Whilst at the UN heading the Gender Programme, I witnessed a lot of sexual harassment. We women were treated like things. It took two years to fight a particular case, and I realised that on a case by case basis we would get nowhere. We needed to work at legislation at policy level. In 2001 I talked with several like-minded organisations to campaign for some kind of accountability and justice.
We started the ‘Aasha’ movement (Alliance against Sexual Harassment), ‘Aasha’ means hope. Our approach was positive from the outset. Building solid alliances, it took about ten years to bring enough people and politicians on board. We finally got the bill through in Pakistan in 2010 and got two news laws passed.
In the 1990s a courageous operator called Titus Leber, from Austria, spent two years working with IBM Europe on a visionary project, collecting digital reference material which reflected the many cultures within Europe. That project was the subject of global discussions at the time about the concept of ‘content-ware’ which was a conversation developing in parallel to the idea of software and hardware. It is now dormant with the intellectual property remaining with Titus.
Since then, Titus has travelled extensively, living in Asia for 17 years where he created two major interactive projects:
More recently his interest has shifted to the African continent, travelling and living there for months at a time. Still ahead of the curve in his thinking, his current passion is to work with key cultural figures in Africa to collect and preserve evidence of the multi-various cultures within different regions and/or tribal contexts, many of which are rapidly disappearing. Sometimes in this pursuit Titus finds himself in situations that you and I would find too risky or plain dangerous. He is not only a man of his convictions, which takes courage, but his activity also literally requires stamina and courage. Here Titus talks about this project for which he is constantly trying to raise enthusiasm and funds:
I am a contemporary artist who loves to play around and mingle with colour. This is what describes me these days. Painting for me is a way to express my deepest feelings and emotions which otherwise I find difficult to communicate. Life amazes me. Questions about our existence, our purpose in life and life beyond death often perplex me. Who are we humans? Why are we all so different? Why are we treated differently based on man-made falsities? These are some of the questions I seek answers to.
It gives me great pleasure to share a conversation with Joost whose innovative work was brought to my attention by Daphne Thissen, a smart operator for the Netherlands Embassy in London. Joost is the current Minister of the Dutch Church in London and also the Director of the Dutch Centre which is co-located with the Church. We met in the crypt .....
Before bird catching a little offering must be made, so it is here I must acknowledge my ancestors...
While my passport would confirm that I'm a fifty years old Athenian, I understand myself rather as a citizen of the world. I have lived in different countries and have discovered that the status of the 'foreigner' makes me feel quite at home. That's because it allows me to be an observer, which is something very natural to me. Being an observer does not mean staying outside the social and political reality of the place I live in - quite the contrary. This, for me, is the real meaning of citizen: not connected to citizenship, tied to a birthplace, but part of the place in which one lives and works. In every new place, I'm fully immersed and devoted.
I have lived in Italy, France and Germany, and I speak these countries' languages as a native speaker. I have lived for shorter periods in the UK and the USA and my English is fluent as well. A language for me is timbre and rhythm, and, probably due to my musical background, I learn it quite fast which allows me to adapt without any difficulty to different places and cultures – at least so far within Europe. Of course, apart from Greece, the country closest to me is Germany, as I have lived and worked there for a good thirteen years.
Although I first studied music and worked as a young pianist, I was always attracted to the stage, so naturally I was led to theatre. While officially I was doing my doctorate in musicology in Paris, 'unofficially' I was doing everything related to arts and culture: theatre at the Lecoq School, jazz, street theatre, dance and cinema. In addition philosophy courses with Julia Kristeva and semiotics with Umberto Eco. Things weren't easy and I had to live with very little money, but I didn't want to set my mind on a career before I knew what I wanted. I needed to test not just the medium but also my own skills. And I was curious about everything. Curiosity is a great motivator. Looking back, I know that I wouldn't want to have done things differently. I met amazing people who influenced me and I learned a great deal. Besides, if I had rushed to a career, I would have compromised myself, my sense of who I am. Now, I can comfortably say: I'm a political animal that does theatre.
