For the sixth year running, students, academic staff and partners are joining forces in Brussels for the weKONEKT.week. From Monday 27 to Friday 31 March, more than 4,000 students from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and Erasmushogeschool Brussel (EhB) are heading out into the city. The focus will be on co-creation and the connection between art and science. Together, they will put relevant topics on the agenda and get to know the city and its inhabitants better. With partner organisations, they will develop more than 100 initiatives and activities for the general public. A series of classes and guest lectures are also scheduled, within various courses. But how does it work? And what drives the committed team behind weKONEKT to strengthen this interuniversity collaboration? Let's take a look behind the scenes.

Can you briefly tell us what weKONEKT.brussels stands for? What’s the mission of this interuniversity and urban engaged partnership?



weKONEKT.brussels is a broad partnership between VUB, ULB, EhB and numerous Brussels organisations. Together we take responsibility for the capital and build a common future. Because a university that wants to play a meaningful role, today and tomorrow, has to transcend the walls of its institution, create synergies and co-create. A university is also a “universitas”, so it is a great asset that VUB is anchored in our universal capital. Today, our students are taught at partners such as the Flemish Parliament, Cinematek, Belfius, Bozar, Ancienne Belgique and the Royal Library of Belgium, with its magnificent view of the Kunstberg. But empty and lesser-known spaces will also be transformed into classrooms.



During the more than 700 off-campus teaching activities, which take place throughout the year, students move around the urban space. This is about more than just “teaching on location”. The challenge lies with the teacher, who searches with the partner and students for synergies between learning content and urban reality. Students discover Brussels and interweave theory and practice in an engaging way. I know from experience that many of them fall in love with the challenging imperfection of the city. The “B” of VUB deserves our full attention throughout the academic year.



Why do you think the connection between art and science is so important? And what role does Brussels as a city play in this connection?



Was Leonardo an artist who was also a scientist, or a scientist who was an artist? For him, it had no importance. For him, there was no distinction between art and science. Without knowledge of mathematics, optics and perspective, in his view, there was no painting. And without knowledge of anatomy and physiology, there was no sculpture.



The separation between art and science is an important feature of our contemporary society. But this separation brings with it a potential loss. Art and science are both ways of understanding the world and orienting oneself in it. Like science, art opens doors and windows on the world. And like scientists and scientific understanding, artists and works of art can sometimes show you things that unbalance, challenge, broaden, perhaps even renew or change your worldview altogether. That’s why six years ago, VUB and one of our important partners in Brussels, the Royal Flemish Theatre (KVS) decided to create the Mindblowers project.



weKONEKT is convinced of the importance of co-creative partnerships. What does this look like? What types of partners do you work with?



Within weKONEKT.brussels, it’s essential that all parties involved work together to achieve a shared goal. In a co-creative partnership, each participant brings their unique skills, knowledge and resources to the table, and together they create something that none of them could have done alone. The importance of co-creative partnerships lies in the fact that they foster innovation, creativity and mutual learning. Co-creative partnerships also promote shared ownership, as all parties involved have a stake in the outcome. In addition, they enable individuals and organisations to adapt to new challenges, seize opportunities and create solutions that are more effective, efficient and sustainable than those developed separately. And in Brussels there is a great drive and enthusiasm to walk this path and shape it together. This is great and creates unprecedented energy.



All the more so because Brussels is made up of several interconnected communities and networks, forming a unique mix of sectors, cultures, languages, organisations and identities. Together they write a collective story. They have no one specific timeline or single core, and this is what makes Brussels so unique. In cities and regions with flourishing diversity and multiple layers, like Brussels, sometimes difficult but often interesting dynamics emerge. The different actors in Brussels reinforce each other precisely through exchange with the other, the interaction with “the foreign” without losing their sense of self or individuality in the process. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, activist Jane Jacobs states: “By its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by traveling; namely, the strange.” And it is precisely this multitude and “the strange” that give meaning and perspective. For me, this is also the multitude that resonates in the music of Brusselaar Stromae.



Can you give an example of a co-creation moment?



The launch of weKONEKT.brussels in 2017 is a great example, I think. For the launch, there was an immense table spanning the entire length of the Ravenstein Gallery. The sound of the Belgian National Orchestra playing Ode to Joy reverberated through the gallery, where passers-by on their way to the train could enjoy the atmosphere and the music with us.



That evening, we toasted our shared future with Brussels’ cultural houses, civil society organisations, businesses and international institutions, and especially with our students and alumni. It made for an unforgettable moment and planted the seeds of future connections between the university and our urban environment. The table in the Ravenstein Gallery formed the link between “le haut et le bas de la ville”, between the upper city and the lower city. What is important throughout this project is that there is always an extra seat at the table. Hospitality, generosity and humanism create the fertile context in which new opportunities arise and develop.



What role do our alumni play in this story?



As a university, we are of course particularly proud of our alumni. They are true VUB ambassadors and have been building weKONEKT.brussels for years. From the Senate to the Vechtsportplatform and Belfius, alumni from various organisations make the weKONEKT.week possible again this year. For example, Evelyne Hinque is behind the lesson Yoga at Bozar and Saskia De Groof is hosting the masterclass on sexual awareness. These two activities are also open to the wider public, by the way. By building strong relationships with alumni, we want to keep them involved and connected to the university. They are an essential link between the university and Brussels, as well as our students.



How does weKONEKT contribute to the university’s pedagogical innovation?



VUB is committed to community engaged research and learning (CERL). This is about teaching, learning and research practices in which partnerships, societal challenges and collaborative forms of work are used as building blocks. In practice, CERL takes various forms, from education on placement to design workshops and non-profit consulting work. Much of the VUB community is involved. They are important forces within the communities we work with as a university. An important part of VUB’s mission is to encourage and support these initiatives with adequate tools and resources.

What exactly can participants expect during weKONEKT.week?



The activities take place from 27 to 31 March, in various forms. There are guest lectures at the Flemish Parliament, workshops at Belfius and the AfricaMuseum, excursions in the Sewer Museum, guided tours at Ancienne Belgique, the Royal Flemish Theatre and Reset, and weKONEKT.tables on sex and intimacy. There is something for everyone. I mentioned two of them, but some of the initiatives are also open to the public, such as the masterclass with Dorottya Rédai or the poetry walk around Brussels organised by the student magazine de Moeial and the association Klad. You can find all the projects and news on our website. Put it in your diary and hopefully we will see each other during one of the many activities.