December 19th, 2023
Pearle* Conversations: Mirjam Terpstra from NAPK on diversity and inclusion
Inclusion & diversity
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Pearle* Conversations
The Pearle* Conversations are a great occasion to meet the members of the association and get their perspectives on a topic they are currently focusing on.

We now travel to the Netherlands for a chat with Mirjam Terpstra, Director of the Nederlandse Associatie voor Podiumkunsten (NAPK) to find out more about what the association does regarding diversity and inclusion in the performing arts.

The NAPK is the trade association of professional performing arts producers in the Netherlands and it connects, informs, encourages and facilitates performing arts organisations.

In the multicultural context of the Netherlands, the imperative of diversifying the performing arts sector is more essential than ever. This need for inclusion extends across various facets, from actors on stage to technicians, programmes, directors, and audiences. Mirjam shared insights into how NAPK is actively involved in addressing this issue.

The NAPK attaches great importance to the topic of diversity, can you tell us, how this has become part of your agenda?

The main trigger to be more active on this subject was the Code of Diversity and Inclusion which was instated in 2008 in the Netherlands. NAPK was part of the group that developed it, alongside other stakeholders from the cultural sector.

In 2018 there was a renewal of the code and it was decided that in order to be subsidised by the government, organisations had to subscribe to the Code. The Code defines the “Four Ps” which stand for Personnel, Program, Public and Promotion. It’s about learning what steps you can take regarding your staff, how can you adapt your programme, how can you reach different publics and how to change your promotion channels and look to attract new publics.

In their plans for 2025 – 2028, our members need to show how they work on a more inclusive organisation and programme according to the “Four Ps”.

What actions or initiatives your association is taking to enhance diversity in the performing arts sector (benefiting both the workforce and the audience experience)?

As an association, we help our members to reflect on diversity and inclusion and inspire them with best practices. We also help them define their policies on these subjects. We organise webinars on the subject and offer consultation with experts and exchange with peers. We work together with Platform Act which offers webinars and LKCA which governs the Code of Inclusion has many programmes that our members can follow.

We also spread information and offer services more at the personal level such as intercollegial exchanges or bringing in external advisors. For example, now we have a new group of people who meet in intervision on the subject. They meet, exchange their experience and are helped by an external advisor who brings in their knowledge on diversity and inclusion. We also offer scans, which is when a professional comes into the organisation to talk about diversity.

We don’t have any statistics on diversity because it’s very difficult to collect this kind of data. Recently there was a publication from the Boekmanstichting, (Dutch Institute for Arts, culture and related policy) about self-selection. That means that you can ask people if they want to talk about their cultural background, and the centre is now looking at possibilities to tackle the issue within the staff of cultural organisations.

Can you give us an insight on the current state of diversity whether it is in the workplace or with audiences? Are there any notable trends?

Regarding the programmes, this shift is quite successful. We see that the awareness on the subject has grown, many organisations have changed their programme, and on stage, you can see more and more actors from different backgrounds. Several organisations now also have an artistic or business director with bi-cultural roots and they are role models for a new generation, they influence the programmes to become more inclusive

On the part of the public, changes go slower. The traditional public is there since they have broad interests, but it’s more difficult to get the new public. New topics and new programmes help but people also have to get acquainted with visiting a theatre, and its codes: you can’t come in with chips and popcorn for example.

We have a large group of members who work in schools and make youth theatre, and they easily reach new audiences. They come directly to the younger audiences in the schools, but they also choose topics that are tailored to younger audiences. In 2021, there was also a group of theatre companies in NAPK who took part in a project called “Theatre Inclusief” and they have collected a lot of material, doing a few pilot projects to see what works and what doesn’t.

Unfortunately, in the last 10 years, a lot of educational projects have disappeared because there was no funding, and it’s not at the top of the agenda of policymakers to have a very stable layer of youth education to interest new visitors to go to the performing arts.

What new strategies do you think will become necessary to foster diversity and inclusion within the performing arts sector?

We need to do more research on why new generations have less affinity with theatre and with classical music. We assume that education plays a big part in this. That is why we emphasise in all our policy letters that a strong and inclusive performing arts sector starts with good education in school and affordable theatre, music, and dance lessons after school.

The most difficult level where change is still needed is in the personnel of cultural organisations. It’s not really clear why, maybe the fact that working in the cultural business is not seen as a stable career. There is more investment required at the beginning to get a solid job later, and maybe people can’t afford to put in that initial investment.

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