Here’s an overview of all my little victories I have collected so far. Most of those little victories are part of larger failures and few successes. All those victories have made me who I am today: a really happy human being.
Times Square Art Square
End 2009 I launched the initiative ‘Times Square to Art Square’ with the simple idea of replacing all ads in Times Square with art. Because of money and visa issues it’s still not where it should have been. Though the dream will one day come true. Trust me.
I want to thank Ernst-Jan Pfauth (at the beginning) and Angela Moschetta (near ‘the end’) to be on my side building the movement we have today.
Launch of Times Square (2) Art Square (2010)
My first arrival in Times Square
I had never been in Times Square when I launched the initiative. I only knew the Square through Ikea posters and Google Images. This is the time I first entered the famous square:
My first big talk (at the Veerstichting)
Initially I wanted to attend the Veerstichting (the largest student symposium in Europe) as a student participant but my application was rejected. You had to apply for a a free student ticket through submitting an essay. The essay I wrote was not good enough, so I was not invited to the party.
Luckily through Florence van Kerckhoven (a friend and then ambassador for the Veerstichting in Antwerp) I learnt they were looking for student speakers and I applied there with my project (Times Square Art Square), and they granted me a stage and till today this event has brought me amazing contacts such as Eben Moglen (Privacy activist and professor at Columbia University), Wendy van Ierschot (Owner of Van Ierschot BV an HR Company) and Els van der Plas (Director at the Dutch National Opera & Ballet).
PreParty in Amsterdam (2010)
Martin Hoorweg, Ieteke Schouten, Sep Gerritsen, Daniel Cramer, Loeki Westerveld, Alexander Bakkes and Catharina Rinzema (the then team members of Times Square Art Square) helped me put together a very sucessful launch party and movement of Times Square Art Square in Amsterdam. An evening full of art and wonderful supporters of the project. Here’s a glimpse filmed by Erik Loots:
PreParty in NYC (2010)
Smaller but not worse was the Pre-party in NYC — mostly put together by Rhea Joannou and again Martin Hoorweg. Spiced up with Cole Ramstadt and his band.
First ticket to NYC
I crowdfunded my first €800 ticket by selling cardboard paintings online for the price someone wanted to pay for them.
The first kickstarter for $10.000 to kickstart the Times Square Art Square campaign was a success — though we very much struggled to raise funds. Even some people in the press started making fun of our slow fundraising.
Eventually we managed to find financial support a lot of the income through our event, a generous donation of the director of the Triodos Foundation (Ted van de Bergh) but the difficult online fundraising forced us to make last minute videos like these (featuring both amazing Loeki Westerveld and Warre Simons based on the song ‘I need a dollar’):
Kickstarter (2nd — 2012)
In New York City we had The Brooklyn Brothers (thanks to then team member Nick Ditmore and Brooklyn Brothers founder Stephen Rutterford) directing and shooting for free this amazing Kickstarter video for our biggest ever and non-successful crowdfunding. We said publicly because of Hurricane Sandy, but crowdfunding is just really hard, nobody feels compelled to give to a cause they don’t know whether it can actually succeed.
The video is still very legit:
Pledge a Sketch (2012)
Being unsuccessful with the Kickstarter campaign because of Hurricane Sandy and our own expectations, we launched a new campaign. Bringing together 100 artists in Amsterdam (with the help of Ivana Kowsoleea and Martin Hoorweg) and in New York (with the help my unmissable partner in crime Angela Moschetta) sketching each 100 works for 10 dollars a piece in 2 days.
Our press outreach of Times Square Art Square was huge. From Japanese blogs, the Chinese State Press (Interview by Liza Jansen), The Huffington Post (twice!) to mainstream Brazilian newspapers. End also at home in The Netherlands we got two times national TV. Realizing with ideas people want to believe in, you can get press, a lot of it.
Press overview: http://artsquare.co/about/press/
Les Oiseaux de Merde
In 2010 Mingus Vogel and I started a collaboration under the name Les Oiseaux de Merde (translated into Birds of Shit). The name refered to our last names: Vogel (‘bird’ in Dutch) and Bruns (‘brown’ in French, the color of poop or ‘Merde’).
