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.

Eva Wittocx

Eva Wittocx

Curator, M-Museum (1975)

Can you describe what you do?

I work as senior curator at M-Museum. I joined the museum staff in the beginning of 2009 to develop their contemporary art department, and launch the new building and programme. Before that, I worked for three years as a curator at Leuven’s arts centre STUK. During this time, we launched a new yearly performance festival called Playground in 2007. Since 2009, this is a joint collaboration between M-Museum and STUK, with this year’s eleventh edition taking place coming November. Having worked for over ten years now in Leuven, I feel a close affinity to its cultural players, the art scene, the University – with whom M frequently collaborates in many different ways – and its diversity of inhabitants. The city has changed a lot since I first studied here in the mid-90s, when there was no museum and STUK was spread around town in several locations.

How do you perceive Leuven?

The city has a unique combination of two faces: old and historical, but at the same time vibrant and full of young people. The motto of the City Eeuwenoud, springlevend captures this spirit very well: the city is both embedded in the past, and looks towards the future. The 30,000-strong University connects all of Leuven’s residents together, and have most definitely provided a huge impact on the city’s identity. Its proximity to Brussels is also a big advantage, just fifteen minutes away by train. When talking to foreign visitors, explaining Leuven and its position, we sometimes call it “Brussels-East”. One should perhaps compare Leuven to cities like Cambridge or Bologna, rather than any other town in Belgium.

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

I studied and lived here for many years in the ‘90s. I liked biking around town on my way to auditoriums, getting to know the city by day and night. During my art history studies, there was no museum with a focus on contemporary art, which I considered to be a huge misfortune. It’s exciting that I’m now part of this new museum in the city centre, able to contribute to the city in a certain way.

The city has a unique combination of two faces: old and historical, but at the same time vibrant and full of young people.

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

The city is often rather quiet when students are gone. Mostly on Sundays and the holidays, some parts of the city can feel rather empty. There’s not a lot of activity then – although this does seem to be changing. At least during the summer, a lot of different activities are organised, aimed at a wide range of audiences. At M, we ourselves host the four-day, music-centred festival M-idzomer; and we install a panoramic summer bar on our rooftop with fantastic views over the city for one whole month.

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

Besides visiting the old part of the city – St. Peter’s Church, M-Museum of course, and the Oude and Grote Markt squares – I would head for the beautiful and quiet beguinage. I would combine this historical walk with a short detour to one of the parks just outside of the city. For nature walks a sure route is through Park Abbey, or the Zoete Waters and Meerdaalwoud a bit further away. As for restaurants, you can often find me at Pepperoncino, a great Italian place just next to M.

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

As a student, I was very much intrigued by the legend of Blessed Margaret, and to whom the sculpture Fiere Margriet is dedicated to, near the river downtown. Based in the 13th Century, it recounts a young girl who was brutally murdered in the outskirts of Leuven, after which her body was flung into the Dyle. Miraculously, her corpse floated upstream into the city – and she was later declared blessed by the Church early 20th century. The water of the river flowing upstream, to address her violent killing is one of the “Seven Wonders of Leuven”; of which some – I believe three – are still to be seen.