Cross-border behavior in the cultural sector less often covered

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“A stinging indictment against the industry,” it was from actress Maryam Hassouni. In the BNNVARA program Khalid and Sophie she denounced cross-border behavior within the theater and film world on Tuesday evening: she has experience with both racism and sexism.

She said, for example, that a director grabbed her by the buttocks after a rehearsal and pressed his genitals against her. Hassouni, 19 at the time, stiffened. When she rang the bell with her agent, she was fired.

The Council for Culture already published a report on the cultural and creative sector in June, shortly after the scandal The Voice of Holland. Several (former) candidates did at the beginning of this year in a broadcast of ANGRY their story about the sexual misconduct of prominent figures such as coaches Marco Borsato and Ali B and band leader Jeroen Rietbergen.

After the rise of the #MeToo movement in 2017, cross-border behavior has been high on the agenda, also in the cultural and creative sector. But what steps have been taken now? According to confidential counselor Seema Ouweneel, many cultural institutions struggle with undesirable behavior. She is not only a confidential counselor at various cultural institutions, such as the Netherlands Film Festival, but also provides training and advice to organizations and institutions about transgressive behaviour.

There is more and more awareness, because more attention is paid to it. The subject is now negotiable.

Seema Ouweneel, confidential advisor

In recent years, she has seen a turnaround in the sector. “There is more and more awareness, by paying more attention to it. The subject can now be discussed.” With her training courses, she tries to change the culture of an organization so that a socially safe climate is created. “You cannot survive without a culture change.”

She also sees that it is getting harder action is taken. “This behavior is no longer covered with the mantle of love.” For example, she saw dismissal several times as a result of transgressive behaviour.

Intimate scenes

Toneelgroep Internationaal Theater Amsterdam (ITA) has appointed an intimacy coordinator to support the employees. “This person will talk to the director, actors and crew and, if necessary, go through the intimate scenes, after which agreements are made about the approach and working method to be able to work in safety and trust,” said spokesman Maurits Musch. He declined to respond to the question about the number of cases of undesirable behavior within the theater company.

In its report, the Council for Culture placed art education under a magnifying glass. For example, the Western frame of reference is dominant there, the Council believes, and art schools should pay more attention to different perspectives and traditions.

‘Dismantle and build’

The Council is also critical of the “breaking down and rebuilding” form of education for students, which has long been common practice in some art schools. In this approach, students were regularly placed in a vulnerable position, with the idea that they would subsequently ‘develop’ themselves artistically. The Council calls this “obsolete”.

Hassouni’s story makes it clear once again that change is necessary, says spokesperson Karlijn Verschoor of Codarts University of Applied Sciences in Rotterdam. “We want to educate a new generation of artists with a heightened awareness around this theme.” Codarts offers training in music, dance and circus.

Just as confidential counselor Ouweneel sees a tipping point in the cultural sector, it also seems that the art colleges to have changed something. In June they jointly responded to the advisory report of the Council for Culture. “Dismantling and rebuilding art students, as has happened at some colleges, is now unacceptable for all; it should no longer have a place in modern art education.”

Social safety

Codarts already started a program in 2012 to ensure the well-being and physical and mental health of students. With a team of professionals, such as a psychologist and dietician, they try to guide students as best as possible.

The Amsterdam University of the Arts (AHK) organizes discussion afternoons, where social safety is an important theme, says spokesperson Fokke Uiterwaal. “The subject is also included in the didactic training courses for teachers at the AHK.”

In recent years, both schools have seen a mixed picture in terms of reports of transgressive behaviour. For example, Codarts counted 11 reports in 2019 and 2020 and 20 in 2021. The AHK saw the numbers fluctuate from 4 reports in 2019, 14 in 2020 and 10 in 2021.

An intimacy coordinator is now deployed on many film sets and series, so that everyone can feel safe:

Intimacy coordinator on set more and more often: ‘Can I hug you?’

The joint response of the universities of applied sciences to the advice took two days, while that of State Secretary for Culture Uslu took almost five months.

Yesterday she wrote in a letter to parliament: “The events in the sector are not isolated; they are part of a problem that can be found in all sectors, in society as a whole. The subject is therefore widely addressed by the cabinet.”

Theater company the Nationale Theater Amsterdam and the ArTEZ University of Applied Sciences in Arnhem were also approached for this article, but they did not respond.

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