Design Academy Eindhoven creative director resigns

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Thomas Widdershoven

Design Academy Eindhoven creative director Thomas Widdershoven resigns

Design Academy Eindhoven creative director and chair Thomas Widdershoven has resigned, saying he has "decided not to be available" after the summer break.

The Dutch school made the surprise announcement earlier this week, saying Widdershoven will not return for the autumn term.

"Thomas Widdershoven, creative director and chair of the executive board of Design Academy Eindhoven, has announced that he will not be available for a second term," the school said.

"At the opening of the academic year on September 6th he will say goodbye to students, teachers and staff."

Widdershoven, a graphic designer who co-runs Amsterdam studio Thonik, then sent a letter to students and staff explaining the reasons for his decision.

"After careful consideration I have decided not to be available for a second term in my present position," he wrote. "It has been a difficult decision."

Widdershoven joined the school, considered one of the most influential design institutions in the world, in 2013 after a period of turmoil that saw the resignation of the previous creative director and the temporary departure of three departmental heads.

Below is the letter Widdershoven sent following the announcement of his departure:


Dear students and colleagues,

We are on the threshold of yet another summer holiday, the fourth since I joined Design Academy Eindhoven. Time has flown, I must admit, and it feels almost strange to acknowledge that the end of my four-year term as Creative Director and Chair of the Board is drawing near.

Over the past few months I have been considering my future plans and ambitions. In the interest of our school I want to be clear about the result of this thought process. After careful consideration I have decided not to be available for a second term in my present position.

It has been a difficult decision.

In the last years we have embarked on a road of changes and I am happy to have played a role in this. I hope you share my opinion that these are changes for the better.

The academy has a new story and a new position in the world of design. We look at the outside world. We recognise problems that need to be addressed. We see opportunities arise. Rather than suggesting oversimplified solutions we create alternatives.

Our creative practice allows us to raise fundamental questions, and we can propose fundamental changes. Now that technology is democratized, small initiatives have the potential to make a big impact on the world. A small institute like ours has become more relevant then ever before.

Today's students are digital natives. This has profoundly changed the nature of education. A school is no longer the place where the old world is passed on to a new generation, contemporary education is about the collaborative invention of a new world – in a dialogue between an older and a new generation of designers. That is the essence of the new educational approach at Design Academy Eindhoven.

This new story has been researched and presented in three consecutive exhibitions we staged at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. Self Unself (2013) looked at the unselfish inclination of a new type of designer. Sense Nonsense (2014) investigated the validity of a poetic approach as a method for innovation. And finally Thing Nothing (2015) delved into the value of design in a dematerialising world.

Our highly successful Graduation Shows attracted large audiences and generated widespread public acclaim for the new story. But more than that: they demonstrated the ingenuity, relevance and dedication expressed in the projects of our graduates.

The international focus of the academy was a major issue during my years as Creative Director. We can be proud of some great presentations in Milan. In 2014 the new department Food NonFood staged the truly provocative Eat Shit event. And in 2015 Touch Base was received with great enthusiasm. Other successful international presentations have been held in New York, Suzhou, Macau, Paris and Shenzhen. And in Hong Kong we organised a three-month workshop to strengthen our international agenda.

Crucially important for the continuity of the academy – although less visible to many of you – were the efforts to solidify the school's financial position. Thanks to all involved we are financially healthy. We now rent, instead of own the academy building, which has freed us from a rather costly burden.

The Supervisory Board recently approved an investment budget of €2.5 million that allows us to proceed with the educational and professional development in the coming years. There are plans to organise a dialogue programme and to adjust the interior of the building. We added a new space on the first floor, that will develop into a new entrance.

The organisation today has become a lot less hierarchic. Instead of heads for different staff departments (like communications, facilities, operations, human resources and education), we now assign responsibilities to dedicated teams that organise their own processes.

Bachelor education has not only been restructured but also revitalised. Two new departments were introduced: Stijn Roodnat now heads Public Private (a merger of two former departments) and Marije Vogelzang started Food NonFood. The former Kompas programme (with four separate heads) has been reframed into Skills and Urgencies, directed by a multi-faceted editorial team.

In 2014 Design Curating and Writing started as a new, fourth Master department. Headed by Justin McGuirk and recently Alice Twemlow this department adds critical reflection to the palette of our Master programme.

We have had an intense and productive collaboration with the ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), our main financial partner. Discussions with the minister touched on the importance of our school for contemporary culture, education and society as a whole.

The support of the ministry, the enthusiasm of the Van Abbemuseum, the appreciation shown by press and general public, the warm welcome we experienced abroad and above all the quality and urgency of the work made by our students have made it all worthwhile. I thoroughly enjoyed my presence in this amazing school.

So why did I decide against a second term?

As Creative Director and Chair I had a part-time position at the academy. Meanwhile I kept working at Thonik, the design studio Nikki Gonnissen and I founded in 1993. While the school was in need of a new foundation, Thonik could build on a strong base. This explains why, over these past few years, the focus of my work was on the academy.

But as I was contemplating a second term in Eindhoven it became clear to me how important my actual involvement in design is. Thonik is expanding its activities into new fields and new countries: an exciting prospect for the studio and a development I definitely want to be part of. And, for the first time in my life, I have started work on an architectural project.

I am confident that the academy holds a strong position. In terms of finance, reputation, organisation and education Design Academy Eindhoven faces a bright future. I will miss the students who are shaping this future, and I shall miss the team. Continuity in the board is in good hands with my fellow board member Jurriënne Ossewold. I want to thank you all for an intense and beautiful collaboration.

After the summer I will step down. The opening of the new academic year on September 6th provides a perfect opportunity to say goodbye to you in person. I hope everyone can join to toast to the future of the academy, the students and all of us. I will formally leave the academy on October 15th.

Best wishes,
Thomas Widdershoven
Creative Director
Chair of the Board
Design Academy Eindhoven