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Why it's good that the Holland Festival gets this general manager #HF17

Annet Lekkerkerker is one of the few women in the cultural sector for whom the glass ceiling is no longer an obstacle. That she is now, after several years as 'business director', formally becomes top woman of the country's premier performing arts festival is wonderful for more reasons. She is not only the first woman at that high position. Her appointment also clarifies why the 'job structure' in the arts sector so often goes wrong. For the Holland Festival itself, it is also a good thing that in these turbulent and especially uncertain times, it can set out a long-term strategy independent of artistic policy.

The performing arts world is still not a good reflection of society. Despite a few exceptions, such as Festival Boulevard, the Rotterdamse Schouwburg and the umbrella organisations VSCD and NAPK, leading positions are still mostly occupied by white men. In 2017, women are still mainly in roles that can be seen as 'supportive' at best. Marketing, for instance, programming: very often. Dramaturgy, another thing. People of non-Dutch origin can be counted with the joints of one severed finger, by the way.

Evil will

With a little ill will, you could even argue in this sector that business leadership is also seen as supportive. After all, everything is about the unique artistic course being set and not about the person who enables and helps set that course.

That the Holland Festival long had a duo leadership, in the form of a business and an artistic director, was already a first improvement. The positions were equally rewarded and equally valued. Internally. For the outside world, it remained a bit unclear who was in charge. Pierre Audi, the predecessor of current artistic director Ruth Mackenzie, always clearly emerged as leader. Ivo van Hove, who ran the tent at the beginning of this century, still likes to be un-Dutch artistic as well as business boss, supported by someone who knows how to make the impossible come true.


With Ruth Mackenzie, who succeeded Pierre Audi three years ago, a change in proportions could be seen. Lekkerkerker stepped into the spotlight a bit more often, it seemed. Got more space from the artistic colleague next to her. Mackenzie has now been offered a dream job in the Valhalla for art lovers (Chatelet in Paris). So a good time has come to clarify the proportions once and for all.

It will be quite difficult to find a leading artistic director who will be able to be the face of the festival for more than a few years. After all, financially speaking, the Holland Festival is a tiny player in the international festival scene. There is comparatively hardly any programming budget. The Dutch CAO salary counts as a tip in the circles where the Holland Festival prefers to look for a leader. That it still manages to find high-profile leaders (m/f) is thanks to the tremendous prestige that still clings to the festival and to the city of Amsterdam.


Chances are that a successor to Ruth Mackenzie will not only be hard to find. It will also be difficult to attract someone who is willing to take on the responsibility of a full directorship in addition to the artistic content. It is, after all, a part-time position. To have to deal with the personnel consequences of your artistic policy in those few days a week is not appealing. Then it could just happen that the intended artistic director would like to bring his own business partner along. Then you may have a nice artistic boss in house, but your long-term policy is to God. Literally. 

With Annet Lekkerkerker becoming the business and strategic face of the Holland Festival, there will be more room to make the artistic interpretation more adventurous. The artistic leadership will now rotate every four years. This will ensure life in the tent. The festival will respond even better than before to not only artistic topicality, but also business. That's when you need a rock.


There is a persistent idea that professions lose value the more women choose them. If that idea were true at all, which can only be so long as old men determine such things, Lekkerkerker's appointment is a good signal against that too. After years in the shadows, it is now becoming clear who was always at the helm. That was, for much longer than the cynics thought: them. 

So isn't this yet another step in devaluing artistic content versus business interests? After all, the artistic director now has less say than the general manager? Artistic policy cannot be normative in any situation. If only because you also have to deal with working conditions. those are complicated things that can get in the way of an artistic concept. The only artistic person who manages to be general director is Ivo van Hove. He can do that because of the literally un-Dutch dedication of his staff, who are ready for him 25 hours a day, anywhere in the world. Not very enticing for Dutch-trained managers.

Chris Dercon

Of course, there are a lot of 'males' in the artistic leadership world who do find it difficult to have someone above them. Still, opportunities present themselves. Chris Dercon, for instance. He is currently being tarred and feathered for wanting to change something at the Berlin Volksbühne, which has been stagnant for 30 years. Just might. This god of the arts may have to go into hiding outside Berlin. In Amsterdam, for example. I would love it if he said 'yes'. Big chance too. After all, it is very hard to say 'no' to Annet Lekkerkerker.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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