Hidden American culture

Hidden American culture

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The John Adams Institute brings prominent Americans to Amsterdam to share the 'hidden side' of US culture.

 

For many Dutch, American culture is almost entirely shaped by the images of Hollywood, McDonalds, MTV and, of course, Jerry Springer.

Outside of this commercial onslaught, there are few venues for Americans in the Netherlands to pontificate on their country's literature, art and thought - and fewer still that are accessible to Dutch nationals as well as expats.

It's for this reason that the John Adams Institute is unique. Started in 1987 by a group of local citizens — and funded almost entirely by Dutch companies and individuals — the Institute offers a rare window on American culture and ideas.

This private, cultural centre brings prominent Americans to Amsterdam to discuss various aspects of US society, from literature and art, to media and politics.

"Our mission is quite remarkable," says John Adams Institute Director Monique Knapen. "We are a private, non-profit Dutch institution with a mission to simply promote American culture."

The Institute has drawn many impressive guest speakers over the years, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Frank McCourt, Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag. And they have been able to do it all on a shoestring budget of about EUR 145,000 a year.

None of the guests are paid to appear — the Institute just covers their travel — and the organisation only employs two full-time staff members. The rest of organisation's workers consist of non-paid volunteers, most of whom are Americans.

"We do it all through private donations from friends of the Institute, from corporate sponsors and we get a little bit of money from the government, only NLG 10,000 a year," says Knapen.

But why would Dutch business people and the government pay to promote US culture in Holland? One reason is the Netherlands' historic tie to the US, in the form of what once was New Amsterdam.

And then there is the building where the Institute is based. The West India House, in the heart of old Amsterdam, is the former headquarters of the once powerful Dutch West India Company, which settled today's New York by founding New Netherlands and New Amsterdam in 1624. Regional names such as Brooklyn, the Bronx and Harlem are reminders of the city and state's Dutch heritage.

The Institute's famous namesake was the second President of the United States and the first US Ambassador to the Dutch Republic.

John Adams also lived in a canal house nearby today's Institute and sent his son, John Quincy, who would be America's 6th President, to the local Latin School in 1780 (he was later expelled for disobedience).

An ardent reader and book collector, Adams laid an enduring foundation for Dutch-American friendship by signing the Treaty of Amity and Trust with the Dutch in 1782 and securing a loan of five million guilders from Amsterdam merchants and bankers to help fund his fledgling nation - it was the American Congress's first loan from abroad.

The lectures

The John Adams Institute organises some eleven events annually, inviting guests to speak on a range of topics in Amsterdam.

For more information or to get a schedule of upcoming lectures, visit the Institute's website atwww.john-adams.nl , call 020 624 72 80 or fax 020 638 11 45.

April 2002

Subject: American culture

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