Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

– article by Fenna Riethof

Bringing the museum quarter to life

Foto: Robert Oosterbroek

In 2003, Binna Choi (40) was working as a curator in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. One of her tasks was to compile exhibitions. Responding to an urge to expand her international experience in the profession, she followed the advice of fellow-curators in Germany and Japan and applied for De Appel, a training programme in Amsterdam exploring contemporary art. They told her it wouldn’t be a course where you spend hours listening to lectures and reflecting, but a much more hands-on affair. So off she went to Amsterdam.

“It was seven months of blood, sweat and tears, but it gave me a fantastic basis for my career.” Binna never even considered going back to South Korea. She found a job straight away and after a while, found herself in Utrecht as the curator of Basis Actuele Kunst (BAK) on Lange Nieuwstraat. And then it was suddenly 2008 and she was applying for a job as director of the Utrecht art institute CASCO. “I love the organization because they have the perfect ethic – trying to effect social change through art, but in an open, playful way. In addition, they’re close to the artists who exhibit there.”

She got the job and has changed several things since her appointment. CASCO has expanded its collaboration by involving activists, social groups and non-art organisations from within and outside Europe. But she hasn’t forgotten the neighbours. “Everyone who wants change in the social and political system, particularly capitalism.” The art institute seems ‘out of reach’ to some people – the website is somewhat eccentric and the building is tucked behind a fairly unremarkable gate. But Binna does her best to encourage readers: “Come and meet us!”

Mixing backgrounds

Behind the gate to the museum quarter, you’ll find the Abraham Dolehof and the former Sint Ursula convent, which is now home to CASCO and several other creative organisations, such as Fotodok. Today, there’s a man with a tangled beard sitting on a bench drinking beer in this ‘urban oasis’. He might come from the homeless shelter further along, says Binna. There’s also an elegant lady walking her dog. “Although this is a public area, you actually don’t see many people. Local cultural organisations have submitted plans to the local municipal authorities as a way of bringing the place to life. It will definitely happen.” But the homeless man and elegant lady will still be welcome. “Segregation is always wrong; people from different backgrounds should be able to mix.”

Binna’s own environment is already very mixed. She has colleagues from various different countries: Staci from America, Yolande from South Africa and the ‘culinary artist’ who provides the vegetarian snacks after CASCO meetings: Asia from Russia, who also featured in Allemaal Utrechters . Binna is happy with the culinary range in Utrecht; when she can’t enjoy Asia’s food, she pops into Utrecht to buy ingredients or eat in one of her favourite restaurants: the Syrian restaurant Syr, Vietnamese Saigon on Voorstraat, or Selamat Makan, an Indonesian restaurant close-by. “The food there is fantastic”, she says. Unfortunately, Binna still hasn’t found a proper South Korean restaurant.

Name: Binna Choi
Place of birth: Seoul, South Korea
Year of birth: 19 February 1977
Motto: ‘Work for society, but make sure that you feel free and enjoy life. These two things complement each other.’

Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.

Click here to view the other articles.