The Belgians are coming!

Jan Staes (l) en Leen Cogghe (r) Jan Staes (l) en Leen Cogghe (r)

Tilburg, February 5, 2018 This article in Dutch, dit artikel in het Nederlands

Leen Cogghe and Jan Staes have been appointed Head of Studies at FHK; a striking detail is that they both are from Belgium. They both are also extremely well-motivated to face the substantial challenges the university is running up against.

Leen (39, Gent) is the new Head of Studies at the Academy of Music Theatre and Musical Theatre, a full-time bachelor programme.

Jan (45, Antwerp) is Head of Studies at the Master of Education in Arts, a two-year part-time programme.

Jan Staes Jan Staes

Do you consider this to be the obvious move?

Jan: "As far as I am concerned it is not a career move. Three years ago, I was invited to become teacher policymaking and creative/artistic entrepreneurship at the Master Education in Arts. I found it an incredible opportunity. Head of Studies Renske de Groot and I got on like a house on fire. When she had accepted another job, we, three core academic teachers, have replaced her as an ad interim team.  It took me some time to decide whether I wanted to become the new Head of Studies; did I look forward to the meetings and the planning process? When you realize that you can use all of that to increase the quality of your educational programme, you recognize the surplus value.”

So you were the best man for the job?

Jan: "As far as competences are concerned, I am familiar with managing teams. But the only interesting aspect of being a Head of Studies is to consider the quality of the students you educate to be your final objective; not the quality of your management team. That is a means to an end."

Leen: "Oh dear, I could not explain it in such eloquent terms. During a period of ten years at the Academy of Music Theatre and Musical Theatre, I occupied myself mainly with teaching; but I was also chairman of the Examination Board and Quality Care Coordinator at the Dance Department. When Yvonne van der Pol left, there was not immediately someone who presented himself as the new Head of Studies. I did contemplate, though, whether it was something that would suit me. The first year, Martin Smit became the ad interim Head. Eventually, I became the Head of Studies. I have a clear picture of what can still be achieved for the academy, and I see ample possibilities for the future of Music Theatre and Musical Theatre.”

So a big challenge right from the start?

Leen: "Absolutely, our educational programmes are very traditional. We have to get embedded in FHK’s new strategic objectives. This is not going to happen without its setbacks and difficulties.  But I have always had a clear vision of how we can achieve that. You see, as a genre musicals are always perceived as being very ‘common’; actually, they are not. The people identify them with the extreme commercial productions, featuring well-known Dutch men and women who, in fact, have not sufficiently mastered this craft. But there is also an entire field of musicals which are not commercial at all, and of high quality. We, as an academy, should focus more on this field; at the same time, we must try and show the professional field what else you can do with the concept of musical. We must open our doors for this professional field to allow them to experiment with new material."

Leen Cogghe Leen Cogghe

That would be a fine example of the strategic objective ‘co-creation’.

Leen: "That is true, I have clear-cut ideas with regard to this; I already have found a trendy name for it:  Musical Incubator. At the moment, the professional field is not able to do this, due to lack of time: material cannot mature enough. I want to give producers and young makers the opportunity to come to FHK and start exploring in a sheltered and safe environment. I also want to make a connection with the universities. I have always been of the opinion that too little is written about the musical genre.  I myself studied theatre sciences and we were not allowed to even speak about musicals. I thought that was wrong. Now I am trying to make contacts in order to give university students Dramaturgy a chance to come to us as interns and get involved in our final production process.“
Jan: "At the Master of Education in Arts we strongly believe in looking upon things from various disciplines.  We have students who have been trained in the visual arts, but also in dance and musical. This diversity provides opportunities. I think that this aspect gives us a lot in common with Musical, to mention one: by accommodating these different disciplines you avoid a context of boring uniformity. Is a hybrid and all-round artist a fully-fledged artist? He has to be able to do so many different things that it is impossible to achieve overall high standards. This is something I hear so many times. And it is something we also ponder about.”

What are the challenges FHK has to face in the years to come?

Jan: "The collaboration between the various educational programmes offers incredible opportunities. We, for instance, are investigating the possibilities of a more extensive collaboration between the different Master programmes. But we are also looking for a connection between the Bachelor and Master programmes. Not just within Visual but also with other sectors. Something I myself find very exciting is the intended collaboration with the society at large and the professional field. That includes a reflection on your own domain: what constitutes education in the years 2017-2018? A re-examination and re-evaluation of its existing frameworks are absolutely mandatory.  Sometimes you are stuck in a particular habit of thought that you cannot get out. By working together with partners - and that may well be another FHK educational programme - you can liberate yourself from that.“
Leen: "For me the biggest challenge is to prepare our students for a sustainable career in the arts, in a time when everything changes relatively swift. So, not just during the period of five years after FHK, but also in the fifty years after that; to hand down tools that are useful throughout their lives."
Jan: "The same holds true for teachers. It is going to be a process of searching, and, no doubt, of swearing every now and again, I hope. Occasionally, that can be such a relief."


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