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.

Elise Gazenbeek

Elise Gazenbeek

Project co-ordinator, BURn (Festival) and UiTPAS / Co-founder, Leuven Urban Art (1990)

Can you describe what you do?

BURn Leuven is an urban youth house in Leuven, with a focus on creating an open space for all youths with an affinity for the urban arts. At BURn, we seek to empower them in their individual skills, guiding them to the next level within the arts of their choice. I’ve been working as one of two project co-ordinators of BURn since the birth of the project, almost four years ago – my first graduate job after completing studies in (historical) cultural studies and management. I was very happy to be able to enter the youth and culture field, and stay in the town where I was born and grew up! Because I started this job around the same time that BURn was officially launched, I was able to shape the project on the basis of my own knowledge and skills. My interests lie in communication, events management and cultural projects – three things that became part of my tasks as a project co-ordinator.

I hope that we keep growing, and that BURn Festival will became the urban festival in Leuven and even Flanders!

One of the fundamentals of BURn is urban music and performance. Leuven as a city lacked events through which youngsters could identify themselves with, and where urban music plays a big role. In 2015 – the same year BURn launched in Leuven – the City launched a new summer events concept called Het Groot Verlof, or “The Summer Holidays”. Timing couldn’t have been better, and BURn was granted an opportunity to organise an urban youth session during Het Groot Verlof. BURn Festival was thus created and I took charge of the operation. Running the festival is one of my favourite tasks as project co-ordinator: I love the high I get when organising everything, especially when the festival is a success! This feeling is just indescribable. This wouldn’t be possible without the fantastic work of the young and fun, dynamic and creative BURn team, though, who I have the privilege of working with almost every day. For example, right from the start, the head-lining act has always been chosen by our team. And every single year this act has proven to be a real success! So a big thumbs-up to all of them. To top it all off, we’ve just had a very successful third edition despite our small budget – we doubled our audience numbers of our first year! I hope that we keep growing, and that BURn Festival will became the urban festival in Leuven and even Flanders!

How do you perceive Leuven? In your view, what kind of city is it?

Leuven has always felt like home to me: I love travelling and visiting cities all around the world, but I always end up comparing them to Leuven. This is where I feel safe, good, happy and appreciated – it’s my safe space! I love the fact that Leuven’s not too small, nor too big. I don’t think I would enjoy living in a city where I would have to take the subway, car or train to visit different parts of it. I love being able to do everything on foot or by bike while still feeling like I live in a big city. I’m also a big fan of the vibe present during the academic year. Everywhere in the city there’s something going on with people on the streets, so you never feel alone. The University and its students help to make Leuven a living city, too.

You can really feel its youths taking over, creating their own safe spaces.

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

Leuven has a certain vibe that makes it a city you should – and will – love. Despite its historical character, it still manages to feel so young. You can really feel its youths taking over, creating their own safe spaces. Just look at Oude Markt, for example: a great atmosphere is always present on a warm summer evening, when all the terraces are chock-full.

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

During my Masters in Cultural Studies, one assignment involved setting up a cultural project and a website to go along with it. Because Leuven lacked an urban scene, I started Leuven Urban Art with fellow student Marijn Geluykens: we were immediately sold on the idea of collecting all of Leuven’s street art in Leuven, to not only preserve but also promote it, creating more visibility for this beautiful art form. The website and its social media were a huge hit, with more than a thousand likes and multiple listings by the local press in only a month’s time. And it was partly thanks to Leuven Urban Art that I was able to start working at BURn, where I could also (further) promote the urban arts within Leuven. Following on from my hiring at BURn, I was also assigned the role of project co-ordinator for UiTPAS, a discount voucher system launched by the City to stimulate its inhabitants to participate in activities offered by the City’s various cultural organisations. Overall, these shortcomings became my fortes and wealth, enriching my career.

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

First of all, I would like for the municipal government of Leuven to be a bit more daring. Despite its commitment in creating a creative, dynamic, green and safe city, I still feel that it doesn’t dare to go to the max. For example, street art: these last few years the City has been showing increased trust in street art and approved a number of projects where this medium is involved, but I still think there’s more to be done. And besides that, I also hope to see an official tagging wall, where everyone can practice their skills as a street artist.

Secondly, I’d like to see more opportunities made available, which young people could identify and evolve with. Or even more projects where youngsters can take the lead. mijnLeuven is already a great start in this regard, with BURn, Het Stadhuis, De Start Up and its many other side-projects.

Finally, to really push BURn Festival to the next level – I hope the City will support our endeavour even more.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Leuven? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

I’m absolutely crazy about M-Museum and its fantastic architecture: I love the brightness, colours and perfect combination and harmony between the old and new. The up-and-coming Vaartkom neighbourhood is another personal favourite. An excellent job has been done to renew this district from an area where no one wanted to go, to the place to be.

For out-of-towners visiting in July, BURn Festival of course! Otherwise, for any street-art lover, I’d recommend a climb up Brusselsestraat, till the student residence Camillo Torres. There’s a fine selection on display here, not only by locally-based artists but also those who rank in the world’s best.

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

Local legends in the making are the boys behind Rewind Productions: AK, Dyce and Mar$, who actually met each other through BURn, formed a rap outfit a few years ago. They partook in the famous national music competition Humo’s Rock Rally and ended up, against all expectations, in second place! They have the right foundation and attitude to become legends, in my opinion, because they work so hard to fulfil their dreams. Not only are they an extremely talented crew, but also very professional.