Aletta van der Eijk. Photo: Marwan Magroun

Behind the scenes: I'm looking for connection

She likes to communicate. As a communication and PR manager, Aletta van der Eijk is perfectly at home at TENT, the exhibition space of CBK Rotterdam. The diverse activities, including events and other art programs, are presented in an inventive way. But she also has a warm heart for running and healthy food. Among other. An introduction to an enthusiast who gets things done. "The more difficult an issue is, the more diplomatic I become."

In conversation with Aletta van der Eijk

Text: Annemiek van Grondel

Things are slowly starting to bubble again at TENT, after the covid-19 pandemic caused a deafening silence for more than a year. The building, belonging to CBK Rotterdam, has been reopened since 5 June and exhibitions, performances, cultural events and various educational art programs can be visited, albeit under restrictions. The first weekend of June 5 and 6, TENT and the art institute Melly, located in the same building, were even free to enter.

Aletta van der Eijk (1988) breathed a sigh of relief. Finally buzz again, life in the brewery! Because work is second nature to her. And move forward. Making gauges. This spry young lady gets up every day around five in her home near work, only to put on her sneakers an hour later and go for a sprint around the Maas. Running recharges the head and keeps her fit. A video is circulating on the internet in which Van der Eijk is committed to the sponsored walk against Lyme disease.

Finally buzz again, life in the brewery!

The leg cart actually brought her indirectly to her current job. 'During my morning runs I often walked past TENT', says Van der Eijk. 'On Friday evenings there is the Art Evening, a free opening of art institutions in the Witte de Withstraat, and then I usually went to have a look. I have always been interested in art. One good evening I saw a vacancy, great!'

Parties and work

Since July 2018 she has been responsible for communication and public relations for TENT. But that was preceded by ten years of working in various positions. Her first job after HAVO was administrative, for an H&M branch in Leiden, and of short duration. For a year she worked respectively as an assistant store manager in Delft and at the client services-department of ABN AMRO in Rotterdam. But an experiment of several months at the Royal Bank of Scotland in the capital made her realize that her ambitions were more creative in nature.

Aletta van der Eijk. Photo: Marwan Magroun
Aletta van der Eijk. Photo: Marwan Magroun

In 2011, Van der Eijk therefore decided to follow the communication course at the INHOLLAND University of Applied Sciences, a thorough study with media, journalism, PR and editing as special subjects. 'I find it interesting to connect these different worlds', she says. 'Initially I wanted to go into journalism, but gradually I found communication and PR more suited to me. How do you tell a story? Communication is about conveying something in a positive way, no matter how annoying the message is. Something in the tone should be appealing, provoke people to action. Can you be critical in communication? It depends. You are not supposed to say what they should not do, but what opportunities there are.' Is she diplomatic? 'Yes I think so.' She smiles. "The more difficult an issue is, the more diplomatic I become."

Communication is about conveying something in a positive way, no matter how annoying the message is

Before her studies, the smart student did an internship at Révolt events, among other things. It was a bull's eye because for another internship at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen she was still a bit too young, although she could brush up on her art knowledge there: 'I preferred to party. However, she stayed at Révolt for five years, in the position of marketing and communication manager. Van der Eijk: 'In those years I was often in the hospitality industry and already worked at Cultuurpodium Perron, so I thought: I might as well do an internship here.'

As an intern, she mainly worked with social media and came up with various concepts, in which she managed to find the right tone for the target group for that company. "After I joined, my work became more campaign-oriented," she says. I came up with online and offline campaigns, took care of the ticketing system for entrance management and built community around the brand. I was also involved in the production side: announcing events, including for pop stage Annabel, and promoting them through social media and campaigns.'

Floor via video

After Van der Eijk obtained her bachelor's degree in communication, she was able to search specifically for a professional position in communication land. "I was losing my wild hair a bit," she smiles. 'So I applied with conviction at CBK Rotterdam for the position of communication manager for TENT. Immediately after the first conversation I was already enthusiastic, and I was completely overjoyed when I heard that there was a follow-up conversation. Fortunately, that went well and I got the job.'

She finds it 'wonderful' to see what artists make and what moves them. 'How does their work come about? How does a curator create an exhibition? And what drives the artist to make and exhibit something so personal? I used to think that artists make an installation on the spot in the exhibition space. But sometimes an exhibition is set up quite commercially: a curator looks for makers within a certain theme and a logical story sneaks into them. The works usually already exist. Sometimes an artist does not even come by when the work is installed, for example if he or she lives far away. It's a rotating system.'

'Beautiful' to see what artists make and what moves them

In addition to her activities at CBK Rotterdam, she also works as a freelancer. For example, Van der Eijk was head of marketing for the Museum Night in Rotterdam for almost two years. She still organizes the Schemerlicht Festival with three partners in the same position. This innovative audiovisual art event for all ages in the Botanical Gardens of the Hortus Nijmegen Foundation was canceled in 2020 due to the covid-19 vicissitudes. She is now busy preparing for the 2021 edition, which will take place at the end of October.

