does anyone gain from closing those doors to countries where not everything happens the way you’re used to?”

    Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children
    Dutch Performing Arts
  • Get 'm: five Dutch music, theatre and dance companies conquer Washington

    GET´M by BonteHond. Photo Kamerich and Budwilowitz

    Get 'm: five Dutch music, theatre and dance companies conquer Washington

    2 april 2019
    As a result of the efforts of the collaborative project Never Grow Up!, five Dutch groups find their way to Washington, USA, for a season-long focus.

    Throughout 2019 Never Grow Up! presents an abundance of Dutch film, literature and performing arts for young audiences in the United States. A wide range of work from the Netherlands will be presented and shared at festivals, conferences and other platforms, all representing a respect for young people and dedication to youth culture as an autonomous art form. Never Grow Up! is a joint effort of Dutch Performing Arts, the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in New York, Eye International, Netherlands Film Fund, Cinekid, Dutch Foundation for Literature and DutchCulture. 

    Season-long Dutch focus
    As a part of this program, and resulting from it, Dutch Performing Arts and the Kennedy Center collaborate on a season-long Dutch focus. Dutch Youth Arts are increasingly popular in the US, as Dutch Performing Arts program manager Anja Krans explains. The Dutch focus, that kicks off in October and November 2019 and will continue in January and April 2020, will bring award-winning and accomplished work from the Netherlands to families and student audiences in Washington. Presenting their unique and high-caliber work for young audiences are: Woest, BonteHond, Maas theater en dans, Oorkaan and De Dansers. 

    The brand-new partnership between Kennedy Center in Washington and Dutch Performing Arts results in the presentation of five exciting music, theatre and dance productions from the Netherlands, in a total of 56 shows:

    Woest - 'Balancing Bodies'

    dance | 9+
    31 October - 2 November 2019 | Terrace Gallery

    BonteHond - 'GET 'M'

    theatre | 3+
    2-3 November 2019 | the REACH

    Maas Theater & dance - 'EGG-tion HERO'

    theatre | 3+
    9-10 November 2019 | the REACH

    Oorkaan - 'Glimpse'

    music | 2+
    11-12 January 2020 | Terrace Gallery

    De Dansers - 'Pokon'

    dance | 4+
    24-26 April 2020 | Family Theater

    For more information, visit the Kennedy Center website and look for Events for Young Audiences in their theatre section.

    More Dutch Youth Arts

    At DutchCulture we continue to research upon global trends in cultural exchange. The unique quality of Dutch youth arts has been subject of a Conference on International Culture for Kids, as well as research to the history of Dutch sense of playfullness.

  • What do the numbers say? On fact-checking general assumptions about cultural cooperation: edition Germany

    Mixed reality techno-opera MAYA, Munich, Germany 2017. The augmented reality experience and application are designed by Amsterdam-based Klasien van de Zandschulp and Luciano Pinna.

    What do the numbers say? On fact-checking general assumptions about cultural cooperation: edition Germany

    28 maart 2019
    We signalised three general assumptions about Dutch cultural exchange in Germany and fact-checked them with our database. The outcome might surprise you.
    By Renske Ebbers


    As the network and knowledge organisation for international cultural cooperation, DutchCulture carefully collects the data of all cultural activities by people from the Netherlands outside the country’s border. Isn’t it impossible to know exactly what is happening at each pottery market, Rock-'n-roll cafe or independent film festival, all over the world? Maybe. Yet we try, and through our informants and colleagues both in the Netherlands and at diplomatic posts abroad, we manage to monitor most of what is going on.

    Right now, we are working on finalising the list of activities of 2018, and I have taken a look at the country heading the list for the past years: Germany. As a coordinator for Germany at DutchCulture, I signalised three general assumptions in my network which, sometimes subconsciously, influence Dutch cultural makers in their international work, and fact-checked them with our database.

    1: “It´s all about Berlin”

    Thinking about Germany, the first thing that comes to my mind is Berlin. Having the reputation of cultural paradise and artist capital of Europe, it makes sense that many Dutch artists dream of Berlin. But is Germany’s capital really much richer with cultural chances, compared to other parts of Germany? What do the numbers say?

