Monthly Archives: September 2016

Conversations in Drenthe and Friesland

Last weekend I headed north. For the past few years, Culturapeida has had a partnership with PeerGroup, a theatre company from Drenthe in the northern Netherlands. We worked with them on a project for the Preston Guild in 2012 and have maintained the relationship ever since. We are currently working with them on a project called Bridging Blackburn which is about conversations with strangers and encouraging communities to communicate. Our other partner in this venture is a project that works with young people in Blackburn called Slyncs which is headed up by an old friend and ex employee of Culturapedia, Jaf Hussain.

20160917_115447Last weekend a group of seven young people from Blackburn visited PeerGroup to work with four of their young people to further explore ideas that will ultimately lead to a performance/happening/event, in Blackburn in the Summer of 2017.

I headed off, with my bike, and caught a train to Assen. From there I had a 45 minute cycle ride up to PeerGroup’s HQ which is an disused 1960s cold war ammunitions base called Donderboerkamp, surrounded by forest. The site consists of a grid of streets with buildings sparsely placed amongst the trees. Peer Group manage this site. It is where they are based but it also houses sheltered work opportunities for people with learning difficulties and mental health issues. Most of the buildings have been, or are in the process of being, converted from storage units for ammunition into useful spaces for staying, rehearsing, building, eating and creating. They are functional red brick boxes but they have a simple aesthetic with their shutters in amongst the trees.

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The weather was great and we had good company. The chall957447848282696132-account_id2enge was focusing on the task in hand – to think about how you had conversations with strangers and how we communicate – with words, pictures, actions…

On Friday night we set off in a convoy to go and see PeerGroups current production, an hour and a half drive away in the village of Kimswert on the Friesian coast. Five hundred years ago this was the home of Grutte Pier, a celebrated Friesian freedom fighter resisting Dutch or Saxon rule. Friesland still  has its own language, quite distinct from Dutch and a proud identity all of its own. The performance, which came half way through a four year programme of activity celebrating Pier’s anniversary, was spectacular. We were lead from the road, past the site of Pier’s farm house, (burned down on January 1515), by a giant drum and a choir of local women farmers and farmers wives. We arrived at a massive outdoor theatre with seating for over 400. An army, made up of 20 local people were training hard in the mud, preparing for battle. The stage was marked out by upturned tree trunks, brutally thrust into the ground and standing fifteen meters high. This was a hard setting – we were going to witness war. Beyond the trees lay the battlefield. Throughout the performance we witnessed layers of activity, body-bags being dragged, buried and burned. We saw Grutte Pier’s descent into madness, despair and cruelty. His conscience was represented by a narrator dressed in red – the only colour in the production. She tormented him and fought with him verbally throughout. She was his mind, his dreams, his ideas. All the dialogue was in Friesian apart from the narrator who spoke in Dutch. A lot of what she said had been directly lifted from the speeches of Geert Wilders, an frightening, active, charasmatic, outspoken right wing, nationalistic politician here in the Netherlands.

Naturally, I didn’t understand what was being said. I could pick up the odd word but it didn’t matter. This was physical theatre and the actions portrayed the meaning. It was fantastic. I loved every minute. I feel privileged to have seen it. Ticket sales have been so good, they have extended the run. By October nearly ten thousand people will have travelled to this small village on the coast of Friesland. Amazing.

20160917_084224_001B20160917_121006ack in Donderboercamp we further explored ideas and got to know each other better. Connections were made and strangers became friends. We improvised and we discussed ideas, ambitions and dreams. The next phase of the project will be back in Blackburn in mid October….

We had seen a depiction of war and violence on a field in Friesland and I had slept in an old weapons store. I cycled back to catch my train back to the noises and hubbub of Rotterdam having spent some wonderful tranquil hours in the peace of Donderboerkamp – glad that the weapons were a thing of the past and that Bridging Blackburn will be about talking to strangers, not fighting them.

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READ, READ, READ and ask WHY? WHY? WHY?

Yesterday was the first day proper of my Master year here in Rotterdam. Last year I successfully completed the Pre Master course which gave me a grounding in economics, social science research and statistics, amongst other things. Now the real work starts.

There are about sixty people in all, (it is hard to tell exactly as even the University is not one hundred percent sure who will turn up). About twenty of us did the Pre Master. We are the ones who know our way round, know most of the lecturers and how to use the EUR online services. We are the mostly European but span five continents. I am the only Brit.  I have included a list our home countries – sorry if I have missed anyone.

