Nieuws - 24 maart 2011

Culture lacks lustre

Culture mirrors life. Films, debate, music, sculpture and theatre for students and by students can also boost a university's image. But no spotlights are turned on the low key cultural scene in Wageningen, unlike that in most of the other universities in the Netherlands.

Cultural life in Wageningen University isn't in the swing of things. Its setting at LA13 at Duivendaal has to make way for other plans for the building. Film theatre Movie W will lose its abode and Studium Generale (SG) will not have a lecture hall anymore. The university has already announced that it will not be offering Movie W any alternative premises.

Cultural and literary development in Wageningen has been sliding downhill gradually since 2003 when Studium Generale, Movie W and student theatre 't Hemeltje were forced to leave the building in which Hotel de Wereld is now located. The theatre branch of SG closed down four years ago because of a lack of space. Movie W will probably meet the same fate.
A look at the situations in other parts of the Netherlands shows that things can be different. Most of the other universities have at least one theatre or film hall, organize creative courses and are bustling with activities from a range of student cultural societies. Contrary to what some may think, such activities are not influenced by whether teaching is concentrated on one campus location or not. In contrast, Wageningen has only one student choir and orchestra and a band. To get dancing lessons, students need to have a sport card. That students can get discounts for courses at the Venster cultural centre in Wageningen is a well-kept secret.

Tap dancing in Groningen
In the inner city of Groningen, the Cultural Student Centre USVA gets its support from the university. Fifty different courses are given there, from guitar playing to tap dancing, from portrait photography to cabaret singing, most of which cost four to eight euros per lesson. In the two theatres of the university, performances are staged five evenings a week and a student ticket costs six euros. Besides USVA, cultural student societies run the gamut from literature to music, dance and theatre.
'Groningen is a very good city in which to develop your personality, besides studying', says USVA president Eva Schram. Although Groningen has various pop concert halls, theatres and cinemas, the university gladly pays its share for culture, adds Schram. 'We are also a link between students and the cultural scene elsewhere in the city. Students who come to our activities move on easier to other cultural events later on.'  The cultural centre gets an annual contribution from the municipality for activities which other Groningen youths also enjoy going to, such as jazz concerts.

Cultural centre in Utrecht
In Utrecht, student facilities for art and culture are spread out over the Uithof and the inner city, just like the teaching facilities. Studium Generale organizes numerous talks each week in the Academy Building under the Dom tower and in the university library in the Uithof. Almost all of these can be followed live on the internet or played back.
The Parnassos Culture Centre, which runs on contributions from the university, other higher educational institutions and course fees, is the only one still located in the inner city since 1 January. Here is where student orchestras and theatre groups rehearse and courses are held. With the departure from the Uithof, a number of courses were scrapped, but films are still screened in the Uithof library. 'We had a double dose of bad luck last year', says Maaike Koekkoek of Parnassos. 'Besides budget cuts by the university, the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences also withdrew its participation.' The budget fell by almost fifteen percent.

'Sexy' guitar playing in Eindhoven
In Eindhoven and Twente, cultural activities are concentrated on the campus, just like teaching activities. The driving force in Eindhoven is Studium Generale, which has been around since 1956. The activities are for students, but anyone may join in. 'We have our own theatre, we programme music and organize workshops on presentation, creative thinking, cartoon drawing, voice training and saxophone playing', says president Lucas Asselbergs. In March, there are three evenings to learn 'guitar playing by the campfire', the sexy thing for a man to do, according to many women. 'About twenty percent of the students attend our activities regularly, and forty percent come one to three times a year', Asselbergs says.
Like in Groningen and Utrecht, the Technical University Eindhoven (TU/e) also has many student cultural societies: classical music, pop, jazz, theatre, photography, dancing, Japanese culture and role playing. In addition, since six years ago, the campus has its grand café and film theatre 'de Zwarte Doos' where films are screened thrice a week, or about forty times a year. A scheme introduced in the last few years allows students to chalk up marks by attending talks. However, dark clouds are looming on the horizon. 'Huge budget cuts at the TU/e will reduce our budget, but we don't yet know by how much', adds Asselbergs.

Theatre café in Twente
The Vrijhof Cultural Centre of the University of Twente also has to give up, together with the university sports centre, a million euros. 'This means a twenty percent cut in our budget', says centre head Hannah de Vries. 'It is hard, but education and research are also affected. We would have to look for new activities and cooperation.'
The cultural centre was - shortly after the university was set up fifty years ago - located on the campus as a buffer between education and research and the student accommodation. 'The thinking then was that students, besides studying, should be given a chance to develop themselves by engaging in general academic activities', says De Vries. Vrijhof has three theatre halls (the biggest of which can seat eight to nine hundred during a concert), piano and pop studios, activity rooms and a ballet studio. The café is run by Sodexo up to four o'clock in the afternoon, after which it is taken over by students of the Theatrecafé Foundation. The importance of Twente culture can be seen in the combined sport and culture 'X-tra' card for which students pay seventy euros a year. Student society life in Twente is also vibrant: ten percent of the students are active in the twenty cultural societies, and four thousand students (about 45 percent) join the 37 sports societies.

In Maastricht, Studium Generale (SG) demonstrates that it can operate even without its own premises. For more than thirty years, SG has been organizing theatrical and musical performances, talks and debates in university buildings, a bookstore, two theatres and two music halls. These activities attract an average of a hundred and fifty visitors. 'We are involved in developing students academically, but we also have a social-economic value for the region', says Jaap Janssen of SG. Non-students are always welcome because the university does not want to live in an ivory tower. 'We in Maastricht University give the city its image.' SG sometimes gets support for an event from third parties, such as from the municipality, the provincial government and the social welfare foundation Elisabeth Strouven for a world music festival.

No stage in Orion
Compared to the other universities, cultural life for students in Wageningen therefore lacks lustre. If it does exist, it is split up and placed under academic or student societies. The message seems to be: Be creative and curious but do that in your own time. Combined with increasing pressure from studies, this is hardly a good sign for personality development. Forget about getting the rest of Wageningen to look, listen or participate.

Orion, the new building on the campus, should therefore provide a heart for students in Wageningen. But besides a bar cum restaurant, there will be no film theatre, let alone ateliers or music studios. The student council has not yet issued any statement regarding Movie W. 'But if you want to give the campus a heart, I think something like it is appropriate', says council member Lise Albers of VeSte. She cannot find a central venue for debating either. 'That's now being done all over the place.'
The new meeting venue, Impulse, scheduled to open next year in the Restaurant of the Future, would not bring much change. Impulse will be a place for discussions and presentations for students, lecturers, researchers, the government, companies and other interested parties. But it will be small-scale and not intended as a stage for culture.  There will therefore be no place on the campus for film theatre Movie W and activities in which film and debate are combined, such as those sometimes organized by Studium Generale or The Farmers. Culture flagship Movie W would have to stand on its own feet, or - in the words of Simon Vink, spokesperson for Wageningen UR - 'We will help Movie W to look for a new venue, but there is no guarantee.'