From utopia to problem neighbourhood
Bureau Ruimtekoers works in cities and districts which were largely conceived on the drawing board. These are the major urban and architectural designs that were rolled out across the country with the intention of quickly solving the post-war housing shortage. The utopian concept of modernism led to light houses, plenty of greenery and a strict separation of functions. In the 1970s, the second district approach provided the same housing impetus in the villages.
Seeking solutions together with residents
Meanwhile, many of the modernist urban and rural districts are deteriorating into ‘problem neighbourhoods’ with all kinds of urgent challenges that put these communities under pressure. These include the energy transition, the fight against inequality, the pressure on the environment and the declining level of trust between the government and citizens. As more than half of the Netherlands consists of these types of neighbourhoods, solutions to these urgent challenges must be sought and found within the context of the residential area.
However, it turns out that residents of these districts do not play any kind of significant role in the search for solutions. On the one hand, it appears that only a select group of residents are involved in ‘civic participation’ and that more ‘transmitting’ than listening takes place, as a result, participation is seen as a difficult and time-consuming activity. On the other, this discourse must quickly be stripped of its political vocabulary. Because in this incomprehensible language, it will never be possible for everyone to participate in the solution anyway. And precisely because not everyone participates, issues in the neighbourhoods are being tackled with half solutions and exclusive policies, leading to even greater inequality.
Would you like to find out more about the urgent challenges?
Change through participatory design and community art
And precisely this is where there are opportunities for artists to work on these challenges and issues in, with and for society. Bringing artists to these social and urban challenges means that the questions and explorations become more open and inviting, new collectives of users are formed, and possible solutions and answers can be directly depicted. Because art conveys and forms alternatives that surpasses the current ideology, which emphasises differences. It makes the opportunities for change tangible by responding to social issues without assumptions. In this way, it stimulates the imagination and initiates encounters. And these two aspects are desperately needed if we are to collectively sketch tangible visions of the future as shared solutions for our neighbourhoods, districts and cities.
Meet our artists
A platform in the neighbourhoods
Bureau Ruimtekoers is taking up this challenge and creates a platform for participatory design and community art in the heart of the neighbourhoods. In the public space where people live, do their shopping and go to school. In various programmes, artists work with local residents and policymakers to come up with, create and present solutions to the issues in their own living environment. In the process, Bureau Ruimtekoers empowers them to remain independently involved in solutions and the next long-term steps. At the same time, those involved reflect on their approach and the impact achieved and share these lessons with others in Europe.
In this way, Ruimtekoers – between dreams and deeds, from the past to the present and the future, and from the public and personal space – involves local residents, policymakers, academics, the public, entrepreneurs, artists, designers, culture makers and many others in exploring new dreams and ideas for the society of the future.
Bureau Ruimtekoers: the programme
We develop projects and programmes within four social themes: the energy transition, climate and biodiversity, segregation and (in)equality of opportunity and inclusive urban development.
- Commissions: On behalf of government bodies, cultural institutions, and housing associations, we work with residents and artists on participatory communication and co-creation. We organise participation in culture and heritage. We give advice on the right approach to participation in the living environment and inspire others with our insights.
- Our own initiatives: We initiate projects and collaborations within three programme lines. In the Stadsmakers (City Artists) programme, we adopt a long-term approach to issues through art forms, in the Public programme we present the results in a cultural way and in the Ruimtekoers Akademy we reflect on our approach by means of lectures and publications.
In the Stadsmakers (City Artists) programme, artists think up, design, and create tangible visions of the future together with residents and policymakers. By means of interim presentations, they work towards final presentations in which the ideas take shape in the form of objects, routes, performances, explorations and workshops and thus already form an accessible art programme for everyone.
In the Public programme, the tangible visions of the future created by the city artists are presented to the public. These are the final presentations of the joint process shared by the artists and participants to the public. The focus here lies on experiential programmes consisting of workshops, presentations and performances, as well as neighbourhood greening projects. Will you join us?
The Ruimtekoers Akademie programme digs deeper by reflecting on the various city artist programmes with the artists, residents, the public, government bodies, policymakers, entrepreneurs and academics. In order to enhance this reflection, research is carried out into the effects and impact of the programmes during the creation process. Collective reflection allows us to discover new methods of empowering even more people.
Discover the Ruimtekoers Akademie
Ruimtekoers through the years
Ruimtekoers was launched in 2015 as a festival by the Halfvol foundation under the artistic direction of Yosser Dekker. The aim was to take a fresh look at the problem of vacant buildings in Arnhem city centre at that time. Over a period of one month, more than twenty empty floors and shops were used to make possible solutions tangible in the form of creative interpretations.
In the autumn of 2016, a second edition took place with the theme ‘The Utopia of the City’. This festival explored the subject in more depth and took a close look at the changing society. Leading philosophers, opinion makers and academics shared their vision of our future coexistence in cities in the form of lectures and debates. This way, Ruimtekoers developed into a socially engaged festival in 2017. Over the course of ten days, an old concrete office block in Arnhem-Zuid was transformed into a lively cultural centre. Each floor explored the role of art and culture as a driver of imagination and encounters in our cities.
From festival to method
The fourth edition of the Ruimtekoers Festival broke with previous tradition and took place in public space instead of empty space. Two special locations at the foot of the iconic John Frost Bridge, in Malburgen, were transformed into lively meeting places for five days. The degree and depth of the involvement of local residents and policymakers in the various projects was striking. In the research project ‘The Revolution of the Imagination’, Yosser Dekker explored these projects by reflecting on the approach and the impact achieved together with stakeholders such as artists, programme makers, local residents, policymakers, politicians and advisers.
This research led to the ‘Ruimtekoers Method’. An approach based on design anthropology, combined with forms of art presentation, cultural participation, and civic participation with the aim of achieving sustainable support from the parties involved in social issues in the living environment.
From method to project platform
In 2020, Ruimtekoers organised six new projects based on the method and also refined the method as a result. It became apparent that the form of an annual festival lasting a few days was no longer a good fit for the revised ambitions to which the method provides an answer. In 2021, Ruimtekoers therefore stopped organising an annual festival and switched to a yearlong festival instead. Various projects take place at different locations both in and outside Arnhem throughout the year.
As a result, Ruimtekoers has developed from a festival into a project platform which organises various projects and programmes to empower local residents as well as artists and policymakers to become and remain involved in solutions to social issues in the living environment, independently and in the long term. From 2015 onwards, the deployment of designers and artists and the involvement of residents and policymakers in issues has taken centre stage. Not to mention the reflective nature that ensures the constant development of Ruimtekoers. Will you join us?