Advisory Committee Report
23 September 2020
On Wednesday, 23 September 2020, an external Advisory Committee for the Name Change Initiative gathered here [at the institution formerly known as Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art] to discuss three name options for the institution.
The composition of this external Advisory Committee was set up by the institution. Its composition gathered emerging and longstanding leaders in the field of arts and culture in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and internationally.
The Advisory Committee members present in the meeting room on 23 September were: Jannelieke Aalstein, Leal Arazzi van Herwaarden, Clara Balaguer, Yahaira Brito Morfe, Willem de Rooij, Sasha Huber, Stijn Kemper, Iris Kensmil, and Willem Philipsen.
The Advisory Committee members participating digitally, via Zoom, were: Liesbeth Bik, Tumelo Mosaka, and Kees Weeda.
The Advisory Committee member absent from this meeting was Louise Mitchell; who provided a written assessment of the shortlist of names prior to the meeting. (Mitchell is CEO of the newly re-named Bristol Beacon in the UK. Her absence was due to the public announcement of the new name that day, of the institution formerly named Colston Hall.)
The Advisory Committee meeting was moderated by Quincy Mahangi; it was introduced by the institution’s director, Sofìa Hernández Chong Cuy; the minute meetings were taken by the institution’s Research and Programs Manager, Vivian Ziherl. Aside from them, the other members of the Name Change Initiative task force were also present in the meeting. This included: Rosa de Graaf, Jessy Koeiman, line kramer, Jeroen Lavèn, and Veronika Babayan.
The shortlist of names provided by the institution to the Advisory Committee for assessment were the following:
- KAT, with variations to spell the name with the letter C, the letter K, or with both letters at once
- kin, with spelling variations to spell the name in sentence case, uppercase, and lowercase
- Haven, as a name that could be spelled with capital H, in sentence case, or all in lowercase
Prior to the meeting of 23 September, each Advisory Committee member provided a written assessment of pros and cons for each of these names. At the meeting itself, the pros and cons of each name were debated.
Of the three proposed names, KAT is by majority (11 of the 12 members present) the endorsed name of the Advisory Committee. However, there was also a strong sentiment in the room to consider Melly as the name of the institution. This name came up as part of a "What's missing?" discussion-round introduced at the end of the first half of the meeting. Other names were discussed at this point, too, but Melly resonated the most. When finally given the choice between KAT and Melly, a majority (8 of the 12 members present) said Melly would be the better name for the institution.
Here follows the summary of advice given by the Advisory Committee regarding the three short-listed names.
This is the advice provided on the name option KAT:
As an acronym, C-A-T or K-A-T, this name clearly conveys the focus of the institute through the pairing of "Contemporary Art and Theory" in English, and; when spelled with a K, standing for "Kunst. Activiteiten. Theorie" in Dutch. Spelling the name with a K, and thus reading Kat in Dutch, avoids the automatism and prevalence of the English language. Variations of spelling were also discussed, for example, "c-k-a-t" or "k-c-a-t". These were explored towards arriving at a more unique spelling, distinct from the animal connotation per se, bridging both Dutch and English, while phonetically having the same effect.
This name option corrects the past by citing the focus of the institution, which is contemporary art and theory. While a bolder name could be exciting, it was voiced that many audiences find contemporary art, in itself, already very difficult to access. In this regard, it was suggested that an easy name could be more fitting if the goal is accessibility. The question posed was, "Why create a greater barrier through complicated terms – complicated terms of engagement and complex terms can be avoided." It is a time to be simple, quick, and open.
The cat as a feline was spoken about in various ways, for example, as a potentially capitalist sign, as in ‘the fat-cat’ or a lazy creature; the cat as a feline was also discussed as a creature that is agile, a good listener, and able to see and hear what others may not. It was also mentioned that while a ‘cat’ might at first resonate as an animal, that once it enters the realm of contemporary art many of these a priori meanings will be modified, imbued with new meaning conveyed by the institutional work.
Of the three proposed names, the majority (11 of the 12 members present) of the Advisory Committee members found that the name KAT (in any of its spelling variations) would be most advisable as a name for the institution.
This is the advice provided on the name option kin
This name suggests an aspiration to be relational, and to those familiar with a notion of radical kinship, it could be inspiring. However, this name does not connect with broader audiences who may not be familiar with this theoretical significance of the term ‘kin’, as it is used by a theorist such as Donna Haraway, or even with its definition generally. In Dutch, the term ‘kin’ means chin, and thereby the name could be awkward or off-putting to Dutch speaking audiences, which also holds within the Germanic languages (‘Kinn’).
This name was not recommended by the majority of the Advisory Committee.
This is the advice provided on the name option Haven
This name makes a bold claim. However, it sets up potentially an unrealizable challenge. The institution shouldn’t over-promise. For example, for whom would it be a port for, or a safe haven? Central to the discussion was the question of whether an art space should truly be ‘safe’, or if it should instead welcome a space for what is ‘bold’, ‘brave’, or ‘itchy’, or a space that you visited precisely because it challenges you. Also, there is a gap between the signification of the word haven, as to meaning a ‘harbor’ in Dutch and more commonly a 'space of safety' in English. The double-meaning and difference in phonetic tone when pronounced was not agreeable. It was also seen as a name too connected to city branding and does not recognize that the city branding itself has transformed in the past years to connote an urban experience beyond a port city.
This name was not recommended by the majority of the Advisory Committee.
This is the advice provided on the name proposal of Melly
This name was invited as part of "What's missing?" discussion-round. Some members of the committee became inspired by learning about the process of establishing that name and for the institution having turned the ground-floor space into a more open and dynamic space open to public engagement in Rotterdam. Some members expressed that the name Melly locally invokes a process carried out by a diverse group of emerging arts professionals in Rotterdam; that it has come to signify a new generation and ownership of the institution from many different perspectives. They expressed that, whereas the old name referred to a colonist who had been memorialized as a national ‘hero’, the name Melly refers to an ‘anti-hero’, Melly Shum, as portrayed in Ken Lum’s art-work Melly Shum Hates Her Job (1990) mounted on the side of our institution’s exterior (Boomgaard Straat).
There was also a concern voiced as to how the character of the current Melly space would continue if the institute adopted this name entirely; and, whether the significance of this process could be conveyed effectively beyond the city. Another person raised the point about proposing a person's name for the institution was desirable. A member raised the question of whether it was best for the institution to have a simple name that could be energized through the institutional program and public engagement, precisely as Melly had done. It was also noted by one member that while the name Melly has some local currency as demonstrated by the response of the other committee members, it remains somewhat disconnected from the mission of the institution per se.
The majority of the Advisory Committee members said that, at this point, if they were given the choice between one of the three proposed names and a ‘new’ name, that Melly would be the better name for the institution.