“THAT THE PEOPLE FEEL IT’S FOR THEM. THAT THIS PART OF THEIR WORLD”
One of the main goals of the What You See Festival, an international and multidisciplinary festival on gender and identity, is to inflict connection, to come together and, in a way, to unite. What You See Festival holds the desire and wish to connect with citizens within (and beyond) their local community. At certain levels, this is already accomplished, but the will to explore and find new ways to connect is present. One possible way to do this is through the New Patrons strategy. In collaboration with ORLANDO, an international queer festival from Bergamo that features cinema, dance and theatre, What You See has started an exploration, researching the aforementioned New Patrons strategy. A small group of people from different organizations (Schweigman&, SPRING Utrecht, Theaterfestival Boulevard and Stadsschouwburg Utrecht, to name a few) have gathered in an online meeting, initiated by What You See, to learn and talk about this strategy. The online meeting is led by Alexander Koch, co-initiator and current chairman of the New Patrons program in Germany.
The New Patrons strategy is based upon a protocol written in 1990 by the Belgian artist and photographer François Hers. In brief, the idea of New Patrons is to assist, encourage and sustain people to make a positive change within their context. Citizens (who are called commissioners after initiating a project) come to a New Patrons organisation with an urgent question or topic concerning their city, town or village. Subsequently, with support from mediators, they define what they want from art and initiate a project that articulates what matters for them. After this, the mediator links the commissioners to an artist of any kind (architect, sculptor, director, choreographer, painter, landscape artist, etc.) who will design an idea for an artwork that contributes to a solution for their topic. The core of this idea, already being a huge success in for example France and Germany, is to make people feel that what is happening, what is being created, is because of and for them. That it is part of their world,” states Alexander. An example of a New Patrons project took place in Tours, a city in the North of France, where shop owners and local residents started a petition to recover the old market square which was replaced by a parking lot in the seventies. After being ignored by the city council they addressed the mediator who linked them to Xavier Veilhan, a French artist whose work includes sculpture, film, installation art and photography. Veilhan came up with the idea of building a monster referring to the medieval demons of the cathedral of the city center. The commissioners loved the idea, but making the proposal public started the largest public debate in town since the end of World War II. After negotiating for three years with many different parties the artwork finally became realised. Meanwhile the artwork has become the symbol for the town and has stimulated many activities taking place at the square.
The first time Alexander heard about the New Patrons, he considered it a “cultural revolution”. Ideally, the people will come to you with an idea or a question: just like this example in France. ” The citizens are the beginning of everything”, Alexander states. It is exactly this sentence that raises the most questions by the participants of the workshop. How do you accomplish that? How do citizens know they can become commissioners? How do you share (or actually transfer) ownership? How do you deal with the complexity of having the wish for democratization and the sharing of ownership, but simultaneously having a strong philosophy ingrained in your organisation (like What You See Festival)? When is the project considered a success? Questions seem to be divided into three parts: the start of a project, the process and the outcome.