"Everybody who joined the association is free to propose their own project. It has to be connected to the main goal of the association: connecting the people."
Romy IJzerman is a student at the University of Amsterdam. She was studying at Freie Universität Berlin for a semester and is one of our Local City Reporters. Read her interview with Claire Chaulet of Artistania below.
The artist, Claire Chaulet, is one of the founders of the Artistania association. It is an art association based in the center of Neukölln. With projects ranging from music performances to art exhibitions, they cover all aspects of art. The main goal of the association is to connect people through art.
What is your initiative?
“It’s a long story actually. We started something about three years ago with 7 people. In Berlin or in Germany you need to have 7 people to start an association. At the start, there were only two of us and later some friends joined and together we created this association in our apartment. We were doing some events and festivals and so on. Our idea is to use the tool of art to connect people from different backgrounds, life experiences and cultures. We use art as a link. After that, we got more and more activities and slowly our place became too small. There were too many people and our landlord threatened to kick us out because of the large number of guests we always had. Slowly we were looking for a new place and we found this place with plenty of space. At first, there was only trash because it had been empty for years. We are a bit idealistic and we thought that we could make something out of it. A lot of people visited the place before, but nobody dared to really put energy into transforming it. Now, our first goal is to find artists and create projects that connect people. Another main goal is to work a lot on the space. For example, transforming the stage to make it accessible for everybody. Currently, it’s not really accessible. The stairs are not good, so we are working to make it accessible for people with disabilities. We are building a lot. Now we are building a dance room, studios and a stage. We also want to offer a real theatre with a stage. Currently, we use the stage not just for theatre, but also for live music. With all this, the project builds and increases with lots of different kinds of projects. Actually, everybody who joined the association is free to propose their own project, it just has to be connected to the main goal of the association: connecting people. It’s not very restrictive. It’s not as if you can only make this or that. What you do and what you like is the most important.”
How do you find the artists?
“Basically it started with friends first. People we were hanging out together and we know each other very well, so there is a lot of trust already. It’s not like a lot of other initiatives that are dying because there is no trust and people fight internally. For us, it’s different because we are really close friends and we know each others weaknesses. So we know each others limits, which makes us strong. Of course, new people are joining. It’s a process. Some people hear about us and they come and ask if they can help. Slowly, we get to know each other and then people propose their own ideas. If we all like it and want to give it a chance, then we do. Slowly we are buildings this project upon human relations.”
You have concerts and exhibitions. Are they open for everyone?
“The thing is that we are now in transition. We are not yet a public space. That means that we require people to join the association as a supportive member. So it’s a bit our condition to come here, but actually it’s a symbolic gesture. You pay 3 euros for a year and then you can enter the place. It’s a guarantee for us. We have an insurance that is covering those people who are here. Because now the place doesn’t have good security exits and so on, we need to do these procedures so that other people are also insured with us.”
So what kind of audience are you focused on, tourists, local people or other?
All kinds of people. Because we have different artists every time. So for example, tomorrow we have a really local band. So they play in the park here and they have made music in Berlin for more than 30 years, so they know everyone, all Berliners. And sometimes we have bands coming for just one day. That brings other kinds of people. Thanks to the diversity of musicians, performances and exhibitions, we have a very diverse audience coming here. Thanks to the different artists, they bring their own public.”
How do you finance the project?
“We basically have project related funding. Then we have the membership fee, which is a big part of how we can pay the rent. And donations once in a while. And the people who are having a studio here or use some space, they also pay because they earn money with their art. They contribute also with a little rent.”
Do you work with volunteers?
“We are all volunteers, there are no employees. We don’t have the status to have for example internships. We could do it but it requires too much paperwork to make all this volunteers things so people are just helping. A lot of people ask us that if we have this European volunteer thing, but most of us are just helping, semi-volunteering.”
How is the ownership organized?
“It’s with the people we started with. Some people, like 5 out of the 7, are still in Berlin. The others went to other places. So they are not so active anymore. But the people who stayed in Berlin were here from the beginning. We have the core people but we are of course with more than just 5 people. Afterwards it became bigger. There were ten people and then even more, all helping here and there doing things. The association as a whole is the one who rents place.”
How do you fund everything?
“With membership and events. There are a lot of things that we can not afford yet. If we would have more money, we could do a lot more. Step by step we are doing it now. Things like renewing the stairs, we can not afford yet. It takes really slowly. We are all people living from art or trying to live from art so we are all very poor. But we did everything almost with nothing. We build this whole place with 3000 or 4000 euro and people invested to renew their room and so on. We build the complete space with very little money.”
Do you also work with knowledge institutions?
“Yes, for example last week we worked with a Kindergarten. But sometimes we cooperate with other groups, like theatre groups or we had last year a group of people with serious health problems. We also have partnerships with associations all over Europe. We have created this European neighbourhood project together so we are kind of trying to work with others, but not specially knowledge institutions.”
What about the business sector?
“Not really, although we are thinking about getting some sponsorship. It’s a current debate in our circle. But it’s not something we are really working on. We don’t reject it, but its more that we are so concentrated on certain things that we don’t have the capacity to go to the politicians or to the businesses. Off course we won’t cooperate with just any business, we pick the ones of which we think they are sharing our philosophy.”
“Quite a lot. First financial obstacles. Every month we think about if we will we manage to pay the rent and that kind of stuff. We are not yet stabilised financially. But it’s getting better. Then there is this problem of the space which is really challenging. We discover every time new problems. We did a great job though. People who enter the space thinks it’s really great. We still see, with all the things we’ve done, things which needs working on. For example, we don’t have a water system yet. These are all kind of really practical challenges. But these are little problems, not major problems. More practical problems. We are very happy, because we have a good group dynamic. I work with the whole group and it’s wasn’t always like this that people can really rely on each other and say what they think. People also give a lot of energy without expecting something back. Or it’s not that they count how much they do, people do things they were not ask for doing it. They don’t want people to notice. They just do it. It’s nice that you see that people actually really love to work here.”