Surprising safety at the Embassy of Safety
“We live in a time when we get stuck on many complicated issues,” says Tabo Goudswaard, curator of the Embassy of Safety. “That’s also true within the realm of security.” Such as the undermining effect of young people who end up in the drug trade or the increasing risks online. The police, the probation service in the Netherlands and the Public Prosecutor Service (OM), among others, work together with designers and artists to create ‘surprising safety’. “Both new and surprising parties will contribute, as well as existing parties that will display surprising behaviour.”
Two years ago, the Embassy of Safety was present for the first time during Dutch Design Week, with an exhibition on the Ketelhuisplein. The reason for starting the Embassy was the increased awareness of the undermining effect of organized crime on society, explains Goudswaard. “Subversive crime can jeopardize the very foundations of society. For example, because mayors are threatened and can no longer carry out their work. Or because there are drug labs in neighbourhoods with all the associated dangers for residents. The murders of Derk van Wiersum and Peter R. De Vries are also sad examples of the disruptive effect of drug-related crime. The functioning of the rule of law is under pressure if lawyers no longer dare to do their job, or if the police capacity has to be used to protect politicians.”
Hierarchy and intuition
As early as 2018, Arnoud Grootenboer and Marjon van Gelderen, within the police, took the initiative to set up the ‘Social Design Police’. “They wanted to connect agents to social designers. So that they can work together on an issue posed by the local police officer, and they learn from each other.” Goudswaard became involved through them. Grootenboer and Van Gelderen approached him at the time, partly because of his background as a youth worker and social designer.
Security organizations are often hierarchical, says the curator. “At the police, the first thing they look at is how many stripes you have on your shoulder.” A systematic way of working, everything according to protocol, is necessary to enforce the rules. After all, “it must actually be established whether someone is the perpetrator”. “Artists and designers work intuitively and based on their senses. They don’t yet know what it will be and what the result will be. They are really different worlds. Worlds that can reinforce each other.”
It’s not that black and white, emphasizes Goudswaard. “Any community police officer will say you can’t put everyone in the same category. Sometimes, customization is needed or improvisation. The great thing about the Dutch police is that it doesn’t just focus on repression, punishment and enforcement. There is actually already contact ‘in peacetime’ as they call it. The local police officer gets to know the local residents before things go wrong. Then when things go wrong, it’s easier to work together.”
The Social Design Police will again be present this year. Goudswaard sees it’s become commonplace to collaborate with designers within the police. One of his favourite works is Sirene by artist Bart Eysink Smeets and local police officers Ellen Stoevelaar and Wilja Hagen. Sitting on the back of the bicycle, it lets out the loud sound of the siren, as recreated by musicians.
“At the Embassy, we believe there are many opportunities to make the world a safer place.” According to Goudswaard, there are three mechanisms in which designers can “be of added value”.
We are often not aware of the risks, says Goudswaard. As Daan Wubben’s 2019 work Whistleblowers makes clear. Wubben, together with the mayor of Gilze-Rijen, hung up a large clock. Not to let you know the time, but to show how many drug labs have been shut down in the municipality. The mayor changed hands every time one was shut down, “When this is reported anywhere, it’s abstract and ‘not in your neighbourhood’. It will be the talk of the town if you are consciously confronted with it in your neighbourhood.”
There’s also a lack of sense of responsibility. Goudswaard says, “Many citizens, but also professionals think: it’s the police’s responsibility, not mine, for example. Designers can help shape that sense of responsibility and that role that you have as a citizen and professional.”
New action perspective
When we want to do something, we often don’t know how to. Goudswaard calls this the lack of a perspective for action. He wants to use the Embassy to offer new perspectives for action so that people also know what to do.
No Place for Sex Trafficking inspired a new perspective for action, a project of the Public Prosecutor Service and designers of What The Studio. Exploitation and abuse of sex workers is a big problem, but it is invisible. Goudswaard explains, “Hotels are often the place where this abuse happens.” That is why the Public Prosecutor Service and the designers investigated how they can make hotel owners feel co-responsible and offer them a perspective on how they can help.
The expertise on how to recognize the abuse came from the Public Prosecutor Service. “Such as paying in cash or asking for a lot of clean towels in the hotel room.” A training course has been developed for hotel owners, where they can earn a certificate. “That is, of course, wonderful: it fits in with the hotel owner’s intrinsic motivation to show that their hotel is a reliable and safe place.”
The Night Club
During this edition of DDW, the makers of The Night Club, Marjolein Vermeulen and Jaap Warmenhoven, can also be found in the Embassy exhibition. They create a safe setting to discuss unsafe topics. That happens at night. “Because, they say, you actually have to exhibit unsafe behaviour to feel safe. So you have to go out of your comfort zone a little bit, like going out at night.”
The designers take people out of their existing ‘scripts’ of interacting by doing this at night. “Everyone in a neighbourhood has fixed expectations of each other. About the local police officer, or the employee of the housing corporation of the people in social housing, or the municipality’s official. If you meet at night, all those officials become human too.”
Goudswaard also wants to highlight the work of Ginevra Petrozzi, Digital Esoterism. “She connects how we handle Big Data and the power of tech platforms to ancient divination practices. Both focus on predicting the future.” During DDW, Ginevra will perform Tarot readings with visitors’ telephones every afternoon.” Her project was awarded Cum Laude from Design Academy Eindhoven and nominated for the Gijs Bakker Award 2021.
Finally, Goudswaard would like to emphasize that the Embassy of Safety should not be limited to short-term initiatives and temporary projects. “It is important that we work together in a sustainable and multi-year manner by approaching safety issues by design. That’s not only clear during DDW but also the rest of the time. It’s also important that people who encourage this way of working in security organizations, such as the police and Public Prosecutor Service, are given the space to expand the idea further.
The Embassy of Safety is not just an exhibition where designers and security organisations can surprise you about safety. There are also various events, such as debates and lectures.