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

The cultural sector is still too one-sided

Melody Deldjou Fard – foto: Robert Oosterbroek

Melody Deldjou Fard (38) learned her first Dutch from the American soap The Bold and the Beautiful. When she was fifteen, she couldn’t get into the refugee school because it was full so she copied down words from the subtitles and diligently looked them up in the dictionary. Every day, she made herself learn thirty new words heart. “As a result, my Dutch was just good enough to get into a regular school.” Looking back, she thinks she was lucky. “Refugee children who go to a special school don’t participate in society. Mixing with Dutch children is much better for their development.”

Although originally a fashion designer (she graduated from HKU University of the Arts with distinction), nowadays Melody works with her head rather than her hands. She left fashion design behind (despite working on socially engaged themes) and took up social design; a new concept. The Iranian wants to use creative thinking to strengthen the employment position of ‘makers’, artists and designers. Having been one of them herself, she recognises the problems in the sector. “Did you know that makers are one of the poorest groups in the Netherlands?”

Melody believes that even tough social problems can be solved using creativity. She joined the national thinktank LinC (Leadership in Culture), focusing on the theme diversity. Her task is to observe and consult with policy-makers about the future of Utrecht. Perhaps less money should go to foundations and more to ‘all that talent’ emerging in the city, suggests the social designer. “We need to keep these people here!”

Diversity at every level

Melody lives in a side street of Oudegracht (“I can see it if I hang right out of my window!”), works in the Vlampijp studios in Zuilen, has eaten absolutely everywhere (from De Artisjok to El Mundo) and enjoys going to arthouse films in LHC, Springhaver and ‘t Hoogt. This is a hobby she shares with most Iranians. Her friends come from every sector of society: one is a cleaner, one has a seat on the municipal council and they come all corners of the world – from Ghana to Bunnik. “I try to achieve the same level of diversity in my work.”

Melody set up her own foundation this year: Atelier Social Design. She gives workshops to refugee children, is talking to Utrecht University about a possible new revenue model for makers, and is about to start a new project: a series of ‘film’ portraits about artistic talent in Utrecht from different cultural backgrounds. “Many of them don’t get the recognition they deserve because the sector is still very one-sided”, says Melody. “There’s not enough colour. All too often, these people finish their training and move to another sector, because nobody understands their art.”

“It’s not discrimination”, explains Melody, “people just don’t understand them. It’s only human. I hope my project will create more understanding.” Here too, she speaks from experience. “I’m fifteen years behind in the Netherlands, and I always will be. Thanks to my own difficult background, I feel a lot of empathy for people in the same situation. And I’ve set myself the task of making the world a more positive place.”

Name: Melody Deldjou Fard
Place of birth: Tehran, Iran
Motto: ‘Don’t look at the packaging; look at what’s inside’

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.

Article by Fenna Riethof.