10 February 2017

First planning meeting with all initial participants of Cinema Olanda: Platform, a project at Witte de With scheduled for 17 June - 20 August 2017. This project is initiated by artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh and curator Lucy Cotter, and is organized at Witte de With by its director Defne Ayas and curator Natasha Hoare.

The project proposed to transform Witte de With into an adaptable platform for groups and individuals who have informed Cinema Olanda, Wendelien Van Oldenborgh and Lucy Cotter’s presentation in the Dutch Pavilion in the Venice Biennale in the summer of 2017. In her practice, Wendelien Van Oldenborgh focuses on questions surrounding the Netherlands’ (inter)national image vis-a-vis current transformations in the Dutch cultural and political landscape.

A series of changing presentations and six weeks of public events at Witte de With was being planned for the Summer 2017. In the program conceptualization for Cinema Olanda: Platform participate a group of artists, writers, curators and cultural critics: Quinsy Gario; Charl Landvreugd; Egbert Alejandro Martina; Patricia Pisters en Esther Peeren van de Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA); Jessica de Abreu and Mitchell Esajas from New Urban Collective; Katayoun Arian, Louise Autar and Max de Ploeg from First Things First. Also participating are Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Lucy Cotter, and Natasha Hoare.

At this closed-door planning meeting, a discussion around the name of the street and the institution emerges. The attending participants pose critical questions about Witte de With’s objectives for hosting the project. The question of “What it means for a white institution to do critical work under the name of a colonizer?” is posed by one of the meeting’s participants, Egbert Alejandro Martina. A group discussion around this inquiry, and the question of how a “white” institution can avoid to instrumentalize black intellectual labor, ensues. They also raise the issue that Witte de Withstraat is locally known as “Whiter than White Street.” (The Dutch word “witte” literally translates to “white” in English.) One of the suggestions the group makes is to change the name of the institution for the duration of the Cinema Olanda: Platform project. This suggestion, and other discussion topics, are considered by the institution internally and in conversation with Wendelien Van Oldenborgh and Lucy Cotter.

20 March 2017

Second planning meeting with Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Lucy Cotter, and Cinema Olanda: Platform participants at Witte de With. Participants attending: Katayoun Arian, Louise Autar, Max de Ploeg, and Amandla Awethu! from First Things First; Mitchell Esajas and Jessica de Abreu from The Black Archives; Charl Landvreugd; and, Egbert Alejandro Martina. Also attending were Witte de With’s staff members: Defne Ayas; Natasha Hoare; Milou van Lieshout; Rosa de Graaf; and Yoeri Meessen.

2 April 2017

Leading up to the opening of Cinema Olanda: Platform, and inspired by the discussions in its planning meetings, Witte de With staff organizes a team-workshop about equal opportunities.

6 April 2017

The discussion around the name of the institution takes a public turn on social media. On Twitter, several tweets are posted by and between initial Cinema Olanda: Platform participants and Witte de With staff.

10 April 2017

Responding to an email to all Cinema Olanda: Platform participants that was sent by Witte de With after the second planning meeting, Egbert Alejandro Martina sends an email to Witte de With stating that his main concern around the institution’s position about its name hasn’t been addressed, and withdraws from the Cinema Olanda: Platform project.

11 April 2017

Email from Witte de With to Egbert Alejandro Martina and all other Cinema Olanda: Platform participants, stating that the institution “will continue to research the figure Witte Corneliszoon de With and endeavour to make transparent his legacy as having been an instrumental part in the Dutch colonial history”, and that it will “consider ways in which to address the continued name of Witte Corneliszoon de With by the street, and the institution”. What follows is an email conversation between some participants and Witte de With, foregrounding that Egbert Alejandro Martina’s main question is still not answered in a meaningful way.

14 April 2017

The name of the institution and the critiques of its name are listed as a discussion topic on the agenda for the upcoming meeting of Witte de With’s Supervisory Board, scheduled for 13 June 2017. These are the board members: Stijn Huijts, Gabriel Lester, Jeroen Princen, Nathalie de Vries, Kees Weeda (Chair), and Katarina Zdjelar.

From May 2017 onwards

Leading up to a presentation of the twelfth edition of the ongoing exhibition series Rotterdam Cultural Histories, scheduled to open on 7 September 2017, Witte de With engages in research around the history of Dutch naval officer Witte Corneliszoon de With; his biography and role in the Dutch colonial project; the naming of the street Witte de Withstraat in 1871, and; the namesake of the institution taken at its foundation in 1990.

12 June 2017

Witte de With publishes on its website the text Acknowledgement Witte Corneliszoon de With to express that “Attention has been drawn to our operating under such a name in a field of contemporary art practice that claims criticality, and the fact of this blind spot in our institutional history and self-awareness.”

