Toespraak Birgit Donker – Uitgesproken tijdens opening Open Studios op 11 maart van Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht

Opening Open Studios Jan van Eyck Academie. Foto: Jos Nelissen Opening Open Studios Jan van Eyck Academie. Foto: Jos Nelissen

Uitgesproken op 11 maart 2016

Thank you, Lex, for allowing me – as so charmingly announced in the programme – to conduct ‘the festive opening’ of the Open Studios.

Various people have recently said to me: Aha, you’re going to give a speech at the Jan van Eyck? Then you have to mention that, as the director of the Mondriaan Fund, you still have a chance of being promoted to the director of the Jan van Eyck. Which is exactly what Lex did. And there you have it. But that’s not why I’m here…

What I am here for is the festive opening of the Open Studios. And it truly is a festivity, with the exhibition of all the work that’s been developed here recently. There is a treasure trove of ideas resonating throughout this building. And an urgency to express these ideas in images, in countless disciplines, crossovers and craftsmanship. And just look at all the evidence of that immense talent.
Talent that needs to create without being bidden to do so. Talent that is, at times, visionary and that leaves room for profound stories.

We are lucky in the Netherlands to have so much innate talent. And lucky to still have places where this talent can be developed in relative tranquillity, such as during a work period at a post-academic institute. And finally, lucky that this is not only possible in the Randstad, but particularly here in Maastricht.
In the Van Eyck’s policy plan ‘Levende Beelden. Licht in de Spiegel’ (or in other words: ‘Living Images. Light in the Mirror’) which recently rolled off the presses, this institution’s mission is stated to be a versatile, living art institution for talent development – open to the public.
And when you consider the policy plan of the Mondriaan Fund – which also recently saw the light – then you can see that development is one of two central themes for the fund. The other theme being ‘connection’ to the public.

Development, which of course includes talent development, is essential. For artists and hence for society as a whole. This means offering room for breaking new ground or branching out on established ground. It means offering room for experimenting and for letting one’s imagination roam free.
The fact that we at the Mondriaan Fund consider talent development to be so important is also the reason why we have, in the current cultural planning period, earmarked grants for the Jan van Eyck Academy.
Fifteen of the visual artists who’s work is shown here now are doing so thanks to a grant of 50,000 euros provided by the fund.

And this was money well invested, as you can see. First, due to the wonderful returns we have seen from this work period. And due to the growth and development that the artists involved have experienced while here.
And second, because the fund was able to make a contribution to the course in which the Jan van Eyck is heading. Where talent development takes place in the broadest sense of the word: from intellectual reflection to practical knowledge and workplaces.
And where the Van Eyck has opened itself up to the public as a breeding ground, as it were, for talent. With a public programme which reveals its inner workings.
Just as this is happening now at the Open Studios, where insight is provided into the research, work and creative process of the participants.

But also at the end of last year in the master class The Art of Drawing. This was a class taught by experienced contemporary drawing artists such as Robbie Cornelissen where artists could reflect on their work together with others, generate meaning and create new work in an open context. Work that was then shown to the public.
And this is important, this manner of opening oneself up to the public, of establishing connections. Because art deserves an audience and an audience deserves art.
Some four years ago, when I had just become the Mondriaan Fund’s director and Lex hadn’t been the director of the Van Eyck for that long, he gave me a tour of the place. The renovation was only half done, and Lex was still dreaming of the new restaurant and vegetables in the garden.
We talked about the lack of public support for public funds for art in the Netherlands. This was shortly after the drastic budget cuts had been implemented.
We also talked about a new vocabulary that would have to be developed, so that art would be valued more by the rest of society. I still believe that this is important. I believe that we must continue to talk and write about the crucial value of art – ultimately, that which makes life matter.

But since then, I have become more and more convinced that the best manner to establish this connection is by displaying art. At best in unexpected places – such as in a hospital or simply on the street – or in places that once seemed inaccessible, such as here in the Jan van Eyck.

This doesn’t undermine the artist’s autonomy in any way. Nor is it in any way grovelling before the audience. But it IS the way to get into people’s hearts and minds. Or, to quote the distinctive and enthusiastic Flemish curator Jan Hoet: “Ge moet midden tussen de mensen, hè”, in other words: “You need to get among the people, you see.”

That’s what I hope for all the participants of the Open Studios as well:
First and foremost, the wonderful, continued refinement of their work.
But also for this work to be displayed and shared and to find a fitting audience.