JONGEREN in NESTen – Βijbuurten op Het Kiel: Α paidagogishe analysis of the Eco-Socio-Artistic Project ‘Nest op Het Kiel’

JONGEREN in NESTen – Βijbuurten op Het Kiel: Α paidagogishe analysis of the Eco-Socio-Artistic Project  ‘Nest op Het Kiel’

Αναδημοσίευση κατόπιν προτροπής του κ. Piet Convents από το http://www.demos.be/uploads/tx_bworxebib/Artesis-JP-Nest_Veren.pdf (June , 2009)

*O κ. Piet Convents συμμετείχε στο Project ‘Nest op Het Kiel’ ως συντονιστής ενός εκ των πέντε υποέργων του. επισκέφτηκε δε τη χώρα μας και κατέθεσε την ακόλουθη εμπειρία ως προσκεκλημένος επισκέπτης στο ΚΑΜ-Χανίων στο πλαίσιο του Προγράμματος Παιδαγωγικής-Συμμετοχικής Ηγεσίας «Εκπαίδευση Ενηλίκων κι Εναλλακτικά Προγράμματα Εκπαιδευτικής Ηγεσίας»  τον Ιανουάριο του 2014.

 

Περίληψη

Το 2006 ολοκληρώθηκε στην Αμβέρσα το τριετές Project ‘Nest op Het Kiel’, ένα πρόγραμμα συμμετοχικού σχεδιασμού σε επίπεδο τοπικής κοινότητας στο πλαίσιο της ενδυνάμωσης, της χειραφέτησης και του μετασχηματισμού των αντιλήψεων των κατοίκων της. Μέσω αυτού επιτεύχθηκε η άρση στερεοτυπικών δίπολων όπως «φτωχοί-πλούσιοι», «ντόπιοι – ξένοι/μετανάστες», «νέοι-ηλικιωμένοι», «άνδρες-γυναίκες», «επιστήμη-τέχνη», κ.ά αφού στο Πρόγραμμα ενεπλάκησαν και συνεργάστηκαν πάνω από 1200 άτομα επί τρία χρόνια και κατάφεραν να δημιουργήσουν ένα πολιτισμικό-έργο τέχνης, έργο κοινωνικής γλυπτικής που είχε την μορφή «Φωλιάς». Η «Φωλιά» σχεδιάστηκε από ειδικούς επιστήμονες και ακτιβιστές και η κατασκευή της τέθηκε σε εφαρμογή με τη βοήθεια όλων των παραπάνω πληθυσμιακών κατηγοριών, που πέρα από τη δυνατότητα παρέμβασης στο βιομηχανικό τοπίο της πόλης τους με ένα περιβαλλοντικό έργο τέχνης ως αντιστάθμισμα στο ‘γκρίζο’ και στο συναίσθημα του ‘φόβου’ που αυτό δημιουργεί , οι άνθρωποι είχαν τη δυνατότητα να αλληλεπιδράσουν, να συνεργαστούν,  να επικοινωνήσουν κι εν τέλει να έρθουν πιο κοντά αίροντας την απόσταση που τους χώριζε πριν την συμμετοχή τους σε αυτή την πρόσκληση-πρόσκληση του μουσείου Middelheimmuseum της πόλης του Βελγίου.     

Λέξεις κλειδιά

Συμμετοχικός σχεδιασμός, περιβαλλοντικό-κοινωνικό έργο τέχνης, κοινοτική εκπαίδευση-ενδυνάμωση

 

 

JONGEREN in NESTen – Βijbuurten op Het Kiel: Α paidagogishe analysis of the Socio-Artistic Project  ‘Nest op Het Kiel’

 

1. Young people in Nests: building in difficult places?

1.1 Young people in Antwerp

Imagine nowadays city life. What’s it like, as a kid or youngster, to grow up in a neighbourhood where social isolation and fear are the norm? What’s it like, when you see and experience the city as a jungle, with danger lurking behind every tree or corner? Or when you see the big city as a giant playground?

As Alice in Wonderland or Harry Potter in Diagon Alley? What’s it like, to be welcomed on the streets, to hear ‘come play with us’? How does it feel, to be blackmailed by ‘the gang’, to have to pay to be allowed to set foot on the playing field or to take the road home? What’s it like, to be born in a neighbourhood with a NEST as a symbol? And to be fed ‘the codes’ of cultural diversity? Young people learn to live and act as their environment dictates. These acts become of a repetitive ‘cultural’ nature. The neighbourhood’s response – the silence, the fear, the isolation – becomes the dominant culture. And the young people act accordingly.

In this chapter we explore how the building of a Nest changed the image of a neighbourhood and marked new perspectives in living together in intergenerational diversity.

What is the value of a socio-artistic community project in terms of social cohesion and social fabric? Can we, based on the understandings and outcome of the project, describe a new social and methodological paradigm? These are important questions that rose from our inquiry. The Nest project is our focus.

“An incredibly diverse neighbourhood, not only as far as population is concerned, but also the architecture, high-rise buildings with social housing, low-rise council housing, private property. You can be standing among the towers of council flats one minute, and then a 100 yards on, you’re almost in the country. Houses are small-ish, the streets can have a nice atmosphere, for example if people are joining in the city-wide Spring Cleaning. That gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. But then, around the corner, you stand among theblocks and you can almost feel the social isolation.”

‘Het Kiel’ (like the ship’s ‘Keel’) is a neighbourhood in Antwerp, south of the city centre. Before the 1920 Olympics and the 1930 World Fair, it was a green area. Now, over 15,000 people live there. Het Kiel is an old neighbourhood, popular and multicultural, with a lot of social housing.

Apart from an area with residential villas and 19th century town houses, the neighbourhood is characterized by the ‘blocks’, high-rise apartments designed by architect Renaat Braem. As an architect, Braem’s main inspiration was Le Corbusier. He ‘replaced’ the ground floor of the apartment buildings with large support beams. The ‘legs’ support the high blocks and give the impression of openness. In the heart of the neighbourhood lies NOVA, a Cultural Meeting Centre. Het Kiel is cut off from the rest of the city by a tangle of ring roads, bridges and slip roads – the so-called ‘spaghetti knot’. This gives the neighbourhood a distinctive identity. The municipality is working on renovating the neighbourhood: several streets are to be renewed, a branch of the OCMW (Public Centre for Social Welfare) and the head office of VoorZorg Antwerpen (Social housing cooperation) are being built there and the shopping centre Den Tir is being developed. Young people have not been forgotten: there will be playgrounds and green areas; and on the parking lot of football club Germinal Beerschot GBA, sports- and game facilities are being planned. The extreme right wing, populist party Vlaams Belang writes: “Het Kiel is a problem neighbourhood which requires a step-by-step approach. Law and order have to be restored. If the new plans for the neighbourhood, such as the Tir shopping centre, are to produce results, the quality of life has to be improved. The quality of living in the housing estates has to be improved. Vacant and run-down houses have to be bought and renovated.“

1 Het Kiel, together with Antwerpen Noord, Luchtbal, Europark (Left Bank) and Oud-Borgerhout, is high on the poverty index. The underprivileged are concentrated in several areas of the neighbourhood. The school achievements of pupils show a close correlation with the neighbourhood they grow up in. A lot of the children growing up in Het Kiel are already lagging in primary school.

There is a lot of diversity in Het Kiel: 46% of inhabitants are of immigrant descent, 54% are Belgian. The percentage of young people is higher than the Antwerp average. Over 58% of the houses are part of a housing estate.

2 Living together is fraught with problems. The strong segregation between the different groups, along ethnic and class lines, the exclusion of the male Moroccan community and the ensuing frustration are problematic. Some communities manage to break out of their social isolation, but for most of the inhabitants it’s ‘each man for himself’. The Moroccan community is divided and difficult to mobilize. Young people are seen as a problem by many inhabitants, especially young people of immigrant descent. In the social sciences literature, negative characterizations of urban living in neighbourhoods such as Het Kiel dominate. Tönnies, Paddington et al speak of social disintegration and see little room for a close-knit community life in deprived areas. Putnam sees a decline of traditional social life. Perhaps people are more impersonal and distant in their dealings with one another in cities. Yet even in the anonymous city, there are plenty of opportunities for strengthening community ties at the neighbourhood level.

 

1.2 Problems in Het Kiel?

The extreme right wing, populist party Vlaams Belang writes: “Het Kiel is a problem neighbourhood which requires a step-by-step approach. Law and order have to be restored. If the new plans for the neighbourhood, such as the Tir shopping centre, are to produce results, the quality of life has to be improved. The quality of living in the housing estates has to be improved. Vacant and run-down houses have to be bought and renovated.“ [1]

Het Kiel, together with Antwerpen Noord, Luchtbal, Europark (Left Bank) and Oud-Borgerhout, is high on the poverty index. The underprivileged are concentrated in several areas of the neighbourhood. The school achievements of pupils show a close correlation with the neighbourhood they grow up in. A lot of the children growing up in Het Kiel are already lagging in primary school.

There is a lot of diversity in Het Kiel: 46% of inhabitants are of immigrant descent, 54% are Belgian. The percentage of young people is higher than the Antwerp average. Over 58% of the houses are part of a housing estate.[2] Living together is fraught with problems. The strong segregation between the different groups, along ethnic and class lines, the exclusion of the male Moroccan community and the ensuing frustration are problematic. Some communities manage to break out of their social isolation, but for most of the inhabitants it’s ‘each man for himself’. The Moroccan community is divided and difficult to mobilize. Young people are seen as a problem by many inhabitants, especially young people of immigrant descent.

In the social sciences literature, negative characterizations of urban living in neighbourhoods such as Het Kiel dominate. Tönnies, Paddington et al speak of social disintegra-tion and see little room for a close-knit community life in deprived areas. Putnam sees a decline of traditional social life.

Perhaps people are more impersonal and distant in their dealings with one another in cities. Yet even in the anonymous city, there are plenty of opportunities for strengthening community ties at the neighbourhood level.

 

1.3 For our neighbours too: free air, greenery and art! Welcome to the Middelheimmuseum

“Museums do not have the right tools to reach young people. They’re not interested in the traditional arts, but in culture, film and music, a culture which is much closer to their hearts. So we need different partners.”

The Middelheimmuseum is in the vicinity of the Het Kielneighbourhood, in Wilrijk, one of Antwerps nine districts. A large thoroughfare divides the neighbourhood. The museum is located in the part with a lot of greenery and big houses. The popular neighbourhood Het Kiel is on the other side. As the crow flies, the museum and the neighbourhood

are less than 7 kilometres apart, but all public transport goes via the city centre, so it takes close to an hour to reach the museum from Het Kiel. The open air museum has an extensive international collection of modern and contemporary sculpture. Every year, about 200,000 people visit the public art park of 28 hectares. A survey (2004, Musis) recording the specific profiles of visitors of Antwerp city museums shows that people often visit the Middelheimmuseum as part of a group or a class. Adults, and especially young people less familiar with culture, rarely find their way to the museum. The same goes for the museum’s neighbours in Kiel. They rarely visit. The PR employees of the museum decided to seek out their neighbours. And the minister approves.

