"The value will be, that power and knowledge are not monopolized by some big institutes, such as businesses or universities, but will become more democratic. Then it can be a democratic network of knowledge and power."
From scientific researching to creatively making – Frank Vloet experienced all the stadia of contributing to our society, surfing on topics ranging from 3D printing to civic empowerment and social environment questions. In the past months, he was part of the 72U Creative Residency. Yet, instead of insisting on his knowledge he is trying to step back from his collection of definitions, moving open and freely through the residency.
What might the future of city making look like? One answer may come from an unexpected place: the advertising agency 72andSunny Amsterdam. During this series of interviews, we will explore the ‘hybrid city maker’ talking to the makers, artist, and thinkers that are involved in the creative residency 72U that lives within 72andSunny Amsterdam.
Hi Frank, how would you like to introduce yourself?
I have studied social environmental sciences that focused on the social aspects that are related to the environment and its development, so I believe I am a city maker in a quite direct sense. Later, I went into the more practical and making part. In the past year, I have been connecting myself to makerspaces both in Holland and the United Kingdom with a focus on community building in cities. It was a very creative challenge.
What – in your experience – can makerspaces contribute to our society?
Of course, there are many spaces that are mainly for start-ups and designers, but there are also some that are solely focused on city and its society. ‘De Waag Society’ in the Netherlands, where I did a half-year training, is a good example: they initialized a citizen science project. Together with the participants they build instruments in order to measure the air quality. All these participants learned to collect data and at the same time contribute to an open source data system by measuring the air quality in their neighborhood. This resulted in a double effect: the open source distribution of data as well as expanding the environmental consciousness of the participants.
What is your personal drive for your engagement?
For me it is all about empowerment on a civic level, for example distributing knowledge to children. I have worked in summer schools for children between ten and thirteen years old and there I learned the importance of bringing children into contact with new technologies. Of course, this is often only for children with rich parents. However, in Amsterdam there is a plan, to insert 3D printing studios into the library; this makes it more accessible [red.: by now Frank started to work at the Waag Society as Maker Educator, focusing on this project (maakplaats 021)] The value will be that power and knowledge are not monopolized by some big institutes, such as businesses or universities, but will become more democratic. Then it can be a democratic network of knowledge and power.
In the application of the 72U Creative Residency there was a call for ‘creative hybrids’. Can you identify with this idea?
In a way, yes. It is a very broad term, which always will result in the question what the skills are that you can combine. I do feel connected to this term because I am neither limited to only one expertise, but enjoy doing several things simultaneously.
What about the importance of the hybrid aspect in the context of city making?
Often you find quite small organizations in this field. This means that most of the expertise for a whole project has to be present and represented by only a few. In bigger offices, you will have all these tasks and expertise split. For example ‘The Favela Painting Project’ is combining many elements: they have backgrounds as graphic designers, are succeeding very much in their financial model and at the same time connect their practical knowledge to city processes.
How do you experience the conceptual and making processes in the 72U Creative Residency?
We come from very different backgrounds. It is an interesting process to bring everyone towards each other in order to check, whether you are in line with each other before making decisions. I personally try to take a little distance from my background, as here we were asked for a fresh eye, so I cannot just apply my standard visions. So when we are discussing on sustainability, I can contribute to the group by explaining the definition of it, but challenge myself to change my own perspective within the discussions. Research methods as immersive creative research also support me in this. We went to Amsterdam Noord, interviewing people without a concrete research question. Even without that, we had interesting results that revealed also a central theme. A tight theoretical frame will obstruct creativity.
What does scientific/theoretical vs. creative mean to you?
Within the theoretical approach, you learn to create a stable backing of a concept or a presentation, to make it straight. In a creative process, you have to hold back an immediate definition. If you do define everything, you limit your possibilities very quickly. It is actually the first time that I am working that freely and creatively, so thanks to this opportunity at the 72U Creative Residency I am learning a lot.
What in your opinion, can an advertisement agency as 72andSunny contribute to the city of Amsterdam.
Everyone in the office here is very interested, very involved and engaged. Since their usual requests have a more commercial character, their contribution to the 72U Creative Residency sets free a lot of energy in them — they can allow themselves to play freely. You realize this in their very precious and vibrant feedback. Definitely, this residency also fosters the physical contact between 72andSunny and Amsterdam. Many of the office have heard about a lot of places that we are collaborating with, but never really went there. So now, finally, they have a concrete reason to go there and new opportunities open up.