Interview with Maarten Bellaard and Astrid Boonstoppel of Stichting LOKAAL, about their collaboration with the Willem de Kooning Academy.
What is LOKAAL?
Astrid: It is the centre for democracy in Rotterdam. We organise numerous activities around the city and politics. Debates, courses and education for both children and adults. All for connecting people to governance, politics and administrative renewal. We collaborate with lots of different partners within the city, among them the Willem de Kooning Academy, but also, for instance, Arminius and De Nieuwe Poort.
Can you describe your collaboration with WdKA?
Astrid: We collaborated with the major Lifestyle Transformation Design for the second year in a row. Hill Scholte asked us to arrange for the students to meet up with local politicians. For most of them, this was the first time ever to meet a politician face to face. The students were encouraged to ask away all the possible questions. Later, the students have translated their experience form the conversations into videos, which were shown during the Debate Night in Arminius for the politicians to react.
What were the results like?
Maarten: Showing their work to the audience and politicians in Arminius was a great stage for the students. The council members that were present really enjoyed seeing the results of the first conversations and to debate about them. The students chose themes that were important to them; the #metoo discussion issues. As well as a broader discussion about gender and intimidation. The students are approaching such themes on an abstract level. The politicians, on the other hand, have an approach that corresponds to their party’s ideology. Both had to let go of their usual frames of thinking in this collaboration.
Astrid: It was great to see that both sides went the extra mile to understand each other.
Maarten: Philosopher Marli Huijer, one of our Denkers des Vaderlands, had taken part in this debate too. It is her role to zoom in the practical issues, like news facts, and to discuss them in an accessible yet in-depth manner. It was precisely our goal. Marli has added an extra focus to the conversation.
Astrid: And despite the terrible weather that evening, the room was packed!
What did the collaboration look like on a practical level?
Astrid: At the start of the academic year in September we had organised the meet and greet with the students and politicians. Almost all political parties that are currently active in the local council were represented. After the meeting, the students had an opportunity to work on their videos for three months. The Debate Night took place in the first week of December.
Maarten: Prior to the Debate Night we have made a selection out of all the sent-in videos that in our opinion represented the most recurring themes best.
Astrid: While working on their videos, some of the students had contacted us because they had some more questions for the politicians. Luckily the politicians were always happy to provide answers.
What makes WdKA a good partner for Lokaal?
Maarten: This collaboration has taken shape in an unconstrained way, based on the strengths of both Lokaal and the WdKA, which was great.
Astrid: Coming from within the field of politics, working with artists is very refreshing. I have noticed that the politicians are eager to work along, for it gives them a fresh and inspiring perspective on the city.
What did the students learn from the collaboration in your opinion?
Astrid: We have introduced them to the world of politics, which was unknown to most of them.
Maarten: In presenting their work to a live audience, the students had to take public responsibility for their work. Answer questions and partake in a discussion about it. I have noticed that this was sometimes a challenge. It took them out of the safe place of the Academy and into the real world.