Until the beginning of this year, Van der Eijk was also a freelance communication manager of Vertical City – De Rotterdam, the prestigious 160.000 m2 building of Rem Koolhaas' OMA on the Wilhelminapier. 'A very corporate job,' she says. 'Large companies are located in De Rotterdam, but their employees didn't know each other. The intention was that De Rotterdam would become a meeting place, with exhibitions for the neighbourhood. The company had communication budgets to bind its tenants and also to increase brand awareness among the people of Rotterdam.' Van der Eijk wrote a communication plan, but about two months after her appointment, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out and the plans were shelved.

Aletta van der Eijk. Photo: Marwan Magroun
Aletta van der Eijk. Photo: Marwan Magroun

Her work at CBK Rotterdam and TENT, on the other hand, continues steadily, partly thanks to her active role within the organisation. 'At TENT I saw that there was still a lot to be done in the field of online communication in the entire presentation of our activities to the outside world,' she says. 'I have made every effort to make the exhibitions more accessible to a wider audience. Communication could be more modern. Working more with video, for example. This is not always to the liking of some curators and artists. Some artists are camera shy. Their communication often has to be entirely in the context of the work; they give it a certain weight. But anyone who can show an attractive film at the announcement of an exhibition makes people much more curious about what the artist has to say with such a work. We then give a pass for a video, and show how communication can be done differently, but still provide more depth. After seeing this, the artists are usually open to it.'

Switching between worlds

Her interests are wide: Van der Eijk enjoys writing, is on a ceramics course and found a new passion last year: health and nutrition. She has almost completed the online natural food advisor study. 'I advise people with mild health problems, such as hormonal problems,' she explains. 'After an intake and an anamnesis, I make a diagnosis and follow a treatment plan. I put together a diet with a balanced amount of molecules and building materials. Stress management is also one of my tasks. Do I already have customers? Yes! I haven't set up my own company yet, but people are already approaching me for an appointment.'

By announcing our exhibitions I create more connections and understanding between people

Van der Eijk, who was born in Beverwaard, South Rotterdam, was born with her versatility. 'My parents come from a mixed background: my mother was born in the Ivory Coast and my father comes from a farming family from Zevenhuizen,' she says. 'That has its advantages: that's how I was raised bilingually. My parents are divorced and I went to church twice a week with my mother, a Jehovah's Witness. During the weekend I lived with my father, anti-squat in the Poortgebouw, between vegans, alcoholics, altos and punks. But that mixed background can sometimes cause misunderstandings. I didn't want to be different from others. Sometimes I have experienced racism, yes. I won't say that other people consciously make such comments, but I do know that I am always consciously switching between worlds. Even within an institute, people from a different background are sometimes treated differently. It has to do with recognisability and sensitivity.'

She does not call herself an activist. Van der Eijk: 'I prefer to put my energy into connection. I think it's nice to have this place within CBK Rotterdam. By publicizing our exhibitions, I create more connections and understanding between people, by showing the intrinsic motivations of people from different backgrounds.'

Cross-connections between cultures

Engagement is indeed a top priority at TENT. A good example of connection through social art was the exhibition No you won't be naming no buildings after me, to a line from the song AD 2000 by Erykah Badu. Van der Eijk: 'The exhibition also contained twelve separate events. The artists involved traced how movement, dance, music, language, textiles, visual documents and material traces can be intimate witnesses of histories of vulnerability, but also of resilience. The exhibition had a strong social-critical component, because of the references to neocolonialism, for example. It was about all kinds of cultures. Due to the breadth of the exhibition, it was not only instructive, but you gradually discovered cross connections between those cultures. I found it fascinating to see how the artists went to work and how they created their art in various ways and showed it to the public.'

Engagement is a top priority at TENT

She also mentions the cross-disciplinary public programme At home at TENT interesting in this regard. 'Our program maker Gyonne Goedhoop invited various makers to come and tell a personal story about their identity', she says. 'It was a spiritual journey. All this took place in a kind of arena, the domed installation Under the Mango Tree by Jasper Niens, in which thoughts and stories could be shared. The most unexpected things happened in that arena. For example, singer Sabrina Starke gave a children's concert and invited other artists. Also found a dance battle of the HipHopHuis instead.'

Online Solutions

As a woman of the connection, Van der Eijk is relieved that society is slowly reopening this summer and people can meet again. Nevertheless, she insists that online communication is important, and of course the only form of communication in times of corona. “Tourists stayed away for the most part last year and the first half of this year, while almost half of our visitor numbers are normally tourists,” she says. 'One of the solutions was to invite a guest editor to interview an artist about his, her or their development at that time.'

TENT feels like a family

Much was postponed due to the covid-19 pandemic, such as the Dolf Henkes Prize 2021, a biennial exhibition. Van der Eijk: 'We have decided to have photos and a video portrait made of all nominees. Every two weeks we post a portrait with announcement online. The award ceremony will take place via a live stream on 1 July, during Art Rotterdam, but fortunately, thanks to the easing measures, the exhibition can be visited live with us until 22 August.'

TENT has just completed a renovation. 'We used to sit with ten people in one room, now I have my own room. If you have to think strategically, you shouldn't sit next to a loudly calling colleague', says Van der Eijk, who admits it is sometimes difficult to find it difficult to get people to hand in a text for an announcement. But she takes that small stress factor into the bargain, because there is enough time for relaxation and fun at the organization. 'The atmosphere is good, it's very cosy', she hastens to say. 'We consult and chat a lot and joke among ourselves. TENT feels like a family.'

Publication date: 08 / 06 / 2021