 

1.4 The minister of participation Social laws prove stronger than policy

“People will die of loneliness and boredom before they die of hunger” Poverty Report ‘94

“The challenge of this decree is not just to attract more people to culture, youth work and sports, but more than ever also to bring culture, youth work and sports to the people. It goes without saying that culture, youth work and sports will not simply remove the existing socio-economic and other inequalities, but a decisive policy in this regard undeniably does contribute to the fight against inequality. This new participation decree is a landmark in a consistent policy. It’s like the keystone, keeping a stone arch up by its own sheer force. This ‘keeping things together’ is a crucial challenge.” Bert Anciaux, Minister for Culture, at the launch of the decree Barriers to participation. The high steps of the museum or the theatre. Try putting on ‘Waiting for Godot’ in a neighbourhood where Kiel rats [3] are mainly concerned with the results of their FC Germinal Beerschot! Scientific research has shown different barriers to young people’s participation in ‘classic’ art: financial, socio-cultural, age, physical and mental possibilities etc.

In September 2007, the Flemish government gave its blessing to the ‘Participation Decree’,[4] at the behest of the Minister for Culture, Bert Anciaux. This new legislative framework concerns a high-quality, diverse cultural offering and serves to encourage and support people and groups to ‘remove barriers’ and participate and be part of a rich and diverse youth, sports and cultural life. In this way, attention for quality and  reach/participation are linked.

Participation  is broadened, enriched and strengthened by the incorporation of existing participation initiatives and institutions in one coherent framework, and by giving extra financial stimuli to new practices, along with special attention for disadvantaged groups (people in poverty, prisoners, families with children and the disabled, groups of a diverse ethnic-cultural nature). The extra resources can also be used for support- ing the social power of sports (by supporting local square stewards, pointing people towards sports clubs, etc.) or helping to set up youth clubs for disadvantaged groups.

This ‘Participation Decree’ also embodies the principles and action plans of the Flemish government, like the Pact of Vilvoorde,[5] the realisation of the Flemish Poverty Action Plan, the strategic plan for help and assistance to prisoners etc. Participation is turning in to the hallmark of this Minister for Culture. Not everybody is altogether happy with that. According to Wim De Pauw (2008), the attempt to integrate the two movements – cultural participation and cultural production – in practice means that participation wins out. The leitmotiv in the minister’s policy is that the arts sector should open itself up to as large a part of the population as possible.

This means that Anciaux is projecting the idea of participation on to the arts sector and the artists themselves. He is saddling them with the responsibility for the participation of groups that are difficult to reach. De Pauw thinks art should (only?) be judged on its intrinsic quality and not on its audience appeal. Art and culture participation are apparently not determined by policy. Most surveys show social culture diffusion has been a failure.[6] Two important reasons have been given. On the hand, social patterns, such as the role of culture as a means of distinction (see Bourdieu among others). Cultural tastes, appreciation and behaviour are apparently connected to behavioural norms and the lifestyle of certain groups, and are therefore rooted in a social structure. Social laws prove stronger than policy. Also, the degree of difficulty of art has proved to limit its appeal. The more complex the art form, the less widespread it is socially. Education turns out to be the determining factor in cultural participation.[7] Section 23 of the Belgian Constitution guarantees the right to a dignified life and especially the right to cultural and social development. (Koning Boudewijn-stichting, 2000) This section became the driving force for socio-artistic projects, like the ones included in the ‘arts decree’. In Flanders, socio artistic practice is still young, developing and finding its way. Socio-artistic projects build bridges between people, communities and the arts, in a socially congruent way. They are the embodiment of government attention for participation and disadvantaged groups. Groups and individuals,  which have been excluded socially and culturally, are actively involved in culture and the arts. The approach deals with participants, artists and the audience in its own, different way. The focus is on connections, the aesthetics of accidental synchronicity. Clashing areas, poverty and beauty, or beauty and the beast. Marie Van Looveren (2006 and 2008) argues that the social factor should not be forgotten: “In this way, socio-artistic projects contribute structurally to the fight against poverty and social exclusion in the cultural domain. The current inaccessibility of the cultural field is lessened. Not by leading the poor en masse to a cultural product they cannot relate to, but by broadening the cultural field, and thus automatically incorporating more points of view and groups of society.”

Museum looking for an audience, longing for a broader audience and receiving (lots) of project money from a ‘Minister for Participation’ to achieve this! But what happens if a temple of culture goes on a blind date with the unfamiliar and up to now unloved – football-crazy neighbour?

For the museum, it will be an exciting and unexpected meeting with a visitor who might never become part of the classic audience without loosing his authenticity. Where are the limits? Can a temple of culture broaden its field without losing some of its sacredness? And if so, how? For the visitor: do I feel welcome enough to be able to enjoy myself and enter into a dialogue with image and attitude? How much can the new acquaintances take from one another? One of my icons in the park is ‘Het Zotte Geweld’ (‘the crazy violence’). Originally, Rik Wouters called his statue ‘de dwaze maagd’ (‘the mad virgin’). It represents (the dance of)) Isidora Duncan. Can a museum, along with its project partners, arouse a zest for living in a community? Is that the quest it has embarked on?

 

2. ‘Bijbuurten’ and Nests: socio-artistic good practice?

2.1 Bijbuurten (Catching up)

In 2006, The museum starts ‘Bij-buurten op Het Kiel’, its ‘inclusion initiatives’ aimed at the Het Kiel neighbours who never visit. The museum does so with a whole series of partners, including ‘De Veerman’, an organisation for arts education, community work and the neighbourhood centre NOVA. ‘Bijbuurten’ will run for 3 years and comprise several projects. In the first year (April 06 to March 07) the focus is on getting to know the neighbourhood and project partners.

In the second year (April 07 – March 08), the focus is on expanding community work, school work and contemporary art in the neighbourhood. In the third and final year (April 08 – June 09), community work is expanded further and incorporated into the normal functioning of the museum.

 

2.2 Goal, mission, vision

“Art can be a valuable addition to our lives and it offers opportunities for self-fulfilment and self-respect. With the questions art raises, it can help people find their place in the world.” (www.middelheimmuseum.be )

The attention for a broader social role for the museum comes to the fore in ‘Bij-buurten‘. Letting target groups that are difficult to reach discover culture, in their own neighbourhood and in the museum; expanding the community work of the museum; assuming the role of mediator between image and audience, across the physical and territorial borders of the museum; these are all embodiments of the concept social inclusion.

With ‘Social Inclusion’, the attention shifted to activities aimed at involving non-museum going groups in new ways, from the 80’s onwards. Social Inclusion starts a thought process in the museum about its role and identity. The museum goes looking for the desired audience outside of the institution, in the audience’s own environment. That is where the museum starts working on achieving its aims. The focus is on the demand side. Activities are organised in close cooperation with the target groups. They, too, can influence the final result. Throughout the planning stage, all efforts are made to achieve a balance between active (do it yourself), receptive (looking at) en reflective (thinking about). In the long run, the museum’s Social Inclusion approach should produce an audience that accurately reflects the population as a whole. How should the museum change in order to guarantee the involvement of the target groups in the long term? This question will take up an ever larger part of the agenda of the staff meetings of the Middelheimmuseum .[8]

The museum translated this approach into a number of targets. The museum wanted:

– the visitor’s profile to accurately reflect the population in general, and that of Het Kiel in particular – to forge an ongoing cooperation with Het Kiel, with organised residents, through socio-cultural organisations and neighbourhood schools in Het Kiel

– to tailor the museum’s work to the artistic and cultural experience of specific target groups, such as people in poverty and people of immigrant descent – to mediate in the relationship between art and Braem architecture in Het Kiel and its inhabitants

– to lower concrete barriers to (physical and mental) accessibility in its own domain for people who are unfamiliar with museums The museum saw benefits in several areas to the cooperation between the museum and the neighbourhood. The museum assumes that the various cultures and world views will enrich one another and the museum. More cultural diversity will exist next to (and inside) the dominant culture.

This makes communication about, with and of the specific context of the target group possible and therefore enriches our shared lives. In addition, the museum is winning local support. Involving the locals is a priority. The project will offer a diverse choice to the various target groups: new Belgians (immigrants), young people, people in poverty, socio-cultural organisations and schools. In doing so, the museum gains expert knowledge about the different target groups, which can help to further tailor their work. The target groups concerned are good ‘reference groups’ with which to test the accessibility of the current system. Initiatives to improve this accessibility will also benefit other visitors. The ‘Social Inclusion thinking’ resulted in the Bij-buurtenproject, a project spread over three years and described as ‘…an octopus branching off into subprojects, partners, locations, and a huge investment in time and manpower.’[9]

In order to be able to build a relationship with the inhabitants of Het Kiel, the museum wants to get an idea of what the local residents think of the museum, how they see it. A focus group survey [10] provides the necessary information.

Conversations with local residents show that they do know the Antwerp museums – including the Middelheimmuseum – but only rarely visit them. They also show little affection for or attachment to the art in their own neighbourhood (mainly sculptures). A personal invitation does convince the Kielenaars to visit the Middelheimmuseum. A visit to the park, a walk around it, is found to be enjoyable. However, it is mainly a psychological barrier they experience as visitors: they are not in the habit of it (attitude, dress code): they feel like they stick out in an environment in which they are not at home. For the rest, the Kielenaars deal with the information provided to them in a rational way. They show little curiosity of their own accord. They do like to take part in an organised group visit to the museum, but they are not inclined to take the initiative themselves. For the Kielenaars, the fact that the visual arts are not selfexplanatory, the physical barrier (lack of public transport) and the (sub-) cultural barriers (dress, attitude, etc.) act as barriers to participation and stop them visiting the Middelheimmuseum.

The survey led to several recommendations:

– picking up the public, welcoming them, guiding them;

– emphasising the advantages of the museum (park!)

– building a relationship with the neighbourhood and the social fabric there

– ensuring a relationship between the audience and the collection

Based on these results, a strategy is devised to improve the accessibility of the museum and the involvement of the neighbourhood.

 

2.3 Sub-projects

Sub-project 1: neighbourhood walk ‘A taste of Het Kiel’

Two neighbourhood walks are developed. Route A focuses on arts and architecture, route B on arts and sports. The walks are widely publicized through various youth and cultural organisations. But turn-out is low, even though the walks make a pleasant change for the schools. Based on the social inclusion approach, the museum also starts to look for partners and key figures, young people in the neighbourhood. De Veerman supplies the ‘knowhow on arts education’ in working with young people and adults. The contact with the local residents is initiated in cooperation with a series of organisations within the neighbourhood, such as ‘Recht-op’ (an association giving poor people a voice), Cultural Centre De Kern and neighbourhood meeting centre NOVA, KIDS (youth work for  disadvantaged children and young people), the residents’ association Braemblokken, community work Antwerp, several schools, SPIA and ‘de Toverbol’, etc. They will be the steering committee for the project ‘Bij-buurten op Het Kiel’.

Sub-project 2: school involvement

In the second year, the focus was on extending the community work. Two neighbourhood schools were approached. The project ‘A BRIDGE (= a work of art) between SPIA and MID’ brought the young people of the SPIA (City Poly-technic Institute Antwerp) into contact with the museum. The search for ‘What do the Middelheimmuseum and the SPIA have in common?’ led to working visits being paid, and the awareness that art and technology are not mutually exclusive. Youngsters (students of the departments construction, bodywork, electrical engineering, central heating and sanitary installations), together with an artist and a technical teacher, used discarded materials to make pieces of work. The installations were a huge success and remained on show in the Middelheimmuseum for five months. This project brought about a change in thinking about art and technology: with technology, you can do more than the purely functional. Young people arrived at a less abstract dimension of art. The project served as a bridge between museum and neighbourhood.

