Nomads-in-Residence, or affectionatelly called ‘the Nomads’, is a residency in Leidsche Rijn , a suburb in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The Nomads is an ingeniously build sort of tiny house; from the outside it’s a black box with a big 19, on the inside it has everything you need. By sliding and opening the walls you can make it as open and spacious as you want, or do none of that and keep yourself closed in. The Nomads can be rented out for all sorts of cultural purposes; artists, theatre makers, writers and so forth can stay here to work on a project in Leidsche Rijn. The Nomads is portable, every now and then it packs up and moves to another place, but it’s not as easy as all that. Life of a nomadic residency in the Netherlands requires a lot of planning and organisation.
At it’s present location, the Nomads is being run by Cultuur19, an organisation setting up cultural events in the neighbourhood and my curiosity about this project led to an invitation by Leonie and Ineke to stay the night in the Nomads. It was a very interesting and cool experience, it really is a little house and, being Dutch myself, the area seemed very familiar to me but at the same time I didn’t know much about Leidsche Rijn and it was interesting to go out and explore the neighbourhood.
If you’re curious and want to stay here yourself-I think the experience of staying in such a typical Dutch suburb would be very interesting for foreign artists-check out the website. I also created a profile page for the Nomads where you can read more about the practicalities.
Can you start by telling something about yourself, the Nomads and how all of this got started?
Leonie: This building was build architectonically, as it’s called, by Bik van der Pol, so it’s not just someone who build a little house, it’s really a special building. It all got started because the city of Utrecht asked the Beyond foundation to develop visual arts in Leidsche Rijn. One of the projects they did was called Parasites Paradise where they put out multiple Parasites throughout the neighbourhood, and the Nomads was one of them. It’s been at about six or seven different locations in Leidsche Rijn, one of the first projects was ’embedded in Leidsche Rijn’ that was done about fifteen years ago, so there’s really some history here already.
Ineke: It hasn’t always been a residency, back at it’s previous location it used to be an office. When the people who used it back then moved to a monumental building this place ended up empty and the city asked us if we wanted to do something with it. That’s when we brought it here and turned it into a residency. When we first got started there were like..one, two artists a year, which is not much, but we’ve noticed it’s improving and more and more people are finding it and by now we have artists staying here way more often.
Is it part of the concept that the Nomads moves through Leidsche Rijn?
Leonie: Not necessarily, because it’s really hard to move it.
But it doesn’t move to Maastricht, or something?
Leonie: I don’t expect it to, because it’s owned by the city Utrecht.
Ineke: Although, if another city is interested and Utrecht has no more space for it, it could happen.
How did you choose this location, or was it offered to you?
Leonie: The city looked at available locations, because you’re not supposed to just put it anywhere and you need electricity, water and plumbing, so the ground needs to be ready for a building. It’s at a development site right now which will at some point be used to build houses, so the Nomads will eventually have to leave. The city looks at a site that won’t be developed for the next five years, so they’ll look at their plans and see what the possibilities are; what does it mean for the people in the neighbourhood, is it useful for it to be here, and so forth..that’s how it eventually ended up here, at the edge of the Maxima park.
How long does that proces take? I can imagine it would take a while for the whole thing to be arranged!
Leonie: I think that’s a story for Ineke to tell because she’s the one who arranged the move!
Ineke: Tell me about it! I think it took me about a year all together! You’ll have meetings with government workers, someone who’s working with special buildings, someone working with building plans, you meet with everyone and look at all the things that have to happen before you can move the Nomads. They know way more about it than I do, my job is to organise cultural events, that’s not quite the same thing as moving buildings! All together it took at least a year before it was moved to this location, and then once you’ve moved it you get a new set of challenges, you have to arrange things with the electricity, it needs a street name..that’s another thing, the city needs an address for the place. One day there will be a street here and we’re using that street name and a number so we could have an address but technically, the street really doesn’t exist yet!
It’s a funny contradiction, the concept is that it’s nomadic but everything has to be arranged just so.
Ineke: That’s very Dutch!
Exactly, Dutch nomads require a temporary street name and zip code! But it’s really cool when you achieve that balance and get it where it needs to be.
Leonie: It’s a kind of beautiful..I don’t know if it’s an artistic thought, but it’s an imaginative thought that this is a place that doesn’t exist yet, but yet it’s here.
Ineke: I thought it was pretty remarkable that ten years ago, someone decided there’s going to be a street here, the street already sort of has a name but it will be at least five more years until there might actually be a real street here with houses and people. It’s very Dutch and it makes me wonder..they’re looking so far ahead into the future!
I think that’s something you see in the Dutch art scene as well, on one hand the official circuit like the museums and such plan everything out and know what they’re going to do in five years, but on the other hand there are people setting up new projects coming from a more immediate impulse, which is something the Nomads space is very suitable for; that immediate creation process. It’s interesting to see how both of those concepts come together in the Nomads.
