Creatives from UK and NL discuss how to adapt to Brexit and Covid

Creatives from the UK and the Netherlands came together in a virtual session on 25 November 2020 to discuss opportunities for, and threats to, future Anglo-Dutch cultural collaboration. In less time than it takes to drive from London to Birmingham, the nearly thirty participants from all over England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands had concluded a very successful session, coming up with some excellent analyses of what is required to maintain strong international cultural connections. It shows there are positives to the 'new normal' of meeting each other online. The useful input that was gathered during this meeting helps the Dutch Embassy in the UK, organiser of the event, to focus its efforts on facilitating bilateral cultural exchange.

Creatives from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom discussed what is required to keep the cultural exchange between the two countries on a high level. Event organised by the Dutch Embassy in the UK on 25 November 2020.
©Frank Hanswijk
Nurturing connections between the cultural sectors in the Netherlands and the UK

Brexit and international mobility

The virtual meeting allowed people that would normally not be in a room together to share experiences and ideas, discussing some of the most pressing issues of this time for culture professionals in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

For instance, serious concerns were voiced that Brexit will reduce the cultural exchange between the UK and other European countries. Many culture professionals fear the end of free movement will result in fewer Dutch artists being programmed at UK venues, and vice versa, due to the extra costs and paperwork involved. “We need to avoid cultural isolation and continue to build bridges.” How to do that? International cultural exchange should focus more on longer term projects, such as artist residencies, was one of the suggestions. That makes more sense in light of Brexit, with all the extra paperwork and costs involved, which will be a challenge – in particular – for smaller cultural organisations with limited resources. Reducing the number of short trips, and focusing more on longer projects, is also important in light of the climate crisis.

'None of us want to go back to flying to another country for meetings that could also be done online.'

Digitalisation

The digitalisation process prompted by Covid has taught cultural organisations and makers a few other lessons. In the break-out sessions about Digitalisation it was mentioned that discovering ways to present work virtually has enabled artists and organisations to reach new audiences, including audiences who would normally not have easy access to the arts due to their location or due to disabilities impacting their mobility. On the other hand, there was worry that the digitalisation process might have reduced the inclusivity of less internet-savvy people, such as elderly people. Crucially, it turns out to be nearly impossible to monetise digital cultural events. Hence, there was broad agreement that a completely digital future is no option. “Nothing beats the live communal experience of gathering together.” However, “we need to retain an element of hybrid approaches to event delivery, blending in-person and virtual aspects.”

'Nothing beats the live communal experience of gathering together.'

Diversity and inclusion

Before the pandemic struck, the topic of Diversity & Inclusion was high on the agenda in the cultural sector, both in the Netherlands and in the UK. A question posed to the participants in the zoom-session – directors, curators, artists, designers, educators, promotors and other creatives; 75% calling in from the UK, 25% participating from the Netherlands – was whether this topic was still relevant, or whether the crisis had pushed any developments back. Poll results showed that Diversity & Inclusion is now higher on the agenda than ever before. And because cultural organisations on both sides of the North Sea are actively looking for ways to be more diverse and inclusive, to work more with diverse communities, to adjust their programming accordingly and to appeal to wider audiences, there is ample opportunity for knowledge sharing between Dutch and British organisations. “This is something where the Embassy could play a role”, the break-out group discussing Diversity & Inclusion suggested. Curated events and facilitated processes that bring Dutch and British organisations together to share knowledge could be very helpful – not just on this subject, but on many issues that organisations in both countries are dealing with.

'We have a greater thirst than ever for exchange, partnership and collaboration.'

Adapting practices to changing circumstances

The cultural sector has been dealt two major blows: a global pandemic leading to closures of cultural venues, cancellations of shows and substantial loss of income, and the end of free movement between the EU and the UK. There is still much uncertainty and fear among those working in the cultural sector on where all of this is going, but what was striking is that many participants in the zoom-session agreed that lessons have been learned and that the sector will adapt. “This crisis has exposed some bad habits. We have to make sure we don’t go ‘back to normal’. That doesn’t mean we cease to be international. We have a greater thirst than ever for exchange, partnership and collaboration.” It was mentioned that “artists, practitioners, makers are agile by nature. They will adapt and find an audience for their work. We have to find ways to nourish that.”

Contact the Dutch Embassy

All the conclusions from the meeting are currently being collated and the Dutch Embassy in the UK will use this input to adapt its own strategy in continuously facilitating cultural exchange between the Netherlands and the UK. To this end, the Embassy is working with freelance cultural intendant Floor Cornelisse, with whom the meeting, and a survey in the run up to the meeting, were organised.

If you have any questions for the Culture Department of the Dutch Embassy in the UK, please contact us on lon-ppc@minbuza.nl.