Vrij Beton: crowdfunding free cultural spaces

Amsterdam is gentrifying and becoming more homogeneous. Over the past few years, many free cultural spaces have been terminated. Diversity and creativity, said to be quintessential Amsterdam values, are disappearing. Our friends at Amsterdam Alternative¬† (AA) have been staunch advocates of the city’s artistic, social and alternative subcultures. We spoke to coordinator Ivo Schmetz about AA’s new and exciting project Vrij Beton, which aims to liberate real estate from the market to turn it into ‘sanctuaries of cultural emancipation’. Our colleague Jens reports.

“I’m downstairs!”, Ivo Schmetz, one of AA’s founders, tells me on the phone. It’s Monday morning on the 23rd of November, a watery sun compensates for today’s temperature drop. I walk down and open the door to find a good spirited Ivo, as always, ready to embark on matters of shared concern. This time: collective property in our beloved city.

As we climb the three stairways to De Rode Hoed’s attic which is our office, I ask Ivo how OT301, the collective housing/cultural space which he founded, is doing in these turbulent times. He tells me: “The cinema had to close because it depends on people visiting, and the concert room is also running a risk. But we are managing”. Why they are managing without government support – still – has to do with their ownership and governance model, which Ivo and I discussed earlier.

Leon Hendrickx

Vrij Beton / Free Concrete

We arrive in the attic and sit down in the ‘coffee room’ (or: the corner of our one-room office). My colleague Thomas joins us for a chat and brings steaming hot coffee which Ivo, we now know, doesn’t drink. So, I ask Ivo, how well underway is the project? His eyes beam with energy. “We have been putting together a group called Vrij Beton which aims to liberate real estate from the market”, he kicks off. “Because we see that many cultural spaces are disappearing from Amsterdam, we want to do something about it”. In other words, AA aims to simply buy real estate of the market and make it collective property, the way they’ve done with OT301. This sounds like a hell of an ambitious goal, I tell Ivo. “It is”, he agrees.

But we like it. Because an important part of shifting power structures from the capitalist elites to citizens of Amsterdam and the commons, has to do with property. Real estate property, is one of the important conditions to build a commons culture and to revitalize citizenship. The muffled sounds of the streets way down make a calming background to our conversation, as Ivo continues: “We look for a permanent place and not a temporary one, where we can build a rich cultural space and a strong community in the long term.” It sounds like what Urban Resort is doing, I think by myself, securing space for artists. But not quite, AA’s emphasis on collective ownership organizing sets Vrij Beton apart.

What’s next?

How do you intend to get there, I ask Ivo. The faint smile on his face does not leave his face. He explains that a crowdfunding campaign is on its way, and a public campaign to draw people to the crowdfunding, too. “And that’s where Commons Network can help!”, he adds playfully. A truck hums outside. The watery sun has become a full sun. We tell Ivo that, of course, we are glad to collaborate and help where we can. And hope to already create some awareness through this blog.