Last week saw more than 10.000 visitors who went to the Afrikaanderpark and the surrounding during the POW! WOW! week of its second edition.
The international street art festival officially launched on Sunday September 15 with a street art program of live music performances, a break dance program featuring the worldwide elite, and visitors from all over the Netherlands and far beyond, who wanted to celebrate the festival with the people of the Afrikaanderwijk. It was an overwhelming success.
We are grateful for the warm welcome we had from the all team and the time spent with both the crew and artists.
We also had the great pleasure of meeting with the Festival Director Dave Vanderheijden to chat about his journey and the festival.
Julie – Could you tell me more about your journey to POW!WOW! I believe you come from a music background.
Dave – Yeah, about 20 years ago back in 1999, I just had internet at home and I was browsing for hip hop websites in the Netherlands, because I was crazy about the hip hop music. Every week I could go to different parties, and I was buying all the latest releases. And I thought wouldn’t it be nice if there was a website dedicated to Hip Hop in the Netherlands, where you can find all the parties, hear about which artists are dropping an album, the news, everything! But back then you only had a couple of websites in the Netherlands, and they were both in English and only focused on Amsterdam. Nothing else about what was happening in the whole country. So I was like, Why? Why in English? Why only in Amsterdam?
Julie – How so you reckon?
Dave – Well, I think in the 90s, when hip hop became popular it hit the bigger cities. Everybody was rapping in English too, so all the Dutch artists were rapping in English. That’s why websites probably took that path too. But still I didn’t understand it, so I decided to do a Dutch website dedicated to that culture. I absolutely had no idea what I was doing because I had no experience in building websites, and I had no experience in journalism. So I just started it out, I had no idea how to take a good photo and I just went out and started taking pictures. This is when it all started!
Julie- So you did photography as well?
Dave – Yeah, because I was on my own, I was doing everything by myself. I was trying to do as much as I could by creating a website with all the information on it. And from that point, a year later, a lot of people knew about it. They liked what I was doing, offering their help to make it make it bigger and better. Then we got photographers, journalists, and people that could really build a website. So the team grew, and everybody did it as volunteer as there wasn’t any money. It was just for the love of Hip Hop.
Five years later we organised a lot of parties, with different elements of Hip Hop: rap, graffiti, DJ and breakdancing. So that was what Hip Hop was all about. I knew a lot of people that came from the graffiti scene as well, I went to several jams where I knew a lot of writers and this when the organisation started growing.
As we became more professional, we created a foundation. When we had our 10 year anniversary, we made a documentary about the development and the history of Hip Hop in the Netherlands between 1999 and 2009. It consisted of a book of 400 pages. It was the first big historical publication about Hip Hop in the Netherlands, we made a DVD and CD. It became so popular that we were encouraged to do more of these projects but at that time social media didn’t exist. It was challenging as the mainstream media were not interested in Hip Hop at all. The book was a great platform to talk about it but we didn’t have a platform like we do now to talk about it and document it.
Julie – What platforms did you use then? Printed press? Radio?
Dave – Yeah. Press, our website and then later on we did radio as well. We were trying every medium to help making Hip Hop bigger and bigger. And then eventually, we launched a festival on the scene.
Julie – Today we meet in the Afrikaanderwijk, was that festival in the same neighbourhood then?
Dave – If you go one station further you are there. There is a huge factory that is used for concerts, parties and stuff like that. So we did our festival there. It was so special, with a massive line-up, and this was a great example of doing something that people really were looking for, but that nobody was doing back then. Then we did other projects with an online video series about artists to give them a platform to express themselves. Four years ago, we spoke to a lot of street artists, and everybody was complaining about the fact that they were travelling the world, doing lots of murals, and new exhibitions. While here in Rotterdam there was nothing to do for them as there was no permission, and no budget to do anything outside. Which I thought was strange because Rotterdam, is a very raw city and we could use some colour in the city, right? Some of the legal initiatives in the city that had street art were more like smaller murals or just smaller projects, you know, but not really going on the long term.
