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This week the interview is not with a photographer and not from Australia. This week we have a talk with Eva de Klerk, from Amsterdam. As she introduced herself “Eva de Klerk is an initiator, pioneer, cultural explorer, project booster, matchmaker, community builder, fundraiser, process manager and bottom-up city developer. She is driven by a relentless passion, commitment and devotion for the community and the utilization of urban areas“.

I came to know Eva during my long term photographic project Industrial Reverse Engineering, a reportage that took me to visit empty huge industrial sites in the North of Italy, The Netherlands, China and Australia. In some cases these places were offered and re-used by artists, meanwhile others sites were falling apart and used by homeless, squatters, illegal immigrants and even kids.

Eva was a key figure of the redevelopment of NDSM in Amsterdam, a formal shipping area recycled by the art community. Huge shipping sheds here are used as art studios and many communal areas are available to exchange ideas, projects, plans and dreams.  This is an art heaven, an art village that should be taken as an example by many countries. Unfortunately art and money are not strictly correlated and having an affordable arty area to grow is essential, not only for the artist but also for the social system. NDSM is today a catalyst for the whole city!

Q. The NDSM cultural project has been now running for over a decade. What was the most challenging side and what was the most rewarding outcome?

Very rewarding is all the compliments and being published all over the world, even on the cover of the Yearbook of architecture in the Netherlands.. But most rewarding is that we managed to design, build and finance this project mostly by ourselves, with our own money. It proves you can build a city or 30 million euro project by ordinary people with a low income. When I started it was a big experiment with no end image and I am amazed what we achieved.

Q. I see NDSM as a platform for artists to share and grow. How many artists are now sharing the space? How is the cooperation between these artists (common installations, meetings, work review etc)?

Many artists work together or have built studio’s together. I think the essence of sharing space and co-financing space is the key of success here. But there is no common/communal space, except outdoor and public space of course. We believe that every built space needs an owner otherwise it will fall apart. So it is not a centre, its a functional working building with low rent which enables people to invest money in the built environment. The vision or mission (i always mix m up) is a firm sustainable framework for flexible use and a self built city, not so much an artistic statement. Of course we share and grow, that is the reason we choose the NDSM.

Q. It must have been very difficult to create the NDSM art centre from an empty shed in need of care. How hard is to maintain the space and how the work is funded?

No its is not hard its fun! Its also impossible but not undo-able. The first three years I worked without getting paid, I saw it as an investment in myself. After entering the competition and the feasibility plan I managed to raise 10 mln euro from several funds (so I could get paid for a couple of years to develop and manage the building projects, of course I hired specialists and architects to prepare all permissions and installations), and estimated our private investment to be 20 mln of which 5 mln is a loan (with the rent we all pay we can finance the costs for the loan) and 15 mln is raised/financed by 500 artists/small scale businesses themselves (material and calculated free labor for building 30.000 m2 floor space on several decks)

Q. Tell us more about the sustainable infrastructure behind NDSM for both water and electricity. Being green is so important nowadays

Never really thought about it when I started in 1999, for me it was so normal to put in sustainable energy system when I started to renovate, we have a heat pump.

Q. NDSM is now almost a catalyst for Amsterdam. MTV just moved in one of the sheds. How do you see this transformation? Do you see any risk?

I love it, mix to the max but do not kick us out

Q. I love your work because it is more about using the present space, and improving for a better life, then abusing the space as builders few times do with big buildings. Your project at Heesterveld is so fascinating. Tell us a bit more about it

Did you read my website, most is translated into English!

Q. A Government run project tends to improve an area (not always), make it public (mostly for political reasons) but leave it after that, without helping the young generation that is growing in that area. In Heesterveld you were again a key player in setting up a creative community. What was the response by the locals? How difficult, or easy, was to work in Heesterveld, an area afflicted by many problems (drug, unemployment and crime)?

A bad reputation is not always true. Mostly it lie’s in the eyes of the beholder. Its not me who did it 🙂 After some research in the neighborhood, I started with locals who had a great idea for Heesterveld and just coached them. Great fun!

Q. How did it feel to be the Amsterdam’s person of the year (2011)?

Hmm a bit awkward because it is not about me but about the power to the people. Of course I was honored; after I encountered many problems with government and institutions it felt great to be nominated by the people 🙂

It was great to talk with Eva, such an energetic person. Subscribe to the monthly email to avoid missing any inspiring interview, upcoming article, great photos and much more. Alternatively follow us on Facebook.


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