The Antwerp Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

To mark the release of our Warriors edition, we've teamed up with This is Antwerp to bring you 100 Antwerp Warriors, a 100-strong selection of local movers and shakers setting the tone for the neighbourhood of tomorrow. From design and architecture to contemporary art and politics, these are the creatives shaping the narrative of the future.

Jerry Aerts

Jerry Aerts

General and artistic director, deSingel

Can you describe deSingel, and your role at the institution?

I’m the general and artistic director of deSingel international arts campus. This bustling creative site is located on the southern perimeter of the city and has a magnificent view of the city from its rooftop. We present, create and teach different arts, while producing a wide and varied range of concerts, theatres, dance performances and architecture exhibitions. Most of the artists come from abroad and represent both the established canon and the vanguard of the arts. The art world is our natural habitat and we try to stimulate as many of the local inhabitants as possible, just like we try to attract as many out-of-towners as we can to the city. This is what we engage in every day.

How does deSingel relate to Antwerp and to its neighbourhood?

deSingel is involved with new urbanism. There’s huge potential for cooperations with urban organisations. With our international image, we try to connect with the diversity of the city’s inhabitants. Antwerp has a very dynamic creative sector. Although relatively small, it presents a huge range of very different arts in theatres, museums, galleries, etc. As a major European port, it also has a global perspective and openness towards ‘the other’, especially in the arts. An international centre like deSingel can play a leading role in attracting these arts.

The art world is our natural habitat and we try to stimulate as many of the local inhabitants as possible, just like we try to attract as many out-of-towners as we can to the city.

What would you say is Antwerp’s main appeal for creatives? What gives the city its edge?

Antwerp is a true haven of creativity, a city where cultural life plays a crucial role. Here, large and small organisations exist side by side and regularly work together. The worlds of the established and the experimental are not separated. For example, it is relatively easy for young fashion designers to find their way to the theatres, and young, unconventional musicians are supported by major arts centres (deSingel being just one example). We are always looking for new impulses and do so with an open mind.

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

My relationship with the city has changed enormously over the last thirty years. deSingel previously had relatively little to do with the city and we mainly focused on its outsides. But we took artistic activities to various locations in the city, and soon managed to attract Antwerp crowds to the venue. Now we feel both a part of the city and a magnet for people from far beyond. I feel like we’ve helped put the city on the international map of the arts. I too, became more and more attached to the city and I really feel that I belong here – even without actually living here.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?

In the world I know best, the cultural world, there’s an extensive and diverse offer that’s above all in constant evolution. With the renovation of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, I do feel a need for more ‘major’ exhibitions. Luckily this need is compensated by a wide range of smaller shows. I’d love for the more alternative venues to gain more visibility, and I feel that the city authorities should play a bigger role to help this happen.

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

Start with a walk along the river and take the lifts to the top of the MAS museum, to see the city and the river as a whole. If you visit a smaller museum like the Red Star Line or the Plantin-Moretus, you’ll discover many different aspects of the city’s history. Go shopping and take advantage of the wide range of fine restaurants available. End your day in a theatre or concert hall – why not deSingel – where you can experience the relationship between the international art world and the city.

A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth?

Léon Stynen wasn’t just the successful architect of many public buildings in Belgium during the Interbellum and the first decades after World War II. He also designed deSingel, his absolute masterpiece. He studied in Antwerp and always lived in the vicinity of deSingel – in the Expo district, a neighbourhood which is itself worth walking around in. It’s a residential, green neighbourhood, characterised by broad avenues and splendid architecture from the 30s, including the architect’s own residence.
Photography Thomas Ost