I’m not an artist myself, I’m not a DJ, I can’t dance, I can’t use a spray can and I can’t draw. I’m just a big fan wanting to do projects for the scene that he loves. What I always do when I have a tone of ideas is connect with someone from my network sand ask him, ‘what do you think about this idea?’ This is what I did with the street art world, because when I spoke to a lot of artists, my idea was to create street art tours in the centre of Rotterdam, because it’s the hardest location in the city. And if you can do something like that in the centre you can do it anywhere else in the city. So I created a concept where I wanted to have 15 walls in the city, make a route and make an application. That initiative was called Rewriters? And I said when we wanted to paint a wall by local artists it gave us a landmark for them to perform. Musicians need a stage to perform, same for street artists in my opinion, they need a wall or a space outside to express themselves. That was the whole idea behind it.
So I asked one of my good friends Daniel who I wrote the Hip Hop book with if he was up for it – he did the graffiti section of the book. He initially thought that was gonna be tough because back in the 80s/ early 90s everything was covered in with graffiti, it was everywhere from walls to train stations. Rotterdam has a very strict cleaning policy with cctv operating, they had dedicated staff whose job was trying to get graffiti writers and fine them.
Julie – How did you manage that project in this context?
Dave – Daniel asked me how I was planning my approach and change how street art was perceived. I asked him to be on board for one year and see where it would take us in a year. And he agreed!
The first year into the project we talked to the council, and with everyone else in the city who could change this. We had a plan and everybody was so enthusiastic. It took some time and we decided to do this in 15 different locations.
Julie – Do you remember what was the first piece created?
Dave – Yeah, the first piece was done by artist Ozon and the piece is still up in the City Centre. They were all blown away by the results. So from that point we got the funding and secured the budget, and the permissions to do it.
At that time there was an award show for upcoming projects. If you had a new project related to culture, or sports, you could present your concept and if they liked it, it would be nominated and you would have a chance to win money to develop your project. So on the very last day of the application days, I submitted the Rewriters idea. Eventually, we came to the first round, then to the final. I will never forget, I was standing with Daniel on stage and they displayed video on a screen behind us. On the video there was Jasper Director of POW!WOW! explaining that the winner would get invited to POW!WOW! Hawaii with an opportunity to meet Jasper there. We ended up being selected and won the contest! We went to Hawaii and met with Jasper and we had the opportunity to be at the festival and meet everybody there, all the artists, media, and the crew. We met so many interesting people, so we decided to do that for the whole week.
Julie – Tell me more about your first meeting with Jasper
Dave – After one or two days we said to each other ‘okay, we need to give this project a go’. Because we had nothing similar to POW!WOW! in Rotterdam and we thought it could really work here. Jasper saw how serious and ready we were and we were definitely on the same page. So we came back after the festival and we started talking with a lot of people here in the city and see if we could make this happen. From there Jasper was on board and this when it all started with POW!WOW! Rotterdam!
Julie – How long ago was it before the first edition?
Dave – I think it was two years before the first edition in 2016. Jasper was very enthusiastic because I was constantly updating him about what we wanted to do. We came to an agreement and everybody was happy about it. But then, you know, the first edition was very challenging because of budget reasons that was approved only 11 weeks prior to the festival. At some stage we had doubt we would even get it.
We eventually got the green light and one of the team members came along from Hawaii for support. We had only 11 weeks left but we did it. It was in a different neighborhood in the old harbor area. It was such a big success with the public.
Julie: What is different this year? I guess it was much easier in terms of logistics and organisation?
Dave – Yeah, the biggest difference is the location. Last year we were located on the north side of the city where it is heavily surrounded by businesses. The area thrives with creativity and we wanted to showcase that by putting it outside on the streets.
But it was challenging because of the surface of the walls which wasn’t ideal. They were very white and super high which made it difficult to complete in a week. So it was really stressful for some artists to get the job done within deadline. We had the same deadline, like this year, which is one week. But it all worked out well and we had the same weather as we have now!
