Design Academy should stay in Eindhoven!


On Friday, April 26th, Kiki and Joost established a WhatsApp group. They wasted no time and immediately addressed the issue, stating that they had heard that the decision to relocate the Design Academy (DAE) to Roermond had already been more or less made by the management and only needed to be ratified by the supervisory board. They expressed deep concerns about the consequences of this decision for the academy itself, its employees, the students, the city, and the creative/design community.

Kiki called both directors and arranged a meeting with the mayor of Eindhoven. Joseph Grima, the director, is an architect from Italy who occasionally commutes to Eindhoven to run the institution. Kiki had a productive conversation with him, during which he explained that they faced a colossal problem because they had to vacate their current building in the Witte Dame in two years, and unlike Roermond, the municipality of Eindhoven was not cooperating in finding a new location for the academy. Roermond had made them an offer, and they couldn’t afford to be left without a building. He expressed his preference for the academy to remain in Eindhoven but provided arguments in line with a decision to move to Roermond. It was reassuring to hear that he preferred to stay in Eindhoven, and his approach seemed like a negotiation tactic. This impression was confirmed when he encouraged Kiki to stir up some commotion, indicating that previously, due to pressure from above, he couldn’t involve the community. Earlier, Kiki had a conversation with Raf de Keninck, the director of education. He’s Belgian and lives nearby. Raf indicated that he was definitely in favor of staying in Eindhoven but urged not to create any commotion and to let him work on a solution behind the scenes. Both directors, according to them, fortunately shared the same goal: to keep the academy in Eindhoven.

After some deliberation, we concluded that it was wise to draw as much attention to this issue as possible. Several cultural institutions have already left Eindhoven, leaving us to question their value in a rapidly growing city with an increasing need for culture, entertainment, and variety. Retaining an institution is always cheaper than trying to attract a similar one back to the city later. And the academy is the most important institution for the city culturally. It makes Eindhoven the design capital of the Netherlands and perhaps even the world. The Dutch Design Week is inseparably linked to the students’ graduation presentations and has grown into a uniquely international event. It’s the only design week based on creativity rather than commerce. Hundreds of thousands of visitors attend each year. In the wake of it, a completely unique internationally operating design community has emerged in Eindhoven. A decision made under time pressure by two foreign directors, upon which so much depends for the academy, the city, and the design community, doesn’t feel natural. We also wonder why the lease was terminated without alternative housing (and can hardly imagine that it happened that way), not to mention the impossible task of finding, renovating, and moving to a building of approximately ten thousand square meters within two years. Fortunately, such a decision cannot be made without the approval of the supervisory board. As far as we’re concerned, they are also responsible or liable for such a decision; in fact, these are the kinds of decisions they are there for!

Afterwards, Kiki, Joost, Anne Ligtenberg, Annemoon Geurts, and Lucas Maassen, along with a few designers from the Eindhoven community, had a meeting with the mayor. Before he arrived, we discussed how the decision-making process had unfolded so far. It feels like a bit of a ‘two-men show,’ where the staff, students, community, city, and other stakeholders haven’t been involved. For those working at the academy, the situation is perhaps the most dire. It involves a large number of employees who are not included in the process and will still be connected to the academy when the directors making the decision now have long since departed.

In the first part of the meeting with the mayor, we were essentially convincing each other of the same thing: DAE is important for Eindhoven, and Eindhoven is important for DAE. The conclusion was that he could really use our help in emphasizing the importance of the academy and its preservation for the city. He mentioned having had good conversations with Joseph Grima. The mayor indicated that he offered his assistance as a lever with wealthy (real estate) organizations and in finding funding, but the board didn’t take advantage of it. As expected, the stories, especially the roles attributed to each other, didn’t align, but it was clear that Roermond was a realistic option. In fact, we heard that the directors had already decided to go to Roermond and had presented it to the council. Fortunately, they (the council) indicated they needed more time.

It goes without saying that we will help the mayor reinforce his position, but conversely, we feel that he should assertively and without reservation state that the city will meet the academy’s demands. The academy is asking for what is normal for such an institution, so the commitment isn’t a blank check, as the mayor says, but a commitment stemming from the desire to preserve the institution for the city. Financing can largely come through a standard provision for educational institutions from the government, and the mayor indicates that the unprofitable gap, which every creative education faces, can in principle be covered. The numbers are known and within normal parameters. Additionally, the academy still wants to accommodate students. This can be seen as a problem, but also as an opportunity. TU/e has just been allocated the old Philips headquarters exclusively for its students, which has caused quite a stir. This is a great opportunity to also accommodate the academy and level the playing field. And if necessary, students from other schools can also be housed. Accommodation represents a revenue model and may also be used to finance part of the unprofitable gap. A design academy campus is not a crazy idea at all. After the meeting, I thought about ASML setting up a housing financing program. Maybe this could be used to fund student housing?

The mayor mentioned that he was the first to look into the lease agreement and they managed to extend the academy’s lease and negotiate a reasonable price with the municipality. The Roermond building isn’t going anywhere, so there’s no immediate need for a hasty decision. Because Joseph Grima’s term is ending soon, it might be an idea to pause and look for an additional director who starts early, creating a brief period of dual function and ensuring the necessary hours are available to carefully manage the process of finding new housing and smoothly transition the leadership.

We still need to have a conversation with the supervisory board and the relevant city councilors. If necessary, we can use the opportunity to organize a city tour to demonstrate and explain the stakes. If everyone agrees that the academy must stay, we can immediately look for a housing solution. It’s clear that to get a building for the academy that we can all be proud of, more than just words are needed.

This post is also available in: NL

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