What kind of artists come to the nomads? I noticed on the website a lot of theatre people come here?
Leonie: I think most people come here because we ask them to, we offer them this space because what they do suits the programs we’re developing here. One of those programs we do annually is ‘Singing Sculptures’, it’s a dance-theater route through the park going by all the sculptures in the park. If you’re a theatre group working on a project that involves one of the sculptures in the park it’s really nice and convenient to have the opportunity to stay here in the Nomads, it makes it that much easier for you to get out and go into the park.
Ineke: Even just the possibility to come here as you’re working, have a cup of coffee in between rehearsals, talk about what you’ve just been working on, even just having that is very valuable, you don’t even have to stay the night here. Or for example, we have these rainy days here in the Netherlands-don’t ask me why-and it’s so nice to be able to come in here, warm up, take your time to have lunch and afterwards go back into the park to do some more work.
Leonie: With Singing Sculptures we ask people to create something very site specific and in order to do that you have to be able to stay here because how else would you get a good sense of the place and it’s possibilities? For that project we really ask people to stay here and work from here, and through that process new ideas and new work flow back into the neighbourhood.
Ineke: We had a theatre maker from Amsterdam come here, he wanted to create something site specific but he didn’t quite know what it was going to be yet. So, he just started wandering through the neighbourhood and interview people and trying to get a sense of what life is like here. From there he created a very good play and even a sequel to that play, which he created with a group of elderly people from the neighbourhood. Those are some of the really fun projects that were a direct result of someone working here.
So the art or theatre performances that are created here are really related to this place, this neighbourhood. What does the local population think of all of this?
Ineke: People are very curious, on the outside it looks like a black box and when people come in they say..it’s so spacious here, I didn’t expect that! That’s something people say all the time.
Leonie: It looks like a very closed, black thing and people really have no clue what’s happening inside. Lots of people think Cultuur 19 is working from this building, because of the 19 on the outside, which is kind of funny; this building didn’t always belong to us and even then people thought we were somehow linked to it, but now it’s actually accurate.
Ineke: Yes, people say ‘so that 19 on the outside isn’t because of you?’ No, it was already there long before we did anything with this building!
That was my thought as well!
Ineke: The idea behind the name Cultuur 19 is..Utrecht consists of different neighbourhoods and we organise cultural events in the neighbourhoods of Vleuten-de Meern and Leidsche Rijn, which are numbered nine and ten. So, we develop culture in neighbourhoods nine and ten-nineteen. That’s where our name comes from, but the reason why there’s a 19 on the outside of the Nomads..no idea. Perhaps one of it’s first locations was a number 19, who knows. It has worked out though, funnily enough now the two 19’s have come together.
Leonie: People’s responses are really varied, most of the time once they know what it is they’re very enthusiastic and have a lot of understanding for what happens here. The building itself is inspiring, it’s asking questions people are curious to get answered.
How long do artists usually stay here?
Leonie: It depends on the artist, sometimes it’s a weekend, sometimes it’s just us here for an hour, when we want to have a meeting with people outside of the office, sometimes..have we had a person stay for three months yet?
Ineke: No, but we’ve had people stay for a week, then go home for a weekend, then come back for another week..
Leonie: Exactly, they’ll come back to stay for multiple times within one period, however you want to divide your time here is up to you, it’s pretty flexible.
Ineke: Right across the park is an event space, so we’ll get people who rent the Nomads for a weekend when they’re exhibiting at one of those events, they’ll use it as an office or temporary studio space, that happens a lot.
So the function is flexible as well, just like the location?
Ineke: We prefer to have artists stay here, but if it’s unoccupied and there’s..I don’t know, a running competition in the park and people want to rent this place, that’s fine, that’s a commercial event and we can use the money we earn from that for the upkeep of the Nomads or use it to build up a bit of money to give an artist a small budget to do a project here.
Leonie: We find it very important and the most enjoyable when artists who stay here are looking for a link with the neighbourhood. Even if they just write on the blog; they’ll introduce themselves and write a bit about what they’re working on and share it with the neighbourhood that way. That’s the most minimal way of sharing but you could also say; I’m staying here for a week and I’m going to announce I’ll be doing an open studio on Sunday and everyone is welcome-you can make that as big or as small as you want. If you’re staying here for a month and you want to organise an event in the last weekend-why not? If you want to do something really big and go outsid-into the park-you’ll need permits and such, but within the building you don’t need that and even if you end up needing permits, the possibilities are there and we can work something out. That way people can see what’s happening in here, from the outside it’s a very closed thing so you need some way to show what the possibilities are and what’s going on.
I noticed on the blog you’ve had students from Interactive Performance Design from the Utrecht School of the Art work from the Nomads as well-which I liked because I’ve been a student there myself, do you get students in the Nomads more often?
