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Alexander van Slobbe Quits Eindhoven

The latest drama to hit Dutch design is this week's announcement that Alexander van Slobbe is stepping down from his role as creative director of the Design Academy Eindhoven.  The industry unanimously agrees that his departure is a loss for the school, which is struggling to evolve with the shifting design times.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 10-09-2009

In a dramatic announcement this week that shocked the Dutch design establishment, Design Academy Eindhoven issued a press release stating that after just nine months on the job, creative director Alexander van Slobbe was stepping down.

Emails ran hot and lots of questions were being asked, but the academy’s explanation was simple - Van Slobbe could not successfully combine his role at the academy with his role as designer for fashion house Orson + Bodil.

Henri Beelen, secretary of the executive board of the academy, is adamant that the decision entailed nothing controversial.  “Nothing went wrong,” he says.  “It just became impossible for him to combine part-time membership of the executive board with his own duties as a fashion designer.”

Beelen disagrees that the demands of this position would have been well understood before the appointment was accepted.  “These things are never obvious at the start,” he says.   “It’s hard to get an impression of just how much the workload will end up being.”

Beelen then moves on to say that the board was very satisfied with Van Slobbe and emphasizes that there has been no difference of opinion between him and chairwoman, Anne Mieke Eggenkamp.  “They both share the same vision about the academy and its future,” he says.

The next step is for Van Slobbe to discuss with the board the possibility of continuing his tenure as creative director without sitting on the board.  “Whether or not that can happen will be made clear within the next couple of weeks,” says Beelen.  “And until that time, he will stay working on the annual graduation exhibition and catalogue.”

It would be unusual if the Design Academy Eindhoven accepted this.  Although it would free Van Slobbe from the administrative workload, it would also reduce his power and effect.

“The problem with such a set up is that you can say and advise all you like, but unless you are actually sitting on the board, it is impossible to ensure that anyone actually acts,” says José Teunissen, a lecturer at ArtEZ Institute for the Arts in Arnhem where Van Slobbe is still an associate professor.  “Ultimately, it would always depend on the board’s position.”

Teunissen goes on to express regret at Van Slobbe’s decision saying that the academy needs someone with real life experience and connections to the industry.  “It’s so much better to have a working professional than an educational or management expert in this role,” she says.  “Also, [previous artistic director] Li Edelkoort’s focus was on the marketing of big names and it was going to be very interesting to see what Van Slobbe’s approach, which in Arnhem has always been focused on design processes and attitudes, could have yielded. He was certainly going to be an interesting addition and it’s a shame that we never saw the results.”

Others design.nl contacted talked passionately about Van Slobbe’s genius and also expressed how unfortunate it was for the academy to be losing his vision.

Gert Staal, who is currently working on a design education exhibition for Dutch Design Double’s Utrecht Manifesto, thinks the academy hasn’t done well in shifting to the reality of the current design climate.  “It has desperately failed,” he says, “which is why Van Slobbe’s departure is a real shame. He is unrivalled when it comes to really understanding how design and the demands of design education are changing.”

Staal also voices doubt about the idea of acting in a creative director capacity without sitting on the board.  “You can’t fly into a situation a few times a year, say what's important, leave, and expect anything to happen,” he says.  “Of course it will end up just being business as usual because you can’t change the atmosphere of an institution without being there.

“It has to be said, however, Van Slobe is brilliant and if there is anything else to say, it would be that perhaps his temperament and that of the academy were just not very well matched.”

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