Humans of NDSM | Writer Julia-Beth Harris

In the column Humans of NDSM I go on the hunt for special stories of all people that can be found on the former shipyard: from users to visitors to creatives and everything in between. I am curious about what motivates them to come to the NDSM wharf. At the end of this column, the aim is to sketch a picture of who the humans of NDSM are and all their different ways of filling in and using the public space. For this edition I am speaking to Julia-Beth Harris (JB for friends), she is a writer stationed with her studio in the NDSM Treehouse.

I met with Julia-Beth (34) at her studio on what hopefully was the last rainy day of this extremely wet spring season. As I walk up to the Neon Lights on the outside walls of NDSM Treehouse, Julia-Beth opens her studio window and greets me from the second floor. I can already tell that Julia-Beth is the kind of person that floods up the room with brightness wherever she enters. As we sit down in her studio, which is covered in brightly colored artworks, it starts pouring down again outside. Strangely enough, I only noticed the rain clattering down on the roof while listening back to the recording of the interview. In the studio itself it felt like we were sitting on a sun-lit terrace, starting a refreshing and interesting conversation.

“I studied graphic design in Capetown,” she begins after I ask her about her work, “then I worked for a while as a layout artist. After that I came here as an au pair, that is how I arrived in the Netherlands. I was not expecting to be here still 10 years later. After being an au pair I did a bachelor’s in fashion design at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) as this is something that has always fascinated me greatly.” At the mentioning of AMFI I cannot help but think about the recent news around it, when I ask Julia-Beth about her experiences there, she starts to laugh ands says: “I also had quite a terrible time, but i learned a lot about my personal development and also that writing is where my true strengths lie. I think that without the experience of going to school there, I would be a different writer.”

Additionally, I ask Julia-Beth about how she ended up on the NDSM wharf. “I needed a space to start my journey as a writer,” she explains “I was working at a commercial art gallery because I needed something to do after I just finished my studies. Then I found out that the corporate space was really shrinking me. The top-down environment made me feel caged, so I decided to become a freelance writer. At that time, somebody I knew put an ad up on social media stating they were looking for someone to share a studio with, here at the Treehouse. I was immediately sold, I really like the community idea that this place embodies.” Julia-Beth tells me how she met her neighbors at the Treehouse through Friday-night jam sessions, spontaneous painting in different studios and sharing hers and other poetry with her fellow residents. She also explains how she is meeting community members through a new project where she, together with a photographer from Treehouse, interviews other artists of color to discover their experiences and open up the conversation about this topic.

Our conversation is light-hearted and filled with mutual opinions and interests. It almost feels like I am talking to a long-lost friend. I also ask Julia-Beth if she remembers what she felt when she first came here. “I remember feeling a sense of freedom,” she tells me, “I saw the studios in the NDSM-Loods and realized that being an artist is a valid life. I felt liberated by that realization, as I always imagined myself ending up in a corporate environment because that is the only thing I knew at the time. I also felt the creativity that lingers in every corner here, and the feeling of impermanence; that nothing is set and everything can be changed. Overall just a very different energy than anywhere else in the city, an energy that fits my state of mind really well.” She also tells me about the message on the walls of the Lasloods to the artists: you can paint here. “Of course it means literally that you can paint there freely as an artist. But for me, it also has a broader meaning: whatever colors you have you can use and embody them here at NDSM. There is space for you, you can paint here.”

When I ask Julia-Beth about what she would do with the space of NDSM if she was in charge of the terrain, she has to think for a moment. “Somebody recently mentioned the idea of amplifying everything already present here,” she explains after a short silence, “I would put up a tent with a catwalk inside where every artist can put their work on display. Something like an open festival, where everyone can be included and have fun. Expose the safe space we have here in Treehouse to the public, so people don’t feel excluded from it. I think that as an outsider visiting here, you can feel the positive energy around but you are not necessarily a part of it yet. It would be nice to create something that breaks down that boundary and exposes all the great talent that is already present here.”

During our conversation we also touch upon the idea of creativity. Julia-Beth tells me how she feels people are sometimes afraid of judgement when making their mark on something, which demolishes their own creativity. “It can be quite overwhelming out there, and actually giving yourself time to become an artist can be extremely daunting,” she says, “nobody has a claim on your time anymore, it is just you and your creativity. Right now, I feel very much at the start of it, launching myself as a writer. And who knows, maybe in a few years I will be something else entirely. The only thing that really matters is allowing yourself the space to explore interests and opportunities. It is very human to be an artist so don’t be afraid of your own creativity or to make your mark on something, as art is not just what we see on the wall at the museum. It is everywhere: when you pick out what you want to wear in the morning, you are already in the process of creating something.”

As our conversation comes to an end I feel a comfortable sense of acceptance rising. Art is anything we want it to be and it is not restricted by the image society (or our own minds) might have created of it. Creativity is human nature and it can out itself in 1.000 different ways, so we might as well use it to our advantage! 

Do you want to learn more about Julia-Beth Harris, or her work as a writer? Click on the button below! I highly recommend reading her poems “Letters to Dido” where she explores the psychology of Dido from the opera “The Aneid” with a modern-woman perspective.

Website Julia-Beth Harris

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