We started making clips but the love for making things happen, was something that lead us to many places, doing many different things.
Here are some of the clips that we made (not in chronological order).
When we contacted Daniel Knoop in 2011 over Twitter, after Mingus seeing a documentary about him, we decided to visit his venture (a casava factory in Mukila, 600km from Kinsasha). Knoop, a personal hero of me, was so insane that he decided to build a company in one of the worst countries to do business in. Another documentary was shot about that venture.
When visiting the slums in Kinshasa we had not really a place to stay. In N’djili, a slum in the 8m people populated Kinshasa (capital of the DRC), we decided to sponsor a theater (of a friend of Daniel) by crowdfunding (you could buy your name on that wall) to promote attention for the activities at the theater and to get a free place to stay.
Socks for Africa
Some of my American colleagues told me I should remove this video (below) because for it being too controversial. I understand their critique as it is quite a thing, but in the end Mingus and I are merely criticizing the way traditional NGO’s work. And it’s usually that NGO’s are only doing things only from their own perspective. We made fun of them by saying: “They [the Congolese] probably need socks, so we bring them socks.”
Arrival in Congo
With the online cultural magazine Hard Hoofd (thanks to its then Editor in Chief Rutger Lemm) we continuously provided the audience with new clips based on their reactions of Facebook. Funnily enough someone commented that we needed to go to the Congo without camera. The latter we didn’t do as you can see.
Airplane Food Event
Coming back from the Congo, Mingus and I wondered why no such thing as an airplane food restaurant exisited. Airplane food is developed by top chefs and produced for the masses. It’s an interesting combination. To celebrate this realization we organized (instead of opening a restaurant) a big event on Airplane Food, with a fashion show by Hans Ubbink and talks on food problems. Some people got really upset about the little leg space and the food being so bad. However we considered it a big success. With our profit: €3,50 we bought Appeltaart (famous Dutch Apple pie) to celebrate our first big event.
Live Still Life
Mingus and I have always been fascinated by art and how art is being perceived in different circumstances. The way we look at art works from the 17th century today is very different than the way we look at the works in that time. A perfect example is the Still life.
In the 17th century people must have felt a lot more excitement when looking at flowers, fruits and herbs that were way too expensive for people to buy in that time. Now a still means very little (as we all got very rich). With our work ‘The Live Still Life’, we wanted to bring that feeling back by having a still life (an actual composition) being live streamed for six months from Bangalore, India with actually someone taking care of it.
Acts that I was too scared to do, but did anyways
A lot of time when I’m really scared about doing something, it’s because I’m scared that it will fail. But in order to achieve things you have to move beyond that feeling and accept failure before you start. This is really hard, but maybe it helps that nobody cares about you succeeding and failing, so you do it anyways.
I remember in 2012 sharing my room with Sui Sea. We would split the monthly rent of our room ($800). At a insanely rainy day in NYC when I was biking to a meeting, my laptop got so soaked that it stopped working. Unfortunately for me the only income I had was really the little projects I did for clients on this laptop for clients in the Netherlands.
I decided to do a crowdfund campaign doing dances for people online in exchange for money. In 2,5 days I had over $1600 together to buy myself a new Macbook Air.
Venice Art Biennale Opening events
Every two years I go to the opening of the art biennale in Venice with my closest friends. On the contrary to most people we are nowhere invited, but our motto ‘Dress well and you get in’ usually does work.
We always end up with good stories and empty wallets.
How do you get in to one of the most exclusive clubs from Paris? You photoshop your invite. Here’s the full story.
My life exists for its most part of large failures but in those large failures I find small victories. So far Times Square Art Square has not succeeded, neither has Librio. Librio was a simple start-up for students to do peer-to-peer lending with books. With the help of Alex Olieman, Roel Obdam, Jurian Sluiman and Kay van Baarle we designed and develop the full thing and it failed tremendously. Nobody was sharing books.