Sub-project 3: Beeld in de stad (BIDS, sculptures in the city)

The ‘Het Kiel walks’ and the idea that sculptures in the neighbourhood would be closer to the people than sculptures in the museum, lead to the plan for a work of art in the neighbourhood itself. The steering group organised a meeting with the BIDS organisation. BIDS wanted to realise a work of art in the neighbourhood in 2007-2008, with the active involvement of the locals. After the project was approved, it was time for the next step: the search for an artist who could make a work of art with the residents, among the Braemblokken.

 

2.4 NEST in Het Kiel

The tree as a metaphor for the growth process of the art project NEST (Andreas Hetfeld)

Looking for fertile soil (Het Kiel) Choosing a suitable tree and the right seed (NESTidea and NESTform) for the carefully chosen spot/soil Planting the seed at the right time (NESTidea)

Taking care of the seed (NESTidea) with water and other nourishing substances Taking good care of the budding plant, only now becoming visible (NESTform) and protect it from dehydration, storms, hail, vandalism etc.

Regular examination and maintenance of the growing tree (NEST) And its environment (community). Two artists, Andreas Hetfeld and Suus Baltussen, do a visual language project with the residents. ‘NEST’ is a metaphor they are comfortable with. The artists have already built two nests, on private land and in a museum. It is the first time a NEST will be built in an urban environment. From 15 March until 27 April 2008, next to a Braemblock, on a field that is usually off-limits, the artists and residents build a giant nest: with ‘NEST 3’, they are creating a living object from willow branches, anchored to the ground in a diameter of 9 metres, 4.5 metres high. The branches are growing and have to be cared for. The inside is covered with mosses and soft, natural materials. In December 2006, several of ‘Bijbuurten’’s project partners, together with members of the residents’ association of the Braemblokken, visit the studio of artist Andreas Hetfeld.

The artist is interested in building a nest in Het Kiel, together with his partner Suus Baltussen and the local residents. He understands the needs and wishes of the project, the actors involved and the residents. It quickly becomes clear that partners will need to be found who want to share in the responsibility in order to win the necessary public support for NEST 3. The plan is that the neighbourhood will help create the work of art, will ‘adopt’ it. It is of the essence that a balance is struck between the wishes and expectations of the museum, the neighbourhood and all the organisations involved. The NEST will be a place for residents to meet. The diversity in Het Kiel allows very different cultures to meet spontaneously, to ‘be connected’, and this will be an important starting point for the socio-cultural activities with the neighbourhood. After the working group Beeld in de Stad (BIDS) has given its approval, the preparations can start.

As initiator and coordinator, the Middelheimmuseum will answer for the artistic ealisation of the work of art, in close cooperation with De Veerman. De Veerman will act as a liaison between the organisations, schools and the museum. The working group Beeld in de Stad (BIDS) will give approval to and financial support for the realisation of the NEST. The social housing cooperation, the owner of the plot on which the NEST will be built, and the tenants’ association will also be involved, since both have to give people permission to enter the fields between the Braemblokken. Neighbourhood Centre NOVA will take it upon itself to draw clubs, organisations and residents to the NEST and organise socio-cultural activities. Community work Kiel will make sure the residents are involved and keep an eye on the construction. They will supervise the process, in consultation with the residents.

The partners agreed on the following aims:[11]

– realising a temporary work of art, NEST, together with the local residents

– fostering social cohesion in the neighbourhood. The NEST can become a meeting place for local residents

– encouraging cooperation between the local socio-cultural clubs

– promoting an active art and culture participation among the local residents

– revitalising the neighbourhood

‘Everybody’, or to be more specific: ‘the residents of Het Kiel’ are the primary target group. The residents of the Braemblokken will receive special attention. It is there that the NEST will be built. Kids and young people are mainly approached via the local schools and clubs, to ask them to help build the NEST. Young people will also be targeted through the Academie (part-time art education) and youth centre VIZIT. A crucial step in the preparations for the NEST is the cooperation with the Huisvestingsmaatschappij (housing association) and the residents’ association. The NEST will be built on ‘their’ turf, and access to the ‘no walking on the grass’- grass is a sensitive issue. Walking on the grass is a symbol for causing trouble, for dirty doings. After intense debates with the residents’ association and passionate pleas from both the people involved and art-conscious residents, the project gets their approval too. The social impact of the project, and the delicateness of it, was clear from the start. The story of the grass is a key story in the project.

In September, artists Andreas and Suus walk around the neighbourhood. They meet and talk to the residents of Het Kiel. In the evening, they give a workshop for any teachers or residents that are interested. These people will become the ‘life and soul’ of the  project. They will use their networks to ask people to participate. In November, a second meeting takes place. The museum guides are informed, from that moment on they are involved in the project too. They promise to give tours on the theme of ‘nests and architecture’. The artists visit SPIA[12]  in order to meet the pupils and teachers. They will help the artist to build the basic structure for the NEST. Representatives of schools, organisations, clubs and privileged residents (like the residents’ association) are given a special introduction by the artists. In February 09, there is a last information meeting for all local residents.

A project worker from Samenlevingsopbouw (community work) will kick-start the residents’ process, supervise it and help out with any problems. All residents are asked to help build the NEST. Not just during the building phase. Before that starts, groups are invited to do some work on the theme of ‘nests’, either by looking for abandoned nests in the outdoors or by creating nests of their own. Through NOVA, 300 nest-boxes are distributed, at 1 Euro a piece. Clubs, schools and residents can collect the nest-boxes and decorate them. Workshops are organised to decorate the boxes creatively. Examples are set up at the different organisations. The ‘nesting’ can start. The building takes place from 15 March to 17 April 08. For six weeks, the artists, local residents, clubs, schools, etc, work on a giant NEST. During the first two weeks, the basic structure of NEST is built. Several students from the SPIA again lend a hand, to get the NEST anchored to the ground. From the third to the sixth week, schools, organisations, clubs, families and individuals help build the NEST, amid great public interest. All kinds of activities spring up in and around the NEST, producing a wonderful dynamic.

 

2.5 A selection of fringe activities from the building phase the school show

‘Mees, beer,eend en koe’

The NEST-dynamic gives rise to numerous secondary activities. A birthday party in the NEST, art schools sketching the NEST, local residents decorating their streets, schools decorating their facades – with ‘nests’ as the theme -, springcleaning, putting together a clubs guide. In the Braempaviljoen (Middelheimmuseum), Andreas Hetfeld exhibits works of art which clarify the context from which he works with nature, all throughout the building phase. In the pavillion, there is a 24/7 live video link which shows what is happening in Het Kiel, around the NEST. This underlines the link between the Museum and Het Kiel. 1488 people visit the exhibition.

A motley collection of ‘odd nests’, put together by a heterogeneous group of creative residents and collectors, is on show in the central space of NOVA. All participants in activities in NOVA get a tour. School groups start their building session with a visit to the exhibition. Over 1000 visitors pass through.

All activities taking place in NOVA during that period have something to do with ‘Nests’. They appeal to different target groups, so the involvement in the project as a whole is boosted. During the peripheral activities, residents are informed and made enthusiastic about the project and the building of a communal NEST. A selection from what is on NOVA offer: a nest-music programme in the cultural cafe, a nestbox building workshop, films, creative and cookery workshops for kids, the school show ‘Mees, beer, eend en koe’ (tit, bear, duck and cow), the NOVA-brunch and neighbourhood meal, a nest quiz, a nest info stand at the reception, approa-ching local residents of the Braem-blokken, the nest writing project of ‘Recht-Op’, a soup action – inviting residents of the Braemblokken to come have some soup at the NEST-, a nest warmth workshop, a workshop called ‘what flies and breeds in Het Kiel’ (Natuurpunt), a workshop in and tours of in the Middelheimmuseum, the ARCHIFUN workshop: a one-day building workshop for kids aged 8 to 12.

Together with the Flemish Architecture Institute, the Veerman designs a Nest-library: this educational suitcase is aimed at pupils in the second and third level of secondary education, containing books and assignments on the subject of architecture, living and society. Rasa, an art education organisation for kids, makes an inspirational booklet on the theme ‘NESTs in Het Kiel’. The booklet is meant to inspire kids to think about this theme and work with it. It inspires coaches and kids to get busy. Items include: philosophising about the diversity in nests, connections to architecture, a show by the artists, tree houses and other human habitations all over the world, and Braem’s ‘Potenblokken’. Works of art from the Middelheimmuseum which have some connection with ‘nests’ (architecture/construction) are also presented. In the course of the project, it becomes clear that a number of key figures play an important part in getting residents involved. Some are familiar with the meeting centre NOVA, others are not. Several key figures assume (adapted) tasks. Samenlevingsopbouw Kiel and NOVA support them. For example: Mohammed is an older Moroccan gentleman and an active builder. He trains the local football team. The kids trust him and he encourages them to join in the building and stops them from damaging the NEST. He is asked to be one of the ambassadors. Active residents, members of the residents’ association, members of Recht-Op and the NOVA platform play an important part in building social support too. The youngsters of the SPIA do not only join in the building during school hours, they also help out in the evenings, after school.

The importance of such social support and a large, communal involvement for the success of the project are becoming increasingly clearer. Not only the involvement of residents, associations and schools, but also coordinating the various interests of the different key figures keeps on requiring extra attention. Because it is precisely this joint involvement that will make the project a success. The term ‘community building’ crops up. Gradually, the NEST instils a certain strength, and as such, it becomes an opportunity to unitethe different cultures in a ‘natural’ way. The NEST gives the residents a sense of pride. They helped build this NEST, it belongs to them, to the neighbourhood.

Associations do help with the construction, but only a few associations organise their own activities on the theme of nests. The time for raising awareness and providing information proved too short. But the project does give them faith and energy, since they know that something ‘is happening’ in Het Kiel.

The neighbourhood is involved and yet not. Formal activities (organised by the partners) have varying degrees of success. Some activities attract a lot of participants, others do not. Informal moments, however, certainly do. Passers-by, residents dropping in for a chat, are very enthusiastic and sometimes spontaneously join in the building. There are no negative responses. During the building phase, the ‘godparents’ (neighbourhood

monitors) are asked to ‘look after’ the NEST and keep an eye on things. After an ad in the local paper, about 15 people show up for an information meeting. They agree on certain rules. The ‘godparents’ will help maintain the NEST: trimming, watering, cleaning up. And they will make sure that the rules they have set up are being observed. This group mainly consists of involved residents, who will help watch over the NEST. Younger and older residents, natives and immigrants, the poor and the well-off; a very diverse group with regards to age, gender and background. They do their jobs with great care and dedication. The link between the museum and the neighbourhood takes shape through several specific initiatives. There are the special tours on the theme of ‘nests and architecture’, worked out by the museum guides. There are also special tours for the residents of Het Kiel. For the opening of Andreas Hetfeld’s exhibition, buses shuttle between the museum and Het Kiel. Schools are involved through the art education programme about ‘nests’, living, architecture and odd nests. These initiatives are intentionally spread over different locations, from a joint strategy, directed by the steering committee.