Julie – Tell me more about the location for this years’ edition
Dave – For this year, we decided to come in this neighborhood which is called the Afrikaanderwijk. This is a really big area, it’s nice to come here. And most of the walls have the same format, and the surface is perfect which is great for the artists. We have a good relationship with the owners of all the walls and months ago we already knew which walls we could use. We loved the idea to add more colour on the streets of this neighborhood.
Julie – There are so many activities happening from break dancing, artistic performances, live music. Could you tell me more about the logistics behind it?
Dave – When we submitted the information about the festival and all the things that we wanted to do, we got the green light about each spot, then we could plan everything. This year is so different from last year. Last year nobody was living in the area, this year we are in the middle of a neighborhood.
And we really love that the Festival HQ is located very close to the walls. Last year we had two festival areas when this year we have one location within walking distance.
Julie – I love the fact that there is a fair balance with both local and international artists in your lineup
Dave – Yeah, we really wanted to make a combination between local, national and international artists. On the Sunday events, we had a lot of different programme, where we have a variety of performances on top of the artists. So we have 20 vans located in the park where people could send their own vehicle for the artists to paint. We have a lot of local artists in that lineup as well. We have temporary exhibitions that opened on Sunday located in three houses with local artists and we have one house with a photos exhibition.
Julie – Tell me more about the music event
Dave – We were aiming at having a music lineup in addition to the street art event. We are in a great dense area and we believe if we bring everyone together they will enjoy the other programmes as well. So the people that came for the break dance event will also enjoy the music and the art as well.
Julie – Coming from a musical background it is great to be able to have music taking a big part in the Festival
Dave – Yeah, Hip Hop is so popular it’s very nice to see that everybody in the Netherlands and worldwide is listening to it wether they are 8 years old or in their 40s or 50s. I look forward to seeing what will happen this Sunday. Last year we had almost 4000 visitors in two days. It’s gonna be packed and the weather is great.
The promotion is very good and it’s free entrance. That’s very important for us because we want to be a festival that is very inclusive. People don’t necessarily have time or money to go music gigs or museums.
Julie – Tell me more about the impact of the Festival on the neighborhood we are in.
Dave – I think with a festival like this in the middle of the neighborhoods with free entrance it makes it easier to access. It gives people the opportunity to enjoy so many different activities that fits everyone’s tastes. If they just go through the park they can just enjoy the music gigs. Some will really love it and stay there all day, others will prefer the murals, or break dancing performances.
Everything is accessible within 10 minutes walk. It’s very important for us that everybody can join and then hopefully people will get inspired. When you see what California based artist Spenser Little did during the festival, he is very inspiring and he gave so many gifts on the streets with his creations. I think it’s great.
That is one of the main reasons we created a temporary office located in the neighbourhood with opened doors. If people want to have a chat, if they have any questions, they can just drop by. We can inform people, and let them know what activity is coming up, but also get their feedback and input.
If you hear the conversations on the streets, people are super engaged and interested walking around the neighbourhoods and chat to the artists or bring them food and beverages !
We always try to help the artists as best as we can, so they can work and concentrate and focus on their wall. They would have breakfast in the hotel, then they come over and we prep the materials for them, we would bring them lunch at the wall, so they don’t get interrupted. When the day ends locals are joining us outside for a drink.
Julie -POW!WOW! Rotterdam second edition has been a huge success. What are you plans next?
Dave – Yeah, we really want to come back to this neighbourhood, as we already have permission for next year! So, it would be great if we could have more artists to join music wise, as well as on the streets. That’s one of my personal goals.
We’re still learning as this is our second edition. We did a lot of murals already, I think between 40 or 50. I feel with this Festival we are pioneering and a lot of people are very positive about it.
Julie – What are your thoughts about it all when you look back?
Dave – I mean, it’s kinda cliche, but I really believe that if you really want to do it, then everybody can do it and achieve their goals. If you really want it and you put hours of work in it, then everything is possible. Now that street art is becoming more popular you will see that a lot of new organisations don’t really care about street art or graffiti. They only see profit. For us, it’s very important that we are passionate about what we do and the artists we collaborate with.