    If we look at the DutchCulture data of 2017 and 2018, we see that in 2017, 15% of the Dutch activities took place in Berlin. In 2018 the number drops to 12%. Looking at the German Bundesländer or regions - the city of Berlin is a region by itself - we see that the most popular region is the one right next to the Dutch border: North Rhine-Westphalia. A region not particular known for its international influence, it is apparently the host for many Dutch artists and cultural organisations.

    The second largest area is the region in the south of Germany of which Munich is the capital: Bavaria. Perceived as conservative, with an inward, rather than international outward focus, it might surprise us how many international collaboration is happening there. And for those who think that within these regions all activities are limited to the largest cities: Dutch activities in Germany in 2018 took place in a total of 461 different cities and villages.

    2: “Design in the south, contemporary arts in the north”

    Another assumption that I caught myself having, is that I think I know which kind of art will be most successful in which city or region. For example, we might have a feeling that Munich is the city for designers, that performance art and modern visual art belong in Berlin or Hamburg, and that the countryside of North Rhine-Westphalia is the place to be for bands. Can we find this geographical division in the data? What do the numbers say?

    Looking at the 2018 data for the largest regions - North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Bavaria and Berlin - one conclusion is easily drawn: every discipline is represented in all regions. A complete concentration of, for example, musicians in the west or painters in the north, is not the case. Still there are some interesting figures: the presence of audiovisual media is very limited in NRW, yet there are large numbers in both Berlin and Bavaria, which is definitely due to the presence of film festivals, such as the Berlinale and Filmfest München.

    Even though music does quite well in all three regions, in NRW it makes up 62% of all activities, which means that this assumption is based in reality. Performing arts is actually best represented in Bavaria and least in Berlin. At the same time, visual arts are twice as important in Berlin and NRW as they are in Bavaria. Continuing down this path, there are many more insights to be found concerning the geography of disciplines, which you can search for yourself by country and city, as the 2017 and 2018 data is in the database and accessible for everyone. Just click on 'search' at the top left of this page.

    3: “It’s always the same established names that work internationally”

    A final assumption that I want to put to the test concerns the people who produce all these activities. In 2018 there were over 700 Dutch organisations and individuals who crossed the border to Germany, yet who are they? I assumed that working internationally is dominated by the established artists and organisations, though I also assumed that for newcomers in the international field, Germany would be a good first step. Indeed the data that we collect is not exhaustive, as mentioned in the beginning, and of course some artists may have had events in Germany that are not in our database. Still, how much of the Dutch cultural presence in Germany, is down to the same big names each year? What do the numbers say?

    After cross-referencing all 738 artists on the 2018 list with our data from 2013 till 2017 this is what rolled out: only 30% of the organisations are frequently in Germany (at least three times in the past five years), 21% had been only once before, and 49% of all artists or organisations showed up in our data as first-timers. There may be different causes for these numbers; the fact that the database becomes more inclusive, that many organisations only work abroad sporadically, or that Germany really is a stepping stone for first-timers.

    Surprising insights

    The swift tour through our numbers that I present here is meant to show that fact-checking our assumptions really can provide us with surprising insights and that this is only the beginning. For anyone with international ambitions, it should proof the usefulness of doing research, of using existing networks, mappings and publications. Our database can help you do that.

    At DutchCulture we continuously update and produce new information to help you search, and we organise events to get you up to speed. Concerning Germany, we have an exciting programme coming up on the 18th of April in collaboration with Goethe, where we will talk about Dutch-German intercultural cooperation, give best practices of exchange by experts and show you where the opportunities lay for you. So make sure to reserve a seat.

    You're invited to our programme: ‘Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof’ – Cultural work in Germany (Dutch)

  • Art after Brexit: FAQ’s voor de kunst- en cultuursector

    Art after Brexit: FAQ’s voor de kunst- en cultuursector

    26 maart 2019
    Wat verandert er na de Brexit voor culturele organisaties, collectieven, individuele kunstenaars en culturele professionals in de samenwerking met het VK?
    Door Michiel van der Padt

    Kun je straks nog kunstwerken in bruikleen nemen van Britse musea? Kunnen Nederlandse bands nog wel optreden op de grote Britse festivals? En gaat er iets veranderen voor Britse werknemers bij Nederlandse organisaties? Onze Brexit-bootcamp op 14 maart 2019 was een praktisch ingestoken avond die alle vragen trachtte te beantwoorden. Waar onterechte vrees werd ontkracht en terechte zorgen werden beantwoord met realistische ideeën om voorbereid te zijn op wat komen gaat.