Apart from an artistic event, ‘Nests on Het Kiel’ is mainly a social happening. The focus is on meeting people and cooperation. Festive activities are organised in which these two factors go hand in hand. Both the start and the completion of the building phase are moments of celebration. The neighbourhood and the people involved celebrate together: they have a NEST. And a party because they have built it together. The building phase ends on 27 April 08. The NEST is there, the project continues, it is not finished yet. On the contrary, for some of the people involved, this is just the beginning. For how long will the NEST be there? No one knows. As long as possible, the entire neighbourhood is agreed on that much. The ‘godparents’ will (have to) ensure it, along with all the key figures. It is up to them to keep the dynamic which has sprung up around the NEST alive.

Several working groups are started. A first working group consists of the ‘godparents’. They will maintain the NEST.

Another working group is responsible for the programming in and around the NEST. This working group consists mainly of professionals. Apart from that, the initiators and partners involved regularly discuss the future of the project. In May 2008, the local residents are informed about the future of the NEST. In winter, things quiet down momentarily, but spring brings new life. Nursery classes regularly visit the NEST. In April 2009, its anniversary is celebrated. All the local residents are invited to bake cakes and bring them to the NEST. A huge cake buffet gives the project a new, festive impetus.

The NEST seems destined to have a long life. It will only be demolished once it gives rise to too many complaints, or once it is no longer safe. The organisation BIDS regularly checks the NEST. The working groups, too, will do their best to prevent any problems. A new programme of events is ready to go. Clubs, organisations and local residents can hire the NEST with a key contract.[13] Different actors will continue to encourage the residents to take the initiative and hire the NEST.

But will the link between the museum and the neighbourhood also be preserved? Only time will tell. This difficult exercise demands a lot of ‘pulling and dragging’, on both sides. Both parties will have to want it, to organise activities together, to go on meeting, to go on together. This again means that the mutual expectations are clear. And remain clear. It is, and will be, a permanent work in progress, even when the Bij-buurtenproject is finished. And there’s the rub. How do policymakers respond to such initiatives?

Is there room, in the running of the museum, for a neighbourhood and target group-oriented approach? Is it possible, and is it necessary, to structurally include not only the artistic aspect, but also the social aspect in the running of a museum?

 

2.6 Evaluation

Let’s start with an obvious question: have the stated targets been achieved?

The steering committee met to discuss this, and the project partners were questioned. We will include their findings[14] and also the interviews we conducted with these people and the conversations Ghislain Verstraeten (2009) had with the residents involved.

Target 1: ‘Realising a temporary work of art, NEST’ The NEST has been built; the artists have built it, together with the local residents, organisations and clubs.

Target 2: ‘Fostering social cohesion in the neighbourhood’ Is the social cohesion of a neighbourhood measurable? Does measuring have to be done in figures, or are there other grounds on which to determine its success? It is clear that NEST symbolised a place where local residents, in all their diversity, could meet (Van Der Velpen, 2008). After the project finished, employees received mostly positive feedback from the residents of the Braemblokken, the primary target group. Someone said the field had undergone a transformation. A lot of residents are ‘proud’ of the NEST and feel there is a positive atmosphere there. The social and open attitude of the artists and the various activities have ensured that the NEST has the support of many residents. Working together on one theme unites people. Initially, this primary target group did not ask for a work of art on their ‘grass’.

The godparents

Annie is the president of the residents’ association, which played a key part in the ‘grass story’. She says only a few residents were actively involved. Interest was limited; if anything, people were afraid of problems. The employees of Community Work Kiel discovered this too. Despite all their efforts to get people involved, only a few residents showed up. During the residents’ meetings, too, the NEST was rarely discussed. Opportunities to meet failed to materialise. Soon, the critics fell silent: the NEST did not lead to the expected nuisances. The NEST was accepted. People often complained that ‘there is nothing to do in the neighbourhood’. The NEST has changed all that. People did talk about the opening and closing celebrations. Lots of residents attended, the crowd was a good reflection of the neighbourhood. Annie clearly played a key part in getting the residents involved. She is the spokeswoman for the residents’ association. She says what others are afraid to say, and negotiates between the organisations involved. She was, and is, an important link in the chain.

Mohammed, godfather of the project, local football trainer of 42, was one of the first ‘builders’. The entire neighbourhood knows him, not just the Moroccan community.

He says that people were shocked that he participated, they had not expected him to. He got young and old involved, and through his network also his Moroccan friends. He made an effort to involve people from different cultures. According to him, especially the schools did good work in getting young people involved. Why was there no vandalism? Mohammed is one of the people who played an important part in that respect. He knows some of the young people that sometimes cause a nuisance and is a mediator at the Alfons De Cockplein, which is infamous for all the nuisances caused there. He approached these youngsters and asked them to make a positive contribution to the NEST.

Try to do right, don’t cause a nuisance, don’t touch it. The NEST belongs to us, we’re helping to build it, so don’t climb on top of it, don’t play football there.” “At first, there was some trouble, and not just caused by the Moroccan kids either. But that didn’t last long.” At the final party, Mohammed told several youngsters to “clear away their cups and keep quiet”. He helped make sure, just like many other participants, that the party was a real party.

The “talking about”, the curiosity factor and the fact that the entire project is spread around the neighbourhood, gets people enthusiastic. It did the neighbourhood good; it inspired a certain zeal, and boosted people’s attachment to the neighbourhood.

Target 3: encouraging cooperation between the local sociocultural clubs Early on, the artists and actors involved announced they wanted the NEST to be a meeting place. This positive attitude helped realise this goal. People met during the building.

Sometimes, several clubs were helping out at the same time, together with individual residents. At the fringe activities too, people and groups met. And the NEST will remain a meeting place, as ‘hired space’, where people can watch cultural performances. Outsiders or passers-by can continue to visit the NEST.

 

Target 4: promoting an active art and culture participation among the local residents

The link with the museum is clear to the residents, because at the start of every new exhibition, buses are chartered. About 50 people go on them: many underprivileged residents and also people of immigrant origins, and the number is growing steadily. The first group is targeted by the efforts of the organisation Recht-Op, the second by Mohammed. Is NEST really art? Opinions are divided on this. But it is clear that the NEST, as a concept, appeals to people.

Target 5: revitalising the neighbourhood

“A number of people now consider the work of art as part of their front yard. They keep a close eye on the surroundings and regularly check their windows to see whether everything is okay. On Thursday, we will see how we can exercise more social control. It’s not just the recent incident. Sometimes there are also problems with littering and dog owners who ignore the rules.” (Bart Vandormael, community worker, 17/05/2009)

In the short term, it is difficult to say.

Certainly the political interest in NEST was relatively extensive, and the policy makers who usually see the neighbourhood as a problem area, were now able to see it as a neighbourhood full of opportunities. The residents themselves are now assuming more responsibility. Significantly more individuals and groups took part in the annual spring cleaning!

And the individual resident of Het Kiel? They did not join in the building very often, which is perhaps a pity. But the question is whether this was really necessary. Was that really a goal of the project? The neighbourhood definitely got involved. Very much so. All parties involved, with all their different expectations and perspectives, said it was ‘a great success’. The area of tension of which the NEST is an expression, is that within a project a lot is planned and determined in advance. But the NEST project also leaves people a lot of room to do their own thing.

Young people that did not belong to any organisation were not reached. Thanks to the schools, smaller youth networks did help build the NEST in their spare time. There was little or no vandalism, because of the godparents and the efforts of the neighbours, which strengthened social control. A week before the anniversary, on 15 April 2009, two youngsters tried to set fire to the NEST. Neighbours are surprised it did not happen sooner: “When this project was proposed, we all thought ‘it won’t be long before the vandalizing starts’. But involving the schools was a good move. Since they helped build it, the young people feel a certain responsibility. It’s too bad that this happened now, in the run-up to the celebrations. But the fact that the neighbourhood is so involved in the NEST, helped ensure that the damage was limited. Someone saw the whole thing happen from their window in one of the blocks and immediately called the fire brigade.” (Frans Broers, resident, 15/4/2009).

It proved very difficult to reach the large group of Moroccan residents. First contacts were made through the local imam. When he fell ill, there was no more contact. Only in a later phase, through their kids’ involvement at school and ‘ambassador’ Mohammed, did they join in the inauguration celebrations. On the one hand, the partners achieved their goals. The cooperation between the different partners, no matter how different their targets and expectations, was felt to be ‘good’ and ‘unique’. Many participants were reached and there are new social actors – key figures- in the neighbourhood now. There was a lot of media attention. The atmosphere was positive and there was a good energy.

So by and large, the project was a success. Organisations, clubs and organized groups all got involved. About a thousand people helped build the NEST, usually as part of a larger group. The fringe activities also drew in a lot of people, though it is difficult to put an exact figure on that. 1200 people showed up for the closing festivities.

On the other hand, the following questions remain:

– is this a sustainable project?

– has the social fabric of the community of Het Kiel changed fundamentally?

– have young people and residents really become more involved in the social aspects of and cultural opportunities in their neighbourhood?

Let’s go beyond the ‘first level evaluation’ and look at the underlying characteristics of the NEST. In order to do this, we have no choice but to first question the images we have of people and society. It is this image which forces us into the illusion of short-term thinking and measurability.

 

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Verstraeten, G. (2009). Een terp met een nest en een tuin en een beeld en een feest en een boom… en de boom stond op de…. In Bij-buurten op het Kiel, Annemie Morbee, e.a. Middelheimmuseum en Faro uitgeverij. p. 79-85

 

Notes

1. Vlaams Belang, 2006, District Antwerp, ‘reconquering a quality of life, neighbourhood by neighbourhood’. Election document 48, municipal and district elections of 8 October 2006 (www.vlaamsbelangantwerpen.be, consulted on 13 May 2009)

2. Vielfont G., Samenlevingsopbouw Antwerpen Stad, 2008, Neighbourhood analysis Het Kiel

3. Kiel rats (Kielse ratten) is in fact the name of the Kiel support club of the football team Germinal Beerschot:. “We are Kiel Rats, we are Rats from ‘t Kiel .We are from the purple army, we are back to win the league!”. Problem kids in that neighbourhood are often referred to by this name, which has overtones of hooliganism.

4. A decree (‘decreet’) is the name of the legislative framework issued by the authorized executive, in this case the Vlaamse Gemeenschap.

5. The Pact of Vilvoorde was made after the European summit in Lisbon of 2000, by various strategic partners. It contains 21 strategic goals for Flanders, including themes such as literacy, culture, employment etc.

6. See Pauwels, J. (1993) and others. Young people are not philistines. In: Terzake May 1993.

7. Lievens, J., Waege, H. & De Meulemeester, H. (2005) or Laermans, R. (2007).

8. Application for a project grant to strengthen the basic functions of the museum by a recognized museum.

9. Application for a project grant to strengthen the basic functions of the museum work by a recognized museum.

10. Tempera, 2007.

11. From: Duquenne, E. (2007). Nesten op Het Kiel. Antwerp: Middelheimmuseum.

12. SPIA: Stedelijke Polytechnisch Instituut Antwerpen had been involved in the subproject ‘A BRIDGE (= a work of art) between SPIA and MID’ 13. A contract is drawn up in which people agree to observe all conditions that have been set. A key contract is drawn up for every room hire at the NOVA.