13 June 2017

Quarterly meeting of Witte de With's Supervisory Board, where the Board members conclude that the questions raised, including the name, should be reflected upon. The Summer is for self-education on this matter and the discussion will be taken up again in the next meeting, scheduled for 5 September 2017.

14 June 2017

Publication of an Open Letter, authored by a group of cultural professionals, artists, and activists: Egbert Alejandro Martina, Ramona Sno, Hodan Warsame, Patricia Schor, Amal Alhaag, and Maria Guggenbichler. In the period that follows, it is signed by hundreds of people. Among the many signers of this Open Letter are prominent figures from the art world and the field of decolonial studies.

16 June 2017

Public opening of Cinema Olanda: Platform, a project with artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh and curator Lucy Cotter. The project involves an exhibition plus eleven public programs taking place 17 June to 21 July 2017.

17 June 2017 to 21 July 2017

In different ways, the eleven public programs organized in conjunction to Cinema Olanda: Platform, attended by hundreds of people and involving over forty speakers and participants, address different aspects of decolonial studies, programmed by groups and individuals who have informed Wendelien van Oldenborgh’s work for the Cinema Olanda presentation in Venice. Here is a list of the programs.

20 June 2017

The AD Rotterdams Dagblad, the local edition of a national newspaper, publishes an article about the Open Letter and Witte de With’s Acknowledgment: “Moet ‘Witte de With’ zijn naam veranderen, of juist niet?,” published online on 19 June under the title “Kunstenaars willen naamsverandering Witte de With” (Artists want name change Witte de With), written by Nadia Berkelder.

23 August 2017

Publication of ‘De aangekondigde dood van Witte de With’, written by Koen Kleijn in magazine De Groene Amsterdammer. This is the first time a major national news platform publishes an article about the discussion around the name, leading to more articles published by national and international press. All press-clippings on the matter collected to date can be accessed here.

5 September 2017

Quarterly meeting of Witte de With's Supervisory Board, where it is unanimously agreed "that a change needs to be made to the part of the name of the center that refers to the Dutch naval officer Witte Corneliszoon de With." They also decide this task will be assigned to the upcoming director of Witte de With, to be announced.

7 September 2017

Witte de With publishes a Public Announcement, stating the decision taken in the Board meeting of 5 September. This same day sees the opening of Rotterdam Cultural Histories #12: Witte de With; What’s in a Name?, a presentation which involves weekly lunch meetings for the next fifteen weeks, from 12 September to 19 December 2017. These meetings are open to the general public, and the discussions are moderated by one or two Witte de With staff members.

On that same day, triggered by the article about the board decision that was published by newspaper AD Rotterdams Dagblad that morning, members of the local political party Leefbaar Rotterdam submit written questions on this matter to the City Council, with the request they are answered in the Council meeting scheduled for 3 October 2017. The questions and answers appear on that date in this timeline.

12 September 2017

The first open lunch of Rotterdam Cultural Histories #12: Witte de With; What’s in a Name?, this time moderated by line kramer (Senior Technical Supervisor), is held at Witte de With.

18 September 2017

The Supervisory Board of Witte de With announces the appointment of Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy as its new director, effective from 1 January 2018.

19 September to 19 December 2017

Weekly open-lunch meetings take place during a period of 15 weeks, as part of Rotterdam Cultural Histories #12: Witte de With; What’s in a Name?. The staff and board members of Witte de With moderating these meetings: line kramer; Sarah van Overeem-van der Tholen; Rosa de Graaf; Wendy van Slagmaat-Bos with Matthias Nothnagel; Gyonne Goedhoop; Defne Ayas; Kees Weeda; Docus van der Made; Yoeri Meessen; Jeroen Lavèn; Patrick C. Haas; Marjolijn Kok; Angélique Kool with Samuel Saelemakers; Emmelie Mijs with Ella Broek; Rosa de Graaf, and Yoeri Meessen. The lunches are attended by a total number of 96 people, plus Witte de With staff members.

3 October 2017

The answers to the questions that were submitted to the City Council by members of the local political party Leefbaar Rotterdam on 7 September are established in the Council meeting. The questions and answers are:

