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Public Review Report
27 September 2020
On Saturday, 26 September 2020, a Public Review was held here [at the institution formerly known as Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art] to share the outcomes of the Renaming Process, and to respond to questions and welcome final comments.
Prior to the Public Review, a Press Release was circulated containing the three short-listed names and their respective qualities, along with links to the online publication of two key documents; 1) Public Input Report, and 2) Advisory Committee Report. Visitors of the Public review received a document that outlined the Name Change Initiative Methodology, the Renaming Process, as well as a short summary of findings.
With respect to Covid-19 safety requirements, three editions of the Public Review were held with the third simultaneously available via Zoom.
The Public Review was structured in two components; Presentation of Findings, and Questions and Responses. Each of the three editions was MC’d by guest moderator Cye Wong Loi Sing, co-founder of Rotterdam Marketing and Creative Agency ‘Brand New Guys’, and who will lead the marketing program of the new name when it comes into effect from 27 January 2021. During the Presentation of Findings, reports were read aloud by the institution’s director, Sofia Hernández Chong Cuy, as well as a representative of the Advisory Committee, Clara Balaguer. During the Questions and Responses, these speakers were joined by Forum Moderator, Rolando Vazquez (who attended the first and second sessions), and Forum Participant Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman (who attended the second and third sessions). The Public Review was attended by a total of 76 people in person and online.
Presentation of Findings
Each session of the Public Review commenced with the reading out of presentations. In opening, Wong Loi Sing introduced himself and the day’s proceedings, before inviting Hernández Chong Cuy to the floor. A presentation on the context of the Name Change Initiative was given, reflecting upon the architectural context of the building founded as a school for girls, the transformation of the down-stairs gallery into the hybrid activities space, the multi-year Name Change Initiative, the timeline of the Renaming Process, key points raised through the public input process involving over 200 participants, and the naming criteria. Hernández Chong Cuy introduced a notion that the institution is ‘anti-fragile’ with reference to critic Simon(e) van Saarloos, and that the institution is negotiating conditions of ‘disavowal’, with reference to scholar Professor Gloria Wekker.
Clara Balaguer then read the report of the Advisory Committee in full, consisting of the shortlisted names, the majority endorsement of KAT, and additional advice regarding Melly as a further endorsed name, as well as citations of the commentaries of each shortlisted name KAT, kin, and haven.
The Presentation of Findings closed with a further presentation by Hernández Chong Cuy, addressing the methodology and design of the Name Change Initiative with reference to Yale University’s Hopper College, renamed from Calhoun College in 2017; and Bristol Beacon, renamed from Colston Hall in 2020; in consideration of the years-long process of both institutions. Hernández Chong Cuy concluded with the notion that “a name is a debt,” in citation of critical theorist Paul B. Preciado.
Questions and Responses
In clarifying the process, Hernández Chong Cuy expanded that the public review itself arose through the Public Input phase. Participants and partners such as Rolando Vazquez suggested that there should be a moment of public sharing prior to the Supervisory Board meeting, and within the philosophy of institutional vulnerability, whereby the process is disclosed publicly whilst it remains in progress.
The ‘energization’ of the name through programming was emphasized, with regard to this as a process that should engage the entire staff. There is a difference between energizing the three names of the shortlist and Melly, both as a ‘proper’ name and as a process that pre-exists in the institution. The possibility that its necessary to ‘energize away’ from a name was raised with example to the Mondriaan Foundation, where a personal name can over-determine.
The old name had created a demand for accountability to colonial history and its legacies. The question regarding this is then how to learn to practice an institution in a vulnerable way? Instead of being endangered by being questioned, how to embrace this questioning as part of our institutional culture? Whereas it might avoid certain risks to select a name that is anonymous and international, the criteria of accountability implies a need for the memory of a naming process – that is, to keep a historical memory of the process.
Melly is a name connected to local identity, and in its connection to narrative; both the narrative of the institution’s naming case-study (from Untitled to Melly), and the narrative of moving from a patriarchal colonial power to recognition of a working-class woman. Melly is a name that, by now, signifies not only a person but a process that the institution has undergone, both architecturally and socially from the ‘bottom up’. One audience member expressed having a strong ‘feeling’ for Melly, that it feels ‘right’. This drew calls of support from two other members. One audience member conveyed that the name Melly should not apply to the greater institute as its ‘trademark’, as it has become established in the highly unique and street-level space. Melly was also discussed as a blueprint for the institutional transformation.
One audience member expressed a strong preference for Haven on account of its connection to the vitality of Rotterdam in its cultural diversity. At the same time, Haven was considered by other audience members non-specific as there are numerous port cities that could confer this name.
The process was noted ipso facto as being, in itself, an energizing and co-constitutive entity. The process of un-naming embraces the pedagogical imperative of un-silencing and undertakes the stance of vulnerability. One speaker conveyed that the process marks a unique form of institutional process, and asked whether it could become a model. The commitment to a collective process is the most striking feature of an encounter with the Name Change Initiative. And yet, the dynamism of the process is not reflected in the naming short-list. Neutrality implies a retreat, by comparison, and imagination is missed.
The Public Review was additionally reviewed in an article carried by the Volkskrant newspaper on Monday September 28, 2020.