    Uitstel van de Brexit?
    De bootcamp begon direct met de laatste actualiteiten: vlak voor aanvang werd door het Britse Lagerhuis in Londen gestemd voor een uitstel van de Brexit-datum. Dat betekent dat de Britse regering niet al 29 maart, maar later uit de Europese Unie wil treden. Iedereen haalde even opgelucht adem. Maar, zo waarschuwden de experts, juich niet te vroeg. De Europese regeringsleiders moeten eerst nog unaniem akkoord gaan met het uitstel. Het risico op afwijzing van het uitstel en een Verenigd Koninkrijk dat van de ene dag op de andere geen deel meer is van de Europese Unie, is nog altijd aanwezig. Genoeg reden om goed voorbereid te zijn, ook voor de culturele sector.

    Lastig, maar niet onoverkomelijk
    In het algemeen kunnen we ervan uitgaan dat, zelfs bij een no-deal Brexit, samenwerken met het Verenigd Koninkrijk op cultureel gebied gewoon kan doorgaan. De warme banden die tussen Nederlandse en Britse culturele organisaties bestaan kunnen prima standhouden, ondanks de ongemakken op het gebied van mobiliteit (denk aan visa, belastingen, zorgverzekering) die de Brexit met zich mee zal brengen. Ook al zijn deze ongemakken reëel, ze zijn ook overkomelijk zolang er een wederzijdse inzet is. Volgens spreker Roel van de Ven, cultureel attaché van de Nederlandse Ambassade in London, is de welwillendheid van Britse organisaties evident. Over het algemeen zijn zij allemaal sterk tegen het vertrek van het VK uit de Europese Unie en stellen zij zich verontschuldigend op ten opzichte van hun Europese partners. Het is voor hen belangrijker dan ooit tevoren om de banden met Nederland sterk te houden. Volgens Van de Ven kijkt men in het Verenigd Koninkrijk met bewondering naar de kwaliteit van artistieke productie van Nederlandse makers.

    Mogelijke scenario’s
    Spreker Djoeke Adimi is coördinator bij de overkoepelende ministeriële werkgroep voor de Brexit en vertelde over de verschillende mogelijke uitkomsten van het Brexit-proces. Belangrijk is of er een terugtrekkingsovereenkomst wordt gesloten. Zo ja, dan is er sprake van een zogenaamd dealscenario, wat betekent dat er een langzamere en gecontroleerdere overgang naar de nieuwe situatie plaatsvindt, met een overgangsperiode tot eind 2020. Als het VK zonder terugtrekkingsakkoord de EU verlaat ¬– een no-dealscenario – zal er van de ene op de andere dag een hoop veranderen. Het motto van Adimi is: hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Zo treft Nederland speciale ‘contigencymaatregelen’ die de klap van een eventuele no-deal Brexit deels moeten opvangen. Het kabinet komt met een fatsoenlijke oplossing voor Britse burgers in Nederland: alle Britse burgers die voor de Brexit-datum in Nederland verblijven, krijgen van de IND een tijdelijke verblijfsvergunning geldig tot en met 30 juni 2020. Met deze verblijfsvergunning kunnen zij blijven wonen, werken en studeren in Nederland. Vervolgens zal de IND hen uitnodigen voor het aanvragen van een definitieve verblijfsvergunning, waarvoor dezelfde verblijfsvoorwaarden gelden als voor EU-burgers.

    De belangrijkste gestelde vragen
    Het expertpanel gaf antwoord op een aantal belangrijke vragen vanuit het publiek. Het panel bestond uit Marie Fol, bestuurslid van On The Move, een internationaal netwerk dat zich inzet voor mobiliteit van kunstenaars en cultuurprofessionals; Dick Molenaar, belastingadviseur bij All Arts Belastingadviseurs; Lodewijk Kuiper, beleidsadviseur Public Affairs bij de Nederlandse Museumvereniging en Susanne Mooij, immigratieadvocaat bij Adam & Wolf Immigration Lawyers.