Leonie: We developed a game with them and they used the Nomads as their headquarters, they’d come here every Thursday after school to work on it. Not just the IPD students, but they also had kids from the local high school in their think tank because they were developing the game for kids in this neighbourhood. We’ve also had people from the Fringe festival, they’re usually recently graduated..so yes, it’s possible for students to come as well.
Do you feel the work that is created here influences the neighbourhood in some way?
Leonie: I think that really depends on who’s making what here and how much the local population is open to what’s being created here, but let’s take something like Singing Sculptures, that gets 1200 visitors in one day walking through the park, so that definitely has some sort of influence on the neighbourhood. The presence of the Nomads means the possibility for these kind of projects is there and we really want to create that link with the neighbourhood..of course it’s never really measured, the influence on the people here, I don’t think you can really measure it..
Ineke: Some artists work on a large scale, like with Singing Sculptures, and they’ll make use of our network and communication to reach lots of people but we’ve had smaller scale projects too-like this one artists who was creating something here every Wednesday with about ten kids from the neighbourhood, so within that concept you’ve reached ten people-ten kids. It really depends on the intention of the project, but since they’re all temporary it’s hard to measure the influence.
It’s a unique location, right in the middle of a newly developed suburb, I can imagine that if you want to do something with the neighbourhood it’s quite easy to go outside and do it.
Leonie: I think both are possible, if you want to lock yourself up here for three weeks to work on your new book you can do that without anyone ever noticing, that’s quite easy to do since the building is so closed..both possibilities, to work open and to work closed are encapsulated in the building already. You can keep it closed and keep yourself closed off or you can literally open the building up and connect to the neighbourhood and it’s people.
Do you have any tips for visiting artists?
Ineke: Come over to our office and have a cup of coffee with us! If you’re going to stay here for a while and you don’t know anyone, look us up and we’ll help you out and give you tips depending on your needs.
Leonie: We really enjoy using our own network to help you, so for example, if you’re staying here and you’re like-I’d like to meet someone who’s about sixty years old and has been living here their entire life, someone who’s seen the place grow and change, we can help you out and say-go talk to this person!
Ineke: We really like hearing about what your experiences are and from there we can help you with tips that are going to be more specific than ‘bring a warm sweater’.
Leonie: Another good tip is; go outside and explore the neighbourhood! There’s a lot of prejudice about these kind of suburbs but it’s really a great place, there’s so much diversity and so much to explore. And don’t forget, it’s really not a small place; there’s almost 60.000 people living here so it’s almost a city in and of itself. It’s good to keep that in mind as you explore, it may at times seem like a village but it’s really starting to become it’s own city.
Soon, it will be time for the Nomads to move again. What are your hopes?
Leonie: I hope there will be a lot of people staying here in the coming year. I hope that a lot of people can make good use of this space, that’s the most important thing and the one thing I really hope for.
Ineke: I really hope it can be relocated to another spot in this area so it will still be ‘our’ thing, we’ve worked so hard on this project and you can really tell more and more people are making good use of it, it would be such a shame if it would end up empty again after moving, we want people to keep using it.
If it moves, will you go with it?
Ineke: Here in Leidsche Rijn everything is sort of near each other, but let’s say it moves to the Berlijnplein then there’s another organisation there working on cultural activities so they’d become responsible for it. We’re using it but the Nomads really belongs to the city so it’s up to them to decide what to do with it. It’s a bit unclear right now, it’s scheduled to move in about a year but that means you have to start now with arranging a new place and closing off it’s period here-you have to cancel the electricity, the internet, all of that. The city has to wake up and realise it’s only one more year until it’s time to move the Nomads and they have to start thinking about a new spot. Once that new location has been decided, then you can see who will be responsible for it-us or some other party.
Leonie: It would be nice if as many people as possible could enjoy this space before it’s time to move, there are so many beautiful opportunities here. Actually, I feel the same way about the Nomads as a lot of the artists who stay here do; you fall in love with the building. I know that if I meet with people about projects we want to develop in the park and we have those meetings here, it’s a really different atmosphere from having the same meeting at the office. This place, this building, it inspires people.
If it moves and another party becomes responsible for the Nomads, would you like to start a residency of your own?
Leonie: Hmm..well, the way it works is; you write a plan for the coming four years and within that plan we knew the Nomads was going to stay here until the end of 2018, so we worked with that. I don’t think within those plans there’s enough space to build up a whole new residency..but we do find it very valuable to be able to give a space for creators to stay in this neighbourhood, especially when they work with the projects we develop. A place like the Nomads is very special and I can imagine we’ll really miss it in the future. It truly makes a difference to be able to stay here.
Ineke: You become part of this place for a while, you become a Leidsche Rijner.
Thank you so much, Leonie and Ineke, for having me come over and talk to you about the Nomads and your projects, it was really inspiring to see how much dedication and attention goes into this project, and to be able to experience staying in the Nomads myself for a night!