Becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2030 and remaining so: with as many Brussels residents as possible, we want to continue on this path over the next decade. But our dream goes further: we want to make this vision a reality, beyond the institutional and cultural fragmentation of our city. We hope to transform Brussels even deeper with artists, thinkers and culture as the driving force, but not only that. If we turn artistic experimentation, super cultural diversity and rich multilingualism into assets shared by young and old alike, Brussels will be better able to meet tomorrow’s great urban and global challenges. This is how we want to become a capital for all Europeans: a laboratory for intercultural and multilingual coexistence, but also for the ecological, democratic, social and decolonial revolutions that await us.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit the heart of our big cities and Brussels in particular. We will have to live with it in the long run and certainly with its consequences. Naturally, artists and cultural centers have become vulnerable on all levels. How can we continue to create and contribute to society when it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to meet audiences and players and involve them in our practices? We are certainly not the only ones who are having a hard time: many social sectors, generations of Brussels residents and entire neighborhoods have been hit hard. Brussels2030 wants to be part of a long-term relaunch or reconstruction with and for the people, groups and places that have been affected. It is not just about getting back to normal as quickly as possible. We want to see this crisis as an invitation to ask questions and come up with alternatives. Both in our more rooted ways of creating and sharing art and culture, and more broadly, in the way we build cities together.
That takes time. We are not interested in a big event in 2030, even if we want to celebrate in 2030. We first want to mobilize the people of Brussels and build synergies around a common cultural and urban horizon. The objective is indeed to win the title of European Capital of Culture in 2024. We are convinced that this will be the case, but there is no time to waste and we cannot lock ourselves in a meeting room for the next few years.
BECOMING WHAT WE ALREADY ARE
We begin, of course, with Brussels’ greatest assets: its ever-exceptional artistic energy and its super cultural diversity.
Brussels is already a leading European center for the arts, but common long-term goals and a clear role in the urban trajectory of Brussels can strengthen us. Brussels2000 had built many bridges – some of which are still intact – between artists, institutions and communities. But they need constant maintenance. New bridges are also needed. Critical questions can help. What conclusions should we draw from the pandemic for our work? Should we explore new periods, places, and spaces? After the pandemic, can we embark on a quest to meet the enormous social needs of our many viewers and participants? And thus, become even more indispensable? How can we continue to decentralize from our own places and centers and work with the people of Brussels who, rightly or wrongly, think they don’t need us? What role should public spaces hold in Brussels for our cultural practices and in our urban project? How can we make sure that gaps don’t keep reappearing between Dutch-speakers, French-speakers and allophones, between the artistic sector and the socio-cultural sector, between the large cultural players and crucial new initiatives? How can we finally create a map of what is already happening culturally in Brussels? Why was only part of the 2009 cultural plan accomplished and what should a new cultural plan for the next decade look like?
We also need to take the next step on the cultural front. Brussels has long ceased to be a city of two communities – French-speaking and Dutch-speaking. It is a super diverse city, the most diversified in Europe as well as the second most diverse in the world after Dubai. In Brussels, people from all over Europe and from all continents live side by side. They don’t often have the opportunity to get culturally and politically involved in our city. Or they don’t use it. Brussels2030 must offer a shared sense of belonging. The extreme multilingualism of Brussels is also an asset that we don’t highlight enough. The bicommunal political division does not reflect our reality, nor does the resulting institutional cultural division. Brussels2030, supported by the Brussels Capital Region and connected to Europe, is an excellent opportunity to experiment with new working approaches and new models. Isn’t it high time to come up with a true Brussels cultural policy with Europe serving as its framework and horizon?