I'm a theatre director who is interested in new writing, in contemporary theatre texts, but also classic works from the international repertoire. I move comfortably in different genres and different countries. I also often translate the plays I direct. I have translated and directed works by Sarah Kane, Elfriede Jelinek, Saara Turunen, Peter Verhelst and others. I like working with large groups of performers and enable them to become an orchestra of voices when working on plays that allow the use of a chorus. I did it in directing ancient Greek Tragedy in Hambourg, Dantons' Death by Buechner in Berlin in 2011 but also in the directing of Jelinek's About Animals in 2010 and of poetic texts by Kavafis, Brecht and Mueller last year in Athens in a scenic composition of my own. However, I can just as easily focus on a single actor and work on a monologue. I also like contemporary opera and working with contemporary choreographers in dance-theatre projects. I directed an opera of Maurice Ohana in New York's La MaMa back in 1996, but also operas of various contemporary composers in Germany and Italy. I have worked as a director or as a dramaturg with many choreographers in Italy, Germany and Greece in interdisciplinary dance-theatre projects.
Programming in a cultural field requires that you have a deep understanding of the type of arts you programme as well as of the framework in which you programme them. Contrary to what some people might think, programming arts for a festival is different from programming for a specific venue which again is different from programming for a city organisation and so on. Not least of all, because they have different audiences.
My own ability as a programmer is based on the fact that I have an excellent knowledge of very different types of performing arts, either in theatre or circus or street theatre or music or dance or even literature presented in public spaces, or installations or any kind of performance. And I have a good knowledge of educational work as well. I have studied and worked on many artistic fields and I keep myself informed with the artistic production not locally but internationally. Having worked in different countries and frameworks, I understand how the production conditions vary in different contexts and I have learned to adapt fast in new environments. I have developed a great flexibility in order to understand production situations, mentalities and expectations, and I take all these into consideration in my programming work.
I am not particularly interested in any star system. What drives me is merit, craft and artistry. For that reason, I have been considered as unconventional and different from other programmers. When I receive applications, I am interested in the concept and the craft. I pay less attention to whether the work matches my personal taste or if it is trendy or if it suits a specific agenda or ideology. It is the idea and the craft that interests and excites me.
Of course, I don't only rely on receiving proposals; I also value my ability to commission work, to imagine possible collaborations and projects. I challenge artists to go in directions they haven't been before, to try new things, to form collaborations they haven't yet imagined. This does not mean that I encourage artists to do the things that I would do as an artist. I spend time with their work, I 'read' their own potential, discover possibilities for them. In a sense this is also the job of the curator.
No programming should take place without consideration of the audience. You have to know the audience you are programming work for. But this knowledge should not limit you as a programmer. It doesn't mean that you will fulfill their expectations, but rather that you have to understand them in order to challenge and expand their cultural horizon. It's not about stroking their ears, but challenging them and taking them further. It's not about serving them what they think they want. As a programmer, you have to challenge them, and that involves respecting them and taking them seriously. This is the essence of the job, in my opinion: to invite artists whose presence wasn't guaranteed, and to do the same with the audience.
This is how I worked in the Olympic Games of Athens in 2004, where I headed up the Cultural Programme. This post held the responsibility of designing and implementing all the cultural programmes that were happening during the games, in and outside the Olympic venues. Practically, this meant a programme with very different sections, with different audiences (spectators of the athletic events, or the athletes themselves, people of the city, events of the torch relay). It meant hundreds of events. And, although the Olympic Games was of course an international event with very strong commercial aspects, and complicated issues relating to sponsors' interests, within the overall political agenda of the games, I worked in the way I explained. It was hard work but it certainly paid off.
