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Amersfoort in WAR: 'Our society offers no room for deviant initiative'

A strong cultural protest storm has been brewing in Amersfoort in recent weeks. The trigger was the municipality's decision to award the home of cultural hotbed DE WAR to a property developer after a tender process.

DE WAR has been renting the former Warner & Jenkinson dye factory for about ten years. Artists and inventors find a workshop, knowledge and a place for experiments there. When the municipality decided to sell the site, the cultural incubator started a crowdfunding which raised almost €600,000. Moreover, as the city council instructed the College of Mayor and Aldermen to consider the social value, all the lights seemed to be green for sale to the initiators of DE WAR.

Coveted location

In late September, however, the Board (VVD, PvdA, D'66, ChristenUnie) decided otherwise. The sought-after location, just outside the city centre and near the Eem river, was sold for €820,000 to property developer Rovase. That wants to use the site for small-scale housing, studios, workspaces and hospitality. The decision caused great indignation among DE WAR, private sympathisers and the Amersfoort museums. They expressed their support for the cultural hotbed via an Open Letter. Rovase, meanwhile, declared that existing leases would be respected and that their plans included space for DE WAR's projects. The cultural incubator saw this at best as a curtain call on arterial bleeding. In other words, the end of their own identity.

Coming home from a cold spell

DE WAR did not leave it at that and called for a demonstrative march to the town hall where the B&W decision was discussed by the council on 11 October. A colourful and noisy procession of about 500 activists marched through the streets of Amersfoort, only to come home with a cold shoulder. Because, as could be expected, the council meeting did not produce any new concrete decisions. Via a motion, Rovase was forced to work closely with DE WAR. Moreover, the agreement of intent to sell may not be signed until a month after the end of the objection procedure at the earliest. That's where it stopped. Vague commitments. Neither meat nor fish. 

Since then, calm has not returned. On social media, debates raged between supporters and opponents of the municipality's decision. Amersfoorters who once received a city medal for their cultural merits buried it or put the medal For sale on Marktplaats. Meanwhile, THE WAR is considering new protest steps.

Struggling with cultural identity

Those who take a few steps back and contemplate the whole thing run into some interesting questions. Such as: the difference between Rovase's bid and DE WAR was around €250,000. Is a creative incubator (not) worth such a one-off investment? It's comparing apples with oranges, but still: the coming of The Passion to Amersfoort, earlier this year, cost €225,000. Temporary promotion for the city, but a waste of money in the longer term. More specifically: a sum of 250,000 euros should not be the main reason for such a drastic decision.

A second question. Does the future pleasure, which users have in Rovase's plans, outweigh the possible loss of a unique initiative in the fields of art, science, innovation and sustainability? A question that, as far as I am concerned, is much harder to answer. DE WAR and sympathisers will think not. Future residents and users will think so. Obviously, the municipality has every right to make its own consideration in this. Only: with the compromise now being proposed (a mix of DE WAR and Rovase's plans), failure is lurking.

Id.

The municipality's choice and all the fuss about it also tells something about Amersfoort's struggle with its own creative identity. The Keistad likes to profile itself as a cultural centre, with large-scale events such as Spoffin (large street arts festival) and Amersfoort Jazz, for example. With cultural activities going their own way and avoiding the beaten track, the city seems more effort to have.

It is sad, but perhaps that should be the ultimate conclusion: in an over-organised society, dissenting initiatives have no place.

Onno Weggemans

At CulturePress, I combine my passion for culture with my love of writing. I have a broad cultural interest and target a wide audience. I like to choose a personal angle and like to experiment occasionally in terms of form.View Author posts

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