Postcard from the Netherlands – some Dutch Old Masters – and Mistresses!

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Groot Letter Festival, a literary festival for older people. Photo by Vincent van den Hoogen

David Cutler highlights some of innovative creative ageing projects happening in the Netherlands following a recent research trip.

I have been fortunate enough to spend a couple of days scooting around the Netherlands meeting inspiring people working on arts and older people. At the Baring Foundation we are very aware of our debt to the Dutch as we have been generously hosted for free in London by the Dutch bank ING since 1995. Recently, we have had a project led by Dutch colleagues which developed the Long Live Arts Manifesto on creative ageing. I wanted to see a couple of years on a little more of what was happening. And any English visitor to the Netherlands is always going to be humbled by the perfect English spoken by young and old, which made for a very easy trip.

My overwhelming impression was of the sheer quality of work taking place. To select a few:

  • Groot Letter Festival (Large Type – geddit?) is a collaboration between a literary agency Wintertuin and a major care provider (Vitalis) to create a high quality festival, where famous authors read work in the home, but there is also a series of residencies with creative writers in which residents create their own works which are then beautifully published. (See a short video about Groot Letter here.)
  • MusicGenerations – this affiliation of artists in Rotterdam has created a music and singing programme which has put on major concerts across the country, bringing together older people with refugees and migrants.
  • Stichtung Kunst in de Zorg (Arts in Care Foundation) – an evolving series of projects led by artist, Vera Broos, arising from her experience of her own mother living in a care home. Zona’s Kiosk was conceived as a ‘travelling circus’ of artists who arrive with a physical kiosk to produce arts in a care home over a series of residencies and responding to the ideas of the residents. A number of other projects have ensued including a Dutch wing(!) of HenPower established by Equal Arts in the UK.
  • PRA-Muziek Theater – Herman Vriesendorp met me who explained how he came to dance late but now at 70 years old it is his passion and he had recently got to perform at Sadler’s Wells as part of the Elixir Festival. He spoke movingly about the Simpel Verlangen (Simple Desires) which brings together younger professional dancers and older dancers to work in care homes.
  • With STRP Senior – based in Eindhoven, intergenerational teams of young artists and retired people with an interest in technology develop joint projects. The older participants often had careers in Eindhoven’s technology companies such as Philips or DAF.
  • Care and Culture – set up five years ago by serial entrepreneur Margreet Melman, runs seven week residencies in care homes bringing together primary school children with residents to produce a community concert, training care workers along the way. The Care and Culture Choir has many lessons for our own Choir in Every Care Home initiative.

I am always surprised that there isn’t more interchange between the UK and the Netherlands on social programmes. We have so much in common and so much to learn from each other. I was delighted to learn that as a result of the Long Live Arts project, a Dutch government national arts funder has created an Age-Friendly Culture Cities programme which has been inspired by the work taking place in Manchester. 40k euros over two years is given to an organising arts body in a city to be matched by the city council to work on its cultural offer becoming more age friendly. So far 10 cities are participating. Each year a further 20k Euros is given as a prize by a judging panel to the city seen to be doing the best work.

A bestselling work of fiction in the Netherlands at the moment is The Secret Diary of Henrik Groenig aged 83 and a quarter, supposedly written by a resident in a care home there. It is funny and mischievous though the ceaseless regrets about ageing, for me,  become wearing. I think he simply needed to join some of the projects I went to see.

David Cutler
Director of the Baring Foundation

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 8th, 2017 at 11:46 am