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Fort New Amsterdam

A haven of diversity

(this article has not been corrected yet into proper english!) )

Ellis Island

When I visited Ellis Island, the 'immigration island' in New York in 1994 with 46 other people from the Dutch museum world, I was not sure what to expect. Like any well-educated Dutchman I had of course a global image of what happened in the first half of the last century to the steady stream of new immigrants. But that was all.
Wandering through the large museum on the city island more and more became clear. I had heard the dreadful story about the immigrants being treated callously and returned in many cases with contagious and severe illnesses back to Europe. Well, that indeed happened in some cases, as evidenced by the many  stories shown in the museum, but as almost always that was only a small fragment of a much larger story. And that was shown in this museum. Initially a home and work was being serached for and when it was settled one might land in, often after a months-long stay on the small island. This immigration wave, along with the immigrations that preceded it and that followed, were the basis of today's USA-society , where many cultures - and now, fortunately, including the "native Americans" - coexist with their own habits and rituals.

Fort Nieuw Amsterdam

22 years later I am visit Surinam with "identity marketeer' and friend Kaj Morel on a short orientation and inspiration trip, Together with museumprofessional Ada Korbee, who lives there for almost ten years, we visit Fort Nieuw Amsterdam, an open-air museum northeast of Paramaribo. And I remember my visit to Ellis Island. On this idyllic spot ever arrived as well ancestors of today's population, which has led to a culturally very diverse society. There is a crucial difference though. Fort Nieuw Amsterdam was unlike Ellis Island, initially built as a defensive place. In this case for the Dutch colonizers, in order to protect the plantations and the bondage system.

Where the comparison does hold is that the Fort Nieuw Amsterdam in a sense, the cradle is today, in this case Surinamese society.
 From 1872 - 1967, the Fortress served as a prison. After that it is open to the public, but it also retained as a prison out his duties. Since 1969 the public function only came off the ground. Until 1982, grounds and buildings maintained by prisoners. It was the heavier convicts, who were at work during the week. Visitors had access only on weekends. At that time there were to see all presentations of the different cultures in Suriname.

After 1982, the fort fell into disrepair and became one lost ground. In 2008, the original 26 hectares only 10 owned by the foundation that managed the Fort. This has now grown again to about 11 hectares.

In 2008, the foundation was, now called Foundation Open Air Museum Fort Nieuw Amsterdam (SOFNA),  started again on the initiative of the Surinamese Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. The city of Amsterdam and the Zuiderzee invested about 600 thousand euros in the rehabilitation of buildings and the renovation of parts of the site. The Ministry has, it is said, not kept the promise to continue to pay all wages. When the current president took office in 2011, there was a monthly deficit of 16 thousand SRD (1), about the monthly wage of 16 people. At the end of 2014 this was finally resolved after long debates and the most part of the wage was paid by the government. However, the employees position is far from certain. Of course, the Fort stands for a part for a loaded past. The slavery period still throws a shadow over the relationship with the Netherlands. I must confess that I, before I met this land, had mixed feelings about this. Of course the period of colonial house held in Guinea is a black page in the history of mankind. But should you continue to confront, however, the current generation of whites with a guilt feeling --about a case in which they were no part in? You don't blame the Germans today for the persecution and murder of the Jews of that time? It is beyond question that the history of slavery in its full context must continuously be told, but is that possible without blame? If you've never been thinking you soon too easily there in Suriname. I am therefore pleased that we have a short period looked around and talked a lot with people from different forums. Then you realize that white supremacy leaves his mark until today. We, white Dutch guys, can not just step over it . 