14. Project ‘Bijbuurten op het Kiel’. Evaluation Nests on Het Kiel. Version 10 June 2008.

JONGEREN in NESTen – Βijbuurten op Het Kiel: Α paidagogishe analysis of the Eco-Socio-Artistic Project  ‘Nest op Het Kiel’

Αναδημοσίευση κατόπιν προτροπής του κ. Piet Convents από το http://www.demos.be/uploads/tx_bworxebib/Artesis-JP-Nest_Veren.pdf (June , 2009)

*O κ. Piet Convents συμμετείχε στο Project ‘Nest op Het Kiel’ ως συντονιστής ενός εκ των πέντε υποέργων του. επισκέφτηκε δε τη χώρα μας και κατέθεσε την ακόλουθη εμπειρία ως προσκεκλημένος επισκέπτης στο ΚΑΜ-Χανίων στο πλαίσιο του Προγράμματος Παιδαγωγικής-Συμμετοχικής Ηγεσίας «Εκπαίδευση Ενηλίκων κι Εναλλακτικά Προγράμματα Εκπαιδευτικής Ηγεσίας»  τον Ιανουάριο του 2014.

 

Περίληψη

Το 2006 ολοκληρώθηκε στην Αμβέρσα το τριετές Project ‘Nest op Het Kiel’, ένα πρόγραμμα συμμετοχικού σχεδιασμού σε επίπεδο τοπικής κοινότητας στο πλαίσιο της ενδυνάμωσης, της χειραφέτησης και του μετασχηματισμού των αντιλήψεων των κατοίκων της. Μέσω αυτού επιτεύχθηκε η άρση στερεοτυπικών δίπολων όπως «φτωχοί-πλούσιοι», «ντόπιοι – ξένοι/μετανάστες», «νέοι-ηλικιωμένοι», «άνδρες-γυναίκες», «επιστήμη-τέχνη», κ.ά αφού στο Πρόγραμμα ενεπλάκησαν και συνεργάστηκαν πάνω από 1200 άτομα επί τρία χρόνια και κατάφεραν να δημιουργήσουν ένα πολιτισμικό-έργο τέχνης, έργο κοινωνικής γλυπτικής που είχε την μορφή «Φωλιάς». Η «Φωλιά» σχεδιάστηκε από ειδικούς επιστήμονες και ακτιβιστές και η κατασκευή της τέθηκε σε εφαρμογή με τη βοήθεια όλων των παραπάνω πληθυσμιακών κατηγοριών, που πέρα από τη δυνατότητα παρέμβασης στο βιομηχανικό τοπίο της πόλης τους με ένα περιβαλλοντικό έργο τέχνης ως αντιστάθμισμα στο ‘γκρίζο’ και στο συναίσθημα του ‘φόβου’ που αυτό δημιουργεί , οι άνθρωποι είχαν τη δυνατότητα να αλληλεπιδράσουν, να συνεργαστούν,  να επικοινωνήσουν κι εν τέλει να έρθουν πιο κοντά αίροντας την απόσταση που τους χώριζε πριν την συμμετοχή τους σε αυτή την πρόσκληση-πρόσκληση του μουσείου Middelheimmuseum της πόλης του Βελγίου.     

Λέξεις κλειδιά

Συμμετοχικός σχεδιασμός, περιβαλλοντικό-κοινωνικό έργο τέχνης, κοινοτική εκπαίδευση-ενδυνάμωση

 

 

JONGEREN in NESTen – Βijbuurten op Het Kiel: Α paidagogishe analysis of the Socio-Artistic Project  ‘Nest op Het Kiel’

 

1. Young people in Nests: building in difficult places?

1.1 Young people in Antwerp

Imagine nowadays city life. What’s it like, as a kid or youngster, to grow up in a neighbourhood where social isolation and fear are the norm? What’s it like, when you see and experience the city as a jungle, with danger lurking behind every tree or corner? Or when you see the big city as a giant playground?

As Alice in Wonderland or Harry Potter in Diagon Alley? What’s it like, to be welcomed on the streets, to hear ‘come play with us’? How does it feel, to be blackmailed by ‘the gang’, to have to pay to be allowed to set foot on the playing field or to take the road home? What’s it like, to be born in a neighbourhood with a NEST as a symbol? And to be fed ‘the codes’ of cultural diversity? Young people learn to live and act as their environment dictates. These acts become of a repetitive ‘cultural’ nature. The neighbourhood’s response – the silence, the fear, the isolation – becomes the dominant culture. And the young people act accordingly.

In this chapter we explore how the building of a Nest changed the image of a neighbourhood and marked new perspectives in living together in intergenerational diversity.

What is the value of a socio-artistic community project in terms of social cohesion and social fabric? Can we, based on the understandings and outcome of the project, describe a new social and methodological paradigm? These are important questions that rose from our inquiry. The Nest project is our focus.

“An incredibly diverse neighbourhood, not only as far as population is concerned, but also the architecture, high-rise buildings with social housing, low-rise council housing, private property. You can be standing among the towers of council flats one minute, and then a 100 yards on, you’re almost in the country. Houses are small-ish, the streets can have a nice atmosphere, for example if people are joining in the city-wide Spring Cleaning. That gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. But then, around the corner, you stand among theblocks and you can almost feel the social isolation.”

‘Het Kiel’ (like the ship’s ‘Keel’) is a neighbourhood in Antwerp, south of the city centre. Before the 1920 Olympics and the 1930 World Fair, it was a green area. Now, over 15,000 people live there. Het Kiel is an old neighbourhood, popular and multicultural, with a lot of social housing.

Apart from an area with residential villas and 19th century town houses, the neighbourhood is characterized by the ‘blocks’, high-rise apartments designed by architect Renaat Braem. As an architect, Braem’s main inspiration was Le Corbusier. He ‘replaced’ the ground floor of the apartment buildings with large support beams. The ‘legs’ support the high blocks and give the impression of openness. In the heart of the neighbourhood lies NOVA, a Cultural Meeting Centre. Het Kiel is cut off from the rest of the city by a tangle of ring roads, bridges and slip roads – the so-called ‘spaghetti knot’. This gives the neighbourhood a distinctive identity. The municipality is working on renovating the neighbourhood: several streets are to be renewed, a branch of the OCMW (Public Centre for Social Welfare) and the head office of VoorZorg Antwerpen (Social housing cooperation) are being built there and the shopping centre Den Tir is being developed. Young people have not been forgotten: there will be playgrounds and green areas; and on the parking lot of football club Germinal Beerschot GBA, sports- and game facilities are being planned. The extreme right wing, populist party Vlaams Belang writes: “Het Kiel is a problem neighbourhood which requires a step-by-step approach. Law and order have to be restored. If the new plans for the neighbourhood, such as the Tir shopping centre, are to produce results, the quality of life has to be improved. The quality of living in the housing estates has to be improved. Vacant and run-down houses have to be bought and renovated.“

1 Het Kiel, together with Antwerpen Noord, Luchtbal, Europark (Left Bank) and Oud-Borgerhout, is high on the poverty index. The underprivileged are concentrated in several areas of the neighbourhood. The school achievements of pupils show a close correlation with the neighbourhood they grow up in. A lot of the children growing up in Het Kiel are already lagging in primary school.

There is a lot of diversity in Het Kiel: 46% of inhabitants are of immigrant descent, 54% are Belgian. The percentage of young people is higher than the Antwerp average. Over 58% of the houses are part of a housing estate.

2 Living together is fraught with problems. The strong segregation between the different groups, along ethnic and class lines, the exclusion of the male Moroccan community and the ensuing frustration are problematic. Some communities manage to break out of their social isolation, but for most of the inhabitants it’s ‘each man for himself’. The Moroccan community is divided and difficult to mobilize. Young people are seen as a problem by many inhabitants, especially young people of immigrant descent. In the social sciences literature, negative characterizations of urban living in neighbourhoods such as Het Kiel dominate. Tönnies, Paddington et al speak of social disintegration and see little room for a close-knit community life in deprived areas. Putnam sees a decline of traditional social life. Perhaps people are more impersonal and distant in their dealings with one another in cities. Yet even in the anonymous city, there are plenty of opportunities for strengthening community ties at the neighbourhood level.

 

1.2 Problems in Het Kiel?

The extreme right wing, populist party Vlaams Belang writes: “Het Kiel is a problem neighbourhood which requires a step-by-step approach. Law and order have to be restored. If the new plans for the neighbourhood, such as the Tir shopping centre, are to produce results, the quality of life has to be improved. The quality of living in the housing estates has to be improved. Vacant and run-down houses have to be bought and renovated.“ [1]

Het Kiel, together with Antwerpen Noord, Luchtbal, Europark (Left Bank) and Oud-Borgerhout, is high on the poverty index. The underprivileged are concentrated in several areas of the neighbourhood. The school achievements of pupils show a close correlation with the neighbourhood they grow up in. A lot of the children growing up in Het Kiel are already lagging in primary school.

There is a lot of diversity in Het Kiel: 46% of inhabitants are of immigrant descent, 54% are Belgian. The percentage of young people is higher than the Antwerp average. Over 58% of the houses are part of a housing estate.[2] Living together is fraught with problems. The strong segregation between the different groups, along ethnic and class lines, the exclusion of the male Moroccan community and the ensuing frustration are problematic. Some communities manage to break out of their social isolation, but for most of the inhabitants it’s ‘each man for himself’. The Moroccan community is divided and difficult to mobilize. Young people are seen as a problem by many inhabitants, especially young people of immigrant descent.

In the social sciences literature, negative characterizations of urban living in neighbourhoods such as Het Kiel dominate. Tönnies, Paddington et al speak of social disintegra-tion and see little room for a close-knit community life in deprived areas. Putnam sees a decline of traditional social life.

Perhaps people are more impersonal and distant in their dealings with one another in cities. Yet even in the anonymous city, there are plenty of opportunities for strengthening community ties at the neighbourhood level.

 

1.3 For our neighbours too: free air, greenery and art! Welcome to the Middelheimmuseum

“Museums do not have the right tools to reach young people. They’re not interested in the traditional arts, but in culture, film and music, a culture which is much closer to their hearts. So we need different partners.”

The Middelheimmuseum is in the vicinity of the Het Kielneighbourhood, in Wilrijk, one of Antwerps nine districts. A large thoroughfare divides the neighbourhood. The museum is located in the part with a lot of greenery and big houses. The popular neighbourhood Het Kiel is on the other side. As the crow flies, the museum and the neighbourhood

are less than 7 kilometres apart, but all public transport goes via the city centre, so it takes close to an hour to reach the museum from Het Kiel. The open air museum has an extensive international collection of modern and contemporary sculpture. Every year, about 200,000 people visit the public art park of 28 hectares. A survey (2004, Musis) recording the specific profiles of visitors of Antwerp city museums shows that people often visit the Middelheimmuseum as part of a group or a class. Adults, and especially young people less familiar with culture, rarely find their way to the museum. The same goes for the museum’s neighbours in Kiel. They rarely visit. The PR employees of the museum decided to seek out their neighbours. And the minister approves.

