Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Jonathan Wanders. I’m an artist and the creative director of Jonathan Wanders – Idea & Design. Ever since I was a child, I have loved creating beautiful things that were useful at the same time. It started with Lego and building huts. After studying architecture in Eindhoven – city of design and technology – and working at an architecture studio I decided to work as an independent creative artist.
What would you consider your distinctive achievement?
In general, artists are more sensitive to the prevailing and approaching ‘zeitgeist‘. They are influenced by what happens in the world and have the capability to translate this into an understandable language. Their challenge is to make big stories small and personal, and to make abstract thoughts and themes tangible. I believe that some can best and sometimes only be communicated through art and design.
It’s about the interplay between divergence and convergence: broadening society’s perspective and direct people’s attention to important issues. Unfortunately we – especially governments and policy makers – often focus on the final product. However, the process is more important. A lot can be learned from the process, as it helps generate new ideas. Look around you, everything is in motion and part of a process.
Process and product usually involve emotions followed by actions. Two of my projects illustrate this: Remembrance Road and the Temporary Landart Euregio project. The first project transformed a 2.5-kilometer stretch of road at Margraten (NL) and Henri-Chapelle (B) into temporary commemorative roads. White and green satin ribbons were tied around 400 trees to remind road users subtly of the liberation and symbolize the victims of war. In the second project, statues of refugees confront passers-by with the timeless story of a recurring reality: the current refugee issues. By placing the artwork in the landscape the abstract image gets a voice and a presence. The statues are going to move from one place to another, similar to the process that the refugees experience themselves.
I wanted to raise people’s awareness in a poetic and modest way. Both projects created a new, dynamic landscape. As an artist I try to make big issues and processes understandable, personal, tangible. People were moved and inspired by these projects, which is exactly what I wished to achieve.
What are you looking forward to?
To the future! Of course, you should cherish the past. But don’t hold on to it, because it’s the future that determines what you do. For example nowadays the refugees issue is very important. Just imagine, maybe one of the refugees coming now to Maastricht will become the next city mayor! Together we can create a better world by contributing ideas and implement them. Our challenge is to make it happen.
Soon I will finish an outdoor 3d-printing project in a rural area. In line with this I’m developing an Euregional cross-border project that deals with the global plastic pollution problem. And another project I’m thinking of is a more intimate one, dedicated to child abuse/neglect. Most of my projects focus on creating awareness about important issues. In the future I would like to move more towards solutions to problems.
Which advice will you give to other professionals?
My first advice is: dare to dream. Inspiration begins with allowing dreams. Seeing something that hasn’t been made yet. The dream is the seed that sprouts in the head. The challenge is how you let it mature. Hold on to your dreams even if other people try to discourage you. It’s important to convert dreams into something lasting and tangible. This takes motivation, perseverance and hard work.
Secondly: be curious. Experience the world without borders, without speed limits. Anyone who thinks outside the box often comes up with surprising ideas. Invest in new ideas and proposals.
And lastly: act. When you have a dream you have to do something with it before it’s gone. It’s about being motivated and having courage. It’s up to the artists to change the world, to guide the people and involve them. This is our future. Our landscape. So don’t just think, but act. It’s acts that inspire people and change lives.
What are the challenges that we need to overcome to make cultural entrepreneurship more accessible?
Artists need to be more active and visible. This requires a change of mentality. Artists have to take the lead and connect with other sectors to actually move forward. Look for collaborations outside your own sector. Assembling people with different backgrounds creates synergy – one plus one is three – and adds value to the ideas. It’s not a simple process: the different parties must learn to understand each other and open up. Also, it’s important to manage collaborations more intuitively and not so much in a linear way. This may feel unnatural, because it’s not what you are used to. Again, it’s hard work, but fun!
These are interesting times. It’s clear that certain things from the old system no longer work. We live in a transition period. It’s up to us to decide what we bring to the future. Society is searching. Artists have to recapture their place in society. Show their importance and distinctive power: broadening society’s perspective and direct people’s attention to important issues. Come up with proposals, share them and even more important submit them to the right people or organizations. It’s not about improving something old, but creating something entirely new. Genuine innovations. Fresh, original ideas.
I am convinced that society will start to value arts and culture again. The authorities and policy makers will recognize this and invest in cultural entrepreneurs giving them the opportunity to unfold their ideas. It will make the world more diverse, stronger and richer.