2 October 2020
We are delighted to announce today that Kunstinstituut Melly will be the new name of the institution formerly known as Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art. This name has been arrived at through an extensive Renaming Process, involving over 280 participants. It is a name that has been chosen based upon its capacity to maintain accountability, vulnerability, responsiveness, and to ensure that we continue to become a more welcoming and daring cultural institution into the future.
The naming decision was taken on 30 September, by the Director and Supervisory Board and is based upon an external Advisory Committee report, as well as the results of a Public Review and Public Input process. Reports from all of these phases have been published online. The name launch on 27 January 2021 will be the occasion of the launch of a new program and policy vision dedicated to keeping our institution’s risk-taking and experimental nature at the forefront.
Director Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy says that, "the institution’s renaming responds to the claims raised by the larger decolonial movement in such a way that the new name, even by evocation, cannot disregard this moment. In this sense, our ongoing project Melly has come to stand for a work culture that fosters public engagement, deep listening, and collective learning."
The new name Kunstinstituut Melly has been chosen as a bold, unique name that above all maintains the memory of the renaming process and the community-led transformation that the institution has undertaken. This decision implements the advice of both new and longstanding stakeholders, as well as the external Advisory Committee.
“Kunstinstituut Melly is the exciting outcome of a thoroughly designed, bottom-up process that truly fits the (together we) Make It Happen spirit of Rotterdam. Kunstinstituut Melly fits so well the city’s changing identity - from traditional port city to diverse, bold and forward-thinking urban metropolis!”
— Jannelieke Aalstein, Director of ActionAid and Advisory Committee Member
The name Melly comes from the namesake of the institution’s ground-floor gallery space, which in 2018 was repurposed from a white-cube gallery into a hybrid art and events space, welcoming new audiences. The space was officially renamed in a community-led collective learning process by a diverse group of emerging professionals in Rotterdam. The 2019 Melly renaming report is available here.
“The new name is politically aware, community engaged and educationally committed.”
Rolando Vázquez Melken, founder of the initiative CRIDE - Critical Decoloniality and Associate Professor and Diversity Fellow at University College Roosevelt
The name ‘Melly’ originally refers to an artwork Melly Shum Hates Her Job (1990) by Canadian artist Ken Lum, that is permanently installed on the building’s facade. This artwork has developed the status of a local icon, and was reinstalled by public demand. More recently ‘Melly’ has come to signify not only the image of a female, working-class ‘anti-hero’, but also a new relationship between the institution, the street, the city and the communities that it is part of.
"Melly came to Rotterdam as a visitor. Instead, the people of Rotterdam asked her to stay as a symbol for all those who have no choice but to work."
—Ken Lum, artist
The Name Change Initiative commenced in 2018, and has additionally involved reports, staff hires, board recruitments; the establishment of new forms of public engagement, as well as team trainings and policy development. The Renaming Process will continue through 2021, advancing the institution’s ongoing transformation through its new program and policy.
"Our new name, Kunstinstituut Melly, has been created with the input of many, both inside and outside our institution. I would like to thank everyone for their important contribution to this process," says Annet Lekkerkerker, chair of the institution’s Supervisory Board, "The new name embodies a process of collective learning that has become central to the mission of Kunstinstituut Melly: to present significant national and international contemporary art and theory in Rotterdam. I am proud of the team and the director Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy, and thank them for their relentless efforts. I look forward to the future of our institute."
“When I heard the name Melly, I thought ‘oh, this is the one’. Considering the change from the old name, which was a colonial man wielding power to a woman with a working-class job. A name is a pledge, or a promise. By making this change in names, the institution also makes a promise to the people who can identify with the name ‘Melly’, that this will be a space for them.”
— Jarmal Martis, photographer, Rotterdam
The Director and the Supervisory Board selected the name of the institution based upon a shortlist of names produced through an extensive Renaming Process; KAT, kin and Haven, as well as the name Melly which was recommended by an external Advisory Committee. The Director and Supervisory Board Renaming Statement is available here.
The name shortlist was developed through a Public Input phase involving over 280 participants in Rotterdam, the Netherlands and Internationally. This included an Online Survey and five Forums leading to the shortlist and criteria for a new name, as well as guidelines in addressing public expectations. The Public Input report is available here.
On 23 September 2020, an external Advisory Committee made up of 13 respected figures in the field of culture and emerging leaders in the arts endorsed KAT as the preferred name among the name short-list, and also proposed Melly as an additional and better name. The Advisory Committee report is available here.
The Renaming Process culminated in a Public Review, held on 26 September 2020, attended by over 70 visitors across three sessions, moderated by Cye Wong-Loi-Sing from Rotterdam agency Brand New Guys. The Public Review report is available here.
The Name Change Initiative aims to garner institutional transformation while also contributing to best practice in the Netherlands and Internationally. In designing the Renaming Process, the institution was inspired by two institutional case-studies; Yale University's Hopper College, renamed from Calhoun College in 2017; and the music hall Bristol Beacon, renamed from Colston Hall in 2020. Both institutions undertook a name-change involving a research-based and years-long process.
“What was important for me was that the new name would not only be one that holds the institution accountable but also shows that it wants to interact with the neighbourhood it is in. Choosing Melly, that has a long history locally, promises that the institution wants to be connected and have a dialogue with the city.”
— Yahaira Brito Morfe, Arts Producer, Work Learn Program participant 2019-2020, and Advisory Committee Member
Collective Learning and New Graphic Identity
The Name Change Initiative has been led with a new institutional philosophy of collective learning. The institution is happy to announce that this approach will drive the development of the new graphic identity in a cross-institutional partnership with renowned Dutch graphic design school Werkplaats in Arnhem, directed by Armand Mevis, and design consultancy Wkshps in New York and Berlin led by Prem Krishnamurthy, along with our institution’s team. The graphic designers are: Callum Dean (1996, GB); Wooesok Jang (1982, KR); Nina Schouten (1992, NL); Alexander Tanazefti (1994, GB/AU); Emily Turner (1990, US), and; Yan Zhihan (1995, CN).
“I feel it’s a brave move for the institution to open up its own process of transformation, the uncomfortable but necessary path of learning. The new name is thrilling to hear — a moniker that reflects a core part of the institution’s identity, program, and meaning within its local communities since the start. ‘Kunstinstituut Melly’, here we come!”
— Prem Krishnamurthy, Wkshps, New York and Berlin
Name Change Working Group
The Name Change Initiative is collectively led by a working group of staff members which is intergenerational, diverse and brings multiple skills, different knowledge, and various perspectives of the institution's structure and art field. The working group rotates with incoming and outgoing members, as well as external guests such as Cye Wong-Loi Sing of Brand New Guys and incoming Collective Learning Fellow Aqueene Wilson. The group is chaired by Research and Programs Manager Vivian Ziherl, and currently comprises Associate Curator Rosa de Graaf, Curator of Collective Learning Jessy Koeiman, Senior Technical Supervisor line kramer, and PR and Social Media Manager Jeroen Lavèn, as well as Director Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy.
"I really appreciate the willingness of this art institution to decolonize itself and to seize the opportunity to carry this out in close cooperation with the community. The new name reflects all this, and I am certain that it will be instantly adopted. I hope that this effort will be an inspiration for other institutions as well: to rethink their identity, inside and outside.“
— Sasha Huber, artist and Advisory Committee member