 

1.4 The minister of participation Social laws prove stronger than policy

“People will die of loneliness and boredom before they die of hunger” Poverty Report ‘94

“The challenge of this decree is not just to attract more people to culture, youth work and sports, but more than ever also to bring culture, youth work and sports to the people. It goes without saying that culture, youth work and sports will not simply remove the existing socio-economic and other inequalities, but a decisive policy in this regard undeniably does contribute to the fight against inequality. This new participation decree is a landmark in a consistent policy. It’s like the keystone, keeping a stone arch up by its own sheer force. This ‘keeping things together’ is a crucial challenge.” Bert Anciaux, Minister for Culture, at the launch of the decree Barriers to participation. The high steps of the museum or the theatre. Try putting on ‘Waiting for Godot’ in a neighbourhood where Kiel rats [3] are mainly concerned with the results of their FC Germinal Beerschot! Scientific research has shown different barriers to young people’s participation in ‘classic’ art: financial, socio-cultural, age, physical and mental possibilities etc.

In September 2007, the Flemish government gave its blessing to the ‘Participation Decree’,[4] at the behest of the Minister for Culture, Bert Anciaux. This new legislative framework concerns a high-quality, diverse cultural offering and serves to encourage and support people and groups to ‘remove barriers’ and participate and be part of a rich and diverse youth, sports and cultural life. In this way, attention for quality and  reach/participation are linked.

Participation  is broadened, enriched and strengthened by the incorporation of existing participation initiatives and institutions in one coherent framework, and by giving extra financial stimuli to new practices, along with special attention for disadvantaged groups (people in poverty, prisoners, families with children and the disabled, groups of a diverse ethnic-cultural nature). The extra resources can also be used for support- ing the social power of sports (by supporting local square stewards, pointing people towards sports clubs, etc.) or helping to set up youth clubs for disadvantaged groups.

This ‘Participation Decree’ also embodies the principles and action plans of the Flemish government, like the Pact of Vilvoorde,[5] the realisation of the Flemish Poverty Action Plan, the strategic plan for help and assistance to prisoners etc. Participation is turning in to the hallmark of this Minister for Culture. Not everybody is altogether happy with that. According to Wim De Pauw (2008), the attempt to integrate the two movements – cultural participation and cultural production – in practice means that participation wins out. The leitmotiv in the minister’s policy is that the arts sector should open itself up to as large a part of the population as possible.

This means that Anciaux is projecting the idea of participation on to the arts sector and the artists themselves. He is saddling them with the responsibility for the participation of groups that are difficult to reach. De Pauw thinks art should (only?) be judged on its intrinsic quality and not on its audience appeal. Art and culture participation are apparently not determined by policy. Most surveys show social culture diffusion has been a failure.[6] Two important reasons have been given. On the hand, social patterns, such as the role of culture as a means of distinction (see Bourdieu among others). Cultural tastes, appreciation and behaviour are apparently connected to behavioural norms and the lifestyle of certain groups, and are therefore rooted in a social structure. Social laws prove stronger than policy. Also, the degree of difficulty of art has proved to limit its appeal. The more complex the art form, the less widespread it is socially. Education turns out to be the determining factor in cultural participation.[7] Section 23 of the Belgian Constitution guarantees the right to a dignified life and especially the right to cultural and social development. (Koning Boudewijn-stichting, 2000) This section became the driving force for socio-artistic projects, like the ones included in the ‘arts decree’. In Flanders, socio artistic practice is still young, developing and finding its way. Socio-artistic projects build bridges between people, communities and the arts, in a socially congruent way. They are the embodiment of government attention for participation and disadvantaged groups. Groups and individuals,  which have been excluded socially and culturally, are actively involved in culture and the arts. The approach deals with participants, artists and the audience in its own, different way. The focus is on connections, the aesthetics of accidental synchronicity. Clashing areas, poverty and beauty, or beauty and the beast. Marie Van Looveren (2006 and 2008) argues that the social factor should not be forgotten: “In this way, socio-artistic projects contribute structurally to the fight against poverty and social exclusion in the cultural domain. The current inaccessibility of the cultural field is lessened. Not by leading the poor en masse to a cultural product they cannot relate to, but by broadening the cultural field, and thus automatically incorporating more points of view and groups of society.”

Museum looking for an audience, longing for a broader audience and receiving (lots) of project money from a ‘Minister for Participation’ to achieve this! But what happens if a temple of culture goes on a blind date with the unfamiliar and up to now unloved – football-crazy neighbour?

For the museum, it will be an exciting and unexpected meeting with a visitor who might never become part of the classic audience without loosing his authenticity. Where are the limits? Can a temple of culture broaden its field without losing some of its sacredness? And if so, how? For the visitor: do I feel welcome enough to be able to enjoy myself and enter into a dialogue with image and attitude? How much can the new acquaintances take from one another? One of my icons in the park is ‘Het Zotte Geweld’ (‘the crazy violence’). Originally, Rik Wouters called his statue ‘de dwaze maagd’ (‘the mad virgin’). It represents (the dance of)) Isidora Duncan. Can a museum, along with its project partners, arouse a zest for living in a community? Is that the quest it has embarked on?

 

2. ‘Bijbuurten’ and Nests: socio-artistic good practice?

2.1 Bijbuurten (Catching up)

In 2006, The museum starts ‘Bij-buurten op Het Kiel’, its ‘inclusion initiatives’ aimed at the Het Kiel neighbours who never visit. The museum does so with a whole series of partners, including ‘De Veerman’, an organisation for arts education, community work and the neighbourhood centre NOVA. ‘Bijbuurten’ will run for 3 years and comprise several projects. In the first year (April 06 to March 07) the focus is on getting to know the neighbourhood and project partners.

In the second year (April 07 – March 08), the focus is on expanding community work, school work and contemporary art in the neighbourhood. In the third and final year (April 08 – June 09), community work is expanded further and incorporated into the normal functioning of the museum.

 

2.2 Goal, mission, vision

“Art can be a valuable addition to our lives and it offers opportunities for self-fulfilment and self-respect. With the questions art raises, it can help people find their place in the world.” (www.middelheimmuseum.be )

The attention for a broader social role for the museum comes to the fore in ‘Bij-buurten‘. Letting target groups that are difficult to reach discover culture, in their own neighbourhood and in the museum; expanding the community work of the museum; assuming the role of mediator between image and audience, across the physical and territorial borders of the museum; these are all embodiments of the concept social inclusion.

With ‘Social Inclusion’, the attention shifted to activities aimed at involving non-museum going groups in new ways, from the 80’s onwards. Social Inclusion starts a thought process in the museum about its role and identity. The museum goes looking for the desired audience outside of the institution, in the audience’s own environment. That is where the museum starts working on achieving its aims. The focus is on the demand side. Activities are organised in close cooperation with the target groups. They, too, can influence the final result. Throughout the planning stage, all efforts are made to achieve a balance between active (do it yourself), receptive (looking at) en reflective (thinking about). In the long run, the museum’s Social Inclusion approach should produce an audience that accurately reflects the population as a whole. How should the museum change in order to guarantee the involvement of the target groups in the long term? This question will take up an ever larger part of the agenda of the staff meetings of the Middelheimmuseum .[8]

The museum translated this approach into a number of targets. The museum wanted:

– the visitor’s profile to accurately reflect the population in general, and that of Het Kiel in particular – to forge an ongoing cooperation with Het Kiel, with organised residents, through socio-cultural organisations and neighbourhood schools in Het Kiel

– to tailor the museum’s work to the artistic and cultural experience of specific target groups, such as people in poverty and people of immigrant descent – to mediate in the relationship between art and Braem architecture in Het Kiel and its inhabitants

– to lower concrete barriers to (physical and mental) accessibility in its own domain for people who are unfamiliar with museums The museum saw benefits in several areas to the cooperation between the museum and the neighbourhood. The museum assumes that the various cultures and world views will enrich one another and the museum. More cultural diversity will exist next to (and inside) the dominant culture.

This makes communication about, with and of the specific context of the target group possible and therefore enriches our shared lives. In addition, the museum is winning local support. Involving the locals is a priority. The project will offer a diverse choice to the various target groups: new Belgians (immigrants), young people, people in poverty, socio-cultural organisations and schools. In doing so, the museum gains expert knowledge about the different target groups, which can help to further tailor their work. The target groups concerned are good ‘reference groups’ with which to test the accessibility of the current system. Initiatives to improve this accessibility will also benefit other visitors. The ‘Social Inclusion thinking’ resulted in the Bij-buurtenproject, a project spread over three years and described as ‘…an octopus branching off into subprojects, partners, locations, and a huge investment in time and manpower.’[9]

In order to be able to build a relationship with the inhabitants of Het Kiel, the museum wants to get an idea of what the local residents think of the museum, how they see it. A focus group survey [10] provides the necessary information.

Conversations with local residents show that they do know the Antwerp museums – including the Middelheimmuseum – but only rarely visit them. They also show little affection for or attachment to the art in their own neighbourhood (mainly sculptures). A personal invitation does convince the Kielenaars to visit the Middelheimmuseum. A visit to the park, a walk around it, is found to be enjoyable. However, it is mainly a psychological barrier they experience as visitors: they are not in the habit of it (attitude, dress code): they feel like they stick out in an environment in which they are not at home. For the rest, the Kielenaars deal with the information provided to them in a rational way. They show little curiosity of their own accord. They do like to take part in an organised group visit to the museum, but they are not inclined to take the initiative themselves. For the Kielenaars, the fact that the visual arts are not selfexplanatory, the physical barrier (lack of public transport) and the (sub-) cultural barriers (dress, attitude, etc.) act as barriers to participation and stop them visiting the Middelheimmuseum.

The survey led to several recommendations:

– picking up the public, welcoming them, guiding them;

– emphasising the advantages of the museum (park!)

– building a relationship with the neighbourhood and the social fabric there

– ensuring a relationship between the audience and the collection

Based on these results, a strategy is devised to improve the accessibility of the museum and the involvement of the neighbourhood.

 

2.3 Sub-projects

Sub-project 1: neighbourhood walk ‘A taste of Het Kiel’

Two neighbourhood walks are developed. Route A focuses on arts and architecture, route B on arts and sports. The walks are widely publicized through various youth and cultural organisations. But turn-out is low, even though the walks make a pleasant change for the schools. Based on the social inclusion approach, the museum also starts to look for partners and key figures, young people in the neighbourhood. De Veerman supplies the ‘knowhow on arts education’ in working with young people and adults. The contact with the local residents is initiated in cooperation with a series of organisations within the neighbourhood, such as ‘Recht-op’ (an association giving poor people a voice), Cultural Centre De Kern and neighbourhood meeting centre NOVA, KIDS (youth work for  disadvantaged children and young people), the residents’ association Braemblokken, community work Antwerp, several schools, SPIA and ‘de Toverbol’, etc. They will be the steering committee for the project ‘Bij-buurten op Het Kiel’.

Sub-project 2: school involvement

In the second year, the focus was on extending the community work. Two neighbourhood schools were approached. The project ‘A BRIDGE (= a work of art) between SPIA and MID’ brought the young people of the SPIA (City Poly-technic Institute Antwerp) into contact with the museum. The search for ‘What do the Middelheimmuseum and the SPIA have in common?’ led to working visits being paid, and the awareness that art and technology are not mutually exclusive. Youngsters (students of the departments construction, bodywork, electrical engineering, central heating and sanitary installations), together with an artist and a technical teacher, used discarded materials to make pieces of work. The installations were a huge success and remained on show in the Middelheimmuseum for five months. This project brought about a change in thinking about art and technology: with technology, you can do more than the purely functional. Young people arrived at a less abstract dimension of art. The project served as a bridge between museum and neighbourhood.

