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Plans for Supermaker Axed

A bad economy, politics and poor timing are being blamed for the cancellation of Supermaker – the planned follow up to Platform21 in Amsterdam, which was scheduled to open this May.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 21-01-2010

Supermaker’s request for funding from a new subsidy scheme for culture and innovation has been tuned down leaving the project’s team no other choice but to cancel its plans.

“I am disappointed,” says Joanna van der Zanden, artistic director of the project’s pre-cursor Platform21, which had more modest needs that were covered by ING Real Estate and Premsela – Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion. “It might have been to do with politics, but maybe Amsterdam was just not ready for something like this.”

The concept for Supermaker has been incubating in Platform21 for four years.  The idea was to have a design space dedicated to not just exhibiting top name designers, but to making and doing, and getting everyone involved and invigorated.

As the news that the funding was not offered spreads, the design community across Europe and all the way to Japan is registering its disappointment.  Such enthusiasm, they say, is due to the projects unique concept and very modern approach to the role museums should play in society.  As she did in Platform21, Van der Zanden’s plan was to continue thrashing at the stiff, white-walled gallery concept where only a small minority of people dressed in post-modern asymmetrical clothing ever feel at ease.

“We started it at Platform21,” explains Van der Zanden, “by trying to create a more inclusive connection between design, culture and public space.”

Dingeman Kuilman, Managing Director at Premsela says that although the project ends here, the Platform21 team achieved a lot and should be proud.  “Even Ikea now links to their site,” he says referring to the independent Hacking Ikea project.  “Their programme reached far and wide and I think it says a lot about Dutch culture that the reaction from abroad has been more positive and celebratory than the reaction at home.  For something like this to work you need a lot of support and not just from Amsterdam, but from the whole country.”

Kuilman also says that he isn’t as shocked as others by the decision.  “You can never be completely sure about subsidies,” he says, “and debating the decision now is useless  … I think the quality of the Dutch subsidy system is based on highly subjective expert appraisals – you never know who is going to benefit.  Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”

Still, many are not so accepting. “It’s such a smart, innovative and accessible idea,” says designer Cynthia Hathaway, “and I’m really disappointed.  I’ve never seen anything like it happen anywhere else -  where visitors become a part of the process.  It was a transparent, open-source, creative hub.”

Annemartine van Kesteren, curator at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen says she was hoping Supermaker would turn out to be a new route for design museums.  “Design is about becoming creative and creativity is the one ingredient of society that is underdeveloped,” she says.  “Platform21 was about exploring that and bring it to the fore.”

Van der Zanden, however, keeps her poise:  “Funding is very competitive,” she says.  “We needed a lot and in the end they gave money to more established institutions for smaller projects.”

Most are explaining this away as to do with the dire economic situation which when it comes to arts funding always heralds in a very conservative mindset.  “But it’s not as if this idea was really weird or abstract, and personally I find being stuck between four white walls with no chance to participate a bit stifling.”

Van der Zanden points out that before any creative idea can become commercial, it needs to be proved.  “And I’m sure that at least mentally what we have started will be picked up by others,” she says adding that together with her team, Arne Hendriks, Dewi Pinatih and Moetoesingi Schmidt, Platform21 is publishing a book this June about their activities to date.

Kuilman agrees:  “I am confident that the work they have done will have a lasting impact.  It opened the eyes of many people and inspired them.  I believe it will be a catalyst and the book will be the first step towards that.”

The one fear, however, is that the concept will be taken abroad and the Netherlands will be left out.  “Amsterdam is supposed to be at the forefront and very cutting edge so it will be a real shame to see it lose this concept to another country,” says Hathaway.  

Van Kesteren says to prevent this it might be worth looking into keeping the concept alive virtually in the short term.  “The idea is in the air now so they should keep it alive and keep the Netherlands involved,” she says.  “After that, it can land anywhere, even though branding-wise it would be great if it landed back here.”

Everyone contacted about this spoke with unanimous praise for Van der Zanden’s commitment.  “Her communication and efforts were astonishing,” says Hathaway.  “She was helping to broaden the value of design and to give it to the whole of society,” says Van Kesteren.  “Her perspective was never that of the art historian but an attempt to properly include real people and that is remarkable.”

Kuilman’s conclusion draws on the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy’s ideas about Ithaca that celebrate the journey rather then the destination.  “She [Van der Zanden] was always about giving away ideas to see what people could come up with,” he says. “It’s a whole different approach to the controversy down in Eindhoven with Li Edelkoort and the Designhuis.  There it is about hard branding and ownership, but here it was more about stimulating people and encouraging them to get involved in design … of course the problem with that is it makes you vulnerable, especially in this political and economic climate.”

Images: top main the Platform21 team grace the current cover of I.D Magazine, small from top - first two artist's renderings of the planned Supermaker complex, the final exhibition at Platform21 - "Breakfast Machine".

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