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.

Obed Vleugels

Obed Vleugels

Artist (1984)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m an artist with a strong background in print work. I got my first taste of it  while playing and drawing between the old printing presses at my grandfather’s print shop. During my studies at K.A.S.K in Ghent I learned the craft at the screen print ateliers. For almost seven years now I have my own local screen print studio in Mechelen. For the last year it has been based at the Artenova building where I also host Seconddesk, a co-working space bringing all kinds of creative minds together. There are up to 50 creatives in the building, and I love the interaction here between young and experienced artists, entrepreneurs and startups, and the city’s cultural services.

I live with my wife and two kids in a small house at the Vaart, which we rebuilt from top to bottom. My work changes from day to day: I print commissioned artwork as well as personal work, sometimes clients visit the studio or I meet up with artists for a collaboration. Other times I’m visiting clients, suppliers, partners…

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?

Mechelen is a perfect city to live in with my family. I do notice a lack of a true heritage in arts or fashion that makes Mechelen a bit too modest in its ambitions. Things are moving forward at a steady pace, but maybe a bit too slow. I feel artists here lack a bit of critical feedback from the city and its inhabitants. As a result, promising creatives are kept from reaching their full potential, or they move onward to a bigger city. Luckily there is now a generation of artists and creatives here that wants to make a difference, so what we currently lack in ambition, we make up in positivity and good will.

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

I think all of my professional activity is closely related to what’s happening in Mechelen. As an artist in a place with relatively few other artists, I am forced to find a unique approach to my craft that’s not tied to what’s happening in other, bigger cities. I am reminded of this every time I have an exhibition in Brussels, Ghent or Antwerp. Of course this is both a blessing and a curse, but I mainly consider it to be an advantage.

The small size of Mechelen challenges every business to find its own particular focus. Seconddesk was a pioneer project in co-working when we started out, but now there are a couple of other spaces that offer the same service. We now try to provide a second desk to freelancers that usually work from home or at their client offices (hence the name).

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

I would love to see more of the furniture design that Mechelen was once renowned for. Every year there are a lot of designers graduating, but that amount is not reflected in the interiors of shops, bars, restaurants or galleries you see wandering around town.

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

Try to come on the 2nd or 4th Friday of the month, so you can see a jazz concert at Jazzzolder. Make sure you have some dinner first at Cosma Foodhouse or at Wagenoord. Afterwards you can go for a drink at Zapoi. But make sure you can get up early in the morning to see the marketplace come to life! At the Saturday morning’s market you have a chance to meet the real “Mecheleirs”. After that, a breakfast at Sister Bean makes for a good start for the rest of the day.

I feel the city is reflected in a variety of places rather than one specific spot. But if I have to pick just one, the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat does the job quite well. It’s a great street for startups, often helped and hosted by Mest, a non-profit organisation we’ve launched together with Studio Swelvet. It also has some of the best coffee, books, and women’s fashion (no good places for men’s fashion in Mechelen, sorry!).