Drazans brings inclusive arts education to young people from the Caribbean

Children and young people from all cultures and backgrounds welcome at youth theatre school in Willemstad
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How can arts education programmes in the Netherlands be made more accessible to young people from the Caribbean? There are additional obstacles to pursuing your dreams within the creative sector when you come from the Caribbean. We spoke to Maaike Kempers, teacher and creator in the world of theatre. She and her fellow creatives from Drazans youth theatre school help students find their way in that world.

The youth theatre school in Willemstad welcomes children and young people from all social and cultural backgrounds on the island. The school aims to make both an artistic and social contribution to the development of children and young people.

Maaike graduated from Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU) as a theatre teacher. During her studies, she did a third-year internship at La Tentashon, the former youth theatre workshop run by Teatro Luna Blou. That was where her love for Curaçao began. In 2010, she moved to the island to join Drazans and took over from former director Etta Andrea one year later.

Into the communities

In the years that followed, a large number of socially motivated projects were developed with the island’s vulnerable communities in mind. In addition, theatre and dance classes are held at the school itself, and teachers go out into the neighbourhoods to give classes in schools. There are also training courses for teachers, to equip them with more instruments to engage students in arts subjects. One such instrument is a series of cards developed to provide inspiration for fun theatre and dance exercises in the classroom. Through this approach, Drazans hopes to lower the threshold for classes and to bring more young people into contact with theatre and dance.

All this began with ten theatre sessions in a single neighbourhood, organised for a class of thirty children. Since 2015, Drazans’ arts professionals have been giving weekly theatre and dance classes during school hours to 500 children in neighbourhoods across the island. Maaike takes up the story: ‘Today, these classes are hugely appreciated. The teachers can see the effect they have on the children’s overall performance, including the social and emotional aspects. Not only that, but teachers start looking at their own pupils differently.’ Pupils often work towards a final presentation on a modest scale. And as they act, sing, play and perform, they are also working on their language skills, be it in Dutch or Papiamentu.

Talent development

Highly motivated children with a talent for the performing arts can then progress to Drazans. These activities are made possible by a grant from the Prince Bernhard Culture Fund Caribbean and financial support from a range of corporate and individual sponsors. There is vast, untapped potential among the island’s young people, which is why Drazans and its partners – some of them Dutch – are so committed to talent development.

If Drazans students want to progress to a follow-on theatre programme in the Netherlands, they can participate in the Theatre Talents Class. Founded in September 2019, this bridging course is designed to ease the transition between Drazans and professional arts education. It focuses on raising the standard of performance among these young talents (aged 15-20), in addition to informing them about and preparing them for auditions in the Netherlands.

Week Without a Name

Maaike is keen to invest her energy in creating more inclusivity within arts education. She hopes to make strides with Drazans by collaborating with arts academies. With funding from the Cultural Participation Fund and the Prince Bernhard Cultural Fund Caribbean , a ground-breaking project entitled De Week Zonder Naam Curaçao (The Week Without a Name, Curaçao)has been organised for several years.

This is an interdisciplinary performance and production project in which young people work on a theme with a view to creating a final performance. The aim is to broaden students’ perspectives as the week progresses and to help them get to grips with what arts education involves. Coaches from a variety of disciplines, backgrounds and art institutions bring their own contributions to the week. It follows the same schedule and approach used at HKU Theatre, part of Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands. More intensive cross-pollination is taking place between HKU and Drazans as time goes on.

A future in theatre and the arts

Theatre connects, stimulates and inspires. Maaike is proud of the impact that the school is having on young people in Curaçao. Theatre can offer them positive prospects for the future, yet the culture in which students grow up often overlooks theatre as a profession in its own right. Drazans is working to change that perception.

One key question is how talented young people can be given the same opportunities as young people in the Netherlands. Not only is studying theatre a less obvious path for them to take, but it is also less accessible. There are no arts education programmes at higher professional level in Curaçao. In the Netherlands, the opportunities are far more wide-ranging, with five theatre programmes alone. Of course, this also applies to the other arts disciplines. Pursuing a dream within the creative sector is not that easy when you come from the Caribbean.


Through the efforts of the Drazans team, several young people from the talent class have now been successfully guided through the auditions process, making use of digital selections. Even when auditioning online is possible, elements such as the time difference and application and selection procedures can turn the process into something of a logistical puzzle.

It is advisable that, before auditioning, young people from the islands already have personal experience of participating in an arts education programme. It’s important to get to know each other, to find your bearings and to feel things clicking into place. Will I feel at home on a programme like this and in the cities where they are taught? How will it feel to be in this building, working with these students?

Young people can find answers to these questions and more if they have the opportunity to come to the Netherlands. By following a smaller scale programme within arts education, they can get a feel for this type of education and everything that comes with it.

Success stories

Drazans’ guidance has already resulted in a number of success stories. In 2020, a student from the Theatre Talent Class was offered a place on the preliminary theatre course at Theaterschool Utrecht on the basis of an online audition. A year later, he was able to progress to the performance programme at Maastricht Academy of Dramatic Arts and is now in his second year. Another former pupil also found her way through the preliminary course and is currently in her fourth year at the theatre academy in Utrecht. Maaike declines to give more examples, believing that too much emphasis is still placed on individual cases.

Drazans’ mission is to make arts education programmes, including teacher training programmes, more accessible to young people from the Caribbean. Thanks to collaboration with programmes in the Netherlands, major strides are being taken towards achieving this goal.

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