I recently visited Rotterdam for Hull, City of Culture 2017 and the Heads Up Festival. The reason for the visit was to build international creative partnerships, and scope out possibilities for a Creative Europe collaboration.
Rotterdam is a fiercely contemporary city. Flattened during the Second World War, it has a huge desire to keep building into the future. Not a week goes by without a new high-rise office, conference centre or hotel going up (my hotel is so new its not even on the map). The designs are sleek and exciting.
All this building has left a lot of the older buildings empty or partially occupied, but having identified the potential of these buildings, the local authority actively encourages young artists and creatives to populate these spaces and create work in the city.
Photograph: Bas Czerwinski
This active support for cultural activity in Rotterdam has created a really dynamic scene. With nearly 80 festivals throughout the year, the artistic capacity in the city is vast. I met Joost Maaskant who was organising both a Moroccan food festival and an open air cinema in the Museum Park and these were only a couple of the projects that he produces throughout the year.
Mariette Dölle the director of TENT, the city’s contemporary arts space showed me the very assured graduate show made up of work from all the local higher education facilities, and later I crossed the road to WORM, an independent music and film space allowing more experimental work to happen in a very welcoming and arresting environment.
I was lucky enough to join my hosts at a performance of Conny Janssen’s Mirror Mirror staged in a disused submarine factory. The piece was extraordinary, not just to watch the company dancing in 3 inches of water along the 200 metre found space, but because they’d created a whole evening’s experience from the boat that takes you to the dockside location to the pop up restaurant and shipping container galleries that had been created in another part of the factory.
Photograph: Leo van Velzen
For Heads Up and E52 it was great to link up with the Maas young peoples theatre and Gerard Steenbergen from Opera Days who produce a 10 day festival of contemporary music theatre, and on my last day I met the fabulous visual artist Gyz la Riviere, who took over the 20th floor of the unused Shell building, opened a coffee shop and handed out copies of his graphic novel chronicling the history of the city, the view of Rotterdam being the art -work.
If we can continue to develop relationships with these artists and the likes of Baz Kwakman at Poetry International, then Hull, City Of Culture 2017, The Heads Up Festival and the City of Hull will be all the richer and will really benefit from the experience and creativity of a city who are as hospitable as they are ground-breaking.
So, a huge thank you to Reinier, Johan and Mark at Rotterdam Festivals for looking after me and I look forward to taking the ferry again to a city that is not just close geographically, but creatively as well.