Sub-project 3: Beeld in de stad (BIDS, sculptures in the city)

The ‘Het Kiel walks’ and the idea that sculptures in the neighbourhood would be closer to the people than sculptures in the museum, lead to the plan for a work of art in the neighbourhood itself. The steering group organised a meeting with the BIDS organisation. BIDS wanted to realise a work of art in the neighbourhood in 2007-2008, with the active involvement of the locals. After the project was approved, it was time for the next step: the search for an artist who could make a work of art with the residents, among the Braemblokken.

 

2.4 NEST in Het Kiel

The tree as a metaphor for the growth process of the art project NEST (Andreas Hetfeld)

Looking for fertile soil (Het Kiel) Choosing a suitable tree and the right seed (NESTidea and NESTform) for the carefully chosen spot/soil Planting the seed at the right time (NESTidea)

Taking care of the seed (NESTidea) with water and other nourishing substances Taking good care of the budding plant, only now becoming visible (NESTform) and protect it from dehydration, storms, hail, vandalism etc.

Regular examination and maintenance of the growing tree (NEST) And its environment (community). Two artists, Andreas Hetfeld and Suus Baltussen, do a visual language project with the residents. ‘NEST’ is a metaphor they are comfortable with. The artists have already built two nests, on private land and in a museum. It is the first time a NEST will be built in an urban environment. From 15 March until 27 April 2008, next to a Braemblock, on a field that is usually off-limits, the artists and residents build a giant nest: with ‘NEST 3’, they are creating a living object from willow branches, anchored to the ground in a diameter of 9 metres, 4.5 metres high. The branches are growing and have to be cared for. The inside is covered with mosses and soft, natural materials. In December 2006, several of ‘Bijbuurten’’s project partners, together with members of the residents’ association of the Braemblokken, visit the studio of artist Andreas Hetfeld.

The artist is interested in building a nest in Het Kiel, together with his partner Suus Baltussen and the local residents. He understands the needs and wishes of the project, the actors involved and the residents. It quickly becomes clear that partners will need to be found who want to share in the responsibility in order to win the necessary public support for NEST 3. The plan is that the neighbourhood will help create the work of art, will ‘adopt’ it. It is of the essence that a balance is struck between the wishes and expectations of the museum, the neighbourhood and all the organisations involved. The NEST will be a place for residents to meet. The diversity in Het Kiel allows very different cultures to meet spontaneously, to ‘be connected’, and this will be an important starting point for the socio-cultural activities with the neighbourhood. After the working group Beeld in de Stad (BIDS) has given its approval, the preparations can start.

As initiator and coordinator, the Middelheimmuseum will answer for the artistic ealisation of the work of art, in close cooperation with De Veerman. De Veerman will act as a liaison between the organisations, schools and the museum. The working group Beeld in de Stad (BIDS) will give approval to and financial support for the realisation of the NEST. The social housing cooperation, the owner of the plot on which the NEST will be built, and the tenants’ association will also be involved, since both have to give people permission to enter the fields between the Braemblokken. Neighbourhood Centre NOVA will take it upon itself to draw clubs, organisations and residents to the NEST and organise socio-cultural activities. Community work Kiel will make sure the residents are involved and keep an eye on the construction. They will supervise the process, in consultation with the residents.

The partners agreed on the following aims:[11]

– realising a temporary work of art, NEST, together with the local residents

– fostering social cohesion in the neighbourhood. The NEST can become a meeting place for local residents

– encouraging cooperation between the local socio-cultural clubs

– promoting an active art and culture participation among the local residents

– revitalising the neighbourhood

‘Everybody’, or to be more specific: ‘the residents of Het Kiel’ are the primary target group. The residents of the Braemblokken will receive special attention. It is there that the NEST will be built. Kids and young people are mainly approached via the local schools and clubs, to ask them to help build the NEST. Young people will also be targeted through the Academie (part-time art education) and youth centre VIZIT. A crucial step in the preparations for the NEST is the cooperation with the Huisvestingsmaatschappij (housing association) and the residents’ association. The NEST will be built on ‘their’ turf, and access to the ‘no walking on the grass’- grass is a sensitive issue. Walking on the grass is a symbol for causing trouble, for dirty doings. After intense debates with the residents’ association and passionate pleas from both the people involved and art-conscious residents, the project gets their approval too. The social impact of the project, and the delicateness of it, was clear from the start. The story of the grass is a key story in the project.

In September, artists Andreas and Suus walk around the neighbourhood. They meet and talk to the residents of Het Kiel. In the evening, they give a workshop for any teachers or residents that are interested. These people will become the ‘life and soul’ of the  project. They will use their networks to ask people to participate. In November, a second meeting takes place. The museum guides are informed, from that moment on they are involved in the project too. They promise to give tours on the theme of ‘nests and architecture’. The artists visit SPIA[12]  in order to meet the pupils and teachers. They will help the artist to build the basic structure for the NEST. Representatives of schools, organisations, clubs and privileged residents (like the residents’ association) are given a special introduction by the artists. In February 09, there is a last information meeting for all local residents.

A project worker from Samenlevingsopbouw (community work) will kick-start the residents’ process, supervise it and help out with any problems. All residents are asked to help build the NEST. Not just during the building phase. Before that starts, groups are invited to do some work on the theme of ‘nests’, either by looking for abandoned nests in the outdoors or by creating nests of their own. Through NOVA, 300 nest-boxes are distributed, at 1 Euro a piece. Clubs, schools and residents can collect the nest-boxes and decorate them. Workshops are organised to decorate the boxes creatively. Examples are set up at the different organisations. The ‘nesting’ can start. The building takes place from 15 March to 17 April 08. For six weeks, the artists, local residents, clubs, schools, etc, work on a giant NEST. During the first two weeks, the basic structure of NEST is built. Several students from the SPIA again lend a hand, to get the NEST anchored to the ground. From the third to the sixth week, schools, organisations, clubs, families and individuals help build the NEST, amid great public interest. All kinds of activities spring up in and around the NEST, producing a wonderful dynamic.

 

2.5 A selection of fringe activities from the building phase the school show

‘Mees, beer,eend en koe’

The NEST-dynamic gives rise to numerous secondary activities. A birthday party in the NEST, art schools sketching the NEST, local residents decorating their streets, schools decorating their facades – with ‘nests’ as the theme -, springcleaning, putting together a clubs guide. In the Braempaviljoen (Middelheimmuseum), Andreas Hetfeld exhibits works of art which clarify the context from which he works with nature, all throughout the building phase. In the pavillion, there is a 24/7 live video link which shows what is happening in Het Kiel, around the NEST. This underlines the link between the Museum and Het Kiel. 1488 people visit the exhibition.

A motley collection of ‘odd nests’, put together by a heterogeneous group of creative residents and collectors, is on show in the central space of NOVA. All participants in activities in NOVA get a tour. School groups start their building session with a visit to the exhibition. Over 1000 visitors pass through.

All activities taking place in NOVA during that period have something to do with ‘Nests’. They appeal to different target groups, so the involvement in the project as a whole is boosted. During the peripheral activities, residents are informed and made enthusiastic about the project and the building of a communal NEST. A selection from what is on NOVA offer: a nest-music programme in the cultural cafe, a nestbox building workshop, films, creative and cookery workshops for kids, the school show ‘Mees, beer, eend en koe’ (tit, bear, duck and cow), the NOVA-brunch and neighbourhood meal, a nest quiz, a nest info stand at the reception, approa-ching local residents of the Braem-blokken, the nest writing project of ‘Recht-Op’, a soup action – inviting residents of the Braemblokken to come have some soup at the NEST-, a nest warmth workshop, a workshop called ‘what flies and breeds in Het Kiel’ (Natuurpunt), a workshop in and tours of in the Middelheimmuseum, the ARCHIFUN workshop: a one-day building workshop for kids aged 8 to 12.

Together with the Flemish Architecture Institute, the Veerman designs a Nest-library: this educational suitcase is aimed at pupils in the second and third level of secondary education, containing books and assignments on the subject of architecture, living and society. Rasa, an art education organisation for kids, makes an inspirational booklet on the theme ‘NESTs in Het Kiel’. The booklet is meant to inspire kids to think about this theme and work with it. It inspires coaches and kids to get busy. Items include: philosophising about the diversity in nests, connections to architecture, a show by the artists, tree houses and other human habitations all over the world, and Braem’s ‘Potenblokken’. Works of art from the Middelheimmuseum which have some connection with ‘nests’ (architecture/construction) are also presented. In the course of the project, it becomes clear that a number of key figures play an important part in getting residents involved. Some are familiar with the meeting centre NOVA, others are not. Several key figures assume (adapted) tasks. Samenlevingsopbouw Kiel and NOVA support them. For example: Mohammed is an older Moroccan gentleman and an active builder. He trains the local football team. The kids trust him and he encourages them to join in the building and stops them from damaging the NEST. He is asked to be one of the ambassadors. Active residents, members of the residents’ association, members of Recht-Op and the NOVA platform play an important part in building social support too. The youngsters of the SPIA do not only join in the building during school hours, they also help out in the evenings, after school.

The importance of such social support and a large, communal involvement for the success of the project are becoming increasingly clearer. Not only the involvement of residents, associations and schools, but also coordinating the various interests of the different key figures keeps on requiring extra attention. Because it is precisely this joint involvement that will make the project a success. The term ‘community building’ crops up. Gradually, the NEST instils a certain strength, and as such, it becomes an opportunity to unitethe different cultures in a ‘natural’ way. The NEST gives the residents a sense of pride. They helped build this NEST, it belongs to them, to the neighbourhood.

Associations do help with the construction, but only a few associations organise their own activities on the theme of nests. The time for raising awareness and providing information proved too short. But the project does give them faith and energy, since they know that something ‘is happening’ in Het Kiel.

The neighbourhood is involved and yet not. Formal activities (organised by the partners) have varying degrees of success. Some activities attract a lot of participants, others do not. Informal moments, however, certainly do. Passers-by, residents dropping in for a chat, are very enthusiastic and sometimes spontaneously join in the building. There are no negative responses. During the building phase, the ‘godparents’ (neighbourhood

monitors) are asked to ‘look after’ the NEST and keep an eye on things. After an ad in the local paper, about 15 people show up for an information meeting. They agree on certain rules. The ‘godparents’ will help maintain the NEST: trimming, watering, cleaning up. And they will make sure that the rules they have set up are being observed. This group mainly consists of involved residents, who will help watch over the NEST. Younger and older residents, natives and immigrants, the poor and the well-off; a very diverse group with regards to age, gender and background. They do their jobs with great care and dedication. The link between the museum and the neighbourhood takes shape through several specific initiatives. There are the special tours on the theme of ‘nests and architecture’, worked out by the museum guides. There are also special tours for the residents of Het Kiel. For the opening of Andreas Hetfeld’s exhibition, buses shuttle between the museum and Het Kiel. Schools are involved through the art education programme about ‘nests’, living, architecture and odd nests. These initiatives are intentionally spread over different locations, from a joint strategy, directed by the steering committee.

