A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
People have told me, with a straight face, that The Hague is boring. It has no scene, they say. There’s nowhere to go out, I hear. This blog post is about why they are wrong. Before I begin my defense, I’d like to apologise upfront for how much this will sound like an advertisement. But there is one organization that has done more than any other to open up this city for me over the last year: We Are Public.
For 15 euros a month, We Are Public (WAP) alerts you to, and covers the costs of, all kinds of events in the city. Like a sort of union for cultural consumers, it provides the arts with a degree of security and you with a range of free events to go to. Because of it, I’ve seen The Hague from sides previously unimaginable and discovered a city far from boring.
Article one: a fashion show in an abandoned electricity factory. Every year the fashion design department at The Hague’s Royal Academy of Art (KABK) hold an extravagant catwalk to showcase their students’ work. This year they did it in the Hague’s former Electriciteitsfabriek (electricity factory) and WAP provided free tickets. The building alone is astonishing and for good reason has been repurposed for cultural events. Inside, giant steel girders support the levels and divide the space, the floor is a dusty concrete, and the ceiling seems endless. It has a wonderful, cold, foggy and eerie atmosphere. In a city filled with old churches and cobblestone streets, I’d never expected anything like it. Once the fashion show began, the scene got stranger. Some beautiful, some ugly and some barely deserving the name ‘clothes’, it was a treat to see what some of The Hague’s other students had been working on.
Article two: chamber music in an old church. Another scene, this time in the nearby city of Delft, a 10-minute train ride away. Delft’s Chamber Music Festival, an expensive event, was free for WAP members. My friends and I knew we were close when we spotted the big white tents outside, the champagne flutes and the suits. To say we were underdressed doesn’t do enough to describe our ‘out-of-place-ness’. As one of my friends, covering his leopard print shorts with his coat, put it, we were representing our generation. Needless to say, the event was eye-opening. A troupe of four drummers opened, mesmerizingly alternating between eight ashiko drums. An opera singer accompanied by a single pianist followed, with Schubert in German. My friends and I, spread across the audience (WAP doesn’t allow the luxury of reserving similar seats) distinguished ourselves by continuously clapping at the wrong times. The effect: not only do we get to witness more diverse forms of art, but they get to witness a more diverse audience. Not boring.
Article three: an artist’s commune’s 25th birthday. Nestled opposite the royal stables just past The Hague’s old town, a local artist commune opens its doors for an evening of discussion and music. On our rainy evening, the space could seat around 40. It is lit mostly by green neon lights in each corner. The evening begins with a brief history of the group by an Art historian from Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit. She explains how, in a disused bread factory, Quartair have been furtively creating for 25 years. A group of friends began the commune by squatting the building in 1992, to save it from demolition. It has since been their home and creative hub. Another professor from Amsterdam follows and explains the importance for subversive art in politics. Looking around the audience I see old, young and middle-aged; smartly dressed, weirdly dressed and casually dressed; clear gender conformity, no gender conformity and unclear gender conformity; it is the most diverse yet. As I imagine all the different kinds huddling from the rain outside, I feel a strange sense of solidarity with them and with all of The Hague’s creative communities.
An anniversary blow out at PIP, bands playing in Paard, authors (such as the Mohsin Hamid talk I wrote about earlier) giving interviews, orchestras at the Zuiderstrandtheatre, local theatre groups, dance shows, poetry, all in tucked away spaces that you’ll never walk past the same again. If this looks like an advertisement for We Are Public, it is also an advertisement for The Hague, for getting stuck into the city, exploring these spaces and keeping them alive.