Judith Vorwerk. Photo: Marwan Magroun.

Behind the scenes: I sample people

Arts education is important for developing creativity and self-awareness in children and for forming a broad view of society. In Rotterdam, many schools and cultural institutions are committed to preparing tomorrow's adults for culture. This is also the case at CBK Rotterdam, where TENT is not only an exhibition space, but also offers performances, cultural events and various educational art programs. Judith Vorwerk is intensively and enthusiastically involved with the latter. 'I think it is important to listen carefully and to feel things.'

In conversation with Judith Vorwerk


Text: Annemiek van Grondel

Look with your nose, feel with your ears is the intriguing, synesthetic title of a workshop for middle school children. The senses are therefore greatly stimulated during this interactive tour at TENT, the exhibition space of CBK Rotterdam. 'An art expedition for young researchers', says Judith Vorwerk (1980), who developed this programme. In the space, the children are introduced to art that amazes, moves, annoys or makes them laugh. After listening to an exciting story written by Jeroen Aalbers, they go on an investigation together with an art mediator, in which associations flow and the senses are addressed in multiple ways.

Sometimes they work from the content, but more often from the experience

'The art mediator, formerly known as the tour guide, welcomes a group,' says Vorwerk. 'Sometimes they work from the content, but more often from the experience. By asking the right questions, a dialogue is started. Many art mediators have completed a teacher training course, are artists or theater makers. In addition to mediators with a visual background, I also like to attract theater people because of the uninhibited use of their body and facial expressions, just as children can. That performative talent benefits the interaction.'

100% Contemporary

In Rotterdam, the cultural institutions TENT, Kunstinstituut Melly and MAMA are a stone's throw from each other: why not join forces to offer schools an interesting visit to us? And so the organizers decided in 2013 to put their heads together and develop 100% Contemporary, an education platform on contemporary art and visual culture with a strong focus on social themes. Vorwerk: 'It started practically, from the desire to introduce students from secondary education and MBO to contemporary art in a playful way. This program also links up with all our exhibitions. '

100% Contemporary offers free teaching materials for the classroom and organizes excursions about contemporary art. Schools can apply for a workshop or tour, after which an appropriate program is drawn up, in which the students visit at least two of the three institutions. It clearly fills a need. Countless students threw themselves fully into the art on offer and wandered around at TENT, Kunstinstituut Melly and MAMA. The magazine of the same name, which can be downloaded from the website, was published in 2018 as a report on the previous five years.

Countless students threw themselves into the art offer and roamed around

'Melly, MAMA and we often struggled to get the schools our way,' says Vorwerk. 'Often, when a request for an introduction or workshop came in, I had to say no because we were in the process of setting up an exhibition. With this combined program, there is actually always room. We are now receiving requests from Groningen to Limburg. '

The workshops do not focus on standard perspectives such as movements or countries of origin, but rather the role of the artist himself and his profession. Children learn to empathize with that role and to look from the perspective of an artist. If we take a closer look at this role, we see that contemporary artists seem to identify with various archetypes of their craftsmanship, such as inventor, researcher, autonomous maker, innovator, entrepreneur or genius. Vwerk: 'In this way, participants in the workshop not only increase their knowledge of art, but also of themselves. For example, they can find out to which art category they themselves belong. '

Rebel, pioneer, sampler or fantasist?

Many children do not know what contemporary art is, according to Vorwerk. 'If you ask them about it, they call it Van Gogh, Rembrandt or de Mona Lisa. The artist types were created to give some grip on the versatility of contemporary art. After making the quiz and the explanation of all types, a student will make a work with 'his or her' type as a starting point. Everyone uses the same material, paper and tape, but works from a different perspective. Afterwards we talk intensively. We hope that we will have an impact on students and give them an art experience that will last. '

Anyone with a healthy curiosity about 'his inner artist' can take this test. Do you work from the subconscious, your imagination? Then you can proudly call yourself a 'fantast'. Are you rather a communicative cut and paste artist who mixes existing images or sounds into something new? Voilà: the 'sampler'. Is curiosity for solutions that drives you and your hands itch to apply new methods and materials? 'Pioneer' is you middle name. Finally, there are - how could it be otherwise? –the 'rebels': sharply critical, socially engaged lice in the fur of art.