Where we are all from: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Czech Republic, China, Columbia, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Korea, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, UK, Vietnam

Last week we had an introduction day when we went to visit an artist’s studio and a creative industry hive around Marconiplein in the west of the city. There were drinks at the city farm and a departmental party at a club on the river. On Saturday Guus and Dennis, two friends from the Pre Master course last year, organised another party with the aim of helping the old PMs and newbies to get to know each other better.

We have a course Facebook group which is really useful in terms of keeping on top of things. I seem to have adopted the role of updating the literature we have to read. At least this means that I am sure of knowing what we are supposed to be doing.  

Yesterday was the first day proper.  We had two, three hour lectures. The first was lead by the Department’s Professor – Arjo Klamer. Arjo is something of a celebrity here in The Netherlands as a frequent commentator in the press and on TV. He was the world’s first professor of Cultural Economics and has been fulfilling the role at Erasmus University for as long as most of my fellow students have been alive. He is leading a course on Cultural Organisations which will be strongly influenced by his own research on values. Over the course of the next eight weeks we will complete a group project and a number of essays. Why we organise and why cultural organisations organise as they do is really interesting to me. It was partly the subject of my thesis last year. Let’s see if my thoughts chine with Professor Klamer’s.

Our second was on Cultural Economics with Dr. Erwin Dekker. We didn’t meet Dr. Dekker last year as he spent a postdoctoral year in the USA. This course aims to strongly link  economic theories to art and culture. This course will be structured as a whole group lecture one week and smaller seminar groups, of about 20 the next. I don’t claim to be a natural economist but am looking forward to getting a bit of a better grip of the concepts. I think Dr. Dekker’s approach will suit me down to the ground. We have a number of essays to do here – the first two due in two weeks.

Our third course this term will be on Cultural Entrepreneurship. We start on Thursday. Starting in October we will undertake a series of research workshops. More on those to follow.

Two themes seem to be emerging Professor Klamer told us that we should not be asking HOW? but WHY? WHY? WHY? Dr. Dekker told us that we should READ, READ, READ and WRITE. I’d better get on with it.

 

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Saturday in Deliplein

From the north just follow the signs to Tattoo Bob. Across the Erasmus Bridge, over a bridge by the New York Hotel and behind the Fenix Food Factory, you will find Deliplein. A triangular ‘square’ with the brick and concrete Fenix warehouses to one side and early 20th century red brick on the others. It was missed by Hitler and is a scene of concerted regeneration activity over the past few years.

Tattoo Bob has played his part. Many a lamppost around the river has a yellow sign pointing you in the right direction but there is plenty else to keep you occupied. On one side is the Walhalla theatre. Fenix Food Factory backs onto the square, a highly fashionable food court with its own brewery, bakery, butchers, Moroccan spice stall and more. It’s built into the rough and ready surroundings of an old warehouse with rough wood and old sofas. It’s great but a bit pricey. A Sunday brunch platter, where you got a speciality from each stall is fun but it’s becoming a bit our a tourist trap.  I prefer Posse, next door. Built into another part of the same warehouse, it has a more more relaxed style than Fenix. It has bicycles and art photographs on the wall and the food and wine is really rather good. Sit outside in the Summer but they’ve plenty of room inside if it’s raining. The whole square is surrounded by eateries. I’ve not been to them all but they include a raw food, vegan food and pizzas.

Last Saturday (27 August), Sue and I went to Rotterdam’s street art festival in the square. It wasn’t Mintfest but fun and extremely busy nonetheless. The highlights included the washer women.  A group who largely took over the square with white linen and a LOT of water. Cast, audience and just about everything else got wet. This was a piece with no language which could work anywhere. It probably could do with a bit of tightening. Another highlight came from a Belgian company, Pikzpalace, in the form of a butcher’s van – but without meat. The four hander was in Dutch but it was quite clear what was going on, They were butchering soft toys and barbie dolls. Grotesque and funny, the audience loved it. This was clearly a polished piece that is already travelling. It would work in English and be enhanced by Belgian accents. Some might go home with nightmares but… Barbie paté anyone? Or teddy leg on a stick?

On Saturday evening we had booked for dinner at De Matroos en het Meisje (The sailor and his girl). A renowned table dote restaurant on the southwest corner of Deliplein. It was a lovely evening so we sat outside. You can choose 3, 4, 5 or 6 courses – we went for three which was more than enough. You get what you´re given with no menu or wine list. The wine has been pre-chosen to go with each course. The food is exquisite. I have been twice now and enjoyed every course. For the quality, the price is good. 35 for three courses 6 for a glass and 3.50 for a half glass of wine. This is definitely the best food I’ve had in Rotterdam so far. ***** from me.