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This bizarre labour dispute in Zeeland is just the tip of the iceberg

Alex Mallems, the artistic director who put Zeeland on the map in this century (since 2001), has left both the Zeeland Nazomer festival and its associated production house Zeelandia. This is the outcome of a protracted conflict with the business director appointed since last year, Sylvie Dees. According to a message in Theaterkrant, according to Dees, he would "make promises to theatre-makers without permission, fail to record agreements properly and withhold information.

The development follows a months-long study published last year by journalist and communications specialist Ingrid van Frankenhuyzen entitled: Fear and trembling in the cultural sector: the dark side of the 'trickle down'. She noted, in a search for how coronasteun and zzp'ers were handled in the sector, that Productiehuis Zeelandia and Festival Zeeland Nazomer, in particular, had built up a bad reputation. The freshly appointed director Dees failed to honour agreements with independent makers made before she took office, or turned them down after all for lack of artistic quality.

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Major absent from this enquiry even then was the artistic director of both organisations: Alex Mallems. Like so many others, he could not be reached for open comment. That the director had clearly stepped into Mallems' role with her dealings with independent makers and their plans makes it clear that the conflict must have been running high even then.

Dees' accusation against Mallems was annulled by the judge. In addition, the judge seriously questioned the role of the Supervisory Board: it is alleged that it did not contact Mallems at any time.

Paltry tip

Mallems is now leaving, the judge acknowledging that further work is impossible in this toxic environment. The transitional compensation awarded is paltry. 30,000 euros for someone who has sacrificed 21 years of his heart and soul to provincial culture is a ridiculously low amount, and since both parties have to share the litigation costs, very little of it remains.

Because Mallems worked in the Netherlands as a Belgian, he is also not entitled to unemployment benefits. This makes the situation extra distressing. Remains the question of how long a business director who apparently causes so much angst in her surroundings can ensure a pleasant artistic climate in Zeeland. There is considerable wrestling, the question is what else will surface.

The question is also, given the results of Ingrid van Frankenhuyzen's survey last year, how much misery is hidden in other places.

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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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