A conversation with the Rabobank

Verily Klaassen is head of art affairs at Rabobank Netherlands. The Rabobank has an art collection that Klaassen can talk about for hours, she says. The bank has a collection of 2,500 works that hang in the bank’s buildings or have been loaned to museums. This has resulted in, among other things, the Rabo Art Lab with artists in residence who research social transitions together with bank employees. “Our aim is to use this art collection and the contacts with the artists in a different way to add value to the organisation,” says Klaassen. 

Type Update
Published on 8 February 2024
Part of Embassies: Circular & Biobased Building, Food
A conversation with the Rabobank
Part of Embassies: Circular & Biobased Building, Food

Rabobank has been a partner of Dutch Design Foundation (DDF) since 2022. During the edition of Dutch Design Week 2022 (DDW) still in the background, but for the 2023 edition as the main partner. This partnership with DDF gives Klaassen the opportunity to get out of the bank and take a step outside. “To actually enter a different context and bring that different context back into the bank.”

How does Rabobank collaborate with DDF?

“We went on an expedition together last year to – if you want to make it big – the future of the Netherlands. On that expedition, we set out to see what we could do for each other. This resulted in a collaboration with the Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building and one with the Embassy of Food.”

“It might be good to mention here that we have known Lucas De Man (creative lead of the Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building, ed.) for quite a while. He was our very first artist in resident. The collaboration with the Embassy of Circular & Biobased Building is therefore logical, both in terms of designer, but certainly also in terms of subject. Many great things come together in this Embassy: the task that touches housing; Rabobank is a major player in the mortgage market, but also in creating and expanding the market for bio-based building materials. The bank’s agricultural background is also interesting.”

“During DDW we organised days on biobased construction for farmers and policymakers. In addition, Rabobank is working on a future-proof food system within the Embassy of Food. Our Food and Agri director, Alex Datema, worked with the creative lead of the Embassy of Food, Barbara Vos, and visual storyteller Rogier Klomp, on a visual mapping that you can walk through to get a picture of our future food system.”

“As part of the Embassy of Food, we set up BURO MISO with artistic researcher and artist Arne Hendriks. BURO MISO was on display at Ketelhuisplein. Arne was our second artist in residence in 2018, and we have been working with him for a long time. He studies growth and shrinkage in a larger perspective and has been working on the fermented soybean paste miso for some time. Many stories are linked to the image of miso. It is a fungus and therefore a seasoning in food, which might lead people to eat less meat. So miso could play a role in the protein transition. At the same time, there is an amazing historical connection with our trade history. In the 17th century, we brought home from Japan everything except miso.”

“Finally, we organised ‘match for impact’ meetings. During these meetings, we sought together with DDF to help develop a number of promising and above all sustainable design ideas, mainly related to materials. We have selected these initiatives from a long list compiled by DDF to form a short list. This selection involved both people from the bank and people from the design field. As Rabobank we help with knowledge and our network, but also with the members and of course with capital.”

“The collaboration with DDF is especially evident during DDW. For me, that is the week where a lot comes together. But the collaboration with designers is more than just that week, it is a year-round programme.”

How does collaboration with designers fit in with Rabobank?

“This collaboration with designers is part of a larger movement we have been pursuing with the bank for several years. I just said, Lucas De Man was our first artist in residence and Arne the second, but Carlijn Kingma, who won a Dutch Design Award in 2023, and Koert van Mensvoort are also designers/artists who we invite to our Rabo Art Lab. A free space in the bank in which we connect creativity to transitions that we consider important. Social issues in respect of which we feel the need to also explore them through the creative field. Topics such as biodiversity, our water or soil, nitrogen, intensive agriculture or how we organise our landscape. All these issues involve different questions, sharper statements and self-criticism.”

What makes creative input for these social issues so important?

“Designers often start something without knowing exactly where it will end. They are very good at stripping something down and getting to a kind of core. Creativity is also very important because it can open up a completely different world and give us a different perspective on issues. I think we live in a time where we are confronted with many complex issues that we cannot tackle as we used to.” “The fact that we have to do things differently and do it together is in line with what PONT (The Public Design Practice, ed.) does and it overlaps with the coalitions that the World Design Embassies (WDE) are trying to forge.” 

“Look, our Art Lab is quite successful in the bank because it means you are promoting employees, in other words my colleagues, from being observers to participants. For me, the collaboration with DDF is a way to get out of the bank and take a step outside. To actually enter a different context and bring that different context back into the bank.”

‘I think showing some interest in each other is very important. As an organisation, we look at the scope of the creative field, what we might find there and what we might bring to it, and vice versa.’

Is entering into coalitions mainly the reason for the partnership with DDF?

“Yes, that is really very important. As Rabobank we have a strong network, but we also have a gap in that network. That is vice versa: our knowledge can be super interesting for designers.”

“We recorded a great video with Lucas about this mutual knowledge exchange during DDW. In it he says: ‘I may have learned more from them than they learned from me.’ That’s a beautifully humble comment, and that’s the starting point. I think showing some interest in each other is very important. As an organisation, we look at the scope of the creative field, what we might find there and what we might bring to it, and vice versa.”

What is the importance of this partnership in a broader sense?

“Personally, I think that innovation, technology and creativity come together perfectly in the Eindhoven region. That is why this region is interesting. Here we can support promising initiatives at an early stage. In addition, DDW is a valuable moment to take our customers with us and inspire them. Last year we welcomed around two thousand members, private bankers.”

“It is of course wonderful if these ‘match for impact’ initiatives ultimately not only contribute to a better world, but can also be interesting propositions, or that you can set something in motion with them. This applies, for example, to biobased building materials. That can be a revenue model for farmers and farmers are our customers. I predict that from the bank we can connect the business even more closely to all the amazing ideas and plans that exist.”

Are there also lessons you have learned from working with designers?

“Art takes time, it is not a ‘quick fix’”. As Marianne Aarnoudse (Head of Design Works at DDF, ed.) says: ‘Designers are not going to come up with a solution for everything.’ These are processes, and they take time, and failure is also interesting. Sometimes it is a bit uncomfortable. Then the trick is to be able to keep in with that discomfort.”

What is it like for the people within Rabobank to work with designers?

“In our Art Lab, employees go from observer to participant, as mentioned. You then appeal to people’s knowledge. This creates an exchange and makes you feel part of something. For example, Lucas De Man has created a theatre performance about a fictional bank employee who encounters all kinds of things in her career and starts to wonder about things. That performance went round all the local banks. People look at their story, that is important.”

“And sometimes moving too, you really get the feeling that this is about me and concerns me. That is also what we are trying to achieve with the collaboration with DDF, that we feel and convey that this concerns us all. It affects you and you can contribute to it with your knowledge. This is how fantastic collaborations are created.”

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