Alan Dearling’s personal article about the 7th Futurologic Symposium on Free Cultural Spaces, ADM, Amsterdam, October 2017
Venturing into the lesser known…
With Gonzo magazine’s, Alan Dearling
Four days of talks, films, fire, fun, music, theatre and festi activities at the last major non-legalised squat, ADM, in Amsterdam’s Westport
Squatters first moved into the ‘contested’ derelict, old shipbuilding area of Amsterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij (ADM, aka, the Amsterdam Drydock Company) something like 27 years ago when shipbuilding was abandoned at ADM. It was after all shipbuilding activities finally halted in 1997, and the previously buoyant shipbuilding industry located at the merged ADM and NDSM yards foundered, that a second wave of artists, musicians, and other creative folk moved onto the ADM site. It became their innovative, often magical playground – their creative home.
The ADM residents describe it as:
“The largest and oldest creative freehaven in the Netherlands…arising from the longing to experiment…we improvise with time and money, test our place in the ecosystem, tinker with human relationships and build sculptures, compositions, heat sources and means of transport using an other’s waste. It is a niche in the margin of organised society. A laboratory where the arrangement of our daily lives is practised as an art form, where the development of simple, sustainable solutions are automatic and innovation is not trendy, but pure necessity.”
Hence, the 2017 ADM festival was billed as their 20th Birthday Party. And as a part of it, the 7th Futurologic Free Cultural Spaces (FCS) Symposium was held over three days in the Robodock metal hangar. An impressive, anarchic building space for giant robotic creatures and an entirely appropriate setting for an international gathering of activists, academics and creators.
The FCS Symposium theme focused on how action(s) can be taken to counter the gentrification of cities, housing stock, festivals, the sex industry, night life, and in rural areas. Many of these issues relate to the damaging effects of mass tourism. Plus, the ever-widening gap between the incomes of the haves and have-nots, which marginalises masses of working class and even middle class people – making affordable housing an increasingly impossible ‘dream’.
Aja Waalwijk, who gave the opening address at the Symposium, said:
“The Free Cultural Space provides liberation, is a sell-able product. No brainport without places for brainstorming…We need to make room for a mini-society like the ADM, a place where festivals are held and where you can get a taste of Total Art and the art of living.”
A bit of history about Robodock (and formerly Drydock)
After a quick nose around the edges of the ADM site, I was greeted by Maik ter Veer, Robodock’s charismatic founder and curator. In the Robodock building, Maik had installed an impressive exhibition of photos, posters and news articles about the succession of festivals he has organised across different locations in creative squats around Amsterdam. Robodock events are huge affairs featuring industrial robotics, spectacular fire shows, amazing art installations and creations and loud music from rock through to opera.
But Maik has been faced with a series of evictions. His first event called the Drydock Festival was held at the early incarnation of ADM. Since then he relocated to the NDSM shipyard complex in Amsterdam Noord. And, as that was gentrified, he has found himself back at the ADM homeland. ADM is now under serious threat of eviction in 2018. The ADM residents have enormous support from organisations like FAIR City and the FCS Symposium, and from free cultural spaces around the world like Uzupis in Vilnius, Christiania in Copenhagen, and many, many A’dam locals. The festival and symposium were partly organised to raise the profile of ADM and generate support at the local, national and international level. ADM sure know how to put on great parties and festivals. Great music, dance sessions, theatre, circus, art and fire shows. And their 20th Birthday bash was no exception, as you can see from the photos. I have an admission here. I was so bound up in the FCS Symposium that I didn’t have much time to go out and enjoy the bands and when I did, I was pretty knackered! The band with the S&M masks were Hikury Beach. Great fun. Mexican Metal with more than a touch of Spinal Tap. They call it: “Mexican surf music”. www.facebook.com/events/179025422646422/ and catch vid of them at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPMt9SD5X6E
And very popular with the younger audience were, De Hardheid. They came over a bit like Madness but without the clever rhyming lyrics. They are billed as ‘ska-punk’. wikivisually.com/wiki/De_Hardheid
How do we respond creatively to gentrification?
With about 50 presenters at the FCS Symposium, sometimes it felt like a torture by ‘talking heads’. Yet, there were issues and presentations which captured a vital spark and illuminated proceedings. Brian Doucet’s presentation about the experiences of Rotterdam and Detroit was thought-provoking and relevant. Brian managed that tricky task of presenting academic research findings in an accessible and lively way. He explained how many of the people in cities are fighting back. Brian used examples from Rotterdam, which is already significantly gentrified, and Detroit, which is struggling back into life. He stressed the need for indigenous, radical ‘activist-leaders’. But we also learned about initiatives to combat gentrification in Milan, Lisbon, Barcelona, London, Berlin, Vilnius, Copenhagen, and towns and cities in Serbia, Poland, Russia and South Africa. And I presented a slide show to explore how even the more alternative-style festivals in the last 50 plus years, have been commercialised, strangled by health and safety costs, and often over-priced by high fees charged by performers and often unwanted ‘security’. A ‘D-i-Y’ approach seems the best way to combat this trend. This echoes the view of poet and presenter, Hans Plomp, who told the Symposium: “We need more free-range human beings!”
We learned that Air B ‘n’ B is one aspect of the gentrification problem. It is removing large amounts of housing stock, often from the social housing sector as well as private housing. Some city councils are now placing limits on the length of stay in Air B ‘n’ B spaces, and how long in each year owners can use their properties for Air B ‘n’ B.
Over-regulation and ‘rules’ tend to stifle creativity. We worked on a manifesto in support of free cultural spaces to see them as zones of opportunity. Liberating exploratories.
