What does talent development mean for designers themselves? Architects Afaina de Jong and Arna Mačkić both followed a ‘talent development trajectory’ in their own way, they have their own bureaus, are involved in education, and are or were members of the Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industries’s (Creative Industries Fund NL) committee for talent development.
What is Success?
According to Afaina de Jong (1977) there are two kinds of ‘talent’. Some people are immediately focused, they know from a young age what they want to achieve and take specific steps to get there. Others take longer and must search for a direction, sometimes making detours along the way. She herself belongs to the latter category, which is why she is pleased that architects are considered young talents until they are 40. ‘I graduated from the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in 2002 and have the feeling that only now am I reaching my prime.’ She believes that it is important to find out for yourself what success means to you as a designer. The general goal of TU Delft’s architecture department is still the ideal of a large bureau with several employees and many assignments, preferably international, and working very hard. ‘I’ve worked for a large, internationally renowned bureau like that, but realised that this approach is not for me so I started my studio AFARAI in 2005. For me, success is quantified by the type of projects I’m able to participate in and the people I can work with. Over the past fifteen years, I’ve built up a successful practice that I’m very proud of, with a wide range of projects: from public pavilions, exhibition designs and autonomous spatial works to design and theoretical research, recycling and social commissions, and of course teaching.’
Finding Your Own Way
Arna Mačkić (1988) belongs to the first category of talent. She already took deliberate steps towards realising her own architectural practice at an early age. Her focus and commitment soon attracted attention in the field. In 2013 she received a talent development grant from the Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, her critically acclaimed book Mortal Cities Forgotten Monuments was published in 2016, and in 2017 she was awarded the Jonge Maaskantprijs for young talent.
‘The Stimuleringsfonds’ scholarship was an opportunity to focus entirely on my profession, to investigate what I have to say myself, regardless of work or study. I discovered that I mainly want to concentrate on social projects.’ Mačkić started and own bureau with Lorien Beijaert, with whom she studied at the Academy of Architecture. However, assignments in which she could express her social commitment were hard to come by. Just when she was doubting whether she would achieve her ideal, she received a call from Ahmed Aboutaleb, the mayor of Rotterdam and chairman of the Maaskant Prize. ‘Winning the Jonge Maaskant Prize gave my self-confidence a big boost. That may sound dramatic, because I was already hailed in the media as a talent, but not yet considered as such by potential clients. The prize changed that and my bureau Studio LA received commissions from various municipalities, the Government Architect and the art world. ‘We try to work as broadly as possible, to learn as much as we can and to explore what suits us and the scale of projects we can handle. In that respect, we are still a young company exploring our options.’
However, she doesn't feel pressurised by all the high expectations: ‘I have a lot of work experience and I know that you can’t always be as good as your last project.’ Mačkić began studying architecture at the Rietveld Academy and in her second year she joined Ronald and Erik Rietveld’s RAAAF bureau, where she stayed for over seven years. Working at RAAAF was at least as important a learning experience as the academy, she emphasises. ‘Because of my background as a refugee, I was focused from an early age on creating a secure future for myself. An art and design course is not the safest choice, so I knew it would be difficult for me to follow a conventional path. I was pretty ignorant about the cultural world and the prevailing codes of conduct. I soon realised that with only an art school education, the chances of finding a job were limited. That's why I actively looked for as many opportunities as possible to learn; by working at RAAAF I could quickly get to know the professional field and build up a network.’
A Diverse Teaching Body
According to Mačkić, the guiding principle in her work is to involve as many different people as possible in her projects. ‘I want to create polyphony, to try to represent society in the design process. This is far from self-evident.’ She also strives for inclusiveness at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, where she graduated in 2010, and since 2016 has been the head of the Architectural Design department. ‘I’ve assembled a team of lecturers from different cultural backgrounds, ages and disciplines, in an effort to create a gender balance. Her intention with this diverse team of teachers is to avoid giving students a one-sided view of the profession. She isn’t surprised that these changes met with resistance. ‘There are very few places in art and culture education in the Netherlands that are as diverse as our department, so the fact that some people have to get used to it isn’t so strange. In the end, as a team, they hired a coach. ’We have now agreed with the teachers of the architecture department to state explicitly who we are and what we stand for.’ This is something that is unnecessary with a more uniform team, because it is usually a continuation of what people were already used to. Mačkić and her team challenged the ingrained, so-called neutral position of the prevailing culture.