In the case of Cultural Capital of Europe - Patras in 2006, where I held the post of the Artistic Director, there were more complications. I got appointed at the very last moment, and I needed to do within a few weeks things that would normally need three and four years of preparation. What I was really asked to do was not the 'normal' job of the artistic director, but a rescue operation of the 'five minutes before the catastrophe' sort of thing. My high achievement was that it did actually happen. Against all odds, and having an enormous pressure from specific local lobbies, reactions from the internal organisations and also from the central government, and with the local press trying to sabotage it all the way. But the Cultural Capital of Europe - Patras 2006 did take place: the programme was rich and challenging, with a great number of unexpected events, with bold programming, with international artists and imaginative collaborations.
Now I am seeking new challenges. Ideally I would love to work in a framework where I could employ all aspects of my artistic identity: the programmer and the director, the teacher and the researcher. Most importantly, somewhere where it would be meaningful and make a difference. If you know of such a place then let me know and I'll be there.
Courage is one of the essential qualities that we look for in our leaders, the courage to do the right thing even when the decisions we are faced with are tough. We all know how hard it is to operate courageously particularly when faced with vested interests or prejudicial views. There are so many levels in cultural hierarchies and in researching this series I have not always found courage where I expected. For example, maybe unsurprisingly, I have not found it in abundance in the Political class, or at Board level, but at the Grassroots level and the Executive level. I have, with your help, found 12 individuals from around the world who are profiled in this Courageous Operators Series. They have been working internationally in the cultural/creative field and have achieved something exceptional, innovative or inspirational. We want to celebrate their work and commend the fact that they have dared to be different.
The first individual we want to take our hat off to is Rex Broekman working out of Peru. Here is his story.....
Having eggs thrown at me; receiving unsettling anonymous phone calls; finding newspapers ripped to pieces on my doorstep; being yelled at in the street and receiving credit from people all over the world are just some examples of the price I am paying for being creative and innovative, but it's what I think of as being myself. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am the editor of an English-language newspaper in Huaraz, Peru. Some consider the paper to be controversial; which brings to mind the question, is it all worth it? I believe so. I am from the Netherlands, living in a Spanish-speaking, narrow-minded community, and I am obviously doing something that upsets the locals. Additionally, I live in a country where statistics are often altered, and facts are simply invented to suit the needs of the few. I, on the other hand, endeavour only to speak the truth in the hope that this little Andean city I live in can prevail.
To give you an idea of what Huaraz is like, it is located at 3,100 metres above sea level, and surrounded by towering mountains, including the Huascarán which, at 6,768 metres, is the highest mountain in Peru. This outstanding natural beauty is contrasted by numerous stray dogs, a garbage problem, alcohol and crime problems and corruption. There is more than enough to write about, and one would think the people here in Huaraz would like to see someone speaking out on their behalf. On the contrary. People don't want to read about it; many don't even want to admit there are problems. I am frequently asked why, if this place is so bad, do I not go back to my own country? The answer is simple. Every city in the world has its pros and its cons, but when change is required it is down to us to speak out. Someone has to take a stand, and fight for what is right. I truly believe that Huaraz is a nice off-the-beaten-path place to visit, but living here is a different matter as there is not much to do. This is one of the reasons why, in 2011, I started developing The Huaraz Telegraph – it gave me something to do in my spare time. Another reason for starting the paper was because thirty years ago Huaraz was Peru's third most important tourist destination after Cuzco and Lima. Nowadays Huaraz sits in 85th place, falling further every year. So what happened? Of course there are those who do not want to believe this and that is their prerogative, but I believe if one wants to change things and climb up the rankings then you can no longer ignore the facts.
The Huaraz Telegraph has the format of a newspaper, but it does not report the daily news, rather it carries articles and investigative reports that are aimed at the tourist community. Although I had no experience in creating or maintaining a newspaper, I feel I have done a good job. Tourists travelling from the north of Colombia working their way south via Huaraz said they were impressed with the non-native-made English newspaper. They liked the design and found the articles useful and interesting, and championed the high level of journalism in the paper. And although The Huaraz Telegraph is not the only English paper in South America or Peru, it´s one of a kind, so I have been told.