A couple of other presentations seemed particularly worthwhile. One, by researcher, Marthe Singelberg, offered frank, personal accounts from sex workers in London and Amsterdam to explore the confused morality behind the increasing control, and in some ways ‘gentrification’ of the sex trade. It is still perhaps the world’s oldest profession! The other focused on the gentrification of ‘nightlife’. Speakers explained how effective efforts are being made by Amsterdam’s Night-Mayor, N8BM: nachtburgemeester.amsterdam/english/
Enter the Void is a European initiative: www.facebook.com/ETVProject/ offering support for underground youth culture and initiatives.
ADEV supports rave and dance culture in Amsterdam: adev.nu
Together, they are fighting back against controls of venues and nightlife generally, mainly on grounds of noise, drugs and inconvenience. The Night Mayor, with support from others, has managed to get 24 hour licences for many venues.
Pretty Vacant – A Manifesto on Free Cultural Spaces
At the end of the FCS Symposium, we issued a ‘Pretty Vacant’ Manifesto in praise of the extremely diverse range of Free Cultural Spaces around the world. An invitation for all people to support the adventurous exploratories that are part of the FCS. Free Cultural Spaces are not just festivals and squats, but include many intentional communities, eco- and organics initiatives, free schools, creative nomads and more. Rock on, and get our world positively shaking again!
There were eight points in the eventual Manifesto. Here are three which capture the spirit of the FCS movement world-wide:
- We are the inhabitants and users of Free Cultural Spaces. People of all walks of life meet each other in Free Cultural Spaces. These spaces are particularly well suited for exploring the unknown and pushing boundaries. Their personal charisma reinforces the bonds between urban, rural and neighbourhood dwellers, and their hospitality fosters a versatile cosmopolitan society.
- A free cultural climate is at odds with the proliferating gentrification. Instead of attempting to eject (less affluent) elements in order to upgrade neighbourhoods or districts, Free Cultural Spaces promote diversity and mutual solidarity. No homogenization of the ab-normal, but a welcoming of the extraordinary.
- When city councils foster an even distribution of Free Cultural Spaces, spontaneous Zones of Opportunity (ZOOs) will arise everywhere, in city centres as well as on their peripheries. And it must be ‘the responsibility of the community as a whole’ to provide alternative locations whenever existing Free Cultural Spaces disappear.
Taking the action to the people of Amstrerdam
Finally, the ADM, the FCS Symposium and Fair City hosted an old-style action at the Haarlem Gate just outside Westerpark. Central A’dam. Our cohort carefully dismantled the fences around this monument.
Back in the past, the building had previously been squatted by, I think, 30 groups. The old gateway was symbolically open once again! This action was an opportunity to gain additional publicity for, and support for, the pulsing, dynamic, wild and alternative FCS people and places around the globe. And ADM…in particular.
Speechifying the ‘Manifesto’ on the need for Free Cultural Spaces was done by Aja in Dutch and me in English. Patrick presented the crowd with views from FAIR City. Pretty lady acrobats performed in a metal ball structure dangled by a crane in front of the liberated Haarlem Gate. Leaflets, noise, fun and mayhem. The police arrived half an hour later than the film crews! And were really quite nice and just asked us to put back the 40 foot of major fencing…
Long live ADM and free range people!
After four days in and around the bustle of Amsterdam city and the festivities and talks at ADM, I finally caught up with some much needed sleep.
Mind and body were reeling somewhat. It was an exhilarating experience. Or rather, lots of experiences. Dozens of talks about free spaces, actions and campaigns from all around the world. But also many from the increasingly crowded tourist hub that is Amsterdam. It’s so jam-packed that locals can’t find reasonable places to live. Many spaces now go to Air B’n’ B. Squats become condos. The wealthy are, sadly, gentrifying previously lively, weird and wonderful spaces and venues. And the old energy and wild, mad A’dam is being ever more emasculated in a sea of tourists.
In the increasingly Mean-times, the ADM squat fights on. Hopefully, the ADM Phoenix will continue to arise and fly free above the city of Amsterdam! And in these last few days many activists and pro-Free Cultural Spaces academics and researchers have joined together. Thinking, and planning strategies to combat the gentrification.
For me, I think I eventually cycled about 300 km. Bustling in the centrum, windy around the edges. Especially out in the port area where ADM is located. But all worth it.
Personally, I still find myself mostly in love with the quieter areas in A’dam Noord. And out of the city in the rich agriculture polder-lands of the Laag area, stretching up to Edam, Pumerend, Volendam, Marken and Monnickendam, in the rich fertile lowlands.
You can find out a bit more at: www.holland.com/global/tourism/destinations/provinces/north-holland/laag-holland-2.htm
ADM Freehaven: adm.amsterdam
FAIRCity Amsterdam provided much support and inputs into the Symposium. They offer a nice mix of practical action and ideas/examples from around the world. They are a key, major player in the fight to oppose further gentrification of the city. And they are also challenging the negative effects of tourism on the city.
Some of the folk at ADM are keen on Rene Goris’ Wudang Daoland healthcare approaches, which are being tested out at ADM, and Rene says that free cultural spaces are good places for these tests. Many people experiment with drugs and have abused their bodies a bit! Personally, I know nothing about this initiative. You can find out some more at:
The rather haphazard, but beautifully anarchistic development and history of Free Cultural Spaces Symposia and related activities, has meant that there are more than one website/Facebook page containing relevant info.
1) The 2017 ADM event: fcsamsterdam2017.nl
2) A page with info from previous events: www.facebook.com/FreeCulturalSpaces/
3) The FCS Web of Hubs site, offers links to the rich diversity of free cultural spaces, places and people worldwide. It’s still evolving: www.freeculturalspaces.net