Interview: Leon van Rooij founder of We Are Playgrounds

On Thursday 7 and Friday 8 October We Are Playgrounds is back with its first on-site festival after the pandemic, Blend. In Blend, Playgrounds expands the perspective on post-digital visual culture by picking the brains of leading, inspiring artists from all over the world. Ahead of Blend, we talked with Leon van Rooij about growing the festival to its current state and staying true to your ideas.

Leon van Rooij works in the creative industry for roughly 26 years. First as an animator, (art)-director in several studios. Now as a teacher in visual storytelling, animation, and design at the Master Institute of Visual Cultures. Next to that, he is the founding director, curator, and producer at We Are Playgrounds.

Playgrounds is a platform on (post)digital art and design in the field of animation, illustration, concept-art, interactive media, and film. They organize several events in a yearly program in the cities Breda, Eindhoven, Amsterdam, Berlin and they are working on editions in London and Taipei. During the pandemic, they started several online events and a Playgrounds TV channel.

We are not there for the fast trend, but for the long stay. That’s why we expand our activities and perspectives.
— Leon van Rooij
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Anna Ginsburg
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Anna Ginsburg

Leon, can you tell a little about the event’s origins?

Playgrounds was founded in 2006 as an evening with film screenings and talks. It started because I was bored sitting behind my computer screen working on commercials etc. all day.
Playgrounds was a way to get inspired and to become a social being again discussing art with others.

What is the most challenging part of being an event organizer? What’s the best part?

The most challenging part of organizing an event is to get all the ‘pieces of the puzzle’ together at the right time in the right way and to have an overview of this. Those ‘pieces’ are artists/speakers, partners, audience, team, technology, etc. to achieve the right atmosphere for a fantastic experience together. When I started this could be stressful.
The best part is the beer afterwards with happy, inspired people enthusiastic about the event and full of energy to create new stuff.

Playgrounds started in Tilburg, over the years you organized festivals in Breda, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Berlin. Can you share how this came about? Growing the festival to these cities?

We have run our own race for the past 15 years. Playgrounds became a platform and we focus on sharing and developing knowledge (we set up talent-development programs, workshops, lectures at academies etc.). Next to that our goal is to bring communities together. The animation community with the design community, the student with the professional, the creative in Breda with those in South America. Our goals match our growth. We are not there for the fast trend, but for the long stay. That’s why we expand our activities and perspectives.

Playgrounds started organizing two multiple day events, Blend and The Art Department in 2017, both with their own focus. What led up to this decision and how did you grow them?

Blend is the catwalk of the post-digital image in the field of fashion, indie games, illustration, sound design, art & technology, product design etc. It’s the event for early adaptors and to inspire yourself with new perspectives.
The Art Department is the event on design and animation in series, the blockbuster films, concept-art and games. The process behind this and the craft is the central theme. The reason why we have those labels is to offer different tastes.

The Art Department 2021 - World Tour | Aftermovie

In June 2020, a few months into the pandemic, Playgrounds organized its first online festival The Art Department on Twitch. You made rather quickly the decision to go online. Can you share the thinking behind it and why you choose Twitch?

Our goal is to bring people together. During the pandemic, this became more important than ever. We decided to go online because this was the best way to get in touch with our isolated, international audience. Twitch was an easily accessible channel to stream, but you didn’t know who joined. Now we switched to Filmchief, which enabled us to create a safe environment within our community.

This year, you are back in Breda for the second time at skatepark Pier15, for a hybrid Blend Festival what can we expect?

It’s our first onsite event after the pandemic. So we decided to have a playful, intimate meetup at Pier 15 in Breda. We really want to blend different topics and disciplines together.
It’s a festive setup and we curated emerging artists with an inspiring approach on several themes. Next to there is a huge Pong-game, an expo on our human approach towards hair, BBQ, films in a bouncy castle and several interactive installations.

How do you go about selecting speakers and figuring out who is the right fit for this event and your specific audience?

We work closely with a team of creative industry experts and artists who advises us on new developments. We also have a dialogue with our community. Then we make a list of themes / subjects we think are important to discuss and then we curate work and approach artists we think can tell about it.

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The Fabricant
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The Fabricant

Fast 5

1. Your favorite feed right now:

I am a big fan of Isamaya French

2. What is the best life advice (or lesson learned in business) you ever received:

It’s the obvious one: run your own race. Don’t compare or mirror yourself with somebody else.
They have a different context and backstory than you so it doesn’t make any sense to copy.

3. Best website/destination you go to for inspiration:

I love the Pont Museum in Tilburg, Pictoplasma in Berlin, travelling in general and experience nature. (I feel really connected to our Blend 2021 titles by Rogier van der Zwaag). I try not to curate by websites but by meetings and experiences.

4. The app you can’t live without?

Yatatoy apps by Lucas Zanotto

5. Book we should all read?

Die Blechtrommel by Günter Grass (also check out the film).

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Zach Lieberman
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Zach Lieberman

Blend Festival

7 and 8 October 2021
Skatepark Pier15 Breda
Tickets: €7,50 per compilation program, €22,50 per day
Outdoor program + expo: free entrance
We Are Playgrounds on Youtube

Images courtesy of We Are Playgrounds.

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