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.

Jana Kerremans

Jana Kerremans

Business manager at Kazerne Dossin and presenter at WeAreTribe

Can you describe what you do?

I’ve lived in Mechelen ever since I was six months old. With my family, I used to live in Nekkerspoel and right now, we have a house at the edge of the city, in a green area near the water-font of the ‘Vaart’.

I’m responsible for the daily operations of the Kazerne Dossin museum. I manage the financing and fundraising, and currently I am an ad interim co-curator for the temporary exhibitions.

As if that isn’t challenging enough, I am a freelance panel host and presenter for several organisations in Mechelen between working hours. By doing this, I fulfilled a lifelong personal dream to work with my voice and languages. Recently, I also became involved with ‘We Are Tribe’, a network of freelance ‘change-makers’ that was set up by my life partner. Our aim is to develop innovative projects with social value. For now, the community is based in Ghent, but in the future, we hope to be working in Mechelen as well.

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

When I was young, Mechelen was kind of a sleepy town. The city centre went dead in the evenings, so we had to do a lot of cycling to find a place to party. When I became a university student, I was happy to go to Leuven with its vibrant student life.

After studying and doing a year abroad as an exchange student in Spain, I had a plan to move to Berlin or Brussels – anywhere more exciting than Mechelen! Everything changed with the birth of my daughter Billie, which brought me back to my hometown. Luckily, I was immediately surprised at how rapidly things had started evolving there.

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

Mechelen is rapidly growing, but its main appeal remains the fact that there are still many possibilities here for locals, both culturally as well as politically. We are able to learn fast, and thanks to the rather small scale of the city, it is possible to rapidly adapt, test and prototype new models for policy making, innovation, arts, technology, tourism, culture… For example: at the moment we don’t have to worry about being overrun by tourists, yet Visit Mechelen has already developed a strategy to handle the crowds in the future.

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

About ten years ago, I was a member of the local city tourism team. I assisted in the promotion of the newly constructed Kazerne Dossin museum and the Newtopia exhibition, which really put the city on the map internationally. I was able to work with contemporary artists, museum developers and policy makers, and this really helped expand my network with a lot of enthusiasts who strongly believed in the potential of Mechelen.

This led me to take on a coordinative role in the Flemish ‘5 Art Cities’ project from 2013 to 2017, but whilst I was here, I found a personal need to get involved with more social engagement, and also experienced a growing fascination for museology. I think I have found an answer to both in my current job at Kazerne Dossin, a museum that aims to be a social change-maker!

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

Mechelen already has a lot of backbone, but we still need more innovators and risk-takers to help develop the city even more, maybe by starting up an inclusive strategy that engages all residents. There is a highly innovative vibe, but the city has to remain a scalable social environment for everyone. Gentrification and dropout rates at schools are still big challenges that we can’t solve with some mere window-dressing.

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

I would take my visitors on a tour round our state-of-the-art museums, like the new Hof van Busleyden with its breathtaking scenography, and of course Kazerne Dossin. Afterwards, I would propose a biking tour around the city’s many waterfronts and green surroundings, followed by a beer tasting session at Het Anker.