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Rosalien van der Poel: 'I’m always busy’

Rosalien van der Poel has worked in every nook and cranny of the University over the past 30 years. Now, as institute manager, she is the lynchpin of the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts (ACPA), the only institute in the Netherlands where artists can obtain a PhD from a university. 'This is where I am going to retire'.

What kind of work do you do?

'I sometimes irreverently call myself a “Jack of all trades”. We are the only institute in the Netherlands where artists can do a PhD at a university. Not only do they write a dissertation, but they also all create an artistic “product” (a concert or an exhibition) as a final assignment. This means they have to apply for money from a fund, and find a venue, while they also play in orchestras, teach or make other exhibitions to earn a living. In situations like that, I love making sure that the framework conditions are so good that they can excel on content, but as institute manager, I am also responsible for all kinds of HR issues, finances and day-to-day operational matters at ACPA.’

How did you end up at the University?

'I started in 1992 as a foyer manager at the LAKtheater, which was then part of the University. At one point, my supervisor said to me that I should just join the Service Council, the participation council of the University Office (now: Administrative Office). Partly because of that, I went and got all kinds of communication diplomas and ended up in the University's central communication department, but I also organised a five-year anniversary celebration several times and was head of the Rector’s office. I organised all kinds of major festivities for the Executive Board, such as the opening of the academic year, the Dies Natalis and a visit by Willem-Alexander and Máxima. Every six or seven years, I would do something different. That's what I like about the University, that you can develop in different directions. I always tell young people that too: there is so much to do here in terms of courses and training, take that opportunity if you have the opportunity and ability.'

What kind of student were you?

'I wasn’t in the university stream at school, but I'm a tremendous art lover. As a result, I wanted to study art history, but those six years seemed so long... It wasn't until someone said to me that I could just quit anyway if I didn't like it that I enrolled, in addition to my job as head of the Rector’s office. Guess what: I spent six years devouring everything I was presented with. I also ended up getting a PhD, on a very fine subject, if I say so myself: Chinese export painting.'

Where did this interest in Chinese art come from?

'At one time, in 1986, I wanted to go out into the world for a few months after finishing my higher education in youth welfare. I was hesitating between a trip around the Mediterranean, Suriname or studying French at the Sorbonne in Paris, when a friend of mine said to me: why don't you come to me? She had just got a job at the Dutch Embassy in Beijing. That was totally not within my scope, but in the end,  I accepted the offer. The idea was that I would go for two months, but I ended up going for six months, and for years afterwards I was a tour guide for one of the Netherlands’ best-known group tour organisations. I was really taken by all those Buddhist statues and temples, and wanted to know more about their iconography. I ended up writing at most one paper on that, but the love of art and China has remained.'

What do you do to relax?

'I spin and I do Hollen met Han, where you get a clinic every fortnight to get ready for the Leiden Marathon. This year, unfortunately, the ten kilometres was cancelled due to the heat. Apart from that, I like going to the cinema, concerts or theatre. I’m married to a theatre man, so I see everything from classics to the latest adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar. And I do all kinds of voluntary work: the board of the Friends of the UB, the Royal Society of Friends of Asian Art, regional coordinator of Amnesty International... I’m always busy; lounging in front of the TV just isn’t for me.'

What great things can we look forward to from ACPA?

'Every year, two of our PhD students play at Leiden's Peel Slowly and See festival. In The Hague, we participate in the Rewire festival and we have a very nice collaboration with the Wavelength festival, a small festival in the Leiden BioScience Park, where I am also on the board. We are also thinking about an essay film festival as part of the Leiden International Film Festival and we are working towards an anniversary edition of the OverActing festival in 2027, for which we will organise a small edition each time in the coming years.'

What is your favourite spot in Leiden?

'North of the Merenwijk district is a little beach that few people know about. That's a lovely walking area where I love to spend time.'

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