Issue #020 Published: 25-09-2018 // Written by: Denis McEvoy

Amsterdam needs a Space Force

Hey, city council, how about looking into creative ways you could improve the arts, quality of life and community cohesion by working with local, alternative spaces? The best part? You could call it the Space Force! 

Alienation is dangerous. Alienation leads to daft acts of self harm like voting for Brexit or Trump or Baudet. Alienation often comes from feeling disconnected from the space you live in—local businesses replaced by faceless chains, gentrification pricing out your neighbors and community, and the slow death of quality local arts. 

The arts (visual, literary and performance) make societies healthier and communities closer. The arts bring people together, give space for different perspectives, and offer people opportunities to shine. Art can uniquely cut through loneliness. 

Art has been denigrated by religious fundamentalists and the intellectually lazy for as long as it has existed. And art has eventually triumphed every time. High art, low art, community art, esoteric art – art is vital. The arts have never been a viable business model, but they still need to be paid for. And they still need Space. 

A world where art is made by rich(er) people for rich(er) people? 
In Amsterdam and much of the world, arts funding comes from corporate sponsorship or public subsidy. Sure, crowd funding can work too. With natural talent, training and a lot of hard work you can succeed as an artist, just as long as you’re clean enough for corporate sponsors, or talented at jumping through the hoops of accessing public funding, or sufficiently marketing-savvy to drive clicks to your kickstarter. But these options squeeze out creativity at community level, where these skills and opportunities are often lacking. The result? Public and private funding flows into the handful of organisations and individuals who can thrive in a very narrow-minded environment. 

The demand for Amsterdam property, and the massive costs involved in the arts, means venues are also obliged to charge more for admission, making art less affordable and appealing for all but the well off. 

Enter the Space Force 
So what’s the magic new idea to fix the inequality in the arts? Actually, it’s really more about bringing older ideas up to date. Support for the arts doesn’t have to mean raising taxes or spending huge amounts of public funds. The answer, as with so many things in Amsterdam, may be as simple as space. Space is the artist’s biggest expense. Spaces are where artists work and perform, store equipment, meet with others from their trade and co-create, and should be a priority for the city council. Some creative projects have social rather than commercial aspirations. The Space Force could be a reinvigorated version of the broedplaatsen policy, looking for ways to help spaces that make creative opportunities for younger people, older people, minorities, and so on. The city can help to protect existing spaces, remove barriers to their smooth operations, and provide training and other support. 

Amsterdam’s new Space Force could go and discover what small alternative spaces need most. What are the regulations that hinder them? What regulations could make life easier for them? Many smaller spaces can’t afford professional marketing – can the Space Force help smaller venues and artists gain visibility? Most Amsterdammers spent at least some of their summer battling their way through throngs of tourists, tolerating it because apparently tourism is good for the economy. How about helping smaller venues get a slice of that action? What training could you help to provide for these spaces? 

Actively engaging with these spaces on the basis of their needs will no doubt help raise their profiles, make them more sustainable and help bring some life back to communities that are struggling with profound changes. 

They say an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. How many lonely, lost people could find purpose, fulfillment and meaningful social connections if their local areas had affordable, attractive, shared spaces for the arts? Investing in support for local venues is an investment in quality lives. And in 2018, in a city full of entrepreneurial creatives, those investments don’t need to be particularly big if the Space Force does its job right. 

Amsterdam’s local alternative scene is healthier than most cities. This city council has a rare opportunity to come up with a support model to make the city’s alternative spaces an example for the world. 


Photo: Space Pilot private Plane – Jimi Rocco in Blackadder part 2