    1. Ik heb mensen met alleen een Brits paspoort die voor mijn organisatie werken. Gaat er voor hen iets veranderen bij een no-dealscenario?
    • De Nederlandse overheid heeft maatregelen getroffen om te zorgen dat bij een no-deal Britse burgers in Nederland automatisch een tijdelijke verblijfsvergunning krijgen waarmee zij nog vijftien maanden in Nederland kunnen wonen en werken. Voor Britten die al langer dan vijf jaar in Nederland verblijven en een permanente verblijfsvergunning in Nederland hebben geldt dat niet. Britten kunnen overwegen om een Nederlands paspoort aan te vragen, maar doorgaans wordt er dan gevraagd om afstand te doen van de Britse nationaliteit. In geval van een no-dealscenario krijgen Britten met een tijdelijke verblijfsvergunning een uitnodiging van de IND voor het aanvragen van een definitieve verblijfsvergunning, waarvoor dezelfde verblijfsvoorwaarden zullen gelden als voor EU-burgers. Met deze definitieve verblijfsvergunning kunnen alle Britten die voor de Brexit-datum rechtmatig in Nederland verbleven, blijven wonen, studeren en werken.
    • Op het gebied van belastingen en sociale zekerheid verandert er ook het een en ander. Zie de laatste informatie over belastingen en de laatste informatie over sociale zekerheid.
    2. Voor mijn festival/evenement heb ik Britse artiesten uitgenodigd. Wat betekent een no-dealscenario voor hen?
    • Ook na een no-deal Brexit zal de EU naar alle waarschijnlijkheid geen visumplicht opleggen aan Britse onderdanen die korte bezoeken willen afleggen binnen de EU. Wat betreft werkvergunningen, geldt binnen de Wet arbeid vreemdelingen (Wav ) een uitzondering voor mensen wier hoofdverblijf buiten Nederland is en voor maximaal zes aaneengesloten weken binnen een periode van dertien weken in Nederland komen werken als artiest of musicus, als vaste persoonlijke begeleider van een artiest of musicus, als beeldend kunstenaar, conservator of restaurator. Deze voorwaarden zijn vergelijkbaar met artiesten die bijvoorbeeld uit de Verenigde Staten komen.
    • Op het gebied van belastingen en sociale zekerheid verandert er ook het een en ander. Zie de laatste informatie over belastingen en de laatste informatie over sociale zekerheid. Dick Molenaar van All Arts Belastingadviseurs waarschuwt dat het zogenaamde A1-formulier, dat geldt als bewijs dat je verzekerd bent in je thuisland, niet meer door Britse staatsburgers kan worden opgevraagd in het geval van een no-dealscenario.
    3. Wat verandert er voor mij als ik bij een no-deal Brexit ga optreden of voor een korte periode ga werken in Groot-Brittannië?
    • Het Verenigd Koninkrijk heeft beloofd om geen visum te vragen aan Europese burgers voor een tijdelijk bezoek aan het Verenigd Koninkrijk. Kijk hier voor de precieze criteria en voorwaarden om te mogen werken in de VK.
    • Volgens Marie Fol, bestuurslid van On The Move, een internationaal netwerk dat zich inzet voor mobiliteit van kunstenaars, zal er een unilaterale transitieperiode zijn waarin noch visa noch werkvergunningen worden gevraagd. Die periode kan echter op elk moment eindigen, waarna het mogelijk is dat er een visasysteem komt zoals in de Verenigde Staten. In het slechtste geval kan dit betekenen dat er, zelfs voor korte werkbezoeken, een hoge bewijslast kan worden geëist van kunstenaars en culturele professionals. Ook moet je wellicht een zogenaamd certificate of sponsorship hebben om te mogen werken, wat je moet aanvragen bij je Britse werk- of opdrachtgever. Hij of zij moet daarbij kunnen aantonen dat jij de enige gekwalificeerde persoon voor dit werk/deze opdracht bent. Het is belangrijk het certificaat in bezit te hebben voordat je naar het VK reist, maar let op: er kan nogal wat tijd overheen gaan voordat deze papierwinkel geregeld is. Begin dus op tijd.
