The Mechelen Hundred

Portraits of a city's people, today

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen has often been overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Yet teaming up with the City of Mechelen, our line-up of 100 of the city’s most prominent people, places and projects proves the extent of its potential. From artists and creatives to critical thinkers and fighters, these are the powerhouses driving Mechelen forward one step at a time.

Aram Van Ballaert

Aram Van Ballaert

Musician, composer and teacher (1971)

Can you describe what you do?

After having lived in the city centre for several years, I moved somewhere a little bit more north to the Battel area in 2017. We have a house which is walking distance from the Dijle and the Leuvense Vaart, where I can peacefully compose, study and work on various projects in my studio in our garden.

On the days I don’t have to teach classes, I drop the kids off at school. After that, I can work in peace, which can mean anything from intensely practicing a classical solo performance on guitar to making home recordings for a soundtrack.

Three days a year I don’t do any work at all, and on these days, moments of reflection are very important to me.

How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?

The strength of Mechelen lies in its modesty, it doesn’t like to show off. However, the city knows how to expose its historical assets by organising ambitious festivals aimed at a diverse audience. There is also a very wide range of theatre and exhibitions on offer, again without too much pretence.

What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

Mechelen is very open-minded, both on a political and a cultural level. We choose flexibility and patience over polarisation.

How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

For the city festival “Op.-Recht-Mechelen”, I wrote a few compositions for the exhibition “Mir Ginn op Mecheln”. The artistic freedom I was given by the council was based on genuine trust.

Last year, I got an assignment to create and perform a number of pieces for CulturCentruum Mechelen. Again, I was given plenty of space to develop my work, to experiment and to enter into a dialogue with the audience and other art forms.

Now I am confident that whenever I have new artistic ideas, the city of Mechelen will help me express them in the best way possible.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

We need more cafes like Kuub that provide a space for live music “on the spot”, like jam sessions and improvisation.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?

Visiting an exhibition at the “Garage”, a walk past a number of churches, chapels and historical buildings like the Palace of Margaret. Drinking coffee and looking around  the shops on the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat. An evening performance in the Stadsschouwburg is also unmissable. Finally, I would suggest cycling alongside the Leuvense Vaart and having coffee at “Het Zennegat”.

Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

Pol Maes was a Mechelen-based artist, a painter and philosopher. He was my first music teacher and taught me how to play the ukulele.

On every full moon, he would leave home on his bike and disappear for a couple of days. His unconventional way of living has always inspired me.