TRANS EUROPE HALLES: THE POWER OF CULTURE
“The 4 of March 1983 seven cultural pioneers met at Halles de Schaerbeek, in Brussels. Les Halles, a vast covered market dating from 1865, was in danger of demolition and a number of young activists were campaigning for its preservation. They not only wanted to save the historic building (It was the first covered market in Brussels) but they believed that it could have a second life as a cultural venue. The process that the campaigners had embarked was difficult and fragile, and it echoed many similar initiatives across post-industrial Europe .
A leader of their collective, Philippe Grombeer, advice and believed that international support would be very beneficial to this cause, and initiated a series of contacts. He first made contact with one of the original independent cultural centres, Melkweg in Amnsterdam.
a place that had inspired many. and immediately the director there, Cor Schlosser, did not hesitate to join five other centers responded to the call for a meeting: Ny Scen (Gothenburg), Huset (Copenhagen), Kultur Fabrik (Koblenz), Rote Fabrik (Zurich) and Pali-Kao (Paris). Now they sat in the cavernous old market and began to dream”.
So reads the Annual Trans Europe Halles 2013. A transnational organization in Europe associated with a large amount of cultural centres in abandoned structures and holds its 30 years of activity.
It is from the old market in Brussels when this journey begins discovering other realities that have played an important role in the transformation of the various areas and territories in Europe. Today Trans Europe Halles (TEH) is a European network bringing together 56 multidisciplinary cultural centres and 15 friendly organizations around Europe
The main objective of the network is to promote the arts and culture and making it easier to exchange their knowledge and experience accessible. This Network runs and coordinates several international projects with a strong focus on capacity building and mobility of cultural workers.
Moreover Trans Europe Halles (TEH), has an unique experience and knowledge of how to transform abandoned industries into cultural hubs together with artists and the community.
“What TEH represents over it´s 30 year history is the idea that culture should support a pluralistic, sustainable, free and developmental society”. These values have always remained constant as can be seen in the shares of the network and its members. These action take often place in the vacuum that exists between citizens and the State, between vested interests and communities, between cultural development and consumerism.
This is why there are many examples of TEH centres beginning life in contentious situations”. In 1993 for example, antiwar activists occupied the military barracks in Ljubljana, recently abandoned by Yugoslav troops, with a vision to change the use and nature of the place. Almost immediately started a fight with the new Slovenian state that had other business plans. The tenacity of the squatters and their supporters won through, in the end, and ‘Avtonomni Kulturni Centre Metelkova Mesto’ is now a collection of facilities for creativity in all its forms.
Another example is about the story of “Rex”, a cultural centre born in Belgrade during the period of Milosevic regime.
In September 1994, as the Balkan wars raged, an independent radio station decided to open a cultural centre in Belgrade – Rex – It was kind of out of all forms of self-expression.
The centre was immediately under suspicion, especially when started to have international links, joining TEH in 1998. Later the centre was raided , but continued to operate from a temporary location until the fall of Milosevic, that Rex was allowed back into his home.
These are only two examples, many more exist in the stories of TEH’s members: different projects to support artistic, creative and cultural activities where abandoned spaces were transformed in favour of social and cultural activities, together with aims of peace and community between people.
The journey has been long and varied, but above all of excellent social, political and cultural value, because it has confronted the transformation and changes of historical importance taken place in Europe in these years.
And what about the future?
At the occasion of the 30 th Anniversary of the Network, Birgitta Persson, and Auro Foxcroft – respectively Secretary General and President of Trans Europe Halles – spoke like this: “We enter 2014 2014 full of plans and great ideas based on our core values: empowerment, cultural equity, citizen participation and sustainability. And a strong belief that the power of culture is inspiring, transformative experiences that have the ability to change people, perceptions and societies “.
To deepen your knowledge of this Network’s activity we invite you to visit it’s website www.teh.net and also to listen to our exceptional witness. To communicate all the values and riches of TEH ,we have the pleasure to be in company of José Luis Rodríguez transmitting from Lund – Sweden, in the Coordination Office where he works as a Network Manager.
M- Hi José, How are you? Thanks for your time
J- Hola Marina! It is a pleasure.
M- We would like to know more about you and your experiences with TEH.
