culture Culture Brussels: Learnings from our first event and ways ahead

Hello all,
The first in the series of culture Culture networked conversations across cities happened in Brussels, with 15 people participating. You are all real urban community experts, massive thanks! Find extensive notes here. The feedback was overall very positive:

‘Good mix of people, nice vibe’

‘ The quandary is that it opened and enormous discussion which made it hard to really focus and therefore the story can become very emotional. [] So in short, if you have a very precise scope, I’d be delighted to offer some suggestions. If you are interested in developing a project around this, I would be happy to support it. I can also point you in the direct of a number of other people in Brussels and beyond that have a lot of experience on the topic.‘

‘I could not help thinking that a strategic map of Brussels would be very valuable for anyone who wants to build their own space‘ - @alberto here

I would like to think of the time periods: how long is needed to do what? Also legal forms, like cooperatives. - Rob

What have we learned

First, Brussels doesn’t have a public policy for taking on unused spaces. The situation is that strategic deals are being made increasingly via actors who make the promise to give spaces socio-cultural value. While this happens, they extract commercial value out of spaces and communities. Yannick mentioned that legislation is being changed just now in Belgium. It becomes even easier to start a coop (cvba), which could be interesting for the “purchase model” (buying together (see below).

Second, temporary occupations, both long lived and short term, lead to dead ends and precarity for those who use them to make a difference (social housing activism, revitalize industrial spaces, neighborhoods, and so on). They get squeezed out by intermediaries, but at the same time have a hard time growing them and making a strong counter-offer.

There is a need for safer investments. Safety comes with trust, and trust is carried, as always through people. It seems that having someone trusted to manage the deal can offer that. ‘It worked quite well, but then we got a phone call from the company: get out by the end of the week.’ (@Manuel). @ejjjik’s better experience with facilitating a space with private (and generous) ownership in Sofia was very telling.

And anyway, space development and management that is both socially and financially sustainable is hard to achieve. In the words of Yannick reflecting on La Serre, Tournevie, Be-Here: ‘It is important to have a stable source of revenue, to keep the lights on. That means you are free to experiment.’ Events can be good sources of revenues, if you are running a more business oriented space - like Digityser - but they don’t make for in-built sustainability.

What else is there?

The latest Brussels community effort is Commune St Vide-Leegbeek. They are doing tremendous awareness raising through events and site visits. I’ll be speaking to someone involved asap, but if someone has news on the practical ways forward for this initiative please share.

There are at least two other things worth looking into, based on the end of our conversation:

1. What knowledge is out there about taking on spaces without intermediaries? This has been the experience of DoucheFlux, Cinemaximiliaan, Wir Bauen Zukunft.
2. What knowledge is out there about buying together in models of say, fractional ownership? We should be talking to Community Land Trust in Brussels, Timelab, WoonCoop, De Koer in Ghent.

Question to you all: is this something we should be focusing on at the next culture Culture in Brussels? And then making sure there is a good mix of people who could benefit from this knowledge practically. Like @Emmanuel was saying: invite people who want to collectively purchase or do something. Also, let me know if you’d like to help organise it with me and @KatrienR - dates to be confirmed!

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@noemi, thank you for all the notes and hosting the discussion!
I am personally interested in visiting some spaces and hearing the story from the collective which runs it with a Q&A session on the spot. To me case studies work best. I can imagine it’s easy to organize in Brussels - I don’t know if I can be of help with all my travels but keep me in mind :slight_smile:
My other point of interest is community development and making the spaces sustainable on the human involvement level (as i know many of them are run by active volunteers who do 101 things and energy may run out :-))

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I did not know what to expect, and I ended up learning a lot more about the environment I am working here in Brussels. I appreciate the outreach done by Noemi, and the mix of people that were present during the meeting there is a shared history in this sociocultural context and so, it has helped me understand a bit better the position in which the Artist Commons (an artist community) sits. I have a feeling the intent of the meeting was not very clear to many of us, yet we learned a great deal of some frustrations we all may have encountered in one way or another. In my specific case, I came to the meeting looking for references and did not know how to enter the conversation with my needs as I felt the meeting had steered into a much “larger picture” discussion. Whereas I would maybe like to turn the conversation over to a “smaller picture” in terms of alternative organization, structures, and models that are either existing elsewhere or have been tried in Brussels.

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Thank you, much appreciated, I could sense that there was limited room for everyone to speak more in depth about where they personally are.

Would you see the next one as more of a workshop format, perhaps a whole afternoon where people who have answers to each other questions can form smaller groups? I wonder what the right mix is: how much time to allocate to discussion and shared understanding of situations, and how much to start moving in concrete directions for figuring things out. Personally I would prefer more hours together, but not sure if people can find the time?

Do you know the methodology for Case Clinic? It comes from Theory U. I’m not a fan, but maybe an adapted version of this would work? People come in with a case, and a small group forms around it asking them more clarifying questions and helping make progress.

cc @KatrienR

Noted, with thanks… I understand you are someone who wants to learn things, more than someone coming in with a specific challenge in mind that they would need others in the room to help solve. Correct me if I’m wrong. xx

i can agree with @Emmanuel that the goal of the meeting was not too clear and we came with different expectations. at the end i liked that a lot - my notebook got filled with notes that i wouldn’t expect :slight_smile: i enjoyed the big picture discussion as i am a newbie in Brussels :slight_smile: at the same time, i do have a lot of specific questions mainly on the management side. in addition to the human resources, i have a personal problem of being too much of a not-for-profit person and having troubles to use a business approach for a not-for-profit venue that we currently run - all in order to make it sustainable.
i very much like the idea of a whole afternoon with a bigger discussion, maybe structuring a bit the ‘ingredients’ for a successful space (for example obtaining the space - from whom, conditions, financial models, community management, etc) and then breaking down to smaller groups based on interest. i have used an adapted Case Clinic a lot with ECF and MitOst’s TANDEM and it served as a great tool.

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@noemi I do not know the case clinic methodology. I think this methodology could work if we had a common case, and based on the last meeting we all came with different positions and levels of work. I agree with @bistra for the next meeting. If we all come with a list of questions and/or topics, we can categorize them and then break down into smaller groups, this way we can maximize the information and plan for more specific meetings in the future.

An interesting article I came across
Cities within the city