The Art of Storytelling

The Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions used art, culture, history — and the Dutch ambassador — to communicate what it offers as an international meeting destination.

View of the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam, by Gerrit Adriaensz Berckheyde. Koninklijk Oudheidkundig Genootschap, Amsterdam. Image courtesy National Gallery of Art.

There are as many different ways to tell a story as there are stories to tell. In Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions (NBTC) took a few different approaches. First, they hosted a tour of a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Art called “Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt,” which juxtaposes Dutch masters’ initial sketches with their finished paintings to offer surprising insight into the artistic process. 

Surprising because these paintings are so vivid and rich that they seem to have been painted from real life, when in fact they’re based on drawings that the artists then recreated, altered, and embellished back at their studios. It made clear the degree to which a painting is an exercise in imagination just as much as a novel or play — or a meeting or conference! Meanwhile, even as the meeting professionals that NBTC had invited to see the exhibition were subtly encouraged to think about storytelling, NBTC wordlessly communicated part of its own story to them: This is the gorgeous cultural backdrop to any event you bring to the Netherlands.

For the next chapter, we were off to the residence of the Dutch ambassador to the United States — for a luncheon hosted by the ambassador himself, Henne Schuwer. After drinks in the living area, we moved to a ballroom space for an inventive, elegant meal. Again, there’s a story there: While the ballroom is quite traditional and stately, with Old World furnishings and artwork, the living area is more contemporary, accented with modern Dutch design. And so NBTC’s guests experienced both the Netherlands’ classical past and its dynamic present. “I feed you lunch,” Ambassador Schuwer noted wryly, “and you see that we have reached beyond milk and sandwiches with cheese.”

At lunch, Antonia Koedijk — director of business development for NBTC — explained how the program came about. “To get an idea how we will enhance your and your delegates’ experience, think of the event that you are attending today, the angle, the parties involved,” she said. “Of course, we could have presented a seminar on a topic of interest. However, we feel that by meeting each other in person, by sharing our art and Dutch hospitality, we are much better equipped to convey the real message that will hopefully entice you to think of opportunities that the Netherlands may offer. And together we will ensure that your meeting or convention held in the Netherlands will leave a lasting legacy.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.