David Naves is the Head of Press and Cultural Affairs Section of the Consulate General of the Netherlands in Istanbul. This interview with Mr. Naves aims at providing an alternative perspective to the culture & arts in Istanbul; from the perspective of a person who enables artists and culture producers to continue their production. We talked about the valuable contribution of the consulate, the ongoing projects as well as Mr. Naves’ impression of Istanbul’s culture & art environment.
OI You have arrived in Istanbul recently. Is it your first time here, or did you have the chance to visit Turkey before?
DN I arrived in August 2021 in Istanbul to become the cultural attaché for the Netherlands. I have worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2010. Before that, I have worked for other ministries and also worked in the private sector. In 2010, I came to Turkey to work at the Embassy as the head of the economic department. After Ankara, I went to Shanghai and became deputy consul general. The last five years, I lived in 12 countries and had short assignments to do a specific project in every country. I really love Turkey. So when this position became available, I applied for it.
I knew Istanbul a bit before. Because when I lived in Ankara, I traveled to Istanbul frequently. At that time in 2012, we were celebrating 400 years of diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and Turkey. So we had a lot of events, also cultural events.
OI I was wondering about your initial observations of the cultural life in Istanbul. I heard that you recently had a meeting with some of the prominent cultural figures of Istanbul. How would you compare the cultural life in the Netherlands and Turkey?
DN Yes, at the consulate we had luncheons with several groups, actually. I am new in Istanbul, and so is the consul general. So I proposed him to have lunch meetings with people with different backgrounds. For instance, people from the business community who invest in the Netherlands or the Dutch journalists living in Turkey. To get to know the cultural sector better and to extend our network, we met with people who organize events and festivals. For instance, people from IKSV to discuss existing cooperation and also what we can do in the future together. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, we didn’t have a lot of physical events. Almost nothing happened for one and a half years. The thing is that when I arrived here in Istanbul, I asked my colleagues about the most recent activities and projects. They told me that basically nothing has happened because of the Covid. So it is difficult to compare the Netherlands and Turkey. I think that for me it’s all about creative people. I love the fact that here in Turkey, and in the Netherlands as well, you have many creative people and vibrant artistic communities. So I don’t automatically see that there are huge differences in that way. But when I talk to individual artists, I hear that they sometimes find it difficult to make specific kind of art.
OI I think there could be some differences regarding the funding of the cultural sector.
DN Yes, I think that’s a little bit different in a way. When I talk to artists, I hear that the state funding here is less than it is in the Netherlands. Especially during the pandemic, the Dutch government really tried to support artists, at least to keep the community alive and give the artists at least the opportunity to produce and create in a way that it is possible for them to continue working after the pandemic. I can imagine that for artists it is more difficult here in Turkey to survive.
OI Exactly. I hear that funding opportunities are more diverse in the Netherlands. But luckily, we have consulates and independent Turkish institutions that support the artists here as well. So I was wondering which projects do you currently support?
DN While I prepared myself before coming to Turkey last year, I had meetings with people in the Dutch cultural sector, with artists and Dutch cultural institutions who provide funding for the cultural sector. Everybody was very interested in the opportunities to perform in Turkey but also had reservations to make concrete steps. I thought that maybe extra support from the consulate should be necessary. But I was positively surprised that even in COVID times a lot of artists kept on coming to Turkey and had been collaborating with Turkish actors. A lot of events had been taken place. I was impressed by what my colleagues at the consulate had achieved before I arrived. So there had been a lot of (new) initiatives. Even when it was more difficult in the last one and a half years to perform because of the pandemic and many projects could not start or continue. But the consulate and the embassy strived for it because, for us, it’s essential to make connections and to exchange information between the Netherlands and Turkey.
As physical projects were hard to realize, my colleagues focused on the digital possibilities. As a result they initiated the Arts Map project. Arts Map is a digital platform which allows the arts and cultural sector to contact and get to know each other. This, in turn, enables sustainable partnerships. When you look at the Arts Map website, you can find all kinds of different institutions and individual artists in the Arts and Cultural sector. Everybody who is interested can become a member of Arts Map. To become a member you just need to register and this is for free. For instance, if you want to cooperate and are looking for somebody in Amsterdam who is active in painting or performing, or if you are looking for a museum in Turkey you can just look at the map on the website. Within the Arts Map community we support activities like the Train the Trainer Project. It is an initiative in which members can learn from each other. Not only regarding the creative part but also with regard to, for instance, how to sell their artwork and get in contact with other people. We also provide micro support. Every six months, we fund around 12 initiatives to stimulate Arts Map members to work together on projects. The projects should find a solution for one of the sustainable development goals. We support these projects with 1000 Euros to stimulate cooperation. We also organize speed dating sessions as well to help people get into contact with other relevant actors.
The project emerged as a result of a need. Because people were requesting us to put them in contact with other artists from both countries, we thought that if we put these on the internet, people could find each other more easily. So that was a great initiative, and my colleagues and I are still working on getting more members on Arts Map.
OI I think it is quite interesting that you have a horizontal and collaborative approach.
DN Well, the Dutch approach is about co-creation and bringing people together. I think our main goal at the consulate is to connect and bring people together. I think that’s a very important part and Arts Map is an example of facilitating such connections. And that’s what they also did in the past with co-design sessions. The idea is to bring creative people together to find creative solutions. Especially in our bilateral cooperation with Turkey, we focus on making cities livable, open, and inclusive. So, that is one of the main targets in our cooperation.
OI What kind of criteria do you hold when deciding which projects to support?
DN It is important for us to foster cooperation between Turkey and the Netherlands and to work together. Every six months, we choose one of the sustainable development goals. So, it is important that your initiative is linked to that particular sustainable development goal. But the projects can be from different disciplines such as photography, performing arts or design. When you go to the website, you can see the criteria. But there are not very strict rules.
OI Do you think that the artists are influenced by these criteria? In other words, do you think that they feel the need to fit into this criteria when they’re producing their art?
DN To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t have that information because I get the application form, and I don’t know the process before they came to that. I have a feeling that when you look at the criteria, they’re not very limiting. Of course, if you are seeking funding from the Netherlands, one would expect you to be interested in the Netherlands or that there is a kind of link with the Netherlands. You may consider that as a limitation. But as I said, we are trying to foster cooperation between the countries, and we expect that people are interested in learning from each other.
I think it’s always good to have a focus and a clear idea of what you want and what you expect that your results will be when you are applying for funding. When you apply for a grant or for financial support, you are probably going to think a little deeper about what you want with your initiative. In that way, it limits. But I think it’s not limiting. Rather, it’s having a focus on what you want to achieve. Because you have to start writing why you’re doing it, you’ll start thinking about the details.
OI Thank you for your time and genuine attitude!