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Recommendations of the Cultural Review of the Rijksakademie

Last November, following an article in the NRC newspaper about alleged sexual offences and violent behaviour concerning an alumnus of the Rijksakademie who was a resident in 2015 and 2016, our Supervisory Board commissioned an independent cultural review that extensively researched our culture, regulations and practices. The research did not uncover any reports of sexual assault as reported in the NRC-article. Based on the outcomes of the review, the conclusion is that the Rijksakademie provides a safe working environment for artists and employees. We welcome the review’s recommendations to put in place a more formal structure for handling matters relating to psychosocial safety, as part of a continued commitment to creating a warm, stimulating, respectful and safe working environment in which artists can thrive.

Why we commissioned a cultural review

The Rijksakademie is a post-academic residency programme for a highly international and diverse community of 45 professional artists, most of whom have worked independently for several years before becoming residents. The wellbeing of our artist community is our main priority and the newspaper article raised issues that deeply concerned us. Although no cases of sexual assault had been reported during the years 2015 and 2016, we felt it was paramount to commission an investigation to make sure nothing was missed, overlooked, or had gone unreported. We had already started taking measures to address psychosocial safety in 2020, including a code of conduct for residents and the appointment of two external confidential counsellors, but we recognised that we needed an independent view to ensure we meet best practice in this area.

The Review’s Findings

The independent review was undertaken by a law firm, Ivy Advocaten, who specialise in these matters, and had no previous relation to the Rijksakademie. A clear positive identified by the report was that problems had been solved informally. However, the fact that the employees and artists in residence form close bonds and that there is a strong sense of community may make it more difficult to report inappropriate behaviour. The warm connections between employees and artists also led to a lack of distance and made it more difficult to handle these matters objectively. Ivy Advocaten noted that interviewees appreciated the warm community atmosphere of the Rijksakademie, which was confirmed by the many supportive reactions and positive messages from alumni following the callout.

The reports of misconduct that emerged from the review identified three artists. In one case the reported incidents took place entirely in the private sphere where the Rijksakademie had no right to intervene. The Rijksakademie already knew about allegations concerning the other two artists though some new incidents were reported in the process of the review. There were allegations of aggressive behaviour made about an artist, who was in residence in 2015 and 2016, but there were no reports of sexual harassment or sexual assault by him. This has been addressed at the time by several team members. The residency of the other artist was terminated.

The review observed that reports of misconduct were dealt with on an ad hoc basis. The main recommendation is to establish more formal structures and processes for managing reports of misconduct. Therefore, as a follow up, an evaluation of the general process around reports of misconduct and psychosocial safety has been done by Ivy Lawyers with an eye to the future.

Implementation of the recommendations

We welcome the findings of the report and are acting on them as follows:

  • We are revising our code of conduct with a clear set of consequences for different kinds of misconduct.
  • For relatively minor forms of unwanted conduct the policy places a high emphasis on the responsibility of artists in residence and employees to try to solve issues internally.
  • An updated protocol for the role and duties of confidential councillors has been drafted by Ivy Advocaten and membership of the national association of confidential councillors will be a condition of service.
  • Complaints about serious misconduct will be filed with an external complaints committee with at least two members: a legal expert and a member with expertise in the area of psychosocial safety.
  • The Supervisory Board will review and assess compliance in relation to integrity and psychosocial safety on an annual basis.
  • In addition to this we will put in place training in relation to social safety so that all employees and residents feel confident to flag issues and concerns in the future.

The Process

Multiple calls were made to about 1000 alumni, including all those who were resident from the years 2015 to 2020. Eighteen responses were received, in which seven people mentioned having been the subject of or having witnessed a form of inappropriate conduct between resident artists, this concerns the three artists mentioned. Ivy Advocaten guaranteed full confidentiality and anonymity to anyone who responded so that they would feel able to speak freely knowing that their identity would be protected. No employees were implicated in claims of inappropriate conduct. The review included interviews with artists in residence, alumni and employees.

We are very grateful to all the individuals who contributed to the review and thank them for their contribution. Their input has resulted in improvements that will ensure a warm, stimulating, respectful and safe working environment at the Rijksakademie in which artists can continue to thrive.