Working on a dream

Week of the International Student: Gvantsa Kikalishvili

During the Week of the International Student, we interview international students and alumni of Erasmus University Rotterdam and ask them about their journey. Guided by photographs and memories, they elaborate on their stories, but also on the highlights and challenges of their study period. Today we meet Gvantsa Kikalishvili, who graduated from a master’s in Art, Culture and Society at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication last year.

Prior to the interview, we asked Gvantsa to share with us some photographs of her study period that she feels strongly about. When we meet her online, there is one photograph (that we barely noticed) she immediately wants to point out and discuss. It’s a foggy picture of a campus building with a large banner advertising the construction on EUR’s campus, showing a large crane and construction site. Below the picture, it reads ‘Working on a dream’. “That is what Erasmus University is associated with for me”, Gvantsa explains. “It is not about achieving academic goals, or a professional career, but it is really about working on your dreams. That is why this picture is important to me. I know it’s on the Erasmus School of Law building, but I took it as my message as well.”

What dream is Gvantsa working on? Born and raised in Georgia, she started her academic career by studying Journalism and Social Studies at Tblisi State University in the country’s capital. For more than 10 years, she worked as a journalist at a radio station, where she also hosted a morning show. In 2012 she decided to switch industries and started working in PR. She deems herself lucky she has gained a lot of experience in different sectors, including the public sector, private sector and with NGO’s. During this period she always loved going to museums and other cultural institutions, and she also volunteered at a museum in Tblisi, helping them out with their PR and communications. She decided to make the bold step to turn her passion into her profession, and sought education on art and culture in Europe.

Dutch mentality

“I did a lot of research about art management programmes in Europe,” Gvantsa tells us. “Because I don’t have a background as an artist, it was actually quite difficult to find something. I really wanted to find a programme that uses my background in journalism and PR as an asset. Eventually, I was admitted in two universities, the university of Milan and Erasmus University. First I was considering Italy because of its reputation in the classical art world, but my brother – who lives in Germany – advised me to come to the Netherlands. Mainly because of the quality of education and the quality of life, but also because of the Dutch mentality towards internationals.”

Sadly, Gvantsa didn’t get to spend as much time in Rotterdam as she wanted. She started her studies in September 2019 and got to enjoy until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. Sharing all common rooms with her housemate in a tiny apartment, there was barely any place for her to study. “As you can see in the photographs, I spent a lot of time in the university library in these first months. Up to 12 hours, every day, battling like a soldier. Then, when campus and the library closed, I tried to continue studying at home, but my environment was really distracting. When I heard that everything up to my graduation would be online, I decided it was better for me to return to Tblisi.”

Gvantsa exploring Rotterdam, in the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art

Museum Sundays

Luckily, Gvantsa did get to experience student life in Rotterdam in the first 9 months of her stay here. Sparked by her interest in art and museums, she decided to dedicate her Sundays to exploring new cultural institutions in the Netherlands. On these Sundays, she learned a lot. “In the Netherlands I really learned that art is for the people. Also, Dutch people are very smart. We should learn more from their business attitude. In Dutch museums, they don’t just preserve cultural heritage, they also work on its development. It should be distributed, presented, made accessible.”

When we ask Gvantsa to elaborate on this topic, she brings up how museum Boijmans van Beuningen lent out some of its artworks during its renovation. Instead of locking the art in a vault, it was displayed in other places – for example in the lobby of Erasmus Medical Centre. “I saw a man who was reading his medical prescription, and he was sitting right next to this artwork. That is amazing!” Gvantsa remarks that she uses this example a lot when teaching classes on art management in Georgian universities.

Working on a dream

  • 'Buckling down' in the university library
    'Buckling down' in the university library
  • A video call with Gvantsa's silings, who are back in Georgia
    A video call with Gvantsa's silings, who are back in Georgia
  • Gvantsa attending her online graduation ceremony
    Gvantsa attending her online graduation ceremony
  • Gvantsa's daughter visiting for a day out in Amsterdam
    Gvantsa's daughter visiting for a day out in Amsterdam
  • An interview about her business Art Inception for Georgian media
    An interview about her business Art Inception for Georgian media
  • An audience of potential investors attends a presentation about Art Inception
    An audience of potential investors attends a presentation about Art Inception
  • Museum staff and the Georgian minister of Cultural affairs, who completed a training given by Gvantsa
    Museum staff and the Georgian minister of Cultural affairs, who completed a training given by Gvantsa
  • Gvantsa's inspiration: 'Working on a dream'
    Gvantsa's inspiration: 'Working on a dream'

Art Inception

Teaching, however, is not her only job. Gvantsa is the founder of Art Inception, a platform that helps Georgian artists with internationalization and aims to bridge the gap between artists and their audience. “When I came back to Georgia and I finished my studies at Erasmus, I wondered what to do next. I had invested so much time and energy into my field of interest, that it would seem like a waste to go back into PR. That’s why I founded Art Inception. With my knowledge and my skills in the English language, I can help Georgian artists with internationalization, for example by helping them sign up for international grants or awards. Because of the pandemic, everything moved online, so I could easily help Georgian artists sign up for a grant in New York City.”

Gvantsa at the kick-off event for her master's in Art, Culture & Society

Buy local, think global

Another aim of Gvantsa’s business is to bring Georgian art to the international market. Not only to cultural institutions, but also to your home. “It is a myth that art is for museums. Only 3% of art is found there. Most art is found in homes, in offices, in places where people live their lives. Art is like bread and water, we need it to live. You shouldn’t wait around until you are rich enough to buy art as an investment. If you can go abroad for vacation or go to Berlin for the weekend, you are rich enough to buy art. So do it!”

A wise lesson, that Gvantsa also tries to transfer to children and people working in cultural institutions. With her company, she trains museum employees and educates children about art. Her take: if you don’t understand art, you probably won’t like it. And if you don’t like it, you won’t experience it. The earlier you start, the better. “That’s what I love about the European education system: we take Kindergarten students to museums. If we can help children understand the role of art in their lives, we can help them enjoy it.”

When we ask Gvantsa to look back on her study period and experience at Erasmus University, one thing stands out. She fondly remembers her introductory event in September 2019. “I really loved that they didn’t ask ‘who are you?’ and I said ‘Gvantsa from Georgia’, but instead, they asked me ‘what do you want to change?’. I don’t just want to come somewhere, gain knowledge, and take it back home. The focus on positive change was an essential element of my studies for me.”

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