As an art mediator I think it is important to listen carefully and feel things

Now that we are psychologizing: in which category would Vorwerk place itself? She thinks for a moment and then says, “Usually I'm a sampler. This is how many artists and theater-makers work too: gather things and give them new meanings, whether the magic takes place in the street or is in someone's facial expression. For me, it is more important that I bring many different people together. You could say that I “sample people”: I love working together and solving problems. As an art mediator I think it is important to listen carefully and feel things. Which group do you have in front of you, at what level are they? How can you best communicate with them? '

Via ferrata and concerts

Judith Vorwerk was born in Eindhoven and partly grew up in the North Brabant village of Heeze. She is the middle of two brothers; all three chose the arts. The oldest, Jonas, attended the Willem de Kooning Academy, while Kamiel attended the Design Academy. "Our parents dragged us a lot to museums and archaeological finds and other old stuff," she says. To Italy: a mass of Etruscan excavations and an overkill of churches guaranteed. We were completely hooked about that, so whether it helped in the choice of an art study? ' Surely. Mother and father are retired, but both work as energetic volunteers, respectively at the Van Abbemuseum and an archaeological association. Proud: 'My mother works as a hostess at the museum and is very eager to learn. Then she sends me another article on gender diversity or invites me to a side program. In the meantime, my father is steadily peeling off layers of earth in the hope of uncovering some history. Awesome. And every free moment they are on the road with a VW camper. '

Judith Vorwerk. Photo: Marwan Magroun.
Judith Vorwerk. Photo: Marwan Magroun.

Traveling is also something that Vorwerk is in her blood thanks to her parents. 'We always had to do something. Via ferrata high in the Dolomites, secured in a harness on the mountainside, I name just something, always busy in nature or with culture. When we went to visit family in Edam, at least the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen was on the schedule. Grinning: 'Our free time was an accumulation of activities. We've had a serious shortage of lazing around.'

For me, the peripheral activities were often more interesting

In the second year of the HAVO in Geldrop you could draw adolescent Judith in checkered pants and skirts, with henna hair, Dr. Martens, band T-shirts (preferred: Zita Swoon, dEUS, Ween, Calexico and Die Anarchistische Abendunterhaltung). Above it an open, somewhat combative look. She attended many concerts with friends, including during the week. With consequences for her study results: stay seated or go to secondary school three. It was the last, much to her mother's chagrin. 'For me, the side activities in particular were often more interesting,' says Vorwerk. "Like the set construction crew for the school theater." Nevertheless, after her MAVO final exams, she decided to complete the HAVO, mainly because of the drawing and art history lessons, which stimulated museum visits. Geography was also her interest. "Maybe those lessons inspired me to go to Africa often later," she says. In her twenties she worked for a long time at the Urban Espresso Bar, in order to finance many trips to Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, among others. In Ghana she gave art lessons at a secondary school as a volunteer.

Since the birth of her daughter, ten years ago, the trips have been a lot shorter. 'But', she says, 'luckily traveling is also in Mila's blood. The two of us traveled by train through Italy and Spain. Mila is very outgoing, a real city kid. She is already cycling independently through the city and dancing at the HipHopHuis. I see her going to theater school rather than art academy.'

Good cop, bad cop

At the age of nineteen, Vorwerk left her parental home to follow the teacher training course at the Arnhem School of the Arts, the predecessor of ArtEZ. In addition to the opportunity to create her own work, she was taught art theory and didactic and social skills. 'A thorough study that made very high demands on you,' she emphasizes. 'There was constant stress and uncertainty in the classroom, even crying. There were old-fashioned strict teachers who came in good cop, bad coproles to demolish your work to the ground or, on the contrary, praise the heavens. '

It made her doubt her choice. In addition, her boyfriend lived in Bergen op Zoom and had driving lessons at the weekend with her parents in Heeze. 'I traveled a bit between those places and Arnhem. On the one hand I wanted to live closer to my boyfriend, but on the other hand I didn't see myself ending up in Bergen op Zoom, 'she says. 'I decided to exchange ArtEZ for a similar course at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam.' Laughing: 'That quickly saved more than an hour in travel time.'

