Bjorn Stenvers and Quiten Peelen

Tamara Hoekwater

"The British Council’s CLI programme gave us a real boost: it is about being recognised as a future cultural leader and that has been most inspiring to us both."
Björn Stenvers and Quinten Peelen, participants in the Cultural Leadership International (CLI) programme.

Meet ‘British Council Ambassadors’ Björn Stenvers and Quinten Peelen

The British Council Netherlands is interviewing a range of people who have been involved in our projects. The first in our series are Quinten Peelen and Björn Stenvers.

How did you first get in touch with the British Council? 

We were both selected for British Council’s Cultural Leadership International (CLI) programme, back in 2009/ 2010. That was quite a thing the British Council had then just launched: a brand new and innovative initiative to develop the leadership skills of arts and culture professionals into an international network. Participants had been selected from 28 countries all over world. We were the two selected Dutchmen. CLI was truly one of the most inspiring and intensive programmes we have ever taken part in! And we have felt like ambassadors, so to speak, for the British Council ever since.

Which programmes have you been involved in?

"First of all, that was Cultural Leadership International. All of the participants had to set up and work upon their own personal development plan. With a generous grant as well as professional guidance, the British Council continued to support us. The British Council’s CLI programme gave us a real boost: it is about being recognised as a future cultural leader and that has been most inspiring to us both."

With his home city Utrecht in the running for European Capital of Culture, Quinten decided to dedicate his scholarship to studying the wide array of cultural leadership skills needed in the process of becoming one.

“I visited quite a number of previous and future European Capitals of Culture, including Guimaraes, Aarhus, Valletta and Liverpool, and talked with the people behind their successful bids. Interestingly enough, I learned not only from the successes but also from their mistakes and lessons learned along the way. The road from getting nominated to being selected and from preparing to realising this big year, is quite long: sometimes up to 10 years in total. I learned that in every phase different kinds of leadership skills are needed, and therefore also different kinds of leaders.”

Working for the museums and heritage in Amsterdam, Björn’s development led in adding extra skills to his curriculum to mature his transformational leadership style. He enrolled his locally oriented network into a wide international network with a home base in Amsterdam and the UK with a diversity of international workshops, internships, seminars, intensives, job-swaps and shadow-walks at Ministries, Embassies, Cultural Institutes (e.g. National Trust HQ, Tate, AIM, Historic Royal Palaces and Hadrian’s Wall). In addition, hecompleted an MA in Art History.

"I learned to not make dreams your master and not make thoughts your aim. And watch the things I gave a lot of time and energy to, get broken. Not cry, but stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools."

In 2014, both Björn and Quinten were invited to take part in the British Council’s annual Apeldoorn British-Dutch Dialogue Conference in Liverpool. The theme of the 13th conference was ‘Art Works: Exploring the Social and Economic Value of Culture’. Fifty British and fifty Dutch delegates, from the worlds of industry, science, academia, politics, government and civil society, came together to share ideas on how culture can contribute to the economic and social structure of cities and society. The conference is always a very special event, with Ministers from both countries and other high-level professionals attending.

"This is another example of how the British Council provided us with a boost at the right time!" say the two participants. "Attending the Apeldoorn conferences was definitely worthwhile in terms of making useful contacts and getting our names out there."

What has this involvement with the British Council brought you?

Quinten: “I am sure that through these programmes British Council influenced my life and career in a very positive way. I learned a lot from our joint meetings in London and Madrid and also from the Clore Leadership short course we took, but I also learned to believe in myself and to really follow my dreams. The British Council has been great that way: acknowledging that developing the arts works through developing people, not only supporting projects.”  

Björn: “The British Council gave me a global and diplomatic view on matters. The self-confidence developing gave me also a spiritual twist. Your personal dashboard on energy, knowledge, willingness and soul makes the things you work on true and the people to work with interesting.”

Where are you currently working and are you working on anything exciting?

After being Director of the Amsterdam Museums Foundation from 2013 to 2017, Björn is (since September) Executive Director of the Fonds de Dotation de l'ICOM of the International Committee of Museums (ICOM) based at UNESCO in Paris. He also recently set up several Museum Academies for museum staff trainings in Amsterdam, Rostov, Aruba, Altai and the Moscow Zoo Academy.

Quinten was Director of the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition for many years, travelling the world with highly talented musicians and organising all kinds of international events. In March 2016 he became Director of the K.F. Hein Foundation, a private fund for arts, culture, heritage and social needs in Utrecht. 

Björn and Quinten are both special advisors to the Erasmus Huis in Jakarta, a cultural centre that is part of the Dutch Embassy in Indonesia. Having become good friends since their days together with the CLI programme, they still talk on a regular basis to discuss their ideas and ambitions.

What advice do you have for people in the early stages of their careers?

Björn: “Analyse and know yourself. If possible do what you like to do. Become good at it and maybe even the best. Find a way to support yourself in your weaknesses. Take your own lead and enjoy the process. Just a tip: there is never a finish, only a journey. So you might as well enjoy it!”

Quinten: “We are both real networkers - and it has helped us a lot throughout our careers. I would encourage you to meet lots of different people, let other people inspire you and also let them help you. Never be afraid to ask. People are nearly always happy to give you advice and help you take that next step. I learned that through the British Council.”