Anton Hoeksema (photo: Florine van Rees)

Mission accomplished? Anton Hoeksema about three decades of visual art in Rotterdam.

Anton Hoeksema is a frequent guest in the Rotterdam visual arts world. From his position (s) at CBK Rotterdam, he visited hundreds if not thousands of large and small exhibitions, events, lectures, presentations, etc. He also did so from a strong personal interest. Anton Hoeksema recently retired, but art-loving Rotterdam still encounters Anton regularly.

Anton made his appearance at CBK Rotterdam at the end of 1993, when he started at Villa Alckmaer, the precursor of TENT on the corner of Westersingel and Museumpark. Soraya Putman talked to Anton about his work, which led him through Villa Alckmaer to TENT and later the Art Office of CBK Rotterdam. The conversation is about the Rotterdam art world then and now and its mission: more diversity in art. Cultural scientist Soraya Putman has already worked with Anton in 2013 and worked at TENT Rotterdam in 2014 and 2015. She now works as a subsidy consultant for the Performing Arts Fund.

Soraya Putman: What did the visual arts sector look like in Rotterdam in the 90 years?
Anton Hoeksema: The sector just had a huge one boost received from new art institutions. In addition to established museums such as Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Historical Museum and the Museum of Land and Ethnology, many new institutions came to the city in a short period of time in the late '80 and early' 90: the Maritime Museum in 1986, the Architecture Institute in ' 88, Witte de With in the early years' 90, the Kunsthal in 1992, V2_ in '94, Worm also in' 94 then on Rochussenstraat.

In addition, there were various galleries in the center that showed contemporary art such as Delta, MK Gallery, Van Mourik, Ram, Cokkie Snoei, Phoebus, van Rijsbergen, Duo Duo, Fotomania. The Center for Visual Arts on the Nieuwe Binnenweg functioned as a municipal exhibition space. And even then there were several artists' initiatives across the city, such as Duende in North, Wild Knowing in the New West, Art and Complex in the Keilehaven area, Kaus Australis in Schiebroek, Bad op Zuid. These initiatives regularly held open house and that also attracted public from outside the city. In the 80 / 90 decade, however, a number of interesting locations and initiatives in the field of contemporary visual arts have also disappeared, such as Dionysus in West, gallery Westersingel 8, Perspective on the Eendrachtsweg, Black Cat on the Mauritsweg, 't Venster on the Oude Binnenweg and galleries such as Bébert, Van Beveren and Fenna de Vries. But that boost from larger institutions definitely brought fresh audiences from outside the city limits and that was new.

SP: What was your position at Villa Alckmaer?
AH: I was the host there and was part of the program team with Ove Lucas, Robert Schmidt and a number of artists. We organized exhibitions with work by mainly Rotterdam artists. It was a beautiful building, a city villa with three floors, where the Fenna de Vries Gallery was located in the '80. The office on the ground floor was also the reception and meeting space. Artists and the public sat at the table. Interesting encounters and exchanges took place in this setting. We started there with the collaboration with other parties in the city, such as the Piet Zwart Institute and participated in Manifesta #1 in '96, among others. We are talking about the pre-internet era, everything was still there offline.

SP: And then Villa Alckmaer had to make room in 1999 for the new building of the Boijmans.
AH: In the course of that year we moved to the Witte de Withstraat 50, got 1100 m2 of exhibition space at our disposal with Witte de With as upstairs neighbors. We called the location TENT. In the meantime V2_, the Photo Museum, Mama and Little Red Riding Hood had also settled in the Witte de Withkwartier. More than now it was a real 'art street' and was characterized as the new 'art axis'. The catering industry was modestly present, De Schouw, De Witte Aap, Bazar and one or two kebab tents, that was about it.

SP: What should I imagine at that time at TENT?
AH: Briefly described; We started in September 1999 with a more extensive team of employees. The team worked together on the program that was described as 'polyrhythmic'. That is to say, there were several exhibitions of different durations which made it possible for the public to witness the construction of a new exhibition. We always wanted to be open to the public, it was truly an 'open house'. I contributed to the composition of the program, supervised interns and organized educational projects. From the outset, we opened up to the city, developed collaborative projects with partners from the field, and brought in other disciplines. We provided and guided artist-in-residencies and developed international (exchange) projects.