    • Op het gebied van belastingen en sociale zekerheid verandert er ook het een en ander. Zie de laatste informatie over belastingen en de laatste informatie over sociale zekerheid. Volgens Dick Molenaar van All Arts belastingadviseurs kan BTW gewoon worden afgelegd naar Nederland en withholding tax blijft hetzelfde voor artiesten. Ook kan deze nog steeds worden afgetrokken van het wereldwijde belastbare inkomen, zoals gebruikelijk.
    4. Ik zit in een Europees samenwerkingsverband met een Britse partner, met een Europese subsidie (bijvoorbeeld van Creative Europe of Erasmus+). Wat gaat er gebeuren met deze samenwerking?
    • Volgens Marie Fol, bestuurslid van On The Move, een internationaal netwerk dat zich inzet voor mobiliteit van kunstenaars, zal het Creative Europe programma dat tot eind 2020 loopt in principe worden afgemaakt, inclusief Britse partners (check hiervoor de site van de Europese Commissie). Tenminste, indien de Britten hun deel van de financiering van het CE programma blijven bekostigen. Doen de Britten dat niet, dan treedt er een garantie van de Britse regering in werking voor de Britse partners in een project die de garantie hebben aangevraagd. Meer details en up-to-date informatie vind je bij de Britse Creative Europe Desk.
    • Ook studenten die op het moment van een no-deal in een Erasmus+ programma zitten, kunnen dit gewoon afmaken.
    • Na 2020 zal het VK zich mogelijk kunnen ‘inkopen’ binnen het Creative Europe programma als zij deze culturele netwerken en samenwerkingen wensen voort te zetten, net zoals Noorwegen dat nu doet. Het is echter nog niet zeker dat het VK dit zal gaan doen.
    • Verder is het goed om te beseffen dat de fluctuatie van de Britse pond – een direct gevolg van de Brexit – invloed kan hebben op de beschikbare gecofinancierde budgetten. Sommige projecten zijn hierdoor nu al in de problemen aan het raken.
    5. Ik heb een diploma van een Britse (kunstvak)onderwijsinstelling. Is dit nog wel geldig na een no-deal Brexit?
    • Bij een no-dealscenario zal een al in Nederland erkend Brits diploma hier na de Brexit gewoon rechtsgeldig blijven. Voor nieuwe aanvragen na de Brexit-datum geldt dat Britse beroepskwalificaties beschouwd worden als een in een derde land (buiten de EER) behaalde kwalificatie. De gevolgen voor erkenning van zo’n diploma verschillen per beroep. Je kunt het ook navragen bij de instelling waar het diploma behaald is.
    6. Een deel van onze kunstcollectie bevindt zich in het VK. Moeten we deze collectie nu zo snel mogelijk terughalen?
    • Volgens Lodewijk Kuiper, beleidsadviseur Public Affairs bij de Nederlandse Museumvereniging die 400 museale instellingen vertegenwoordigt, werden er afgelopen maanden risico’s gevreesd op douaneformaliteiten en invoerrechten in het geval van een no-deal Brexit.. Gelukkig heeft de Europese Commissie voor terugkerende bruikleen op 11 maart een overeenkomst gepresenteerd over douane-aangelegenheden. Daarin staat dat goederen die vóór de Brexit-datum aan het VK zijn uitgeleend en in onveranderde staat terugkeren vrijgesteld zijn van importheffingen (zie art 7.4). Zie ook de toelichting van de Erfgoedinspectie.
    • De ministeries van OCW, Financiën en de Douane scharen zich achter dit document. Wel is de vraag hoe zich dit vertaalt naar de specifieke documenten die nodig zijn in de verschillende situaties voor en na de Brexit.
    • Vanuit de zaal werd opgemerkt dat voor nieuwe bruikleen het verstandig kan zijn om een ‘ouderwetse’ carnet ATA op te stellen, waarin de overeenkomst over de tijdelijk in- en uitvoer van goederen staat vastgelegd.
    • Volgens Marie Fol, bestuurslid van On The Move, een internationaal netwerk dat zich inzet voor mobiliteit van kunstenaars, is het voor sectoren die te maken hebben met voorwerpen die onderdelen bevatten van bedreigde diersoorten (denk bijvoorbeeld aan ivoor) van belang een CITES-vergunning aan te vragen.
    Hanteerbare belemmeringen

