Kathleen, why did you want to meet here?
“I realised that, to me, this place has become a symbol, a subconscious one, of everything that we have achieved here in Dilbeek. We brought beauty to this place. It’s a place to rest, to look around you, to take time out and learn to appreciate the landscape. A place where nature and culture, past and future meet: nature due to the meadow, flowers and water, i.e. all the beauty we have here and culture in the form of the centuries-old water mill and the art installation by Lois Weinberger. This installation also has a wonderful meaning. There are four doors that reference the many doors that Bruegel painted in his works. Within these doors nature can grow freely — wild and untamed, but still within the perimeter set out by humans.”
“We succeeded in breathing new life into ‘old’ things. For example, we have the old water mill that is now used more frequently for milling and which serves as a resting point for many people taking the walking route. A little further ahead, there is the former Goossens Brewery. This beautiful piece of heritage was bought by entrepreneurs a few years back and they are fully restoring the building with the aim of making it a public heritage site and opening up a café. This place is a symbol of all these developments.”
This spot is like the cherry on top. You describe this location as a ‘meeting of nature and culture, past and present…’ why are these characteristics so important to you? What are the aspects that make an impact on people?
Kathleen: “I often notice that beautiful nature and valuable heritage, whether that’s a historic building or artwork in a museum, is not considered, or experienced, as being valuable in its own right by many people. They walk unaware through the landscape and barely look around them. They don’t even see the valuable buildings, trees etc. they are passing. On this walk, it’s totally different: the art installations, the interventions in the landscape, create a sense of awe and wonder. People are really blown away by what they see.”
Why is that, do you think?
Kathleen: “It’s the combination of art and nature that makes an impression. You learn a different way of looking at the landscape: ‘ordinary’ people are challenged to look at the environment through the eyes of a painter, a photographer or an architect. And that’s a totally new experience for many of them. It pushes the boundaries of the expected, it challenges people.”
Do people enjoy being challenged? Isn’t the motto usually: ‘keep it simple, it’s already too expensive’?
Kathleen: “People will never stop wanting to be challenged! Visitors are often hugely underestimated. We think: ‘let’s not make it too complicated for them’. But many people want to make discoveries, be inspired and take new insights home with them. When you do something new, you have to aim high. You can’t be content with half measures: you must strive for quality on all fronts whether in terms of the expertise you hire, the objectives, the execution of the work, the communication, the guides, or the way you welcome visitors. You have to be willing to go the extra mile for your visitor! People know and appreciate it when they’re valued!”
What does this mean for tourism in general? What can we in tourism learn from this for the future?
Kathleen: “That it’s possible to get people to experience a place that was previously written off as ‘decaying’ as ‘authentic’ and that it’s possible to reinvigorate an ‘old-fashioned’ and neglected place by consciously and actively inviting people to it. Bringing old buildings and heritage back to life, and breathing new life into something that is no longer valued is a fantastic challenge! And you don’t always need to have the newest bells and whistles.”
“For years, we have lent out the old water mill to local associations on Sundays: they’re allowed to take turns running a café and they get to keep the profit. So we have a win-win situation: the heritage is kept alive and local associations gain an attractive location where they can hold small-scale events. After the Bruegel’s Eye event, we want to go a step further: have the local community grow old varieties of grain, harvest them together and grind them in the mill. We also hope to bake, if possible. The first step was taken by Futurefarmers, but hopefully the local community can take over from there.”