Connecting Dutch people and newcomers through arts and culture

14 februari 2017

The recent arrival of large groups of refugees in the Netherlands caused a wealth of projects and activities specifically for refugees. But refugees themselves would prefer to work together with Dutch people. Movisie feels that arts and culture can help to connect these different groups and facilitates their cooperation. Amer Alomari, a 24-year old man from Syria, is convinced that activities with theatre, film and music will increase understanding and acceptance and will speed up the integration of newcomers. But only if projects include both Dutch people and refugees.

Amer has a lot of experience in theatre, film and music and is full of ambitions to connect people through arts and culture. He wants to participate in society as a Dutch citizen, not as a refugee.

No separate projects

Amer states that newcomers are obviously grateful for all the help they receive, but they also fear that it will set them apart from others and may even create resistance. Amer: ‘Refugees don’t want to remain refugees. We want a safe and good future. We can’t wait to get rid of the ‘refugee’ label and be included in Dutch society as full members. Although specific projects for refugees create a warm welcome, we would prefer that efforts are made to create a future for all people in the Netherlands. Such an investment would not only help Dutch people, but us newcomers also.’ Amer has a legal status, a house and a good life. Now it is time to pay back.

‘Refugees don’t want to remain refugees’

A fresh view of Dutch society

In the Netherlands people from various cultures and social backgrounds live closely together. Living together calls for harmony and connection. Amer feels that Dutch people get there by talking to each other a lot. ‘Refugees often have a fresh view on issues, on experiences and knowledge that are different from those of many Dutch people. Newcomers don’t look at things the same way as Dutch people do. They see, hear and feel differently and can bring innovation. In that way they contribute to a strong society. But the problem is that refugees often don’t speak the Dutch language sufficiently to express their ideas clearly.’ Amer wants to show what he has to offer by making theatre and art with others. ‘Through arts and culture everything can be addressed; your own history, your story, but also issues such as radicalization or integration.’

Exchanges without words

Refugees are often highly educated and have work experience that remains unused, because diplomas are not valid here or have been left behind in the country of origin. Theatre, film or music can play a significant role in exchanging knowledge and experience and working towards a joint future. Theatre, film and music are powerful tools because they show the real person. Who is this person opposite me? What are his concerns? What does he want to show me? Theatre allows you to share stories, start conversations and express feelings. The expression of your story helps others to understand what you need and what you have to offer. It allows people to express ideas and thoughts that they cannot convey in spoken language. You don’t need words, just each other.

Theatre, film or music can play a significant role in exchanging knowledge and experience and working towards a joint future

Get started

Amer is convinced that it can be done. ‘Just start. A few years ago in Jordan I took the initiative to get people in touch with each other through theatre, film and music. It only took two weeks to get started and in no time 200 people had joined the initiative.’ Amer finds it incredible that in the Netherlands people can work on one theatre piece for half a year and only perform it once. That people have to wait months for a grant and that the initiators don’t even get to talk to the grant givers. He would prefer to focus on the execution of a good plan instead of on complex conditions and rules. Much more can be done, he feels, with les fuzz. He presents the example of a Facebook page for refugees in the Netherlands. The group has 11.000 followers. Through this site it took Amer only one day to recruit more than 1.000 volunteers to hand out flowers in the streets to thank the Dutch for their hospitality.

Role of Movisie
Movisie advocates the use of arts and culture in care and welfare, especially because of its added value in addressing social issues involving vulnerable groups. We promote more cooperation between the arts and the social sector and invite people to cross the boundaries of their own discipline and combine policies, budgets and practices. We support municipalities, care and welfare providers and cultural centres to design and present suggestions for using art to help solve social issues, for instance through local and regional ‘Social Art Labs’ in which all stakeholders in the field or care, welfare, arts and culture participate to create an action plan.

Movisie also conducts impact studies to outline the impact of cultural and arts interventions and initiatives. We offer training and education to professionals, both from the arts and culture sectors and from care and welfare, to establish and describe the methods and interventions they use.