AN URBAN PROJECT
The artistic and cultural assets of Brussels must become the driving force behind a full-fledged urban project, which Brussels has never really had. Brussels2000 was not able to offer this either. Without this urban project, the assets of Brussels will never really be expressed. Without this urban project, it will be very difficult to provide solid answers to the great questions and challenges of our time, in which culture must play an essential role. Whether it is about climate transitions, democracy, equality and solidarity, or a truly decolonized city, the next ten years will be crucial. Can Brussels2030 become the first climate-neutral European capital of culture? How do we integrate new dynamics of civic participation and inclusion? How do we deal with inequalities that are becoming ever more blatant in Brussels? How can Brussels2030 also become the project of all Brussels residents from other horizons and who bring their valuable worlds to our city? Artists and cultural actors will not achieve any of these transitions and trajectories on their own. And they will never succeed without us. 2030 is a crucial year towards a climate-neutral world and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Brussels and its cultural sector must not miss out on these agreements.
There is no doubt about who should be at the heart of our journey: today’s youth under 30 will have to help shape and carry Brussels2030. We will listen to them, we will involve them and we will give them a structural place in the project’s development. They will be in the operational team, on the board of directors and in the reflection chamber. They will also be at the center of a multi-year participation process that will start in September 2022 and will result in a “Charter for a Possible Future of Brussels” (see below).
THREE KEY QUESTIONS
Concretely, in the first half of 2022, our discussions will focus on three key issues for Brussels and the people of Brussels, in which the urban project is articulated. A series of round tables will give the people of Brussels from different sectors the opportunity to offer proposals. All round tables will be transversal with artists and cultural players holding a significant role.
- How can we build and shape Brussels in the coming years?
What are the needs in terms of existing and new buildings and infrastructure and even more so in terms of public spaces? How do we position ourselves from a cultural point of view in relation to the regional development plan and its centers as well as neighborhoods and thematic poles? How do we achieve this much-needed cultural mapping of Brussels? Architects and urban planners, but also, of course, the chief government architect and administrations such as Perspective.brussels and Visit.brussels will take an important part in this conversation.
- How can we dream, imagine and tell Brussels together by 2030, based on its super-diversity and its fragmentation?
What collective stories, what practices are needed to embody the increasingly pronounced Brussels identity, so that it can inspire enthusiasm? How will we play a more fundamental role in the cultural occupation of public spaces? Can these public spaces become a cultural center for the whole city? In this conversation, artists, cultural players, but also cultural education, universities and the various media will play a key role.
- How can we democratize Brussels by 2030 by thinking and acting together?
How can we turn the urban project into a co-productive one? Starting from 2022, how can we call in the participation of Brussels’ youth and all of Brussels into our process and methodology, so that Brussels2030 becomes an inclusive project driven by the city’s inhabitants instead of mainly by its cultural and political institutions? The Brussels Parliament will be a partner in this approach. But first, starting in September 2022 and in collaboration with civil society partners (G1000, etc.), we will launch a participatory process. People under 30 will be at the center of it and it will result in a “Charter for a Possible Future of Brussels”.
BELGIUM AND EUROPE
Brussels2030 takes root in the strength of Brussels without detaching from it. In 2030, Belgium will celebrate its 200th anniversary and we are, of course, taking this into account. The cultural, academic and other assets of Brussels offer the possibility of developing partnerships with numerous representatives in the surrounding Brussels metropolitan area, in Flemish Brabant
and Walloon Brabant as well as in other regions. Moreover, historical ties can be explored and thematized (for example, how do we identify with the legacy of Expo 58?). Finally, the major coming transitions also offer starting points of cooperation with other cities within the framework of a future Belgium of strong and united regions.
In 2030, Brussels will want to become what it should have been for a long time: not only a political and administrative center, but also a true cultural capital for 500 million Europeans. In Brussels, we want to develop proposals for coexistence with and for all Europeans. For that, we will have to succeed, as was not fully the case with Brussels2000, in mobilizing Europeans who have lived here, often for a long time, but who do not feel sufficiently involved and who therefore do not commit themselves. In addition to Brussels participants, these citizens can act as excellent connections to establish structural exchanges between Brussels and all Europeans outside the European capital.
We thus need a “Europeanness”. What does it mean to reflect with all Europeans on what connects us and can connect us in the future, rather than concentrate on differences? What stories, what forms and what partnerships are needed for this? In the development of this “Europeanness”, artists and cultural actors can also play a key role.
Once we become the cultural capital of Europe, we will want to remain it. The real challenge of Brussels2030 will come up in 2040: what will be left of the results obtained by then?
