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Matt VanderBorgh ’84 Donald Battjes ’68

Bringing the college’s new Kruizenga Art Museum from vision to fruition is a team effort, beginning with the generosity of the building’s donors and drawing heavily on the talents of Matt VanderBorgh ’84 and Donald Battjes ’68, art alumni whose career paths have led them to unique roles in shaping the facility. Vander Borgh has gone on to a career as an architect who has completed projects around the world, and is bringing his internationally acclaimed expertise back to Hope as designer of the museum. Battjes, newly retired from a career in corporate facilities and real estate administration, most recently as chief of operations and facility planning with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is playing a leadership role in guiding the museum’s programmatic needs from the drawing boards to realization.

Building Hope on Experience

Equipped with their Hope art degrees, they realized their dreams.

Today, Matt Vander Borgh ’84 of The Hague, the Netherlands, and Donald Battjes ’68 of Los Angeles, Calif., bring their individual talents and training back to the college, applying career expertise honed through decades of experience. They are helping make the new Kruizenga Art Museum a place that will enable new generations of students to achieve their dreams, too.

An architect internationally acclaimed for his work, Vander Borgh is director of C Concept Design, which has developed projects in 19 countries on four continents. He has worked closely with Hope in designing a building that will not only provide a home for the college’s magnificent Permanent Collection but will itself serve as a work of art that will express in form its purpose in function, and will become a hive of activity that extends itself into the campus and engages students and community alike.

Battjes is playing a leadership role in aiding the college to guide the museum’s programmatic needs from the from the drawing boards to an enduring structure as an outstanding center for learning— a complex journey given its specialized nature. Recently retired, he is highly respected in his profession for having done the same for major corporations, such as Hughes Aircraft and 20th Century Film Corporation, and for the past 14 years as chief of operations and facility planning with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Although they attended 16 years apart, their Hope journeys share some parallels. Each came to the college with generational ties, Vander Borgh the son of Clarence ’60 and Joann Barton ’58 Vander Borgh, and Battjes the son of Donald, Sr. ’46 and Maxine Van Zylen ’44 Battjes. Each also pursued an art major because of a strong interest in architecture, planning and design.

Matt Vander Borgh has more reason than most to love the college’s art program.

Without question, he valued his Hope experience in general and his art faculty mentors in particular.

“Academically, it was a great school,” Vander Borgh said. “And it had a great art department—people like Billy Mayer, Bob Vickers, Del Michel and Jack Wilson.”

It happens, though, that it’s also why he met his wife, Me Hyun (Cho ’88). He was in the De Pree Art Center working on a project when she came into the front entryway to hang a poster for the college’s International Night. That same entryway offers an ideal view of the space that will soon house the Kruizenga Art Museum.

Since graduation, Vander Borgh, who completed his master’s in architecture at Harvard University, has lived on both coasts of the U.S. as well as in Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and Austria in addition to the Netherlands. “One of the great things about architecture is that, at least in the design side, you can do it anywhere,” he said.

His international experiences have prepared him for—and interested him in—pursuing projects around the world, from Angola to Thailand, from the Ukraine to the U.S., and he understands the importance of a global perspective. “We’re often working with completely different cultures and completely different perspectives, aesthetics and experiences, and it’s important for us to be able to work with them,” he said.

He correspondingly appreciates the college’s emphasis on preparing graduates to live in a complex, interconnected world. The design of the new, 10,000-square-foot art museum, distinctive from the other buildings on campus in its role as a center for reflection regarding the works within, bespeaks that priority.

“Hope is bigger, more global in outlook than provincial, and I think that’s a very important element of the museum space,” he said. “Contemporary museums provide visitors an opportunity to think differently about their life, to think differently about the way that they live, to think about the buildings that they inhabit.”

The new Kruizenga Art Museum will enhance the role of the college’s Permanent Collection as a teaching tool, providing space and resources to view and conduct scholarship on works from around the world and spanning centuries. This conceptual rendering of the museum looks northeast from above Kollen Hall. The DeWitt Center is at lower left, the Martha Miller Center for Global Communication at upper left, and the De Pree Art Center at upper right.

He has been particularly guided in his approach to the museum’s design by the vision of lead donors Richard ’52 and Margaret Feldman ’52 Kruizenga of Irving, Texas, who he noted desired “a unique and expressive building on the campus with the feeling of transparency… a fluidity between the building and the campus environment.”

He’s been able to involve other young Hope professionals in realizing the vision as well, at the same time helping them to gain crucial career experience. Kelsey Browne ’09 had an internship with C Concept Design in spring 2010, and Justin Mast ’04 will be an intern with the firm this summer.

Vander Borgh has enjoyed the opportunity to work with Hope and be a part of the college’s future, all while coming full-circle.

“I was there the first year when De Pree opened,” he said. “It’s nice to be part of the second-generation addition to De Pree.”

Donald Battjes notes that while family connections prompted his initial look at Hope, it’s his own professional experience that has kept him involved. “Hope was a terrific, nurturing, institution which gave me the personal encouragement in the liberal arts,” he said.

As much as he enjoyed his time on campus, he found going abroad no less significant. After his third year, and prepared with French he learned at Hope, Battjes attended the Ecoles des Beaux Arts in Fontainebleau, France to study architecture and sculpture with Master Class instructors from Europe.

The experience was transformational. He and other architecture students were tasked with designing a center for puppetry, and the art form captured his imagination. Back at Hope, he developed a marionette production as his senior project, and after graduation he founded Donald Battjes Puppets, presenting programs throughout the Midwest.

His interests in the fine arts and architecture combined in 1975, when he was hired by the National Endowment for the Arts to restore and reactivate the 1900-era Calumet Opera house in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

He subsequently moved to California, where he first worked in architectural planning with Crocker Bank and subsequently in senior positions in corporate facilities and real estate administration with 20th Century Fox and Hughes Aircraft. Along the way, he retained his interest in puppetry, and in 1988 acquired the Bob Baker Marionettes, the nation’s longestrunning marionette theatre, refurbishing the theatre and expanding its manufacturing facility—expanding and developing contracts with Disney and Warner Bros. before selling the company back to its previous owner.

He joined LACMA in 1997. In his 14 years with the organization, the museum engaged in major renovations and added two gallery buildings, for a total of eight on its 24-acre campus. “It was the perfect culmination of all my skills. It was great, and I loved it,” he said.

Directly familiar with what it takes to build and run a first-rate art museum and having led projects involving international teams such as Hope’s, Battjes is providing an indispensable service to Hope as a consultant. In turn, he notes that he appreciates the opportunity to apply a lifetime of experience on behalf of his alma mater.

Even as they are themselves working to make the art museum a reality, VanderBorgh and Battjes both emphasize the vital role played by the Kruizengas, whose support has included not only lead funding for the building, but endowments for the exhibition program and a curator, all of which not only make the museum possible but will enhance its role as a teaching resource.

This article, written by Greg Olgers '87, was originally featured in the April 2011 issue of News from Hope College.

More about the college’s Permanent Collection and ways that the Kruizenga Art Museum will enhance Hope’s academic program
can be found in A Place to Shine which was included in the June 2010 issue of News from Hope College.