Gerard Alberga

We have an appointment with director Gerard Alberga, who is the director and works there with a lot of commitment and passion since 2011, determined to make the open-air museum flourishing. After he had sold his successful printing business he was planning to retire. This lasted for just two months. After a previous study accounting, which didn't please him very much, he went back to school for studying economics at the Anton de Kom University. As a final thesis he wrote a master plan for the rehabilitation of the open-air museum in 1995. About three years ago, he has actualized this plan.
He considers it more or less as his duty to open up its best the Fort to the public. Although the fort is interesting for tourists, it finds its own people the most important target group because they need to know the stories of the past that are the foundation of our own society today.
 He collaborates with the Amsterdam Museum with a 'twinning'- project with the aim of increasing the professionalism of the open air and to work on a museum interpretation of the various buildings that the site has.
 In the final two long conversations we have with Alberga we bring along our open-mindedness and our own experience and knowledge. In the hope that the exchange of views which pose. We are not on a mission, and especially not to tell you how to Fort Nieuw Amsterdam.

Our observation is that the Fort a small open-air museum is currently searching its course. The way Gerard Alberga doing is admirable. However, there is still a long way. The conditions are indeed difficult. A government that does too little, an environment that does not cooperate in the maintenance. But that is not everything. Outside Commewijne, as the region is called, most people do not know Fort Nieuw Amsterdam. The transport facilities are inadequate and evening drive there is almost no buses. The people in Commewijne certainly have a positive image of the Fort. Since it is not on. It is like going to this place for breezy. So there is a world to win.


For the 'tinsmith Brandon'

What we have not yet obvious is where Fort Nieuw Amsterdam represents. There is a lot written about it, but for that matter, how valuable those plans are, especially implementation. I understand that the twinning project has its deadlines, but there is no common starting point in our experience. Of course, the project has its objective of unlocking the various components of the Fort Grounds, which each have their own relationship with the Surinamese history and a presentation on the history of migration. What we mean precedes it. What is the meaning of the Fort as a whole?
 As philosophizing about the opportunities to show the future of the museum we come together with Alberga the idea with the Fort especially the power of Suriname instead of focusing on the cultural history alone. Especially with its own population in mind, not to mention the visiting students because the Fort has an important educational function.

The strength of the country lies in the "interculturalism". I call that intentional as 'multiculturalism' does not cover the cargo. I am concerned about the contact and interaction. Of course it is not flawless here the relationship between different cultures, but when we compare the situation in Suriname with those in the Netherlands and surrounding countries, it strikes us that this relationship is a lot more relaxed. They celebrate each other's festivals, handling each other's habits and eat each other's food. At the same time people cherish their own culture. The great diversity and the relatively large tolerance that we find here are considered from the Netherlands, masked by the stories about the political and economic situation in the country. He emerges only when you travel around and speak with many people. The beauty of this intensive orientation trip is that we have this nuanced reality got a good impression. This has changed our image of this extraordinary country and increase the respect it. Suriname is new to us. As the just mentioned 'interculturalism' Now is our only good at. I knew there actually? My mother gathered in the sixties lemonade glasses at the grocery store with pictures of the costumes of the Surinamese people on it. Furthermore, the country is mostly going to live by the people of Surinamese descent, I know in the Netherlands. But that's it whatsoever. This superficial image has gotten so many more dimensions by short visit and the many talks we have had there.

Unique Selling Point

Marron House

Acceptance and can tolerance of each other, along the fact that Fort Nieuw Amsterdam is the place where a significant part of the basis of today's intercultural society is in Suriname, the 'unique selling point (USP) in the museum's communications. Fort Nieuw Amsterdam will present these concepts and thus quality. It will increase the self-esteem of the Surinamese and also the respect of visitors to this country, despite the precarious economic and political situation currently plaguing Suriname.

 But the Fort is also a potential tourist attraction. Suriname has no 'Copacabana' and 'muscle beaches', so it will never develop mass tourism as we know, for example, in Yucatan and California. Fortunately, I'd say. For people who are looking for Suriname has a lot to offer a special culture and incredible scenery. Special packages in cooperation with the more alternative travel agencies certainly are possible.

