Mieke Renders, new Managing Director of TEH

Mieke Renders small

Beginning in June 2017, Mieke Renders will be the new Managing Director of Trans Europe Halles. Mieke was born in Belgium in 1975 and is passionate about culture and languages, having lived in several countries. She is a strong believer in the independence of cultural operators, and their capacity to self-organise in networks in order to achieve greater impact. Let’s get to know her a bit better:

1. What is your professional background?

My professional background initially lies in the museum and heritage sector, which later evolved into a mix of contemporary and performing arts in combination with heritage. The last few years, I have been working in cultural diplomacy in New York City and at De Brakke Grond, a Flemish arts centre in Amsterdam. I love to combine the ‘dead’ arts (or better: art from dead artists, eg. in museums) with contemporary artists as well as working in interdisciplinary setting. Through this, visitors and curators get a broader field to be inspired from.

2. How begin working in arts and cultural management?

By accident. As an anthropologist, I initially wanted to go work in a non-profit and do humanitarian work in the Third World, but I somehow stumbled upon a Master’s course in “Arts Management”. During that year, I did an internship at the City Museums of Bruges and at the end of the internship they asked me if I would be interested in working with them. I was then hired as a curator at the Memlingmuseum. That’s when it all started. I turned out to be a decent networker, good at making “umbrella concepts” and giving the floor to more creative persons. Moreover I was not bad in connecting the weirdest dots and making them work. Many years later, I started my own business, the Light Cavalry: a network construction, in which we provide consulting and project management, but without the heavy overhead cost of an institution with many employees. We compile and tailor teams with other independent professionals, but only those specialists who fitted the right project. So it’s a fluid working system that can be put together only when it is really needed.

3. Describe yourself in 3 words, 2 songs and 1 film.

4 words for myself: Nomad. Facilitator. Consequent. Authentic. 2 songs: The other side of the world by Tindersticks and Under a Silent Sea by Loney Dear. 1 Film: Boyhood by Richard Linklater

4. What people have inspired you most as a leader, and why?

Two women have specially inspired and influenced me as a leader:

Gertrude Bell was the daughter of the Bell imperium in 19th century Great Britain. She behaved a bit out-of-the-box and didn’t really fit into society. She went the Middle East and traveled the deserts on camel, speaking all languages and dialects of the region and connecting the sheikhs, warriors, diplomats and more. During the First World War, Gertrude worked for the British intelligence service and advised politicians, generals, tribes and and even Lawrence of Arabia! Gertrude Bell was an audacious, intelligent, brave, but also a very lonely person.

Caroline Pauwels is the current rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. She is smart, courageous, intelligent, and also dares to show her vulnerability in a male-dominated profession. She stands up for a broader field of university knowledge and connects this to other fields in life.

5. What current trends you find more interesting for cultural organisations to take advantage of?

Political and financial old worlds are crumbling and falling apart. Polarisation and peacekeeping: how to bring people together? How to really connect? The cultural organisations can take a lead and show different models, inspire on how to work differently on a broader scale. We can contribute to a transition into sharing economies. The creative sector is the best sector to invent new ways of sharing and collaborating, which can then be extended to other domains. Creatives are at the pioneers of societies and sense changes and urgencies before other groups of people detect them.

Right-wing organisations and nationalism emerging: we need to let people feel safe in this world. An artist doesn’t think within borders of countries, but creates into a fluid world, in which he/she connects subjects, topics, and urgent issues and therefore transcends boundaries. We can offer and share with our public and stakeholders in-depth experiences, meaning and connections.

Burnouts in the cultural sector, the arts world, in our Western world. Art organizations could show how to work differently and how to slow down in the frenetic work pace we are keeping to in the Western world. What could start as an artistic experiment, in order to slow down, could then be extrapolated to other business domains.

6. As the new Managing Director of TEH, what are your priorities for the organisation in the next years?

My priorities for TEH in the next several years will to be to firstly expand the work that has been done by Birgitta Persson, TEH’s previous Secretary General, and her team over the last 12 years. I would like to continue their work and make the results and fruits of their long labour sustainable.

I would also like to have at least one Belgian center (re-)entering our network ;-). Moreover, it is additionally my target to have at least one member centre per European country in the network – expanding to Portugal, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Moldova, for example.

As the network continues to expand I would like to keep the quality of contact and cooperation between the members both in person and digitally. In a changing world, and especially in a questioned EU, we need to remain strong and keep on creating added value for civilians, artists and organisations.

7. What would be your ideal location for a TEH Meeting? And why?

Tromsø, Norway. In summer or in deep winter 😉 Because it is at the end of the world. Because it is near the Arctic circle. Because it’s a gateway to Spitzbergen and to Lapland. Because it is the northernmost city of Europe. We just need to get a new member centre there!

8. What couple of books you have read recently that are absolutely worth reading?

Zen in the Art of Permaculture Design” by Stefan Geyer. Everything is genuinely connected. We are all connected: to each other and to the world. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of it. Respect for each other starts with respect for mother Earth. We urgently need to be more conscious about polluting, and start to connect again. Connection to ourselves, which automatically is followed by a connection to his live and to other human beings.

Reinventing Organisations” by Frederic Laloux. A lot of organisations are stuck within old management models. Others are in transition to find new more enduring ways of being and acting. They need different sorts of management. Some also aren’t in transition yet, but they will be at a certain point. Sometimes, they just need more time. Neoliberalism and old systems are reaching a point, hopefully a tipping point, in which we need to think and act differently. If we don’t think and act differently, our (Western) world will be faced with more polarisation and diseases. This book offers insights and tools to do it differently, starting from your organisation. It’s about the organisations of the future.

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