Amateur Arts Week gives local talent a push and a stage

Summary

Flanders’ Amateur Arts Week is back with a sprawling programme of events in cities and towns across the region, with everything from mini-concerts to amateur street art

800 events

The official launch of the 20th edition of Flanders’ Week van de Amateurkunsten (Amateur Arts Week) is taking place in Antwerp this year – a city that has long played a vanguard role in supporting local amateur arts.

The Week van de Amateurkunsten (WAK), which starts on 24 April, offers a showcase of performance and works by non-professional artists – anyone in Flanders keen to show off their creative side. First organised by the Vlaams Centrum voor Amateurkunsten (Flemish Centre for Amateur Arts) in 1996, the event has grown into an important date on both the community and cultural calendars.

Half of all Flemish municipalities participate in WAK, organising no less than 800 activities this year. Eight years ago, the Forum voor Amateurkunsten (Amateur Arts Forum) took over co-ordination of the event from the Vlaams Centrum.

“But the idea remains the same: offer as many artists as possible a platform to show their creativity in a concentrated 10-day period,” says WAK co-ordinator Katrien de Bruycker. “One of the key issues is making local authorities aware of amateur arts and getting them to offer logistical and financial support.”

Municipal administrations can support WAK events by offering either a working budget or by making performance venues or logistic tools available.

WAK is hugely popular among amateur artists, and the forum launches ad campaigns to make the public aware of what’s on offer. “We had commercials on TV and promotional leaflets in a nationwide campaign – and then there’s the annual opening event,” says De Bruycker.

This year that annual opening event is taking place at Park Spoor Noord, and it kicks off both WAK and Antwerp’s leg of WAK, the Liefhebber Kunstenfestival.

A unique role

Though several cities, including Maldegem, Damme and Kortrijk all host major WAK activities, the Liefhebber Arts Festival has probably played the most crucial role in making the week what it is today.

Our mission is to make people happy

- Our mission is to make people happy

Liefhebber was first organised in 1998 and quickly became a showcase for the city’s amateur arts scene. The city has played a unique role in the event, in terms of both support and organisation. “Initially, Liefhebber was a city project, organised by public servants and staffers,” explains Wim Vervoort, director of the Fameus! non-profit, which now organises the Liefhebber festival. In 2012, the city decided to concentrate its various projects for amateur artists into Fameus!,” he says.

In addition to the co-ordination of WAK in Antwerp, Fameus! also handles the management of the Zirkus stage rehearsal venue and the administration of subsidies for youth cultural projects. “Our mission is to make people happy,” says Vervoort. “By offering opportunities to amateur artists, a nice platform and a good setting, they can grow beyond themselves, create visibility and establish new contacts. That’s what Liefhebber is all about.”

Fameus! has a management agreement with the city of Antwerp that includes an annual subsidy – the centre employs four full-time staff and a project manager. According to Vervoort, the real strength of Fameus! is in the cross-pollination of the different legs of the organisation.

“The symbiosis between the Liefhebber festival, the rehearsal rooms, the coaching and financial project support really benefits the amateur arts.”

Museum in the street

Vervoort says that the essence of the Liefhebber festival is the combination of the passion and energy of both artists and local organisers. “We see that neighbourhood groups, youth clubs, cultural centres, hospices and associations organise events – that’s the added value here, and it results in a broad sense of togetherness.”

This year’s Liefhebber programme offers more than 120 events, with everything from exhibitions to small, intimate concerts and performances. The city’s historic Oude Beurs building, which housed the spice and condiment exchange in medieval times, will welcome some 80 artists in a huge exhibition.

“Neighbourhoods are participating in various projects,” says Vervoort. “‘Museum in the street’ invites residents to display amateur art in their windows. Some 15 streets and at least 250 people have joined in.”

Other events include mini-concerts in gardens, medieval chapels, orchards and private living rooms.
24 April to 3 May, across Flanders 

Photo: spectators at a Liefhebber event in 2014
Photo courtesy Fameus