J- Well, I’ve been working here for some months. I'm from Spain, I come from Leon, and I arrived in Sweden in January. Before this I had already worked for TEH because I collaborated with this Network for some projects. This is a great experience, with a great organization and also the members share strong values. I think it’s very positive to work for them .
M- I see, Jose. I’m really impressed by Trans Europe Halles and I’d have a lot of questions about it, But if you were me, which aspect of importance would you advise me to speak about regarding TEH
J- I think it could be important to speak about the Organization itself, the governance and how it works , because it’s quite interesting, in my opinion . This is a flat and democratic organization, very international. At the moment we have 56 members and 15 associations coming from 27 European countries. So you can understand that this network is running in a democratic but complex way. So it's easy to understand how this network works in a very democratic way but complex, because all the decisions have to be approved by the General Assembly which meets twice a year in our meeting.
M- So, Do you think it is important to emphasize this aspect of their organization?
J- Yes, sure, because the network is the members. The Coordination is what we do to support their project, their activities, and the international connections. This is why we organize the activities and the events during the international conference which takes place every six months.
M- Next year your Conference will be in Puglia, near Lecce. Am I right?
J- Exactly! We’ll be in Puglia in the month of May, and the topic of this meeting is going to be “The Third Space”.
The concept of space is really important to us though our work in coordination office more practical,more focused on the action, and do not leave us much time to work on a theoretical level.
If you are interested in this point , there is an important study about independent cultural centres and about what they mean in terms of culture development and social development; and also about “space” in a symbolic meaning. The studier F. Lextrait did it for the Ministry of Culture in France in 2011.
M- Thanks, Jose. Anyway I think also of practical experience can understand the idea of space, Don’t you?
J- Yes, sure. As you know all members of TEH are cultural centres born in warehouses. I think it’s important the process in which collective groups, together with groups of artists, groups of neighbours gathered together to give a new use to an abandoned industrial building.
It is also interesting about this process because we have members in different states that already have a building, already negotiated with the institutions, and others who are starting. About this I can give you a couple of examples. I’ve taken them from the last meetings we organized in 2014: One is the Melkweg in Amsterdam, and another Johan Centrum Pilsen. I can explain to you a bit about this:
Melkweg is a well established facility that began in the early 70 s with contro-cultural movements, and it has been running for 30 years. The centre now has 250 people working there and has a really big budget of several millions of euro per year.
On the other hand the other one , Johan Centrum in Pilsen, Czech Republic, Pilsen it’s a younger centre. What they are doing now is this: they are collaborating with a real estate company that has let them a railway station, that was abandoned, and they are using it for their performances and activities .
I think that the most important point here is how civil society is having an active role in their cultural life and in organizing themselves, in using buildings to organize activities and also collaboration with public Administrations.
M- This is really interesting, and also how do people change with these kinds of experiences?. I mean all people living in the surrounding centre, not only who took part in squatting.
J- Yes, of course. IIt’s clear that there is a positive impact in the surroundings, not only for people involved directly in the centre, but for everyone. We have one example: it calls Vyrsodepseio , Athens. What happened here?
Three years ago they started squatting in an industrial building in the neighbourhood of Athens where nothing exists. Now, three years later, shops and bars are beginning to open around this centre. People, infact, attend the activities of centre and, little by little, small affairs are now opening all around. This is the economic influences that generate these centres. Moreover, most of the cultural activities here are for free, so no-one is excluded from taking part in the creative experiences, That’s another fundamental point for us. And in the economical crisis people are exploring new ways of having cultural life with limited resources, Which is really important too!.
M- I agree. So, the aspect regarding the economical level of your experience is really important, don’t you?
J- Absolutely. One of the projects we are working on this year is called “Creative Business Models” As I said this is a fundamental point for the members: That’s to be sustainable. The point is: we have some values, we know, but at the same time these values must be sustainable from an economical point of view. We are trying to understand the successful actions of some of our centres also in an economical point of view in order to identify the best practises This is one of our biggest challenges for the future .
M- I have read that are available to advise and assist individuals and centres who start these experiences
J- Yes, of course, It is a very important part of our work. Some of our groups are working in this and we are at hand to help anyone is interested in these activities.
M- Ok José, we really do thank you, hoping to have contact with you in the next months.
J- Thank you for interest, you are welcome. Don’t hesitate to ask me if you need anything else .
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