Through Accenture a large Dutch publisher (I won’t name them, because they are morons) picked up the idea and even considered investing in it. They ended up copying it, and failing as well. Making us all feel double miserable. The video below explains the concept — voice by Loeki Westerveld:
I did earn my Bachelor’s of Science at the University of Technology in Delft. But never got my Master degree, which is quite uncommon in the Netherlands. So I decided when all my friends were graduating I needed a a graduation too. I invited my close friends and my family to explain what I learnt and what made me who I was at that time in my life. Calling it my ‘graduation’.
Art Square Dinner
At some point in time my visa got rejected twice to go back to the US to pursue my plan to transform Times Square into Art Square. I decided to organize a dinner (with Gervaise Coebergh’s help and incredible space) inviting the US Ambassador to the Netherlands. This way I could make my point known (Not being granted the B-1-visa) while also discussing other important things. The ambassador did not attend, but the then deputy Ambassador Adam Sterling (see picture) however did.
I eventually managed to share my full story with the then US Ambassador Timothy Broas over tea at the US Embassy in The Hague. He was incredibly friendly. I raised the point of my visa, but realizing there was not a lot he could do (it’s a huge apparatus) I decided I should focus on my design business first.
I must say I have great respect for the US Customs. They work tirelessly to get everyone a fair shot. I’m sure that I will be eventually be able to travel back to the US and finish what I started.
With Jan Truijens Martinez I started the WI evenings (I can’t say what WI stands for as I want to keep the name unsearchable). We invite each event 4 people who then invite 2 people on their behalf and they do the same, till we have around 24–26 guests. In the invitation they are asked to perform five minutes and be dressed up completely in the smallest theater of Amsterdam.
National Opera and Ballet
Through the Times Square Art Square project I got to know Els van der Plas, a friend and director of one of the best opera houses in the world and the national ballet (known as Dutch National Opera & Ballet). Making a plan with Mingus Vogel and Jan Truijens Martinez let us to organize events and consult the organization to increase their audience through diversification.
Here’s an evening we organized about Richard Strauss’ Salomé in spring 2017. We had about 170 guests attending both young and old.
Design Business: Bruns & Niks
Coming back from New York at the end of 2012. I made myself and my parents a promise: to increase the financial stability in my life. It was so bad that even a client of me at that time, that had paid me too much, could not be paid back for more than 6 months.
To work on my financial stability I asked Thijs Niks in November 2012 if he was interested in launching a digital design company together and combining our portfolios as freelancers to be able to pursue bigger projects. After three months he finally wrote back. March 2013 we went live. And by that time I already made double compared to 2012. I was finally free of financial instability.
The company does very well. Our clients include today Google, Phillips, PEW Charitable Trusts, ArcelorMittal and many others. We’ve even redesigned the largest car magazine of The Netherlands and reached 2.5m people with an anti-overfishing campaign that we did together with Harwood-Levitt-Consulting (a Brussels based company).
In 2014 Thijs left to take on a job as product designer at Uber. Though of course I was really sad when he left the company, I was and I am still very proud of him. His wisdom has helped me to become a better designer and run a business successfully.
The umbrella of all initiatives: VOUW
Realizing that our followers at Bruns & Niks would never get as much excited about the logo design as the Times Square Art Square audience with the project or that our clients never learned about our exciting projects that we did abroad for Les Oiseaux de Merde; I wanted things to change. With Mingus Vogel replacing Thijs Niks after four years as a new partner at Bruns & Niks, we wanted combine the best of all:
- The movement / belief of Times Square Art Square (meaningful)
- The projects of Les Oiseaux de Merde (creative)
- The smart business approach of Bruns & Niks (self-sustaining)
We’re currently in the process of positioning and branding the new company. But already starting to tell the new story here and there online. If you want to learn what I am working on: subscribe to the Bruns & Niks newsletter (top of the page). Trust me, we won’t be spamming you about little design tweaks. It will be a much more interesting story.
Without endless support and enthusiasm of my parents Ummo & Annette, my sister Emma (emmabruns), my love Stephanie, my dearest friends and my uncle Dieter and my aunty Kim, none of these ideas would have been realized. Without love you get nowhere.
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