How do we devise newmethods of participation and democracy? In Mechelen's De Grond der Dingen ('The Ground of Things'), art and culture are the driving force for democratic urban development, and Tivoli Park serves as the ground for initiatives related to food and inclusion, under the name Tuin van Eten ('Garden of Food').

In 2017, the theatre collective ARSENAAL/LAZARUS and city museum Hof van Busleyden launched the art project De Grond der Dingen to address civic democracy in Mechelen: What would a local Mechelen resident do for society if everyone was given their own square metre? The collective's aim was to mobilise residents using land as a symbol. It amassed 206 ideas for a 'do-democracy' in Mechelen. This was also discussed with mayor Bart Somers – who could not possibly promise one square metre per inhabitant, but eventually gave 20,000m2 to local Mechelen residents. A series of public interventions followed, concluding in 2019-2020, with 'The Never-ending Park': a temporary exhibition featuring installations by Decoratelier and a reinterpretation of several ideas of Benjamin Verdonck. 

De Grond der Dingen continues beyond 2020, as a number of clusters that will jointly implement related initiatives by residents. One such cluster is Tuin van Eten, which brings together proposals with a particular focus on food and inclusion. The city also linked Tuin van Eten to a physical location in Mechelen: Tivoli Park. Together with those who submit proposals, local residents, young people and children, people working in the park, experts, urban services and artists, De Grond der Dingen examines whether the needs of the neighbourhood and the site are compatible. How can they turn residents' ideas into reality, making Tivoli Park a place that lowers barriers to social inclusion?

Once again, art serves as the driving force for change. De Grond der Dingen submitted a grant application for Tuin van Eten, for art in public spaces, with Arsenaal/Lazarus, the heritage service of the city of Mechelen, RADAR support platform for artists and Architecture Workroom Brussels. Drawing on our spatial and participatory expertise, we are responsible for the process proposal and process guidance, helping to translate the jointly acquired space for imagination into practice. 

In the process, we are organising several participatory sessions to shape the wider environment of the local residents' park. In recent years, we organised 'Iedereen gids(t)'  - a tour to get everyone's perspective on the area - and a pizza baking day and round table discussion on food in the city. We also examined the cooperation between the petting zoo's vegetable gardens and the dementia ward of WZC Roosendaelveld. What's more, we supported neighbourhood celebrations for and by residents of the surrounding Otterbeek and Oud-Oefenplein neighbourhoods.  

In 2023, a number of elements from Tuin van Eten will come together, including the development of a vegetable garden, a wood-fired oven, and a silent forest. In June 2023, we organised a harvest festival in Tivoli Park, looking back on three years of Tuin van Eten. Jelle Annie Michiels and Chloé Dierckx presented their art interventions and a genuine Mechelen baker and oven builders' convention took place. During the Harvest Festival, we reflected on all Tuin van Eten achievements and dreamed about what might come next. 

Year: 2021-2023

Partners: ARSENAAL/LAZARUS, Hof van Busleyden, RADAR Mechelen, Erfgoedcel Mechelen

Artists: Jelle Annie Michiels, Chloé Dierckx

Illustrations: Tilde Potoms