Dorien Jongsma, the creative improviser
Heartbreak, heartache, hardship, hard-clip … call it what you will, but we all face it. When it strikes, it hurts. It hits. And sometimes it harms. It comes unexpectedly and unpredictably. It disrupts our natural walks and ways of life. It prompts us to reflect and sometimes, worse, to ruminate. In the end, though, it is part of our journey through life. It is the winter to our spring. It is the rain before the rainbow. And once we experience it enough, we learn that it is the right, ripe time for replanting the seeds we wish to sow and see sprout.
In 2010, it hit hard for Dorien Jongsma, the co-founder and now sole-director of El Hacedor, an avant-garde artist retreat and cultural space located in the rural village of La Aldea del Portillo de Busto, when her husband and business partner, Jorge Baldessari, slowly and progressively-more-painfully passed. It came just one year after their dream project, El Hacedor, was inaugurated. And as such, it left Dorien to see the project to fruition.
Some twelve years prior, Dorien and Jorge – the former a Dutch-immigrant to Spain and the latter an Argentinian-immigrant who passed through Spain to Holland and then back again to Spain after finding the love of his life – happened upon the spontaneous idea of building a home for themselves and a future for those that they planned to meet in the rural region of Burgos, Spain, between the small hubs of Oña and Frías. Young and in love with each other and the country of Spain, they impulsively bought small parcel after small parcel of land and lot in the village of La Aldea del Portillo de Busto. Though less than a handful of people lived in the village year-round, they saw vibrancy and rejuvenation there. They imagined the place to be a cultural centre of activity and they set to work to build a cultural raison d’etre for one of Spain’s most deserted pueblos. Jorge, a self-taught practicing artist, was to supply the artistic energy, and Dorien, a geographer by trade and mother of many talents by practice, was to embed the cultural space they were building into the community and put it onto the map.
The early years of building El Hacedor were hard years, for sure. They implicated immigrancy difficulties and building-reconstruction fiascos, among other trials and tribulations. At the same time, with the help of volunteers, family, and friends, they were also happy years. They delivered a child and they built a house and an attached cultural center.
When 2010 struck, heartbreak, heartache, hardship, and hard-clip, well, they all fell hard upon Dorien. The home and future she had invested in with her life-partner became a home and a future half-empty, so to speak. Something within her, though, the preparation she had had overcoming adversity before, perhaps, pulled her to persevere. With time, she worked through the emotions, reached out to friends for support, and even adopted two donkeys (and a few more pets!). She reminded herself of the greater purpose that she had envisioned for herself earlier, which had manifested in the inauguration of El Hacedor. Renewed, she began connecting with local schools across the province and bringing experiential art to the children of rural Burgos. All the while, she increasingly invited more artists to visit the space and relish in the inspiration of the place. And by and by she consciously chose to devote herself wholeheartedly to the purpose of reinvigorating one of Spain’s all-too-often culturally-forgotten regions.
The El Hacedor that stands today is a testament to Dorien’s strength, perseverance, and resilience. Despite being the result of a spontaneous idea and an impulsive realization, El Hacedor stands stalwart and staunch. Like Dorien, El Hacedor weathers storm after storm; its creative soul persists as it improvises with the times. And that spirit of creative improvisation, well, it is something superstar-tastic, indeed.
Following my own research retreat at El Hacedor earlier this year, at which time I was overwhelmed with admiration for Dorien, I thought deeply about how Dorien’s story relates to us all. The creative improvisation that she champions is something upon which our collective resilience depends. Even more, it is something we ought to be celebrating. With that in mind, I present the following reflections Dorien shares with Superstars of Culture:
What have you learned about yourself and others over the past twenty years while working to develop El Hacedor?
About myself I have learned (and accepted) that I like chaos, unfinished things. That life in the rural environment makes me feel complete, as a person, allows me to do everything and nothing at the same time. Also that I like to teach, as a guide, offering possibilities to people, especially to volunteers and students, indicating opportunities, paths… And I have learned from my bad side, which I try to control, but I do not always achieve: a feeling of wanting control over everything. I must let it flow, as far as I can see… La Aldea del Portillo de Busto is a very personal place. The people who come here must face themselves and the people around them. It teaches a lot. If you open yourself as a person to others, you receive an answer. The arrogance of locking yourself in yourself does not lead anywhere. We have to share in this life. People who know how to share are more likely to be happy. I think it's something I've learned here, living with so many people.
What has it meant for you to direct El Hacedor?
It means a continuous headache, without pain, like a crossword that never ends, showing that there are always more and other options to follow. Offer and disable. Open and close. It moves and is static. Angry and happy.
What has been your favorite part of leading El Hacedor?
My favorite part has been being able to create a place that offers space to people to live experiences that, sometimes, are determinant in life and, often, mark a "before" and "after". It is a luxury.
Superstar snapshot: Dorien Jongsma
Superstar strength: ability to balance emotion and logic in leadership
Superstar secret talent: ability to bring people together
Superstar noteworthy quote: “the day you think you are dreaming, you are alive”
(photo credit: Dorien Jongsma)