The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Dirk De Lathauwer

Dirk De Lathauwer

Co-founder and artistic director, fABULEUS / Co-founder, OPEK (1968)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m the artistic director of fABULEUS, a singular production house for theatre and dance based in Vaartkom’s OPEK. In this former customs building, we produce theatre, dance and hybrid performances with adolescents and emerging young artists from all over the country. We’re not only about making professional shows that tour both nationally and internationally, but also more concretely about talent development. As artistic director, my main focus lies in the artistic, long-term planning and coaching of my team and the different artists we work with. Meanwhile, I also try to attend as many performances as possible – not only our own, but also all the new stuff coming out from emerging artists, or conceived specifically for younger audiences.

How do you perceive Leuven?

Coming from a small village in West Flanders where nothing ever happened, Leuven had a lot to offer when I first came to study here. Something I always liked was the high concentration of cultural programs made available despite its small surface. Compared to similarly-sized cities, I think the huge amount of young people living in and around Leuven – not only university students, but also the teenagers and children – are quite distinctive. And it’s actually a very multicultural city, thanks to all the international people working and studying here. For artists, it has a great vibe, because you have the necessary tranquillity to focus and create. It’s not as hectic as larger cities, and there’s no obsession with being hip or anything. So you can be whoever you want be – you get to stay under the radar. Furthermore, this special blend of creatives and intellectuals are combined with a culturally very hungry audience.

Leuven’s not as hectic as larger cities, and there’s no obsession with being hip or anything. So you can be whoever you want be – you get to stay under the radar.

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

When I graduated, Leuven was still quite the wasteland in terms of creativity: sure, there was a lot to see and experience, but there weren’t necessarily any artists from or based in Leuven. I think that challenged me and others from my generation to not end up in an already existent job in the cultural sector, but rather to create our own spaces. We had to prove we were serious at first, but eventually the City started to support several of our new initiatives – hence the birth of organisations like Het Depot, Het Nieuwstedelijk, and fABULEUS.

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

I think there’s an opportunity to reach out to new audiences, which shouldn’t be missed. Again, I think that the scale and size of Leuven make it the perfect laboratory for bringing traditional and more modern, creative disciplines to its young and international audience.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

I would probably take them on some form of diagonal walk from one end of the city-ring to the other side. Perhaps from the Groot Begijnhof beguinage via Grote Markt, ending at Vaartkom canal’s Café Entrepot or Noordoever, or maybe even onto the Keizersberg Park with its fantastic view over the city.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

Pop musician Jamie Lidell used to rehearse in Leuven – mainly at STUK – at the start of his promising career, precisely for all the same reasons I already mentioned: Leuven’s a great place to create, in all of its tranquillity.