11fountains is one of the most important art projects of Leeuwarden-Fryslân 2018, European Capital of Culture and is new cultural heritage. The project is supported by the Province of Fryslân, Merk Fryslân and the six municipalities involved: Leeuwarden, Súdwest-Fryslân, Noardeast-Fryslân, Waadhoeke, Harlingen and De Fryske Marren.

Anna Tilroe (Artistic leader 11fountains)

How it started

Why have I never been here before? That question was constantly on my mind when I first visited the Frisian Eleven Cities in 2013. Of course, when the Elfstedentocht, Friesland’s famous long-distance skating tour, could still be skated I saw TV images of a beautiful spacious landscape, but why didn’t I know anything about the old, rich history here? And the wonderful cultural treasures that are reminiscent of this? The Frisians are known for their strong attachment to their identity, but as a foreigner you usually don’t know what that is based on. And now I saw beautiful historic cities dating back to the early Middle Ages, a history marked by what the sea gave and took. I saw people who, because of that history, still cherished their sense of community and yet gave me, a stranger, directions in the friendliest way. And all this specialness I found scattered throughout a landscape where the light brushes over the many lakes, pools and ditches with a silver paintbrush.

I visited Friesland when Leeuwarden was still one of the candidates for the European Capital of Culture 2018. Good plans, the jury had said, but couldn’t it be a bit more international? The organization then asked me to come up with an international art project for the eleven cities.

After my tour around Friesland, I knew very quickly: there should be eleven fountains, made by renowned artists from the international art circuit. That will attract people from far and near, because where in the world do you find something like that: eleven contemporary water artworks in eleven historic cities? Surely Friesland doesn’t have to remain a shrinking area? Fountains are what these cities need, because everybody likes to sit around sparkling water with others. And they should be works of art that the residents are happy with, because the works tell narratives from their city’s history. It’s therefore important to involve the local communities in the process as much as possible.

And then something happened that only the Frisians had expected: Leeuwarden became the Cultural Capital of Europe.

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