Currently the Fort attracts about 60 thousand visitors. That's given the location and circumstances a respectable number. Of these, 15 thousand children one wants to tell the story of Suriname, 15 thousand foreign visitors and 30 thousand local residents.
 However, to cover all its 70 thousand paying visitors needed. That can not be obtained Alberga. Since there is no visibility must additionally money earned on a structural contribution by the government, so cover the costs is not enough. Therefore, he is busy setting up a number of economic projects. For example, in cooperation with the KNVB, next to the Fort grounds on the riverbank by a State Oil NV sponsored soccer landscaped with an artificial turf. Also developed a project to the area outside the canals, resulting in land lease by the Foundation to create a recreational area with a small water park and swimming pool.
 The outside area is estimated at over 1.5 million Surinamese dollars. Through a corporation, the Foundation will issue shares holds to finance the plan, the foundation itself 51% owned. The people who live in the area will be offering a subscription for the use of the water park and visiting the museum.
 This entrepreneurship is vital. However, it may be sanded with the essence of a museum, which is not in principle a commercial, but is a social institution.
 The dalliance with the public in conjunction with commercial activity within the cultural institution known to us. It has been the exorbitant cuts to arts and culture in the Netherlands, which continue to this day, do not imagine working in the cultural sector. It is also a pitfall that can harm the image of the museum damage. When it comes tells discussed during our conversation Alberga he wants to absolutely preserve the identity of the area. All facilities which consequently have to bring money to come out of the canals of the Fort. For bungalows on the banks of the Suriname River, part of the planned recreation area, he wants to make an exception. The people who stay there, he wants to try to get inside. One must indeed have to do. However, the attention to the different cultures in the country is everywhere.

 the detention

We come into our conversation at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles (USA), where I once was on a working visit. A second museum next to Ellis Island which could be a source of inspiration. That museum displays include training for police officers to combat prejudices against other cultures. That's probably a good idea to work out again?

The reason why Gerard Alberga sway started waving about the museum is purely driven by social commitment. He is determined to make it a success. We submit that the museum him the question should be a museum in the traditional sense of the word. Or it's not just the unique power to many more stories to create a field. Thus creating a unique ensemble of imaginary stories, buildings, beautiful scenery and wildlife. Of course, there objects are shown as far as the climate allows, but which are in our opinion not the core of what makes Fort Nieuw Amsterdam unique. This is indeed the Surinamese museum meant, which I jokingly remarkable that it might have been more convenient it would be housed in the outskirts of the Fort. But that is an illusion. When both museums develop as two unique locations with their own brand and identity, there is an excellent and versatile offerings for a diverse audience.


The knowledge and expertise of Kaj Morel as identity marketer comes along with my own knowledge and experience as a museum director in the talks useful. Kaj I've met in a project that we stuck to the museum where I worked have done. In it we are looking to cooperate with stakeholders and staff went to the identity of this then this brand new institution. A fascinating journey which has made a so-called identification at check-in and is used externally. I have applied for exhibition concept to performance review. Because everyone involved was working it. This museum arose from the fusion of three very different settings. The development of these documents have been proved to be essential to actually make a museum of it. Something like that will work for Fort Nieuw Amsterdam. Although no merger museum, there is also the Fort of several components, which, when they form displays from a single starting point, give a strong unit with a clear and recognizable story. The project that one is started with the Amsterdam Museum of great value and a nice package of good workable adaptations of buildings and grounds. There is thereby a need for a common ground that transcends the project. A basis for all actions of the content of presentations and educational programs to the commercial functions that are to support the whole. The development of identity can make it happen. It starts with the answer the following questions:

• Where do we believe in?

• How do we look at the world?

• What do we do for our customers, which we promise them?

• Where we are the best?

• How do we work?

• When we deliver our promises?

We presented this to Gerard Alberga and he is pushing to get started. The USP of his museum, as we have noted earlier, the diversity of Surinamese society in its historical context and its contemporary quality of tolerance that comes from accepting each other's backgrounds.

 The latter is something that Fort Nieuw Amsterdam can make a difference.

