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.

Bart Vanvoorden

Bart Vanvoorden

Artistic Leader at Arts Centre nona (1982)

Can you describe what you do?

I am the artistic leader for the arts centre nona, located in a very small street right around the corner from the Vismarkt. We occupy a beautiful old theatre, and we program contemporary theatre, dance, visual arts and music (mainly jazz) performances. Besides having a regular schedule for concerts and performances, our focus also lies on supporting new productions by young artists in residence.

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?

I have been working here for twelve years now, and it is remarkable how much this city has changed since. Not only has the patrimony been gloriously renovated, with a much more beautiful street view as a result, but changes have also taken place on a cultural level. I think I can proudly say our arts centre has played a role in this evolution. We aim to represent art that is forward-thinking with a bit of an edge to it, and showcase productions that aim to reach a wider audience, branching out further than the local scene.

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

I grew up about 20 minutes from Mechelen, but as a student with a growing interest in theatre I became a faithful visitor of nona, pretty much from the very beginning. Five years later I started working there. I only moved to Mechelen five years ago. I’ve noticed that this lead to an even bigger personal involvement with our audience, now that I meet them out on the streets every day. We have a lot of sold-out performances, which, to me, is evidence that our approach is well appreciated.

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

We have to avoid becoming ‘Bruges near the Dyle’, a historical town that is too clean and too uniform. This could very well happen when the high quality of living and high cost of property attracts mainly rich, older people who are looking for peace and quiet. I think every city needs to stay relevant and this change could take away the edge from Mechelen.  In that respect, the city could also use a change in the nightlife scene. Twenty years ago, people didn’t go out after ten o’clock because it was deemed unsafe – but nowadays they don’t go out because there’s not much happening!

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

I would definitely show my visitors around at the Small and Large Beguinage. This is the neighbourhood where I live, so I know it really well. It is also where you can find my favourite place in the city: in a hidden corner you can find a small city garden, as simple as it is beautiful.

I would also pass by the Dossin Kazerne, which is not only an impressive building, but also a powerful symbolic statement about a dark period in the city’s history. The Hof Van Busleyden is a recently opened museum in a beautifully renovated building, which evokes the Burgundian period of the 16th century. Both of these places give you a great insight in the history of Mechelen.

After these visits, we can relax in Ronda for a tasty Moroccan dinner, and of course, we would then attend a jazz concert in nona, or perhaps see a production by the local theatre company Abattoir Fermé. To end the evening , we would enjoy a drink and a chat at the hip café Zapoi, which is always your best bet.

For the second day, after a coffee at Kaffee-Ine, we would head into the nature for a bike ride. There’s plenty of beautiful parks and green around Mechelen.

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

I actually have a juicy anecdote about the building where nona is located. In the seventies, it used to be a sex cinema! What is particularly interesting, is that the owner was actually a film buff, but he knew he couldn’t make a living simply by showing art movies. So before midnight he’d show dirty movies, and after twelve it would be Fellini and Passolini.