The city of Rotterdam in The Netherlands is Europe’s largest port, strategically located at the mouth of the Rhine and the Maas rivers.
Nicknamed the ‘Manhattan on the Maas’, the city is renowned for its innovative architecture, and public art spaces.
And its skyline is constantly changing, explains art producer Jaeren Everaest.
“Rotterdam is a very new city,” says Everaest.
“It was bombed during the Second World War, and was rebuilt in the 1940s, so it’s completely new. It has a lot of diversity, and this brings, I think, unity.”
Indeed this ‘unity in diversity’ is a central theme reflected in the work of his company, Mothership, which creates art in urban spaces.
“There is one special project we did for the coronation of our new king, and we see it on the horizon. Normally, at night you see an animation on it, so it’s moving and flickering. It’s one of the projects that we are very proud of,” he says.
This innovative use of public space is a notable characteristic of modern Rotterdam.
The city has an ambitious policy to support artistic innovation and public art.
Rotterdam’s famous annual art festivals are one way it’s meeting the mandate.
“Rotterdam is a city that has a lot of art and culture,” says Antoinette Laan, Deputy Mayor of Art and Culture at the Rotterdam City Council.
“The way to express this is with festivals because it’s easy for people to go, young people come, it doesn’t cost anything, it’s in open spaces,” she says.
This year, two festivals have been combined into one giant celebration: Rotterdam Unlimited.
“It does a lot for us here. As you see, the Summer Carnival that we have – it’s called now Rotterdam Unlimited – is very international. People from all over the world are coming to see this. But the same thing is for North Sea Jazz Festival and our International Film Festival, is a very good example of an international festival that’s really appreciated abroad.”
The International Film Festival is held each January in cinemas around the city.
Martje van Nes heads the festival’s funding platform, which helps producers launch their films.
“Each year we receive 2000 international film professionals, so that’s really huge, they know how to find us, and also 280 visits each year. So we are very large but maybe we are less known because we don’t have really a red carpet,” says van Nes.
“But they aren’t the easiest films to see. You really come for an adventure here, and that makes it special.”
The annual Port of Rotterdam North Sea Jazz Festival is another big draw-card for the city.
With 15 stages, 1,200 artists and about 25,000 visitors each day, the festival has won international acclaim, widely acknowledged as the ‘biggest jazz festival in the world’.
Often called the ‘Gateway to Europe’, Rotterdam’s vibrant cultural life is positioning it more as a portal to the world.
The city is a melting pot of different cultures and identities.
But the Rotterdam Unlimited festival is for everyone.
Festivities, song, dance – and even a festival Queen.
Kim Geursten is this year’s Summer Carnival Queen.
“When I was a girl, five years old, I always wanted to be Queen of the Summer Carnival – and now I am!” she says.
“This parade is wonderful, and there are a lot of cultures in it, one of the only parades in Europe. It’s magnifique!” says Geursten.
Indeed with over 170 nationalities calling Rotterdam home, the city is vibrant, young, dynamic and distinctly international.
“Rotterdam is a city of more than 280 cultures and this makes our city so beautiful and so strong. The possibility for the cultures to celebrate their diversity is what they make them happy and proud,” says Rotterdam Unlimited Festival Director Guus Dutrieux.
Over 900,000 people flock to the city each year to experience the festival.
“Rotterdam is a typical festivals city, and that leads to unlimited possibilities, creating a new urban culture,” says Dutrieux.
The festival is also a showcase of international music heavyweights, such as Asaf Avidan, Manu Chao and Outlandish.
Outlandish singers Isam Bachiri, Waqas Ali Qadri, Lenny Martinez performed at this year’s festival.
“We are Outlandish, representing Denmark, we are right here in Rotterdam for this festival, it’s crazy, a lot of people, a lot of color, a ‘multi-culti’ type festival… Rotterdam!”
And after the parade, a fitting end to a celebration of diversity and inclusiveness.
Multi-cultural, multi-lingual musician Manu Chao gets everyone moving, proving that no matter where you’re from, music is a language everyone can understand.