SP: And then the new millennium arrived and a year later in 2001, Rotterdam became the European Capital of Culture. What did this mean for you and TENT?
AH: It mainly meant extra possibilities and new partnerships, because there was more budget available. Our program of the cultural capital year started with the production in TENT Highway 101 from the collective Damaged Goods by choreographer Meg Stuart in collaboration with the Rotterdamse Schouwburg This was a very special production, Meg Stuart saw our location as an enormous challenge. At her request, TENT selected two visual artists to participate in her project. Together with my colleague Arno van Roosmalen at the time I supervised this project, we are still a fan.

From that moment on, TENT started collaborating with more parties in the city. Multidisciplinary and cross over exhibitions and projects. Once I heard someone say: "This is more interesting than Palais de Tokyo!". We looked at Palais de Tokyo with a crooked eye, because they received plenty of attention in the press and we rarely. How did that happen? Perhaps because of that polyrhythmic program structure; too fast changes of exhibitions for the too slow art critics.

In 2001, TENT also started the collaboration with Nighttown's Harry Hamelink and the Rotterdamse Schouwburg in Motel Mozaïekque; a multi-disciplinary multi-day festival in which hospitality was paramount and visual art played an important role. The internet editorial team of VPRO'S 3 for 12 settled during the festival in TENT. The festival was groundbreaking for that time. Initially, the press also found this difficult; you had to walk all the way from the Schouwburg to TENT or Nighttown to be able to experience another part of the program, but we soon made the front pages of the national magazines.

SP: What happened afterwards?
AH: Everything seemed possible during the cultural capital year, there was extra money, ideas abounding. In TENT we have been able to run good programs during the year of the cultural capital and have had a lot of new visitors. In the following year, several artists / makers came back to the sector with their success from the previous year in mind. Only now they usually received zero in the petition; the money was up. The responses were not tender; many angry faces and reproaches directed at 'the unimaginative art officials with their luxury jobs'. Eventually De Keuze van de Schouwburg and Motel Mozaïekque are the program components of the cultural capital year that have survived. From 2001 to 2015, I was able to provide visual art programming for Motel Mozaïekque at various locations in the city from TENT / CBK Rotterdam. We wanted to make the cultural infrastructure of the city more visible with this kind of cooperation projects.

SP: It was also during Motel Mozaïek that we were in 2013 in the run-up to the cutbacks in art and culture met for two days with Rotterdam-based cultural makers, doers and entrepreneurs in the work of art Internship by Ivo Vrouwe and Michiel Jansen in the hall of the Rotterdamse Schouwburg. There I first became acquainted with your self-proclaimed personal fascination: "How is it possible that in a city with more than 170 different nationalities, the cultural elite is colorless?" When did this fascination arise?
AH: That actually goes way back. I worked in business for the first ten years of my working life. The atmosphere there disappointed me and I started studying Dutch / History at the New Teacher Training South West Netherlands, which has since disappeared. For Dutch I graduated with a thesis as the title Art and Mother tongue education wore. I had investigated the extent to which creative thinking and language skills could be stimulated by bringing young people into contact with contemporary abstract art. To this end, I had visited various educational departments of museums in the Netherlands in addition to researching the literature and had come to the conviction that I could answer this question positively, that this confrontation with artistic expressions could lead to a divergent pattern of thinking. That is also what the Teacher Education focused on, the curriculum reported: "You had to train your young people to be critically minded individuals and not to unambiguously thinking" employable production units. "It was a different spirit of the times," The Imagination to the Power ', that didn't last long.