Apart from an artistic event, ‘Nests on Het Kiel’ is mainly a social happening. The focus is on meeting people and cooperation. Festive activities are organised in which these two factors go hand in hand. Both the start and the completion of the building phase are moments of celebration. The neighbourhood and the people involved celebrate together: they have a NEST. And a party because they have built it together. The building phase ends on 27 April 08. The NEST is there, the project continues, it is not finished yet. On the contrary, for some of the people involved, this is just the beginning. For how long will the NEST be there? No one knows. As long as possible, the entire neighbourhood is agreed on that much. The ‘godparents’ will (have to) ensure it, along with all the key figures. It is up to them to keep the dynamic which has sprung up around the NEST alive.

Several working groups are started. A first working group consists of the ‘godparents’. They will maintain the NEST.

Another working group is responsible for the programming in and around the NEST. This working group consists mainly of professionals. Apart from that, the initiators and partners involved regularly discuss the future of the project. In May 2008, the local residents are informed about the future of the NEST. In winter, things quiet down momentarily, but spring brings new life. Nursery classes regularly visit the NEST. In April 2009, its anniversary is celebrated. All the local residents are invited to bake cakes and bring them to the NEST. A huge cake buffet gives the project a new, festive impetus.

The NEST seems destined to have a long life. It will only be demolished once it gives rise to too many complaints, or once it is no longer safe. The organisation BIDS regularly checks the NEST. The working groups, too, will do their best to prevent any problems. A new programme of events is ready to go. Clubs, organisations and local residents can hire the NEST with a key contract.[13] Different actors will continue to encourage the residents to take the initiative and hire the NEST.

But will the link between the museum and the neighbourhood also be preserved? Only time will tell. This difficult exercise demands a lot of ‘pulling and dragging’, on both sides. Both parties will have to want it, to organise activities together, to go on meeting, to go on together. This again means that the mutual expectations are clear. And remain clear. It is, and will be, a permanent work in progress, even when the Bij-buurtenproject is finished. And there’s the rub. How do policymakers respond to such initiatives?

Is there room, in the running of the museum, for a neighbourhood and target group-oriented approach? Is it possible, and is it necessary, to structurally include not only the artistic aspect, but also the social aspect in the running of a museum?

 

2.6 Evaluation

Let’s start with an obvious question: have the stated targets been achieved?

The steering committee met to discuss this, and the project partners were questioned. We will include their findings[14] and also the interviews we conducted with these people and the conversations Ghislain Verstraeten (2009) had with the residents involved.

Target 1: ‘Realising a temporary work of art, NEST’ The NEST has been built; the artists have built it, together with the local residents, organisations and clubs.

Target 2: ‘Fostering social cohesion in the neighbourhood’ Is the social cohesion of a neighbourhood measurable? Does measuring have to be done in figures, or are there other grounds on which to determine its success? It is clear that NEST symbolised a place where local residents, in all their diversity, could meet (Van Der Velpen, 2008). After the project finished, employees received mostly positive feedback from the residents of the Braemblokken, the primary target group. Someone said the field had undergone a transformation. A lot of residents are ‘proud’ of the NEST and feel there is a positive atmosphere there. The social and open attitude of the artists and the various activities have ensured that the NEST has the support of many residents. Working together on one theme unites people. Initially, this primary target group did not ask for a work of art on their ‘grass’.

The godparents

Annie is the president of the residents’ association, which played a key part in the ‘grass story’. She says only a few residents were actively involved. Interest was limited; if anything, people were afraid of problems. The employees of Community Work Kiel discovered this too. Despite all their efforts to get people involved, only a few residents showed up. During the residents’ meetings, too, the NEST was rarely discussed. Opportunities to meet failed to materialise. Soon, the critics fell silent: the NEST did not lead to the expected nuisances. The NEST was accepted. People often complained that ‘there is nothing to do in the neighbourhood’. The NEST has changed all that. People did talk about the opening and closing celebrations. Lots of residents attended, the crowd was a good reflection of the neighbourhood. Annie clearly played a key part in getting the residents involved. She is the spokeswoman for the residents’ association. She says what others are afraid to say, and negotiates between the organisations involved. She was, and is, an important link in the chain.

Mohammed, godfather of the project, local football trainer of 42, was one of the first ‘builders’. The entire neighbourhood knows him, not just the Moroccan community.

He says that people were shocked that he participated, they had not expected him to. He got young and old involved, and through his network also his Moroccan friends. He made an effort to involve people from different cultures. According to him, especially the schools did good work in getting young people involved. Why was there no vandalism? Mohammed is one of the people who played an important part in that respect. He knows some of the young people that sometimes cause a nuisance and is a mediator at the Alfons De Cockplein, which is infamous for all the nuisances caused there. He approached these youngsters and asked them to make a positive contribution to the NEST.

Try to do right, don’t cause a nuisance, don’t touch it. The NEST belongs to us, we’re helping to build it, so don’t climb on top of it, don’t play football there.” “At first, there was some trouble, and not just caused by the Moroccan kids either. But that didn’t last long.” At the final party, Mohammed told several youngsters to “clear away their cups and keep quiet”. He helped make sure, just like many other participants, that the party was a real party.

The “talking about”, the curiosity factor and the fact that the entire project is spread around the neighbourhood, gets people enthusiastic. It did the neighbourhood good; it inspired a certain zeal, and boosted people’s attachment to the neighbourhood.

Target 3: encouraging cooperation between the local sociocultural clubs Early on, the artists and actors involved announced they wanted the NEST to be a meeting place. This positive attitude helped realise this goal. People met during the building.

Sometimes, several clubs were helping out at the same time, together with individual residents. At the fringe activities too, people and groups met. And the NEST will remain a meeting place, as ‘hired space’, where people can watch cultural performances. Outsiders or passers-by can continue to visit the NEST.

 

Target 4: promoting an active art and culture participation among the local residents

The link with the museum is clear to the residents, because at the start of every new exhibition, buses are chartered. About 50 people go on them: many underprivileged residents and also people of immigrant origins, and the number is growing steadily. The first group is targeted by the efforts of the organisation Recht-Op, the second by Mohammed. Is NEST really art? Opinions are divided on this. But it is clear that the NEST, as a concept, appeals to people.

Target 5: revitalising the neighbourhood

“A number of people now consider the work of art as part of their front yard. They keep a close eye on the surroundings and regularly check their windows to see whether everything is okay. On Thursday, we will see how we can exercise more social control. It’s not just the recent incident. Sometimes there are also problems with littering and dog owners who ignore the rules.” (Bart Vandormael, community worker, 17/05/2009)

In the short term, it is difficult to say.

Certainly the political interest in NEST was relatively extensive, and the policy makers who usually see the neighbourhood as a problem area, were now able to see it as a neighbourhood full of opportunities. The residents themselves are now assuming more responsibility. Significantly more individuals and groups took part in the annual spring cleaning!

And the individual resident of Het Kiel? They did not join in the building very often, which is perhaps a pity. But the question is whether this was really necessary. Was that really a goal of the project? The neighbourhood definitely got involved. Very much so. All parties involved, with all their different expectations and perspectives, said it was ‘a great success’. The area of tension of which the NEST is an expression, is that within a project a lot is planned and determined in advance. But the NEST project also leaves people a lot of room to do their own thing.

Young people that did not belong to any organisation were not reached. Thanks to the schools, smaller youth networks did help build the NEST in their spare time. There was little or no vandalism, because of the godparents and the efforts of the neighbours, which strengthened social control. A week before the anniversary, on 15 April 2009, two youngsters tried to set fire to the NEST. Neighbours are surprised it did not happen sooner: “When this project was proposed, we all thought ‘it won’t be long before the vandalizing starts’. But involving the schools was a good move. Since they helped build it, the young people feel a certain responsibility. It’s too bad that this happened now, in the run-up to the celebrations. But the fact that the neighbourhood is so involved in the NEST, helped ensure that the damage was limited. Someone saw the whole thing happen from their window in one of the blocks and immediately called the fire brigade.” (Frans Broers, resident, 15/4/2009).

It proved very difficult to reach the large group of Moroccan residents. First contacts were made through the local imam. When he fell ill, there was no more contact. Only in a later phase, through their kids’ involvement at school and ‘ambassador’ Mohammed, did they join in the inauguration celebrations. On the one hand, the partners achieved their goals. The cooperation between the different partners, no matter how different their targets and expectations, was felt to be ‘good’ and ‘unique’. Many participants were reached and there are new social actors – key figures- in the neighbourhood now. There was a lot of media attention. The atmosphere was positive and there was a good energy.

So by and large, the project was a success. Organisations, clubs and organized groups all got involved. About a thousand people helped build the NEST, usually as part of a larger group. The fringe activities also drew in a lot of people, though it is difficult to put an exact figure on that. 1200 people showed up for the closing festivities.

On the other hand, the following questions remain:

– is this a sustainable project?

– has the social fabric of the community of Het Kiel changed fundamentally?

– have young people and residents really become more involved in the social aspects of and cultural opportunities in their neighbourhood?

Let’s go beyond the ‘first level evaluation’ and look at the underlying characteristics of the NEST. In order to do this, we have no choice but to first question the images we have of people and society. It is this image which forces us into the illusion of short-term thinking and measurability.

 

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Notes

1. Vlaams Belang, 2006, District Antwerp, ‘reconquering a quality of life, neighbourhood by neighbourhood’. Election document 48, municipal and district elections of 8 October 2006 (www.vlaamsbelangantwerpen.be, consulted on 13 May 2009)

2. Vielfont G., Samenlevingsopbouw Antwerpen Stad, 2008, Neighbourhood analysis Het Kiel

3. Kiel rats (Kielse ratten) is in fact the name of the Kiel support club of the football team Germinal Beerschot:. “We are Kiel Rats, we are Rats from ‘t Kiel .We are from the purple army, we are back to win the league!”. Problem kids in that neighbourhood are often referred to by this name, which has overtones of hooliganism.

4. A decree (‘decreet’) is the name of the legislative framework issued by the authorized executive, in this case the Vlaamse Gemeenschap.

5. The Pact of Vilvoorde was made after the European summit in Lisbon of 2000, by various strategic partners. It contains 21 strategic goals for Flanders, including themes such as literacy, culture, employment etc.

6. See Pauwels, J. (1993) and others. Young people are not philistines. In: Terzake May 1993.

7. Lievens, J., Waege, H. & De Meulemeester, H. (2005) or Laermans, R. (2007).

8. Application for a project grant to strengthen the basic functions of the museum by a recognized museum.

9. Application for a project grant to strengthen the basic functions of the museum work by a recognized museum.

10. Tempera, 2007.

11. From: Duquenne, E. (2007). Nesten op Het Kiel. Antwerp: Middelheimmuseum.

12. SPIA: Stedelijke Polytechnisch Instituut Antwerpen had been involved in the subproject ‘A BRIDGE (= a work of art) between SPIA and MID’ 13. A contract is drawn up in which people agree to observe all conditions that have been set. A key contract is drawn up for every room hire at the NOVA.

14. Project ‘Bijbuurten op het Kiel’. Evaluation Nests on Het Kiel. Version 10 June 2008.