You don’t need a large stage
The Night needs its soul back
On the RUG’s 395th anniversary, Junkie XL played the Vismarkt during the Night of Arts and Science. Fifteen thousand people came to the city centre and stood in line to get in. The UB organised a ghost tour; young theatre actors performed in the library; scientists hosted debates; and new bands jammed in the Senate room at the Academy building – all for free.
Bram Douwes’ tips
‘I’d definitely go see Tim Hofman. His programme BOOS is all about the inclusive society.’
He also says Blanks, the stage name of Simon de Wit, is worth a visit. Blanks is a talented Groningen citizen who has his own YouTube channel where he does one-hour challenges. ‘He turns a synth pop song into a rap song, or a rap song into an eighties song. It’s really popular. He might just be the next big thing!’
‘We’ll do it again next year!’, enthused then-rector-magnificus Frans Zwarts.
But six years later, the party was a lot less impressive. The last Night, which took place in 2016, only drew three thousand visitors, fewer than the number of people who visited the Groningen Museum when it opened.
‘The politics started getting complicated in 2013’, says organiser Bianca Pander, who was involved in organising the Night when it first began. ‘Because we had a different coordinator every year who wanted to put their own mark on the event and people who were on the organisation team were fired, the event just kind of lost its soul.’ She says stability is essential. ‘Having to start from scratch every year just isn’t feasible.’
But now the Night is back. The theme: All Inclusive. Headliners: Roxeanne Hazes and Tim Hofman. Greg Shapiro, and Claire Gargard. People can visit the Bone Attic at the archaeology department, and Milou Deelen will talk about sexism at fraternities.
Even still, things feel different from the blowout parties of the past.
It’s about more than just entertainment
There will not a podium at the Vismarkt this year. ‘We simply can’t afford it’, says programme organiser Bram Douwes.
But that’s not the essence of the festival, he says. ‘It’s about more than just entertainment. At earlier versions, people only went to the Vismarkt and just went home at the end of the night without visiting any of the other events. They wouldn’t have learned anything about the university, Hanze, or the UMCG. That’s what this festival is about. Otherwise it’s just another music festival.’
According to Douwes, the Night should be about the relationship between the arts and sciences and how the RUG presents itself to a wider audience. Everything about the programme is more focused. Instead of planning for fifteen thousand people, there will be room for three thousand. ‘We want people to talk to each other. It’s not just one big lecture. Each lecture has a Q&A session and we’ll even have some deaf interpreters.’
Bianca Pander can understand the reasoning behind making the Night a more intimate event. Organising a party as large as it was in her time has become much more complicated. ‘It’s a matter of choice. Live performances have become much more expensive since 2009. We managed to get stuff done through our contacts with other programme organisers, but there are so many festivals these days that the prices have gone up.’
Organisers for the new Night made very intentional selections. ‘We made a conscious decision to invite Roxeanne Hazes, because she is the ultimate female headliner in music’, says Douwes. ‘We invited Tim Hofman to talk about the programmes he produces, which all revolve around a more inclusive society. But we do it in a way that involves young people.’
If you don’t have any big names you need great marketing
In keeping with the theme of Lustrum, it was important to make things as inclusive as possible. ‘We want to break out of our university bubble’, says Douwes. ‘We want people who would normally never visit the Academy building to come in that evening. We could tell them to just “come on in”, but we have to make it easy’, he explains. ‘We’ll also have a section on the earthquake issues: gas extraction for dummies. Students don’t really know what’s going on with that, so it’s a good chance for them to learn.’
They’ll need proper marketing if they want people to come. In 2009, Junkie XL alone was enough to draw people, as were The Opposites in 2010. ‘But if you don’t have any big names as headliners, you need great marketing and important sponsors’, says Pander. Her team of volunteers started looking for partners to sponsor the event several weeks in advance, blogging, posting on Facebook, and tweeting.
Now the event organisers are using Instagram, a poster campaign in the city, and their media contacts. ‘To be honest, I’m pretty relaxed. It’s going really well’, says Douwes.
He’s enthusiastic. ‘The people who are helping with the organisation, the artists who are involved, the people who’ll be visiting: everyone is really into it. People really love it and realise how important it is.’
He secretly hopes that this Night will be the impetus for a reboot of the festival. But he doesn’t know what that reboot would look like. ‘All parties involved would love to make it an annual thing again’, he says. ‘But we have to keep up with the times. Students’ attitudes and how people see the university have changed so much over the past few years, and they keep changing. You can’t just copy and paste the version from last year.’
Pander is hopeful as well. ‘The Night is a great chance to show the rest of Groningen what we do at the university. We can showcase our academic, musical, and theatre talents.’
Her advice to Douwes and his team: ‘Just build it up slowly. And make sure the university really invests in it. Anything’s worth doing if you do it right. Organising a festival like this in the city centre will cost a lot of money. There’s no way around that.’