Milica Topalovic, Marc Neelen, Ana Dzokic (Stealth group)

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From squatter to cultural entrepreneur

We are all developers (at hart)

hybridisation of alternative culture, public interest and commercial force

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'We were quite astonished that a – lets say tough and experimental - group like Kinetic North will sit down at the table with a governmental institution, talk, shake hands, and then sign a contract for millions of euros… So how does this work in reality and why does it work? Is it because of a special Dutch tradition in which negotiation is always the most important and unlikely coalitions can happen?'*1

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What is currently happening in Amsterdam, finds its roots back in the 1990’s. During this period, the central city of Amsterdam radically changed. The liberalization of the economy led to a swift commercialization and gentrification of the city center threatening to suffocate its creative resources and resulting in a danger of 'urban boredom'. 
The municipality of Amsterdam North was triggered with this, literally creative and innovative, spill over from the central city for its own development ambitions. By giving, on a temporary basis and through a public competition, a large former NDSM ship wharf to a group of ex-squatters it opened up for an experiment towards a more flexible use of its own premises that would attract urban activities into the derelict harbor area and thus bring much needed (cultural and social) vitality.

This alliance of an institution and a former anti-institutional group shows that the distinction between the two traditionally contrasting categories - become obsolete.

During the past two decades, differences in positions of the city governments in Amsterdam and sub cultural groups, have decreased against the backdrop of growing liberalization.

The government in Amsterdam North has had several adventurous attempts into operating as a market party – either through its own development company (Panorama North) or inside a public private partnership (Courageous ltd). In this ‘dynamic’ approach to planning, it is sometimes difficult to remember that for the government ‘public interest comes first, even in a private company’*2.

Much of experimental culture and art groups coming from the squatting scene, have, in the beginning of the 1990s, matured as developers as well, forming several professional organizations, initiatives and writing books. This practice is called ‘cultural entrepreneurship’ and it relates to artists who have, provoked by the slowness of governmental institutions, taken the roles of art-producers, or better said, art-developers, as well. The task of a cultural entrepreneur is complex, requiring constant (and competent) dialogue with the government and other parties in an urban process.
It also involves creation of most unusual forms of organizing such as the one in which the non-profit and flexible artists collective (Kinetic North) runs the business of economic exploitation of nearby spaces.

This essay explores a virgin land in which ‘blocks’ as far from each other as alternative culture, public interest and commercial force, have started to form a hybrid.

1_ UC Amsterdam team in interview with some of the key protagonists of the Kinetic North process
2_ Rob Vooren, process manager of the NDSM terrain, Amsterdam North, 2002

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see also thinkpool: "From Squatter to Cultural Entrepreneur"

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