Fort tomorrow

Finally, I have formulated some thoughts about Fort Nieuw Amsterdam, such that there could be a few years. "Fort tomorrow. Not a traditional museum as we know it, but a collection of beautiful buildings, nature and imaginary stories. They form a unit. For Fort Nieuw Amsterdam is the port where the cultures ever arrived, together with the formerly enslaved population multicolored Surinamese society forms now. Today it is a prominent place in Suriname where again meet people. From here and afar. With different backgrounds and cultural baggage. So wandering around the grounds or watching the presentations in the various buildings may have to get into conversation with each other and be inspired by each other's stories. It is beautiful that from the beginning, actually home though, can opt for a personal guidance. That does not, but it can. Just wander around the beautiful grounds is indeed an option. The Fort app, which I have installed on my smartphone comes in handy. He takes a few SRD. That may miss everyone. Of course, you may have to pay more for. Indeed, the yield goes to the restoration of the lightship, where storytellers will occur in the future.

Lightship at Fort Nieuw Amsterdam, Commewijne, Suriname. Who knows a SPONSOR?

The detention center together with the opposing exhibition space a base for the whole site. It put representatives from a number of cultures in Surinamese society itself. The nice thing is that the release does not always remain the same. The museum has an archive with many stories of people today. When I come back in a year will be again other people with different backgrounds who welcome me in a nice and simple presentation in the ten cells the complex realm. They talk about their daily lives and what they know about their ancestors. "How we came together here", he says, a sentence from the Surinamese national anthem, which speaks volumes.
 It's smart that the people of Fort opted for such a simple presentation, easily and with little money back to fill in.

Of course it is not a complete story about the past and present of Suriname, which I find here but personal anecdotes that stay with me. They continue in the various locations that the Fort is rich. Maroon who told me about daily life in the Pikin Slee, where one seems to be little museum, continues his story in one of the houses Marron. The Creole woman tells of the call of the Banabeki. I see the bird out later in the flesh. An information board in the outdoors shows the many species of birds that the country is rich. Javanese boy invites me I have home elsewhere on the site where I wajangpoppenspel which he says can experience live.

What I like is that even within this presentation is different than I'm used to a traditional museum. The decision not to place the cells in which several people tell me their story are several objects that appear the stories, such as a garment of a Maroon, a stuffed Banabeki and wajangpop which the young man has told, but it Fort is a typical museum in any way.

Magnificent is the mosaic in one of the cells showing a map of the world showing Identify the different cultures of Suriname came from. I can put there as a visitor mine origin.

Outside the canals of the area include a football pitch on site. Here too is the story of the further diversity. They chose not to include these support functions, to make money and attract a new audience to join the central message of Fort Nieuw Amsterdam to accept each other with all our differences and similarities create a society of trust and tolerance . In this case it art installation that adorns the entrance and has been compiled under the supervision of an artist with the help of young people from across the country. I remember the mission statement of the National Museum of World Cultures: "The differences after we are the same".

The restaurant serves dishes from the diverse culture of Suriname. There is a newly built kitchen where cultural cooking workshops, which are a growing success. The nice thing is that successful trainees after obtaining their degree in a while placements in the restaurant. The price one pays for the food is very affordable. Are regularly held markets in which the ingredients are for sale.

The houses on the river finally be surprising. They are not copies of the traditional houses that we can find on the ground, but the result of the work of a number of young architects who have been inspired by the museum's mission.

Port of diversity

Exhibition in one of the cells

In one sense, Fort Nieuw Amsterdam or a museum like many others. For any museum does not aim the world to make it a little nicer? The visitor returns home enriched with memories of an enjoyable day, inspired by what he met and with new stories to think about. That is a step towards further search for knowledge, which can give everyday life a new dimension.

 Fort Nieuw Amsterdam is a haven of diversity, a place that encourages openness and tolerance. That he occupies a unique place in the international landscape of museums and similar institutions.

© Kees van der Meiden, March 2016


[1] Surinam Dollar, at this time is 1 SRD but still worth € 0.22.