After the change, the courtship ended quickly, but the new academy was a relief. 'A world of difference in the assessments: the teachers were not very critical and everything was soon good,' she says. This also had a downside: 'Quite a lot of students submitted copy-paste work without being bothered by it. That really surprised me.'

Intensive network

At TENT, where she ended up through an internship, Vorwerk has been working as a project leader for education four days a week since 2007. Its main activity is creating education programs, collaborating with creators and maintaining a wide network with schools and other cultural institutions. 'This is where pre-schoolers to pre-university students come along,' she says. 'Central is the dialogue that arises when getting acquainted with art. What does a work of art evoke in you? ' To her, art stands for 'free space'. Vorwerk: 'A space where there is no right or wrong, in which you can think, create and share freely. This sounds very free and open and it should be, but at the same time it's pretty scary. We are so used to living according to certain rules, norms and values. Deviating from that and seizing freedom is exciting. You also notice this with students who come to us. It is always a matter of searching first. '

She notices that groups react differently to the workshops. 'VWO students are often quite quiet. Give me information and then I will solve it myself, is their attitude. Maybe they are afraid to say the wrong thing. MBO and VMBO students are more daring: they feel free to shout and shout about anything when their interest is aroused. And there are often very intelligent comments among them. An art mediator once told me that she found that their statements are often wiser than many graduates in the arts.'

Toddlers to pre-university students come here. Central is the dialogue that arises when getting acquainted with art

TENT works together with Rotterdam Knowledge Center for Cultural Education (KCR), an organization that stimulates art and cultural education in the city by, among other things, establishing connections between art institutions and schools. Vorwerk: 'It is special that we have such a strong art education network in Rotterdam. Sometimes culture makers from Amsterdam are surprised how we organize this. In other cities it is often every man for himself. But here there is intensive contact. For example, we sought collaboration with MBO trainer Zadkine. ' The result: an intensive ten-week work-learning trajectory was created for twelve students from various MBO courses at various cultural institutions, such as Theater Rotterdam, Maas theater and dance, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, IFFR and Scapino Ballet. They were able to get to know these institutions and do mini-internships. Vorwerk: 'Within such a project they find out what jobs there are. That has everything to do with inclusion. In many cultural institutions, such as museums, concert halls and theaters, many jobs are aimed at the MBO level, such as concierge, section worker, security and hospitality-manager. Yet mainly highly educated people work there. TENT also often attracted highly educated employees, who eventually left the organization to choose their own career. But you want someone who is skilled and involved. If you never visit a cultural institution as an MBO student, you do not know that something like that can also be a workplace. Why only hire highly educated people? Rather look at the required skills and motivation.'

In the new program 100% Contemporary x MBO, a co-creation with MBO students, teachers, an education advisor and art mediators, is investigating what appeals to MBO students. Vorwerk: 'It is important that we provide a safe space. And that we connect with their experience, so that they really benefit from the workshops. In this way we teach them practical skills, but also work together, discuss, associate and have a critical attitude. '

Immediately in love

For the past covid-19 year, TENT was largely closed, but there is plenty to see online, from the student exposition Beyond Binaries to TENT Online Cinema. Major maintenance is also going on behind the scenes. For example, a restyling of the entrance area is imminent. 'I am part of a task force that started before Corona, together with Kunstinstituut Melly,' says Vorwerk. 'As two institutes in one building, we are going to collaborate more intensively and strive for an even better guest experience. The route through the building and signage will be improved, as will the acoustics. A space will also be permanently made wheelchair accessible. '

Vorwerk is convinced that the art experience that TENT offers young people stimulates them to look further and to develop. 'We had to do a one-week internship in the HAVO final exam class to find out what we would like to do next,' she recalls. 'Together with a friend, I wrote to the Zuidelijk Toneel in Eindhoven, asking to be allowed to join the set design department. It worked. That week we were allowed to go to a performance in the Vooruit in Ghent, to help build the set. Ramsey Nasr would act in there Fist. When he stood on stage, rehearsing his voice into the microphone, we were swooning at the back of the room. We were both instantly in love. Sometimes I look at students and realize that they too can now have such “behind the screen” moments that they will never forget. '

Publication date: 01 / 06 / 2021