What is the new name of the institution formerly known as Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art?
Our new name is Kunstinstituut Melly. The new name came into effect on 27 January 2021. We first opened our doors to the public on 27 January 1990. Selecting this same day for pronouncing our new name in 2021 was in order to acknowledge our institution’s history. You can read here about the name selection, process and ratification.
Why did you change your name?
The name change was premised on two central criteria: Firstly, the name “Witte de With,” as we were more commonly called, indicated the institution’s location 'Witte de Withstraat', but did not express the institution’s vocation (contemporary art and theory). Secondly, that name impinged upon the institution’s pursuit of inclusivity, which is vital to the relevance and contribution of cultural practice in general.
What made you decide to change the name?
The decision for a name change was triggered by an Open Letter to Witte de With published on 14 June 2017 by Egbert Alejandro Martina, Ramona Sno, Hodan Warsame, Patricia Schor, Amal Alhaag, and Maria Guggenbichler, and the debates that followed. The impact of the Open Letter was deep, to the extent that it advanced an ongoing debate and process of decolonization in The Netherlands, and, no less, to the point that the critique made us aware to acknowledge our blind spot, and to strengthen our work in issues of representation. In the face of this predicament, on 7 September 2017, the institution vowed to make a name change.
The institution is over 30 years old. Why did it take so long to think about changing the name?
Since its foundation in 1990, the institution has long worked with artists of many diverse backgrounds and has taken a forerunning role in advancing political critique in theory. To more align theory and practice, which is the transformation we are undergoing, the name change initiative has involved staff and board recruitments; improving modes of public engagement; a newly admission-free ground-floor gallery MELLY; and, a new collective learning methodology. For us at the institution, the Open Letter to Witte de With was a wake-up call. The institution is grateful for the time and patience it has been granted to date from the letter’s authors, signatories and the general public.
Why did it take so long to get a new name?
We understand it took a long time. From the start, our approach has been structural. The goal of the name change was to make an institutional transformation that contributes to change in The Netherlands and internationally. We recognize that things need to be done differently. We would like to share some of our activities to date. They include six staff and board recruitments that have diversified our team, a new program of community outreach including a new space called MELLY, as well as historical research. Last year, we had a public-input phase as part of our renaming process; this involved public participation. Our new name emerged from this process.
Were people able to vote on the new name for the institution?
We talked to members of the public and other stakeholder groups about the role of our institution in the community and the name. We also collected advice, comments and suggestions on these topics through an Online Survey (open from 14 June until 19 September 2020). The input from the Survey and Forums will informed the participation of the Advisory Committee, comprising multiple perspectives in expertise and points of view. The Advisory Committee convened in the fall twice; you can read their advice on the name choices here. Such a process was designed and led by the Task Force, which includes staff members Paul van Gennip (Deputy Director), Rosa de Graaf (Associate Curator), Jessy Koeiman (Curator Collective Learning), Jeroen Lavèn (PR & Social Media Manager), Vivian Ziherl (Research and Programs Manager), and Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy (Director), who reports to, and is overseen by, the institution’s Supervisory Board. The Task Force is supported through general staff meetings with the institution's team.
How did the institution arrive at a new name?
In this press release, we succinctly describe the process. The selection of a new name seeks to contribute to best practice in the Netherlands and internationally. In designing the process we have been inspired by two case-studies; Yale University’s Hopper College, and Bristol’s Colston Hall who have also undertaken a name-change since 2017.
Is the institution trying to erase or censure the past?
The goal of the name change is to be more accepting, understanding, and actively inclusive of a multi-vocal society. We see the name change as part of larger conversations on decolonizing, representation and dissonant heritage in the Netherlands and abroad. That fact that the building housing Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art was a former school can effectively promote the role that cultural institutions have to be a learning environment.
Who was Witte Corneliszoon de With?
Witte Corneliszoon de With was a seventeenth century Dutch Naval Officer, serving in the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and Dutch West India Company (WIC). A timeline of his life and colonial involvement is available here.
What is the relationship between Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art and Witte Corneliszoon de With?
When the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art was established, it took the name of its location: Witte de Withstraat 50. While the institution’s name refers to the naval officer’s proper name, Witte Corneliszoon de With, the building is not his home, nor does it house his collection or focus on his legacy.
Is the name change a response to the current social movements?
The announcement of a name change in 2017, and the goal of making an institutional transformation to enact meaningful and lasting change, beyond a name, has been ongoing since then. We have announced our name change date and process 14 June 2020, so as to acknowledge the authors and signatories of the Open Letter to Witte de With and the leading role social movements have in the Netherlands to mobilize change. An Online Survey, Forums, and forming an Advisory Committee, were originally planned to commence in May 2020, with a name change envisioned for January 2021. These were partly halted, and partly re-scheduled due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. In light of the recent demonstrations mobilized by the Black Lives Matter movement in The Netherlands and globally — triggered by the Police killing of George Floyd in the United States— the institution announces on 14 June 2020 the name change initiative’s upcoming programs and the name change. This is in in support to the larger decolonizing movement and in recognition of the authors of the Open Letter to Witte de With: Egbert Alejandro Martina, Ramona Sno, Hodan Warsame, Patricia Schor, Amal Alhaag, and Maria Guggenbichler, and the many co-signers.