In the province of Drenthe, LEADER funds have been used for a unique initiative of integrating art and recreation. It concerns the realisation of six permanent artistic constructions, so-called Art Houses, designed for tourist recreation.

In the beautiful heritage lodgings farm ‘Rikkerda’ in Lutjegast, Frits Schuitemaker and Wouter Dijk passionately talk about the Art Houses. The Art Houses Foundation has appointed Schuitemaker project coordinator, while Wouter Dijk, as a participating artists, has designed one of the artistic holiday homes. Together with Wilma Colewij and Greet Oosterhuis, he is the initiator of this remarkable project. The board of the Foundation, consisting of Wouter Dijk, landscape designer Joop van de Pol, architect Christa Kuiper and entrepreneur Elly Koerts, aims to establish something entirely new in the landscape on an innovative and experimental basis and around the central theme of integrating modern art and recreation. The small-scale design must give a unique character to the project. Visitors can not only passively look at the outside of these special holiday homes, they can also actively experience them as a piece of art by spending time inside. One could call it accommodation in a mini-museum. The initiators consider the ‘experience’ as the key word for the integration of art and recreation. According to Wouter Dijk and Frits Schuitemaker this is about an entirely new way of looking at recreation. It took more than two years of intense preparation to put forward the Art Houses project proposal, funded 40% by the participating entrepreneurs and 60% by subsidies from LEADER+, the province of Drenthe and the participating regional councils. At a festive meeting on Friday, 8 February 2008, the go-ahead was given for the construction of six Art Houses in Drenthe. On that occasion, the building sign for the first two artistic lodgings was unveiled at recreation park ‘Lanka’ in Ruinen. The other Art Houses will be built in Schipborg (Musarrindill), in Nieuwediep (Park van Ruiten) and in Uffelte. Two Art Houses are planned here on the site of ”De Blauwe Haan”. The homes to be developed have been designed by artists William Speakman, Ira Koers, Teun Hocks, José Vorstermans, Wouter Dijk and Jaap Bakker. The latter is also involved in this project as one of the architects, together with colleagues from KR8 Architects in Borger.

No shortage of standard holiday parks.

Wouter Dijk believes it’s about time to come up with new initiatives in the world of recreation in Drenthe. ‘Innovation is no longer the obvious development. Drenthe has allowed its prominent position of in the tourist industry to slip away. Uniformity can be seen everywhere. Artists working in the recreation sector have made it possible to break out of boredom. This allows us to work on innovation and create a different image for the province. We are trying to combine art, culture and recreation. This has an added value. Recreation by itself is not appealing to the public. There is no shortage of standard holiday parks. From the viewpoint of the artist it must be very special working in the tourist industry rather than just creating art for the sake of art.’ It has not been an easy time since 2001 until the foundation stone for the first Art House could be laid this springtime. ‘One must be very persistent. It has been a long and winding road. It started off with the subsidy schemes,’ says Frits Schuitemaker. ‘Those schemes have become more and more complicated. The same goes for the Leader funds. There are too many rules, too many requirements that must be met. In the past few years I have been the intermediary between those who have creative ideas and those who provide subsidies and think up all sorts of regulations the projects must comply with. Besides, until today we have been forced to work within the budget that was granted as early as in 2001. The budget does not allow for the rising costs of living since 2001, which is a bit of a headache. At times I felt like a bean counter, but that was far from what I wanted to be.’ An entirely different matter were our contacts with the officials. Schuitemaker: ‘We are working on an innovative and experimental programme. There is no other project in the Netherlands that could serve as an example for the authorities. The recreational homes we have in mind are works of art at the same time, but such projects do not fit in with conventional zoning schemes, of course. Such homes do not comply with all kinds of building regulations. It means you end up with interminable discussions with officials. Before granting any building consent, they first test the designs against existing rules and regulations, and those rules and regulations are no good to us. For instance, the doors of one of the designs are more or less round in shape. The council planning department told me the doors must have a rectangular shape of a particular size. If I respond by saying the design is about a work of art, it will be clear the ensuing explanations can become very awkward.’ Wouter Dijk: ‘Administrators such as aldermen and members of the provincial executive are often more forthcoming in terms of the plans. They were keen right from the start, realising the project can help the province of Drenthe to present itself better in the tourist industry. These are the kind of things they keep in mind, rather than worry about rules and regulations. Officials are often looking for ways to fit in with the rest. We, on the other hand, are in search of contrast at some locations. We believe that in case of the Art Houses the artist should have the final say. Also in term of the colour scheme. But in order to overcome the deadlock in negotiations, they were prepared to make some concessions.’

Art Houses make a contribution to the regional economy
Both Wouter Dijk and Frits Schuitemaker say the project was particularly awkward at first, because they were unable to provide an actual picture of the plan. The Netherlands has no existing homes that can serve as an example. Wouter Dijk: ‘We had a plan, but no blueprint. Entrepreneurs in the tourist industry tend to shy away from investing in projects they cannot see on paper. People at local government offices were also unable to visualise the things we had in mind. Saying it is all about works of art that can be used as holiday homes, allowing the public to experience the artist’s emotions, can be conceived as hollow words. We had to ask and pay the artists for their designs without having an idea of the demand from within the tourist industry. It was all very excited. But in the end we managed to convince a sufficient number of people to take part in the project.’
At the time the initiators started approaching 30 artists, asking their opinion about the feasibility of the project. It was done on the basis of criteria set by an independent committee. In the end, ten artists remained and they were given the task of designing an Art House. The initial idea was the realisation of seven projects. In actual fact, six Art Houses are being built this springtime and reservations from the public are taken for this coming summer. These are holiday homes for up to six people. All homes are to meet the high standards set in terms of modern comfort. The alternative holiday homes will be given a 3-star or 4-star rating. Following the initial phase, the project must continue, particularly in a promotional sense. The Art Houses Foundation asks an annual contribution from the participating entrepreneurs in the tourist industry for printing promotional brochures. The foundation also looks after quality control and continuity, and examines any ways for further expansion. From the time the Art Houses have been completed, the idea will be to connect art, culture and economy by developing tourist programmes. Frits Schuitemaker: ‘By considering culture not merely as an expense, the Art Houses can make a contribution to the regional economy.’

Falling House

The various rough drafts for the Art Houses have been put together in book form. Wouter Dijk passionately talks about his design he has dubbed ‘Falling House’. ‘My design is based on the idea that objects which have been knocked over immediately lose their functionality. We immediately give them a different value. I have maintained the functionality. My Art House is a house tumbled over in the midst of the Drenthe landscape, but it is still a house. Mirrors give the effect of the house being absorbed by the surrounding landscape, reflecting either the land or the sky, but not the person looking at it. It will be quite an experience for the guests.’ Frits Schuitemaker and Wouter Dijk are already dreaming of the next steps for their project. Wouter Dijk: ‘If I could, I would build many of these kinds of homes, one spaced at a day’s walk from the other, from the Wadden Sea to the south of Spain.’ Frits Schuitemaker: ‘One could link all sorts of things to those Art Houses, also on a small scale, e.g. within the province of Drenthe. Connecting walking tracks, different art forms, stories, local dialect projects, etc. Cultural diversity is important. That is what we would like to give a boost via this project. If demand for Art Houses is increasing at some point in the future, we’ll go back to the drawing board. But I think that entrepreneurs in the tourist sector may take a chance themselves. Also without any subsidy. As long as they can see it works. But without financial support, this initial plan would not have gotten off the ground.’