    De conclusie van de Brexit-bootcamp is dat een Brexit, zeker in de no-dealvariant, de nodige administratieve en praktische hobbels zal opleveren. Deze belemmeringen zijn reëel, maar ook hanteerbaar. In sommige opzichten, zoals op het gebied van belastingen, verandert er niet heel veel. Wat betreft visa en verblijfsvergunningen zullen er op de korte termijn nog geen grote problemen optreden zolang je voor de Brexit-datum in Nederland verblijft. Het is wel verstandig, zeker wanneer je je voor langere tijd in Nederland wilt gaan vestigen met een Brits paspoort of in het VK met een Nederlands paspoort, om je te gaan voorbereiden op de toekomst. Het wordt na de Brexit namelijk een stuk lastiger om je als Brit in Nederland of als Nederlander in het VK te vestigen.

    Ook de Europese samenwerkingsverbanden kunnen in principe worden afgemaakt. Hopelijk kunnen deze samenwerkingen, wanneer het VK daar bereid toe is, vervolgd worden. Hiervoor is het belangrijk dat de bestaande professionele relaties met Britse kunst- en cultuurinstellingen en personen in stand worden gehouden.

    Het is op dit moment vooral de onzekerheid die nu ons dreigt te verlammen, en het is goed mogelijk dat die nog lang zal duren. De vraag is: geeft de onwetendheid over de toekomst voldoende aanleiding om samenwerkingsverbanden, uitwisseling en wederzijdse investeringen op te schorten? Wij denken van niet. Laat je niet afremmen door de ongewisse uitkomst van de Brexit, want de hindernissen zijn overkomelijk. Het behoeft de nodige voorbereiding om een en ander soepel te laten verlopen, maar de dankbaarheid van de Britse partners zal ongetwijfeld groot zijn.

    (Niet complete) lijst met handige en interessante sites

    Informatie over visa en verblijfsvergunningen
    Laatste informatie over de Brexit vanuit de Britse overheid
    Informatie van the British Council
    Culture after Brexit, info over de cultuursector van the British Council
    Laatste nieuws over Brexit van het Europees Parlement
    Informatie van de Rijksoverheid over Brexit voor burgers en ondernemers
    Brexitloket voor burgers en ondernemers
    Informatie voor de audiovisuele sector
    Informatie voor Britse orkesten
    Informatie voor de Britse danssector

    Een aantal interessante artikelen uit de kranten:


    Voor meer vragen neem contact op met het Mobility Info Point van DutchCulture.

    Download de FAQ’s en bovenstaande links ook in het menu linksboven

  • DutchCulture reduces its carbon footprint

    Photo by Rajesh Appalla for Unsplash

    DutchCulture reduces its carbon footprint

    21 maart 2019
    DutchCulture’s activities include a lot of travelling. That's why we have decided to compensate for the CO2 emissions of all staff flights.

    Several of our advisors travel to their countries of expertise to increase their knowledge of the cultural field, we invite cultural experts to the Netherlands to stimulate international collaboration and we create projects worldwide to encourage cultural exchange between artists.

    All these activities contribute to a large CO2-footprint. Because we care about our planet’s future we have updated our official policy to compensate for the CO2 emissions of all staff flights through a CO2 compensation tool developed by the Dutch NGO Hivos.

    Several organizations have defined sustainability guidelines for their staff. The Flanders Art Institute has published them online. An example of one of these guidelines includes train travel as the preferred mode of transportation to any destination within 6 hours of travelling time, a directive that DutchCulture follows suit in as well.

    Art and sustainability are a good fit for each other. Several works of art are made from upcycled material and climate change is a popular topic in theatre and literature now. This also raises a number of questions. Is it environmentally acceptable to fly an artist in from across the world or should we look for alternative means of collaboration? Is this an area in which virtual reality could play an active part? Are solo artists required to lower their footprint as well or do large organizations take responsibility first? Should festivals serve meat?

    We invite other organizations and artists to reduce their CO2 emissions as well. This way we can create a more sustainable future for international cultural collaboration. Julie’s Bicycle is a London-based charity that supports the creative community to act on climate change and environmental sustainability. Get inspired and go green!


  • 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 maart 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
  • 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 maart 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
    Bintou Wèré, a Sahel Opera. Photo: Francesco Belli
    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.”


    Bas Ernst.jpeg

    Cultureel attaché Bas Ernst


    Read more about Dutch Trail (Dutch)

    Read the second article in this series of interviews with cultural attachés: Quirine van der Hoeven on the successes and challenges of the interdisciplinary kids culture programme Genç Kültür in Turkey.

    Mondriaan Fund
    Creative Industries Fund NL
    DOEN Foundation
    Prince Claus Fund
    European Cultural Foundation