  • Do you share our bewilderment and irritation about this decision by the Supervisory Board of 'Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art'? If not, why not?
    Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art is an independent foundation and as such controls its own name. The naming of a foundation is not a matter of the Council. In recent years, more cultural institutions in Rotterdam have changed their names, without involvement of the Council (Max, Siberia, and Rotjong became MAAS, Rotterdamse Schouwburg, RO Theater, and Production house became Theater Rotterdam, RCTH became Theater Babel Rotterdam, Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra became Sinfonia, etc.).
  • Do you agree with us that Rotterdam tax money is not meant to erase our history? If not, why not?
    Witte de With receives subsidies as part of the Cultural Plan 2017-2020, established by the City Council in November 2016. Subsidy is granted based on performance agreements. Performances are subject to yearly tests. There is no change to those performance agreements with the proposed name change.
  • Do you want to terminate the subsidy to this art center, which thinks it can judge and condemn our history, immediately? If not, why not?
    The same answer applies here.
  • Are you prepared to link the name of Witte de With to another institution in the city (one that deserves to bear his name) and advise the art center to change its name, for example to “Ella Vogelaar Institute”? If not, why not? (Editorial note: Ella Vogelaar is a Dutch politician most known for her work in emancipating disadvantaged neighborhoods.)
    The Council is not concerned with the proposed name change of an independent foundation, and as such the Council can’t impose a new name on another institution either.

31 December 2017

Defne Ayas' tenure as director at Witte de With ends; her term was for six years, from 2012 to 2017, the maximum period of time a director has at Witte de With.

1 January 2018 to date

Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy assumes the directorship of Witte de With, relocating to Rotterdam. Since her arrival, she has been meeting with the institution's staff and the members of its Supervisory Board, as well as with local artists, colleagues, civil servants, and cultural producers at large, collecting impressions and viewpoints on the institution and the name-change discussions begun last year.

Between January to April 2018

The notes of these open lunch sessions were assessed and organized. It was imperative that basic information on how the debate of the name change unfolded be made clear and become contextualized. For this reason, a series of timelines were developed and published online. These were produced to clarify the debates and readily provide precise information. The assessments of the notes and organization of events through timelines made evident the concrete factors that would inform the articulation of an institutional vision and criteria established to reason the purpose of the name change on account of two key principles: 1) that the institution's name falls short of expressing its vocation, and 2) its current name impinges upon the institution's pursuit of inclusivity. In addition, an agenda was established to address the name change first and foremost through changes in working method and composition within the institution, rather than as a merely symbolic gesture.

From May 2018

A new, publicly-focused and socially oriented space was opened dedicated to inclusivity and the commitment to change the way in which we work, the way in which we represent others, and the way in which we engage communities. This took place through the redesign of the institution's ground floor gallery space, its most visible and directly public point of access. Turning a so-called white cube exhibition space into a multi-use event space and bookshop, tentatively named Untitled, this gallery became the primary site of public programming at the institution. It was made open to the general public free of admission.

September 2018

In tandem with the opening of Untitled came a new approach to programming, education and public engagement called Collective Learning. This was led through a long-term work-study fellowship program together with twelve diverse participants ages 17-23. Sited at Untitled, this program developed new kinds of programming such as the Sessions series, as well bringing Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art into engagement with new communities in Rotterdam. It also had the aim of learning, along with the public, about pressing concerns in culture through close engagement, which in principle involves listening and being more welcoming.

April 2019

The name of this new space was changed from Untitled to MELLY. This process was undertaken in collaboration with the participants of the fellowship program while their process in doing so became a case study informing the larger undertaking of the name change of the institution. After various workshops the name MELLY was selected, inspired by Ken Lum’s now icon art work Melly Shum Hates Her Job in Rotterdam. (Read details here.)

September 2019

The second edition of the fellowship program commenced, engaging a group of fifteen participants. The array of programs has also expanded with MELLY’s Neighbours, which connects to stakeholders in the Witte de With street itself. Engagement and learning with the immediate neighbours and urban location of Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art is a crucial facet within the ongoing name change initiative. To develop this process, fellowship, and other informed changes accounting different perspectives at the institution, new staff have been hired, including a curator of Collective Learning. New members entered also into our Supervisory Board. These positions involved a process of job open calls considering the Code of Cultural Diversity. The latest hires were completed in September 2019. With this, a more comprehensive team task-force at the institution was formed to work on research, programs and the completion of the name change initiative.

This is where we are at the moment as it pertains the name change initiative at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art. At the institution, we have learned much from this process. Among the takeaways has been learning together with the participants of the fellowship program. The inspiration and relevance of their proposed name was inspired by an image from a neighborhood icon, however anti-heroic, and from the institution's own exhibition history. The latter is important in so far a central question to the investigation in the name change initiative at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art has been how to embrace transformation and yet prevent effacing or forgetting history, including institutional memory, when changing the institution’s name.

Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam is housed in a nineteenth century building originally designed—and used for over a century—as a public school. At the time of its opening in 1990, the institution shared its building with a school. During that time while the school maintained its activities in the first floors of the building, exhibitions were simultaneously organized in the upper floors. At the relocation of the school in 1997, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art acquired the building. Most importantly, however, we didn’t fully cease the building’s intended design-goals of being a site of learning. Instead, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam has offered new pedagogies and occasions for collective learning through the arts. The name change initiative is part of this work.