Eleven fountains in the eleven Frisian cities, designed by eleven artists from different countries. 11fountains is an international art project for Leeuwarden-Fryslân 2018, European Cultural Capital, envisioned and curated by Anna Tilroe.

11fountains in the 11 Frisian cities
Like the village linden tree in days of yore, the eleven fountains, each in its ‘own’ city, constitute a central gathering point. They symbolise the sense of community − of mienskip, as the Frisians themselves say − that is such a strong aspect of Frisian life.

The fountains would never have gotten anywhere without the enthusiastic support and involvement of this mienskip, represented in each city by a so-called Fountain Committee. These committees suggested possible locations, met the artist chosen for their city and acquainted him or her with the local history, organised public presentations, and were involved in judging the artwork. Never before has this kind of broad support been generated in such a way for a complex and ambitious art project.

11fountains, 11 world class artists
All the participating artists are from the top segment of the international art world. They hail from eleven different countries and were carefully chosen on the basis of their work as being ‘suited’ to the character of a particular city. They were asked to immerse themselves in the city’s history, taking into account the intended location, and to become acquainted with the local population. Not only did this process result in friendly contacts, but it also gave rise to extraordinary designs which together will form a not-to-be-missed destination for international cultural tourism.

11fountains, new cultural heritage

11fountains is one of the largest art projects of Leeuwarden-Fryslân 2018, Cultural Capital of Europe, and is a new addition to our cultural heritage. The project is being supported by the Province of Fryslân and the six municipalities involved.


11fountains, how it started …
By Anna Tilroe, February 2018

Why have I not been here before? That question stuck, constantly, in my mind when I first travelled around the eleven Frisian cities in 2013. Years ago, when climate change was not an issue yet and the broadcasting of the Elevencities skating competition excited the whole nation, I had seen TV images of a beautiful panoramic Frisian landscape. But why did I not know anything about the old, rich history here? And the wonderful cultural treasures which are a testament to this history? The Frisians are known for their loyalty to their identity, but as an outsider you often don’t know what this is based upon. And now I saw beautiful historic cities whose history goes back to the early Middle Ages, a history shaped by what the sea brought and took away. I saw people who, based on that history, still cherished their sense of community, and yet, as an outsider, I was kindly shown around. And all these special characteristics I found spread throughout a landscape where the light, with a silver brush, touched the many lakes, ponds and ditches.

I visited Friesland when Leeuwarden was one of the candidate cities for European Capital of Culture 2018 title. Nice plans, the jury said, but could they not be more international? The organisation then asked me to come up with an international art project for the eleven cities.

After my round trip I very quickly realised what it should be: eleven fountains, made by acclaimed artists from the international art circuit! That would attract people from nearby and far away, because where in the world do you find eleven contemporary water artworks in eleven historic cities? Does Friesland have to remain a shrinking territory? Fountains should be made, because everyone merrily sits together by sparkling water. And they have to be works of art that the residents are happy with as the fountains tell something about their local history. So the community must be involved as much as possible in the process.

And then something happened that can only happen to the Frisians: Leeuwarden became Cultural Capital of Europe.

At May 18 2018, almost 5 years after my first cultural Elevencities tour, it will be done. That day, in in Frisian baptized as ‘Kletterdei’ (‘Splashing Day’), the fountains will all be in place to sprinkle, splash and splatter. And they will be there to stay, that we know for sure now. Because the Frisians came together to support it, and when that occurs things happen! But what a road we have travelled!

Initially I just walked into the local tourist office or pizzeria and asked who the most active, concerned citizens in the city were. Then followed presentations for local interest groups and promotional clubs. And from this beginning, in every city* fountain committees formed which decided the location for the fountains as part of a broad consultation. They prepared a warm welcome for ‘their’ artist, told him or her about the city, and evaluated the first draft design, always in consultation with a larger group. And they held strong, even when the storm broke out. Because you do not just make changes in Friesland. Certainly not if it concerns changes in public space. And, what’s more, with work by non-Frisian artists!

Yes, why not Frisians? Because a stranger’s eye sees things that inhabitants themselves are often too familiar with to really appreciate. Of course this is no different in Friesland than everywhere else. For me, it was important to always choose an artist who would have a sense for the special character of a city. Because Harlingen, as the only remaining port city, has a completely different character than the small, intimate city of Hindeloopen. An artist must sense that, and be able to deal with it based on his or her own body of work. In one case this required an artist who was able to make ‘a big gesture’ in relation to the sea. In another, an artist who appreciated refined traditional craftsmanship. It was a search, particularly because artists who want, or can make work for public space are few and far between. And it gets even more demanding if you ask them to enter into a conversation with the local population and relate to the history of the city. But there they are: eleven artists from eleven different countries, each with a reputation that deserves respect. And each of them has created a design that sheds a new light on a forgotten or unexpected aspect of the history of the city or the location.

They are almost there: eleven fountains for which, for the first time in history, the eleven cities have joined together in order to realise them. And to preserve them as a new cultural heritage. Eleven fountains that relate to the water, nature and culture of Friesland and revive its stories. Eleven fountains that glisten and sparkle like life itself. Come and see for yourself!

From 18th May onwards!

Anna Tilroe
Artistic director 11fountains

* With the exception of Leeuwarden, where the artist has been involved from the start in the redevelopment process of the station area.


About Anna Tilroe
Anna Tilroe (b. NL, 1946) is art critic and curator. She lives and works in Amsterdam.
As art critic she has published extensively about contemporary art and culture in Dutch newspapers (De Volkskrant and NRC) and international art magazines. She wrote 3 books with essays on art and culture, and a pamphlet on the actual dominance of the art market.
In 2010 Anna Tilroe was appointed as honorary professor in Art & Culture at Radboud University Nijmegen.
As curator she organised several exhibitions, among which Sonsbeek 2008, an international sculpture exhibition that takes place once in 5 years in Arnhem, the Netherlands. In 2013 she was invited to make an international art project for the 11 historic cities of Friesland, in the framework of Leeuwarden-Friesland European Capital of Culture 2018. The opening of the project, ’11fountains’, took place in all eleven cities on the 18th of May 2018