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This Time She Means It

Li Edelkoort has announced her departure from Designhuis and Eindhoven's design scene.  She cites anger and disappointment with the government, which she calls ignorant and to blame for being clueless about creativity and how best to nurture design culture.

By Editor / 21-01-2010

What follows is a translated and edited version of the open letter Lidewij Edelkoort addressed to friends, volunteers, journalists and staff of the Designhuis.  It was sent out on Tuesday January 12th 2010.   Next week will follow up with an editorial feature on the issue with reactions from designers, the government, educators and other affected parties. 

As of January 1, 2010 I stepped down as art director of Designhuis. However, I will remain owner of the concept, name and brand Designhuis.

The reason for this early departure (as we were supposed to have three years to figure out whether Eindhoven needed an initiative like this) can be found in the present political situation in Eindhoven and its policies regarding design.

Recent developments are proving to be a dangerous step in the wrong direction for the city, the Design Academy and the autonomous designers in the area. It was a tremendous battle to have policymakers accept design in this city that had always prided itself for its technological edge.  For ten years I made it my personal cultural battle to fight for acknowledgement of this discipline and for more opportunities. This took up a lot of time during my term as chairwoman of the Design Academy and as a result Eindhoven is now known as a city of the avant-garde.

Rebranding the Design Academy, organizing the school’s Graduation Galleries (which now attract 20.000 visitors), the incubators, the lab, the shows in Milan, Tokyo and New York, exchanges with cities like St. Etienne and Cape Town are just few of the initiatives taken, and which were often realized by me.

It even earned me honorary citizenship of the city.

Today Eindhoven has three claims to fame: sport (the PSV football club), technology (TU), and design (Design Academy Eindhoven).

Right now I feel all this energy I spent is being negated.

Design takes a prominent place in society these days. All cities in the Netherlands are in love with the creative industries and the field has become politicized because it is felt that in the future it will become increasingly prosperous.   As a result, a takeover by marketing and management forces that are ignorant of the subject looms dark overhead. They are trying to control the creative process using the language of marketing with no realization that the creative process is by its very nature elusive. Because of their ignorance, what they are doing is actually undermining the strength of the world of design. The creative elites are being turned into the beasts of burden by city branding. 

Through a forced marriage with local, technological small and medium-sized enterprises, the design industry is being incorporated into, and becoming the victim of, these enterprises. This is all the result of a lack of respect, stemming from ignorance. These compulsive measures have caused the international media to talk about a growing discrepancy between the oft-celebrated Dutch Design and Dutch Design Week.  It’s been made very clear that DDW is being more connected to technology and business (Interni). Even worse is the speculation at home and abroad (International Herald Tribune) about the downfall of Dutch Design.

The recent takeover by the firm Brainport of the principle and name “Dutch Design” is the most telling and frightening example. How can a local company focused on stimulating technology annex the entire national design effort by adopting the name Dutch Design Brainport? It’s a disgrace.

The policies and decisions made so far suggest that this merger will be forced and that a small but very successful piece of local, autonomous design will disappear from view in Eindhoven and thus from the international aura of the city. It should be known that the last three pitches by Brainport were unsuccessful, which should leave us wondering whether the city should put its faith in Brainport.

I don’t think so.

The forced seizure of Designhuis into this vision is the direct reason for my departure. Creating the Salle Polyvalente, a kind of social club where every institute in turn can do “its thing” without any artistic direction or supervision will mean the number of visitors will drop and in the end the initiative will disappear altogether.

It is with a lot of regret that I am choosing to withdraw.

With this departure I feel a great solidarity with the staff, the volunteers and Yksi who must all have been personally damaged by this chaotic close/open/close/open policy of the city. I didn’t know that such an inhumane human resource policy would be allowed. 

Thank you. 

What will happen next with the old courthouse is unclear. As is the case with my next moves in Holland or outside.

For the time being I will leave my home country for the second time.

This is a sad moment.

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