The path to Brussels2030 should not be an abstract trail of meetings and presentation files. Both for the mobilization of the people of Brussels and for the natural emergence of the right methods, it is important to quickly develop the first activities. Under the mottos “The Future Is a Practice” and “Learning by Doing”, we are looking at the summers of 2022, 2023 and 2024. Step by step, we want to equip them with practices that make the vision of Brussels2030 concrete and visible.
During the summer of 2022, the following ingredients will be part of this process: a “Brussels2030 Summer Assembly” with ULB and VUB in early July, during which the major themes of Brussels2030 will be shared and discussed for the first time. It will also include a series of cultural projects co-supported by Brussels2030 in July and August, from partners not subsidized by the structure and meeting important criteria (public spaces, inclusive policies, socially transversal); and some first major communication actions about Brussels2030 at the beginning of the new cultural season (in September), synchronized with the start of the academic year for many students, users, commuters, and visitors returning to the city after the summer.
In terms of methodology, we are entering our third chapter. In the spring of 2021, we set up the operational infrastructure of Brussels2030: the creation of a non-profit organization, a board of directors, a small team, offices, an agreement with the Region and the first meetings with our reflection chamber.
In the fall of 2021, we began a broad information circuit that is still ongoing: the cultural sector, political partners, administrations, and critical civil society partners have all been informed of the broad framework and outline of the project. Over the next six months, this information cycle will continue with the aim of building the first coalitions. Naturally, social economic partners and the tourism sector will also be informed and involved in our plans.
But we go a step further. We are channeling the discussions around three key issues: territorialization, imagination, and democratization. We are also setting up the summer activities and we will finalize the first report for the regional government by June. At this same period, we will also make our first public appearance. The goal is that after the summer, our main ideas and approaches will be supported by a wider audience.
It could be said that we are starting early. The opposite is true. The choice of the European Capital of Culture 2030 will be made in 2026 at the latest and probably earlier. The elaborated ‘Brussels2030’ project should be on the table in 2024 and submitted to the European authorities. By the time the project is submitted in 2024, Brussels2030 should be a living dynamic for many Brussels residents. In short, “The Time is Now”.
The Brussels regional government first launched its intention to be a candidate for the Capital of Culture 2030 after the March 2016 terrorist attacks in Brussels. This was an extremely powerful and symbolic gesture that should not be underestimated: at a time when Brussels was in deep mourning and threatened to be torn apart by identity conflicts, Brussels decision-makers made the choice for a long-term, broad and binding cultural process. Since then, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, significant steps have been taken. What was an intention in 2016 was included in the new 2018 coalition agreement. In February 2020, Brussels became the first Belgian city to make its bid concrete and official, with the appointment of two mandate holders. In the meantime, with a dynamic core team, a highly engaged reflection chamber and board of directors, we have developed this constantly evolving vision and methodology. Its basis and horizon remain the same as in March 2016: to finally unite a fragmented, but potentially fantastic city around a much-needed and exciting project for the future.
Hadja Lahbib and Jan Goossens
MEET THE TEAM
In the beginning, we work with a small operational team: assignment holders Hadja Lahbib and Jan Goossens and two employees, Maya Galle and Laura Loute.
Danny Opdebeeck, Francoise Tulkens, Eric Corijn and Asma Mettioui form our board of directors.
We are accompanied by a reflection chamber of 21 members with very different profiles: Sigrid Bousset, Ibrahim Ouassari, David Van Reybrouck, Loredana Marchi, Olivier Alsteens, Joanna Maycock, Louma Salamé, François Schuiten, Eric Corijn, Séverine Provost, Bernard Foccroulle, David Murgia, Caroline Pauwels, Joachim Declerck, Anuna De Wever, Sammy Baloji, Fatima Zibouh, Marie Umuhoza, Nadia Hadad, Michel Steyaert and Karlien Vanhoonacker. They will meet once every two months and will also be available for temporary assignments.
We are also accompanied by experts in the legal, administrative, financial and communication fields.
Stay tuned ↯
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