Hoste with the most: Art space is much more than a gallery


Caroline Hoste’s Bruges art centre showcases local artists, but with her creative workshops she also aims to give children a new direction in life

Creative encounters

Bruges certainly knows how to make use of its historical heritage, drawing four million tourists every year. But when Caroline Hoste opened her art gallery just outside the busy centre, it wasn’t the city’s past that interested her.

Instead, the art agent, who grew up in Waregem, West Flanders, sought to create a space where contemporary artists could live, work and engage with the local community. Six months after the grand opening, a conversation with one of the visiting tourists turned her attention to the needs of the city’s youngest residents.

Now, when she’s not travelling to sell art or set up exhibitions across southern Europe, Hoste is busy establishing a unique art education programme in Bruges.

Hoste Art Residence opened in 2013. On the ground level of the white 19th-century building are exhibition rooms, a work studio, kitchen and main hall with doors leading to a sculpture garden. Until the end of June, the gallery is showcasing Flemish illustrators, so the walls are decorated with artwork by the likes of Randall Casaer, Sebastiaan Van Doninck, Jelle Kindt, Klaas Verplancke and his niece Astrid Verplancke.

Upstairs are seven bedrooms for the artists and some additional display space. A wooden door leading to the attic has a sign on it reading “Silence, work in progress!”, spray-painted by the French street artist Mr OneTeas when he stayed here last year.

“It’s a joke,” smiles Hoste. “That’s just the kind of artist he is – very young and very driven. We have a family-like atmosphere here.”

Independent thought

In the days days before exhibitions open, Hoste invites the public to join the artists as they explain the concepts and inspiration behind their work. At opening receptions, she provides live music and food, and there is poetry reading by the unofficial poet of Bruges, Marcus Cumberlege.

“You can even join the artists in their work,” Hoste says. “At the last reception, adults and children painted with the illustrator Sebastiaan Van Doninck.”

All the exhibitions are free and open to the public. And even though each artwork comes with a price tag, Hoste says her focus right now isn’t on the money. “I’m not here only to sell art. Everyone is more than welcome to just come in, check out what’s new and talk to each other. Art is a social medium, and it should bring people together.”

Art is a social medium, and it should bring people together

- Caroline Hoste

One such casual encounter provided Hoste with a new direction for her art residence. When the Dutch coach Gladys Roberts from the Quality Youth organisation visited in 2014, the two women struck up a conversation.

“She told me about the youth programme she runs in Rotterdam,” Hoste says. “She organises sport, science and art projects for the local kids, so they can develop into capable and independent-thinking adults. I immediately thought that I wanted to establish something similar in Bruges.”

So since January, she has been hosting free weekly workshops for children aged eight and up that combine lectures on art history with painting and leisure. Teachers from local schools take part as well. Various artists and styles are highlighted, from Rembrandt and Van Gogh to Picasso and Andy Warhol.

The idea, Hoste says, is to provide children with creative freedom and enable them to develop their own style and sense of confidence. “Sometimes adults don’t understand that very well; they say, ‘Oh, you can’t make money with art.’ But art provides children with new directions in life. It increases their skillsets and helps them with job prospects later on.”

Theory into practice

In the future, Hoste plans to launch an academy to train local teachers and youth coaches in art education. The weekly workshops at the residence serve as a testing ground for that project.

One of the unique things about the methodology established by Roberts is that children have a chance to immerse themselves in their community. During architecture classes, for example, they learn about the qualities of building materials and the characteristics of various architectural styles, and then take field trips around their neighbourhoods, linking theory to practice.

“Eventually, we want to bring children from the Netherlands to Bruges and give them architectural lessons and guided tours,” Hoste explains. “And we will also organise an exchange in the other direction, so our children can be exposed to art in Rotterdam.”

The youth programme run by Hoste is already proving successful. From the evaluation forms she receives, it’s evident that both teachers and children share the enthusiasm for the workshops. Word is spreading, too.

“I already have requests for co-operation from places as far away as Texas; but we’re not quite ready yet,” she says. “There is still a long road ahead of us, and we are only at the beginning.”

Photo: Artist in residence Zivo at work in Hoste