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.

Frank Vaganée

Frank Vaganée

Jazz musician and former city artist of Mechelen (1966)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m a native ‘Mechelaar’. My parents moved around a few times, but always stayed in or very close to the centre of Mechelen. Since 1999, my family and I live in the neighbourhood Pasbrug.

I have been a professional musician since 1986, I play saxophone as a bandleader or as a sideman, and I am also a composer and arranger for all kinds of bands. I am also the co-founder and artistic leader of the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. Since my career started, I’ve played with various Belgian and international musicians, and I continue to do so until this day.

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?

For me, Mechelen has always been a great city to live in, as well as a home to return to after performing all over the world. It’s a place where I can relax and rest, meet friends and family, just being my own self.

Mechelen is a convenient kind of city, due to its manageable size and central geographical location which helps make it easily accessible. For all these reasons, a lot of artists are now starting to move here.

The people in this town all have a distinct sense of pride about their city. That goes for the immigrants too, although the local residents also have a real reputation for complaining.

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

I think the main appeal nowadays is the fresh wind that has been blowing here for the last 15 years. Mechelen has become a pioneering city on many levels. Our unique combination of contemporary city planning and rich historical patrimony is starting to be noticed all over the world, and our newly improved reputation is bringing in a lot of newcomers.

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

As a native Mechlinian, I consider this city to be a big part of my life. From my very first steps as a child, throughout my school years, until the start-up of my musical career, Mechelen has been there for me all the time. This city gave me the opportunities to develop my artistic ideas. Mechelen nominated me as their second city artist (from 2011-2013), and this had a tremendous impact on my musicianship. It offered me a chance to dig deeper into the cultural and social life of the city I live in.

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

I have no real complaints. Maybe we could do with a new top-notch city theatre? We deserve a cultural location that doesn’t just serve Mechelen but also has an impact on the broad region around it. The city certainly has gained the status to pull it off successfully. The same goes for a modern arts centre.

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

As a matter of fact, I’ve been hosting friends in Mechelen for many years. In my opinion, there really is a lot to discover here: our cultural history, the cityscape in general, the great Dossinmuseum, a rich tradition of food and beer…

The city’s symbol par excellence is the St. Rumbold’s cathedral and its majestic tower. But I also recommend the new Dossin museum. Every visit is quite emotional, but you should learn about this dark chapter in Mechelen’s history as well.

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 nominate Bodo Van De Voorde as my personal local legend! He was a native Mechlinian, as well as a cafe owner, an artist, a narrator, and a man who voiced his opinion, and died recently in 2014. He has inspired many people with his stories, talking and discussing into the late hours. He gave musicians a stage to experiment on, and he made me discover so much new music. He was the founder of the ‘Dijlefeesten’, the oldest and most reputed festival in Mechelen. In short, he was one of those people in Mechelen who left a mark that will still be felt by future generations.