Constructive criticism has made the paper better over time, and now it is even more interactive than before as we encourage readers and English students in the town to contribute by writing stories or translating a poem from Quechua (the regional language) into English. The Huaraz Telegraph has been criticized in the past, but I know my place; I am an amateur working outside the vested interests - and proud of it.
On a flight back with my parents and brother and sister on-board from Iquitos (Peru) to Lima I sketched out a few rough ideas about the layout and design of the paper. At home I watched hours and hours of video tutorials and trawled the internet researching the subject of forming and maintaining a newspaper. Next I needed someone to print my paper. Of the 20 printing companies in Huaraz only three were capable of producing my paper. Of the three one refused to take my business and the other two were either too expensive or would only print in black and white. Eight hours away in Lima I finally found what I was looking for. People from Huaraz however are always surprised we have the paper printed in Lima and not Huaraz.
In April 2012 The Huaraz Telegraph was launched. We were heavily criticized for the content as well as the spelling errors and grammatical mistakes but this made us stronger as we now had something to improve on. One of the first articles we published was about the famous Santa Cruz trek that was affected by a landslide. This rocked the tourist business in Huaraz, and due to ignorance and misinformation, I as the article's author was vilified as being responsible for the downfall of Huaraz. To this day no local tourism agency has asked to advertise in The Huaraz Telegraph, which is disappointing because they could reach a wider audience now the paper is available online.
What people need to understand is that it is the job of The Huaraz Telegraph to inform and entertain. Indeed it is in the best interests of the paper (and the town) to increase tourist numbers in Huaraz, we are not trying to turn people away, or discourage them from visiting. We need them and we need their money so we can improve the city.
Huaraz has had problems for decades, and I don't believe that The Huaraz Telegraph will influence those in power to make the changes we need. Nor do I think that the articles we publish have any bearing on whether or not people visit Huaraz. I do believe that the paper provides a clear picture of what is happening here. I believe that if we reach out to enough people, one day something will click and changes will be made.
I want to keep the newspaper free. But to do this we need local businesses to buy advertising space, they need to realise that advertising is not a waste of time and money. Instead it is an investment in the future of their business as it gets their name out and about to a wider audience. We can also take international sponsorship and grants but I have not yet explored this route, however, if anyone reading this wants to support us we would be happy to hear from you. One of the possibilities could be producing a bilingual The Huaraz Telegraph, something I am looking into but this will not be easy because finding the right qualified people in Huaraz is a mission impossible. Quality costs money and will most likely mean that I will need to bring in people from Lima. A bilingual newspaper can reach a much greater readership which would be ideal for every party involved.
Just recently, I have also been co-hosting a television program called No toque su televisor (Don´t Touch Your Television) on a local TV channel called Canal Tres - Cable Andino. We discuss social and political issues as well as talking about some of the articles that have been published in the paper. The programme is broadcasted live and lasts half an hour where my co-host and I share our differences with the viewers. The idea of the director of the channel was to have two distinctive people living in the same place (Huaraz), discussing everything that´s important in the city. There is a certain freedom as topics are chosen by us and like the newspaper, we are looking for interaction with the viewers as during the broadcast spectators can call to the programme and join the discussion live on TV. I have become good friends with the director of the channel and he has even asked me if I can look into his programmes, although I laughed maybe a little bit too hard when he admitted there were only 5 programmes produced at the moment but who knows what the future brings. The channel also runs a small magazine with some smaller articles and I got the impression that he wants me to do that as well, although I have postponed a decision until February.
On first coming to Peru as a tourist in 2005 I could never have imagined that eight years later I would be married, teaching at a university, editor of a newspaper, or co-hosting a television program. The Huaraz Telegraph has undoubtedly made me the most well-known and unpopular 'gringo' in town, but I am confident that there are people out there who respect my honesty and willingness to speak out, and believe that our investigations and articles will indeed bring about a change of attitude in Huaraz.
The Huarez Telegraph is available to read online at www.thehuaraztelegraph.com