By Marijke van der Meer, 1 August 2001

check the article on Radio Netherlands website :

It doesn’t look like much yet: idle cargo cranes and machine halls stand on a windswept terrain, and grass grows through the cement pavement where a group of old trams have been side-tracked for good. But this disused industrial terrain on the northern banks of the IJ, once the home of the Netherlands Dry-dock and Shipbuilding Yards, is to become a new focal point of community cultural activities called Kinetic North . It is the winning plan in a municipal competition for the redevelopment of this area.

If the plan succeeds, these vast premises will house a pavilion, a museum and sculpture garden, cafés, and ateliers for craftsmen. The warehouse and machine hall will accommodate an indoor skate park, rehearsal space and platforms for actors, cinematographers and acrobats. The giant slipway will be an open-air theatre facing the water and linked to the Central Station by boat.The creative force behind these plans is a group of youg people known as the "Guilde" (the Amsterdam Ij Industrial Working Buildings Guild). Eva de Klerk, one of the founders of Kinetic North, says it’s " quite a dream" to have access to such a spacious monumental site without having to squat it first.

Kinetic North is the result of Amsterdam’s policy of creating so-called "cultural breeding grounds" through a new kind of collaboration between the municipal authorities and the alternative scene. Amsterdam, like so many cities, is in danger of becoming inaccessible to young people and artists, as rents and real-estate prices skyrocket. In the past, the squatters’ movement offered an alternative to the realities of the market, especially as industry and the harbour moved out of the city, leaving behind large empty warehouses and machine halls in prime locations.

These vast dramatic spaces have proven their potential as exhibition and performance spaces, as now popular venues like the Westergasfabriek and Veem House have shown over the years. Nowadays, however, as one neighbourhood after the next is renovated and gentrified, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for both squatters and paying tenants alike to find or hold on to such spaces.

Realising that the Amsterdam art scene could lose the young avant-garde, the city government is channelling some of the massive profits from the property boom to projects like Kinetic North. For groups like the Guild the message behind this is that there can be no culture without a subculture. They feel the city should provide a non-commercial framework in which young artists and users themselves create the cultural chemistry and collaborate with the authorities in a bottom-up rather than top-down style of urban planning.

Not everyone agrees with the logic behind this experiment, accusing the squatters of becoming property developers themselves, while there is no guarantee that they will not be evicted when the contract runs out in 10 years. Also, there are no rock-solid rules about the conditions under which artists are selected, how much rent they pay or what sort of artistic activities and movements will be promoted. After all, even though the municipal authorities are involved in some of the decisions, a "cultural breeding ground" is by its very nature supposed to be experimental and informal, a loosely organised undertaking walking a fine line between sliding into chaos on the margins and joining an over-organised cultural Establishment.

Listen to the interviews of Eva de Klerk, foundator of Kinetic North :

- "we’re standing here, just in front of one of the biggest cranes" (1.49)
- "there are hardly any places left to squat any more" (0.47)
- "now collaborating with the city council, it’s an experiment for us as well" (0.47)

Modified on Wednesday 12 May 2004