Vooruit arts centre changing name to avoid confusion with socialist party

Summary

Now that SP.A has decided to change its name to Vooruit, the Ghent culture centre of the same name says that it, too, must change

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Now that Flemish socialist party SP.A is changing its name to Vooruit, the famous Ghent arts centre of the same name has decided that it must rename itself as well. “We are neutral when it comes to party politics,” says the general director.

SP.A announced in September that it was changing its name to Vooruit, a word steeped in socialist party history. The building that houses Vooruit, one of seven official Flemish Community Arts Institutions, was built in the early 20th century as a hub of socialist party and working class activity.

When the distinctive and monolithic building was saved from demolition in the 1980s and turned into a centre for arts, culture and debate – as well as a popular bar and restaurant – it retained the name Vooruit, which was still emblazoned across its facades.

While we adhere to certain values, we are party-neutral. And we want to keep it that way

- General co-ordinator Franky Devos

An eclectic blend of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, the Vooruit has more than 300 rooms and has become synonymous with its host city. “In the old days, they called Ghent ‘the red castle’ because of the socialists,” Peter Van den Eede, who programmes literary events, once told Flanders Today. “Now we say it’s ‘progressive’. And that’s due to Vooruit. The Vooruit is Ghent, and Ghent is Vooruit.”

SP.A apparently met with Vooruit management about the name change, but there was no agreement reached. The arts centre was surprised when the party announced the name change in September.

“We receive some 350,000 visitors every year and actively target everyone, regardless of colour, gender, political preference…” says Vooruit general-coordinator Franky Devos. “While we adhere to certain values, we are party-neutral. And we want to keep it that way.”

Vooruit’s theatre stage. The historical building is also home to a concert hall, a ballroom, an attic performance space, an enormous café and a sizable terrace

The centre’s directors and programmers are convinced that people will be unable to separate Vooruit the cultural centre and Vooruit the political party. This would include ticket-buyers, groups that rent event space, artists both local and international, politicians and sponsors, they say.

“From the very start of the cultural centre in 1982, it was clear to the hundreds of volunteers and artists that the development of an international arts centre cannot be done under the name of one political party. We want to keep control over our name and reputation, and that is difficult when two organisation operate under the same name.”

So “in a unique moment in the history of the centre,” Vooruit is launching a process for choosing a new name. It will make an announcement about the new name by the end of February and hopes to complete the process of adapting all of its digital media and printed materials and programmes by the end of May.

Photos, from top: ©Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA, courtesy Vooruit