Maastricht cultured – Interview with the project managers of the Kaleido movement, Neal Gordon Cowan & Koen de Witte

By Lotte van Wageningen


‘Maastricht Cultured’ is a series of interviews with the creative minds shaping Maastricht’s diverse cultural scene.


As someone who grew up in Maastricht, moved away to study and travel elsewhere, and returned after five years, I have seen my hometown change and develop in many surprising ways. All of a sudden the second most spoken language I hear on the streets is German (instead of the French spoken by the many daily tourists). My teenage hang out spot; Muziekgieterij, back then situated in a small bunker-like building in the middle of a residential neighborhood, has evolved into a major pop-venue. Craziest of all; being involved in the local municipal council elections has become a cool thing to do! This is when I knew I needed to catch up.


In order to do so I scheduled an interview with the two people who are proudly surfing this new wave of Maastricht, heading in the direction of becoming a creative and internationally minded city. I met up with Neal and Koen, two of the three project managers of the Kaleido movement. Kaleido is an entity looking to create a space for local and international students to study, exchange ideas and partake in ‘cosy’ events.


First off, I would like to know a bit more about the two of you: where are you from and what did you do before starting the Kaleido movement?


Neal: Originally I am from Scotland, but I grew up in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. I came to Maastricht in 2011 to study Cultural studies at FASoS. Around 2014 I cofounded ‘Mymaastricht’, which is a platform for new students arriving in Maastricht. So the interests of students have always been close to my heart. Similarly I also started the facebook-page ‘Sharing is Caring’. Through Mymaastricht, together with Thomas, we started working on the Kaleido project in 2016.


What about you Koen? You are originally from Maastricht right?


Koen: Yes I am. I think a few months after Kaleido was founded, I joined in. It was pretty much coincidentally. Before joining I had been involved with a lot of cultural organizations in Maastricht. During my studies I started to, and still, organize open-mics and live music events, in order to help local artists and musicians to get gigs and network. Right now I host the open-mics at café de Pieter every Wednesday. I also have a long history in the bar scene of Maastricht.

At some point, in the midst of completing a project at the Tapijn Kazerne, I received a call from these guys saying: “hey dude, we need someone who has experience with booking artists and knows the artists in and around this area”. The concept of starting a movement for the students of Maastricht really appealed to me. It didn’t take much convincing for me to say yes.  

How did the Kaleido movement take its shape?


Neal: Well we didn’t start the project ourselves, the proposal was already there and being worked on. Initially the project was called the international student club (ISC), and ‘the international student network’ (ISN) was in charge of it. The problem was that the progress being made was too little, and it was just not realistic to finalize everything that needed to be done before 2019. The university then decided to find people who, on a payroll, could work on the project full time. At that point, Thomas and I where already working as junior project managers for the UM. Thomas was offered the job, but because we had already been closely working together for a while, they decided to have us both embark on this new challenge. Later on we decided we needed a third person as well, which is Koen. It’s a nice fit between the three of us.


Koen: Yes and the team is expanding as well. Right now we have around 20 to 25 active volunteers, who we immensely appreciate. Hopefully they will be the foundation for Kaleido 2019, and we aim for it to grow even more. At some point we’d like to see the whole club being run by motivated students.


Kaleido doesn’t have its own space yet. What are the plans with that in the future?


Neal: Everything we’re doing now is leading up to us moving to the Muziekgieterij building. In September 2019 we will open Kaleido right there at the Sphinxkwartier. The idea is to be open six days a week. There will be study spaces, spaces in the back that can be rented out, a kitchen and lastly in the evenings there will be all kinds of events. These events will be similar to the ones we organize right now. For instance, the Comedy night that was completely sold out, or our Trench concerts.


Koen: And we are searching for people who want to organize these events with us right now. The whole idea of Kaleido is to create a central place in which all the internationally minded people of Maastricht can organize, participate or simply join events for students by students.


Neal: Yes! We are doing a lot of community building; searching for volunteers and people that we think will have the potential to stay when the new location is finalized.


Did you feel like this is a gap you need to fill?


Neal:  Yes, The whole idea derived from the fact that a lot more international students arrive in Maastricht every year. If they don’t feel like the traditional sororities and fraternities are their cup of tea, they also need a place where they can belong.


Koen: If I remember correctly they even did a small research on what the international students are missing. One of the things that came out of the questionnaire was the desire to have a meeting place in Maastricht, specifically for students.  


How are the roles divided between the three of you?


Koen: I know most about the wants and needs of the Maastricht locals. Neal knows more about the international scene.  But there is a lot of overlap. Thomas has the biggest network within the municipality and university…


Neal: … yes, with the stakeholders. Our funding comes from both the municipality and the university. So it is also very important to keep these people on our side.


On your website you call it “a movement”. Why did you choose this word rather than event management?


Neal: This was a strategic decision; it is a movement everyone can be part of and the level of involvement is all up to you. Saying we are an organization, in my opinion, always comes with a negative connotation. That is also how we try to distinguish ourselves from the more traditional student associations. We like to stick to the colors of: come whenever you want, be whoever you want to be, and be free and creative.


You are also activating people to come up with their own ideas about events and Kaleido itself. Are there many assertive students in Maastricht that want to collaborate?


Koen: Yes many, but unfortunately we don’t have our own space yet. Right now we operate from the muziekgieterij, so there’s a limited amount of freedom. Therefore, some ideas need to wait until the time is right. Nevertheless, within the development of the concepts of our events we always receive input from our volunteers.


Neal: Yes the idea is also to offer our assistance to the organizations that might not have enough financial aid, the space or the knowledge on how to realize their events.


How are you going to be different from other locations such as the Mandril or Landbouwbelang?

Koen: In some ways we are going to be similar. I mean, we all love going there ourselves. I think the more locations like these the better. The biggest difference will be that Kaleido has a lot of certainty; we are financially in a good place right now.


Neal: Also simple facts like; Kaleido will have long opening hours and a stable wifi-connection, just these basic things. When it comes to events, the target audience will be very similar. We are not looking to compete, but rather collaborate with these other entities.  


How have other local organizations responded to this new initiative?


Neal: Well I think the reason why stakeholders think Kaleido is a good idea is because they believe it will mean less house parties and disturbance to the residential neighborhoods. The location makes sense as well; there are no neighbors.


Koen: Also because this way, the Spinxkwartier together with the Muziekgieterij, the Lumiere and Kaleido, will become the city’s creative hub.


How can people get involved with the Kaleido movement?


Koen: Very easily, just send us a message via facebook or talk to us, or any other volunteers, during events.


Neal: We are open to any kind of help or assistance. If not during an event you can also come help us at our office; for instance by editing videos or doing some graphic design. There is lots of room for different creative projects.


What makes Maastricht an interesting city for you to work in?


Neal: It’s interesting to me because Maastricht is still developing. It’s not quite there yet compared to many other creative, international cities, but it wants to head in that direction.


Koen: Yes for a creative or an entrepreneur there are loads of opportunities, loads of gaps to fill. The small scale of the city makes it possible to actually make a difference. Even as a student you can already have an influence here.


Would you like to contribute to, or join one of Kaleido’s events? Check out their website or facebook-page:


kaleido Logo

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