The Witte de With name change is a fact

Kunstinstituut Melly will be the new name of the institute formerly known as Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art. The new name will come into effect on 27 January 2021.

The contemporary art institution is founded in 1990 and located on the Witte de Withstraat.

On 14 June 2017 a group of cultural professionals, artists and activists published an Open letter to the insitution. Their letter openly challenged the center for dealing with an art project on decolonization without having regarded, to begin with, the institution’s namesake. The namesake refers to the street, named after a seventeenth century Dutch naval officer of the VOC and WIC, Witte Corneliszoon de With. Not only did this lead to a breakthrough in an ongoing debate about the process of decolonization in the Netherlands, but the criticism also made the center aware of the need to strengthen work on the issues surrounding representation. In the face of this predicament, on 7 September 2017, we vowed to make a name change. On 27 June 2020, they withdrawled their thirty-year-old name “Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art”.

Anti-racism protest in which the facade of the art institution in Witte de Withstraat was covered with paint. Members of ‘Helden van Nooit-kunstcollectief’ performed the action overnight in June 2020. In a statement, activists say they want to “contextualize false heroes.” Source: Noordhollands Dagblad. Image: EPA / ROBINUTRECHT

Name refers to accountability, vulnerability and responsiveness

Director Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy says that, “the institution’s renaming responds to the claims raised by the larger decolonial movement in such a way that the new name, even by evocation, cannot disregard this moment. In this sense, our ongoing project Melly has come to stand for a work culture that fosters public engagement, deep listening, and collective learning.
It is a name that refers to accountability, vulnerability and responsiveness, and ensures that we continue to develop into an increasingly hospitable and intrepid cultural institution.”

Melly, female “anti-hero”

The name “Melly” originally refers to the artwork “Melly Shum Hates Her Job” (1990) by Canadian artist Ken Lum, permanently installed on the facade. This work of art has acquired iconic status locally and was replaced at a wide public request. “Melly” has come to represent a working-class female “anti-hero” as well as a new relationship between the institution, the street, the city and its communities.