The Value of Different Experiences
De Jong recognises the similarities between her and Mačkić’s stories. ‘I taught at the Sandberg Institute and suddenly it turned out that I was not scheduled for the next academic year. When I asked what the reason was, I was told that, ‘the students say they can't connect to you’. A rather euphemistic message I could only interpret as ‘you don't fit in here’. I approached the students from my experience as a woman of colour, with a culturally and socially engaged practice. But the students apparently had different expectations and wanted someone who thought along the same lines as they did.’ She thinks it's a shame that the studio management didn't want to discuss this and that nothing changed. She therefore applauds the fact that Mačkić, as head of a course, has initiated a process of change.'
'More diversity among teachers will lead to more diversity among the students, because for them the threshold will be lower. A diversity that creates a wealth of different experiences, interests, stories and new (visual) languages. Who could oppose this now?’ she wonders. Incidentally, in the five years that she taught at TU Delft, she wasn’t confronted by this type of resistance from students, but she doesn’t know exactly what caused this discrepancy.
As a member of the Stimuleringsfonds’ talent development committee, when assessing the portfolios De Jong mainly looked for the story the designer wanted to tell. ‘You’re looking for a kind of sparkle, a certain intensity. The current views on who or what a talent is may be very one-sided. I really hope that there will be more room for future generations to address themes and tell stories that are as yet undervalued.’
Mačkić is working on a wide range of assignments with Studio LA, from public meeting places to a citywide bicycle network and a study of the architecture of asylum seekers’ centres. ‘For me, architecture has become a language in which I can express myself socially. I’ve visited many organisations in recent years and seen how difficult it is for people with different cultural backgrounds to develop and establish themselves somewhere. Having the right CVs and networks, or publishing articles, has become extremely important. Architecture offers an opportunity to winning people over with images, and in that sense is a fairly open discipline. I also noticed this in the Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie’s committee. We represent different voices within the Talent Development Committee, one is more socially engaged, the other focuses more on aesthetics or technology. We discuss this with each other, there isn’t only one approach that is appreciated, although now it’s apparent that if designers are socially engaged and have artistic qualities, they stand a better chance at succeeding.’
At the moment, De Jong, who not only taught at Sandberg and TU Delft, but also at ArtEZ and the Willem de Kooning Academy, isn’t teaching design. Other activities require her attention, such as the lectures about her work that she recently gave at KTH in Stockholm, Columbia University in NY and the Rhode Island School of Design, but she certainly hopes to take up teaching again in the future. ‘It’s great fun to work with young people. They reflect you as a teacher, but also hold up a mirror to you as a teacher.
She is currently working with her bureau on the most beautiful assignment she could possibly imagine. De Jong is designing a pavilion, an architectural form that allows the architect a great deal of artistic freedom, for the Grafikenshus, a museum for graphic design in Stockholm. ‘Everything I’m interested in comes together here,’ she enthuses. ‘The relationship between identity, spatial representation and public space, which is under pressure, is an issue that also forms the theoretical basis of my studio. And then there’s the practical aspect: designing a public building in public space where people from many different backgrounds can come together. We organise graphic workshops to develop new models and ideas for what a public pavilion could look like at a time when cities are more and more culturally diverse.’
Interview: Lotte Haagsma
Een keten van regelingen voor talentontwikkeling
Als het om talentontwikkeling gaat speelt het Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie een belangrijke rol in het ontwerpveld. Na hun studie kunnen ontwerpers en makers er een beurs aanvragen waarmee zij de ruimte krijgen om hun eigen signatuur en professionele praktijk verder te ontwikkelen, onafhankelijk van onderwijs of opdrachtgevers. Vervolgens beschikt het fonds over een uitgebreid pallet aan subsidieregelingen waar zij in de loop van hun carrière gebruik van kunnen maken.
Een nieuwe definitie van talent
Het Nieuwe Instituut wil de notie van talent onderzoeken om te zien welke waarden in een dergelijk begrip verstopt zitten, hoe het functioneert en voor welke agenda’s het wordt ingezet. Naast deze vorm van reflectie, ontwikkelt het instituut ook nieuwe manieren en opdrachten om ontwerpers te betrekken bij het programma. Vanuit welke waarden en opvattingen doet het instituut dit?
Passie, liefde en empathie
De master Fashion Design van ArtEZ in Arnhem is onder leiding van Pascale Gatzen radicaal vernieuwd. Sinds 2017 werkt Gatzen aan een curriculum dat de studenten zoveel mogelijk ruimte en ondersteuning biedt om hun eigen leerproces vorm te geven. Wat zijn haar opvattingen over talentontwikkeling, welke rol spelen het onderwijs en zijzelf als docent daarin?
In het essay Groeibriljanten en nieuwe olie dat Rosa te Velde voor het Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie schreef, beschrijft zij hoe de aandacht voor ‘talent’ en ‘talentontwikkeling’ binnen cultuurbeleid in nauw verband moet worden gebracht met de opkomst van het neoliberalisme en de kenniseconomie in de afgelopen dertig jaar.