SP: So it comes from your teaching time?
AH: In the first half of the years '80 I worked in education, but since' 83 it was cut back considerably, so I did not have a permanent appointment. In those few years I noticed a few things. I was confronted with discriminatory behavior of native pupils in relation to the non-native peers. Not excessive, but it was present and shocking enough.
What also struck me was that especially the girls from ethnic minorities scored high during oral Dutch literary tests that I took. My colleague and I gave some girls an 10, in the teachers' room we were told that "we were probably infected with the positive discrimination virus." When I conducted educational activities in TENT fifteen years later, I regularly had similar experiences; more often it was young people from other cultures who came with more substantive and difficult questions and comments than the native pupils.

SP: So your educational background and work at TENT yielded new insights?
Ah yes. Around the turn of the century I taught two seasons as a guest teacher at the part-time course of the Willem de Kooning Academy. I was given room to give substance to it myself, it seemed interesting to enter into a discourse with the students about current art practice. I then used the book, among other things How much globalization does man tolerate? from Rudiger Safranski. In this booklet the author seemed to be looking to the future with some fear and I think that is still current today. I also read the book during that time Generation Einstein, which outlined positive vistas of a new, smart generation that would find its way via the internet. I linked Safranki's question and the message from Generation Einstein to my experiences with the educational projects with the large numbers of students I received in TENT. These were always groups with a huge mix of backgrounds. Because I collaborated with Teacher Training students who were doing an internship with us, we were able to divide the classes into small groups, the chance of a full discussion is sooner within reach. We handled bottom up approach; I simplify: "Actually, we don't know much about the visual art that is displayed here, what do you think about this?"
The young people looked sharply at the artworks, made comparisons and asked questions from their frame of reference, I always recognized the potential. It not only gave me insight into the composition of our city, it also gave me insight into the so-called metropolitan issues. And it made clear that contemporary art is accessible to a very broad target group.

SP: Why does your question (about representation) have to be asked?
AH: Youth is the future and today's metropolitan youth is of a different composition than fifty years ago. You must be curious about those other sounds, sounds that you are not used to, that fall outside your canon and frame of reference. And I think it is extremely interesting that (visual) art can play an important mediating role in this, more than subject matter in education.

SP: From 2013 you have been working as a coordinator at Art Office of CBK Rotterdam. How did that position relate to this topic, what did you do yourself before this?
AH: Art Office was partly an administrative function, but I also remained involved in the programming of Motel Mozaïekque and Route du Nord and other 'special projects'.
It offered me the opportunity to program artists and projects and to present contemporary metropolitan culture in a distinctive way, and even more so, the issue of globalization. And I consciously chose artists with a mixed background who, from a different perspective, shed light on the now universal story.

SP: Today, an inclusive cultural offer is an item on the agenda, not only in Rotterdam, but throughout the Netherlands. Finally?
AH: Yes, but fortunately there are others in Rotterdam who have been actively involved in this for much longer. Aruna Vermeulen is a winner and unfortunately deceased Doro Siepel has managed to change a lot through her programming at Theater Zuidplein. I think that the economized Kosmopolis has certainly played a significant role here in Rotterdam as well as the youth debates of the RRKC. Last year I was at the La Haine festival of Malique Mohammud, a festival with a lot of potential and impact. You see that gradually younger makers with a mixed background are claiming their right to participate. Also the exhibition Blueprint in TENT this recently reflected in a striking way: "This is our story!"

SP: A good exhibition in TENT, young makers who claim their place in the cultural landscape. Mission accomplished?
AH: I thought that exhibition was great. But the mission succeeded? Not yet, but there is a positive movement going on, it's going steadily. The staffing of the institutions themselves is still mainly white. It is also not easy, you should want to see differences as an important source of inspiration for your new future practice. The institutions are gradually becoming aware of this. Three years ago when I already participated as a senior expert in the first Culture Tinder in the Rotterdamse Schouwburg, there was not much color to be found among those present. The last time that was much better. We must prevent the arts from falling behind. In the commercial world, this seems to be much further. You have to be careful not to point to the art and say: "Look, that is still a very white bastion!"

SP: Finally, what more could you wish for the visual arts in Rotterdam?
AH: After the cutbacks, many permanent exhibition places were lost. It would be nice if they returned to locations that belong to the story of this unique city. And here too there seems to be movement now, both at South and North.

Publication date: 24 / 10 / 2017