By Anna Vondracek, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (BOZAR)
Like most of its peers, the Centre for Fine Arts Brussels (BOZAR) is deeply embedded in the history and urban fabric of its city. Together with other cultural institutions, civil society organisations, schools, universities and the local and regional political actors, we shape our urban reality and our perception of the city itself.
The constant question of “what kind of cultural programming do we need in our city?” goes hand in hand with the question “what city do we want to live in?” These questions have defined our activities in the past and will continue to guide our present considerations and future vision.
Cultural institutions are not merely passive platforms for presentation and exchange, but pro-active players that animate and advocate on behalf of the city which they serve. They are organic part of urban ecosystems relying on the inhabitants as audience members and participants. They contribute to urban development policies, public space planning, infrastructure management, education and social policies.
Issues related to urban development, common goods, public space and future visions for the city have always been ingrained in artistic and intellectual thoughts. BOZAR is contributing to the larger reflection about “urbanity” with different actions, manifesting an added value the cultural sector has to the overall debate.
Our exhibitions and multidisciplinary programming showcase the energy and dynamics generated in and through cities. Such as for instance the recent exhibition Dey your lane: LAGOS Variations depicting the individualistic and creative dynamics generated by one of the fastest growing cities in the world.
BOZAR actively contributes to various discussions about the future of cities. In 2015 we programmed a debate on “Shaping European Cities- How can policy makers and architects make cities more attractive?” In 2016 we invited Saskia Sassen as part of our Agora Urban Master Class with the Brussels Academy () – a programme we aim to continue in the next years. Currently, the exhibition “A good city has industry”, reflects on a productive city of the future, in which a healthy and diverse economy can flourish.
BOZAR participates in innovative inclusive projects. in 2015 we brought “We-traders. Swapping crisis for the city” project, initiated by the Goethe institute, to Brussels (). This project examined how citizens of 7 European cities are responding to the ongoing economic crisis in different areas of urban life, be it economic, social or ecological. Since 2014 BOZAR has been facilitating social cohesion through music with Singing Cities/Singing Brussels which offers on-going singing activities to diverse groups of citizens from across the city. With the goal of fostering social inclusion and harmony, large variety of choirs meets on a weekly basis, coming together on several occasions throughout the year, culminating in an annual festival celebrating the voice, vocal music and Brussels, which takes place at BOZAR. In parallel the Cantania project invites children of elementary schools and their teachers to work together on one collaborative musical piece.
We advocate for culture on the political level highlighting its role and contribution to urban development. In 2014 we organised a day of roundtable debates with UN Habitat and the European Commission (DG DEVCO) on urbanisation in Africa entitled Visionary Urban Africa. Also we started to engage in the debate on urbanisation in Latin American cities, first through an event concurrent to the EU-LAC summit in June 2015, together with the EU-LAC foundation. And more recently through the LAIC-project: Culture and Arts supporting social cohesion in Latin American Cities that investigates the relationship between cities and culture as a key challenge for numerous decision-makers, artists and cultural operators across the globe. In order to highlight the power of images in shaping opinions and raising awareness, BOZAR also presented a small exhibition in Quito during the Habitat III Conference. Featuring work of Beat Streuli, we aimed at putting a human face on contemporary cities, highlighting the power of images in shaping opinions and raising awareness.