Hand in Hand to the Periphery we go: An ethnographic account of artists and community participation in Amsterdam Nieuw-West
Mee, C.A. van der
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In an attempt to counter the homogenizing effects of gentrification, the city of Amsterdam has introduced a policy that reserves spaces for artists; a group in society that struggles financially and thus to remain and socially participate in the city. These community-artist buildings or broedplaatsen give artists the opportunity to have a studio in Amsterdam at a lower rental price, but granting artists such a space does come with certain conditions. Through application procedures, the artists are selected to participate in a project and expected to contribute to the vivacity of an area. Artists, in this sense, have become signifiers of urban regeneration, but what are the effects of these policies on artists and how do they maneuver within the limited frameworks of this urban planning scheme? As an inhabitant and professional artist residing in a broedplaats in the peripheral district of Nieuw-West in Amsterdam, I chose my own position as the starting point for ethnographic research. Furthermore, conducting interviews with social (art) organizers to study the relationship between artists, art-institutions and their surrounding communities. This allows for an observation of various participatory art projects executed in the district of Nieuw-West to further understand the methods applied by artists to combat relevant social issues within their professional environment. Therefore, the subsequent text asks the question: In a society where more responsibility is shifted from public to private initiatives, to what extent and in what way can the artist contribute to the community they are (temporarily) a part of? How is this reconcilable for artists as a symbolic signifier of gentrification? These observations are placed within larger theoretical frameworks on current gentrification developments using the concept of ‘third wave gentrification’. Through executing this research it has become evident that the temporary and precarious conditions that artists (and institutions) operate under are the biggest obstacles to develop projects that could be of substantial and sustainable service to a community. Furthermore, the limited placement of designated artistic spaces has contributed to a hierarchy where an institution gets to determine which artists may participate and under what terms. The artist is caught in a vicious circle; they have become an expert at adapting and adjusting their practice to fulfill external requirements, whilst at the same time having to constantly prove their authenticity.