In the hipster developing neighborhood in Amsterdam, called the Indische Buurt, sits an old electrical shed. On one side is a playground; newly remodeled for the influx of young Dutch families, on the other an Aussie brunch cafe that’s always bustling (despite the location’s history of being a flop for cafes in the past). The shed sits on the border of Zeedijk and Oost, surrounded by start-up studios subsidized by the EU to help budding businesses of design, photography, and media, boom with success in the up-and-coming Indische Buurt.
It was not only a bad shed visually polluting the neighbourhood
As a neighbor since 2010 who has had to bear this electrical eyesore from my front window (in a flat that my landlord pushes me to either buy or move out in so he can cash in on the current wave of gentrification), I was getting tired of the shed. After watching the old asphalt “straatje” below being ripped and replaced with warm tones of “lekker” brick, amongst new ateliers and renovated buildings that now include French balconies… the electric shed still sat there like an ugly mole on an expensive beautifully tanned face lift.
The Aussie Brunch Cafe
So I did something about it and approached the Aussie brunch place on getting the shed painted. They were keen and excited. We looked at different artists in consideration, and in April I wrote up an 10-page proposal with images of our selected artist. Being connected to the local law, the Aussie brunch place passed it on to local city council.
We waited forever and as predicted, the well-known bureaucratic modus operandi of deliberation drowned a simple vision with erroneous dribble:
Fighting Amsterdam Bureaucracy
“But what about the adverts on the walls that children rip off and throw on the ground? Won’t the company be upset if we cover these useless poster frames for events that no one wants to go to, like a Opeth Swedish metal rock concert?
“And these mischievous children who play in the park, don’t they get a chance to paint the electric shed? What with their highly creative 3-year-old minds, and their certain drive to commit to a beautiful mural? Surely their innocent voices must be heard between their fist fights, shrill screams and their big brothers who have adolescent hash-smoking night sessions?!
“And this so called “artist” we must agree to, is he in fact suitable for the job? Do these dozen photos or so of his work depicting professional art murals across the country really mean he’s fit for the job? What about me, Jane Doe, who’s worked on the council board for X years? Wouldn’t my side hobby with scenic watercolor paintings be also a good fit? I’ve suddenly always wanted to be an artist?
(Urban art being my profession an all, the so-called artist I selected is the first urban artist of Amsterdam, his personal gallery is located on Spuistraat, and has spent decades as a sought-after muralist, designer, and all around professional artist. But by all means let’s see some watercolors from you, lady.)
And then it was August.
Getting Shed done!
So I got sick of watching this simple idea slowly suffocate, and said “fuck it”, I planned to “get shed done”. I thought to myself, if this neighborhood is so supportive with independent minds, creative thinkers, committed start ups and passionate businesses, this has got to be a no brainer, an effortless addition to celebrate the new faces of Indische Buurt.
As an art dealer, manager and project creator, I invested from my small business pocket an amount in materials for the artist. In turn for painting the shed, the artist is holding a solo exhibition at the Aussie brunch cafe.
To promote, I went from door to door to personally and physically hand invitations to local businesses. Each invitation says (In Dutch) live opening, artwork from EUR 75, and “biertje” for EUR1.50 with this invitation. I still wondered two things:
- If this is a bad idea, will anyone get caught, get in trouble, take responsibility? The Aussie brunch cafe, although holding an exhibition for the artist, will not say they had anything to do with the shed mural that’s about 6 meters from their cafe entrance. I myself planned to play dumb. And the artist? I suppose he would just run or argue that nothing illegal is really happening here: he’s not painting ON the brick, he’s painting on wood panels we’ve nailed AROUND the brick.
- Will these small businesses, who cherish their location and EU-proclaimed creative contribution to the local community, actually support their fellow like-minds when given the chance? And will these “new faces” with more money and eclectic taste own up to the stereotype, reward their lifestyle with unique art, make their family nest more special, and support the new age of city living?
In a way, this is a test to see what a shift in demographics that’s being seen in pockets around Amsterdam means artistically. Everyone agrees that artists making murals to upgrade drably walls are a start of gentrification in some ways. But, do the clientele of potential art buyers’ increase? Does the bravery and support in urban art projects increase within the community? Or, is this all just a big hype, and at the end of the day, the economic jump made by upper-middle class is just shamelessly and continuously spent on brunch cafes, organic food and locally-brewed beers?
So, today is the opening exhibition at this Aussie Brunch place. It’s raining, and the artist runs between the shed and the Aussie brunch cafe, painting intermittently. His exhibition in the cafe has been curated and promoted by my business, whose HQ sits about 8 meters away from the shed.
But to “shed” some new light on hesitance, the Aussie brunch place has also said “fuck it” to anonymity and are embracing their excitement of their first art exhibition opening. They have a DJ playing vinyl tonight, drink specials, and the patrons are hearing from the owner to come back tonight between 6pm and 10pm. Since yesterday, the owner brings coffee to the artist while he paints the shed, and local neighbors have helped set up wood panels, lent ladders, and approached the artist with curious questions. The kids on the playground watch him spray-paint big images like a block of blue-colored cheese, a fat pencil, a yellow diamond. You can see the colors and shapes from a few blocks down at the Albert Hein.
In a few minutes I’ll go downstairs and price the artist’s artwork, keeping tonight’s audience in mind: Late 20s and early 30s, small business owners, new families, supporting creative outlets with possibly extra income to buy a few nice things. How much would they pay for a unique piece of art from a pioneer in Amsterdam urban art? And in some ways, how much would I pay? I’ll admit it, I’m selling art to people like me.
In any case, I hope they like the shed.