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Amsterdam is a Public Space

Published 8 May 2015 at 12:44 by Leon Caren & Bas Morsch

Early 2012 we were sitting in a restaurant in Groningen. We were there for Eurosonic, a festival platform for new European pop music. We had stayed up late drinking the night before. We saw a lot of bands and spoke to lots of people. We topped it all off by a night of restless sleep in a boat with bunk beds.

And so while we were washing away our hangovers with the first drinks of a new day, we were talking about Subbacultcha. In particular, we were talking about what a success it was. We initiated the membership concept three years prior to this hazy conversation, and since then, the concerts we organised were attended in much larger numbers. We had the resources to book completely unknown bands, purely because we liked them, and the venues were filling right up. We were convinced that this membership concept could work in another context. An idea that didn’t limit itself to sleazy, unknown bands. We were convinced that the same thing could work wonders for theatre, dance, opera and literature. Especially in these times of massive subsidy cuts. Really, this was the time to introduce something new. A new way to support the arts and culture, and get new audiences engaged.

We Are Public-oprichters Leon (r) en Bas

We Are Public founders Leon (l) and Bas

So the idea was thought up within five minutes. But it took over two years before we could actually give it shape. Exactly a year ago, on 28 May 2014, we started our search for people who wanted to help us make We Are Public possible. Our triumphant quest to find 2,500 cultural optimists.

We kicked things off on 1 September with a long line of members out front the Schouwburg for our opening. 156 members, to be precise. What a moment. That line of members, with their We Are Public passes on the ready. The plan was suddenly alive. The months that followed flew past.

Our large-scale street poster campaign might have given you the impression that we were a big organisation. But really we were just two guys with a good idea, backed up by freelancers, interns, volunteers and a critical team of editors. When we started out, we all had a long road ahead of us.

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But now, just ahead of our one-year anniversary, We Are Public stands strong. We’ve got a foundation to carry on building upon.
We Are Public intends to provide a new way of supporting and experiencing the arts and culture. Not by donation or philanthropism. But by taking part. Heading out the door and into venues. Discovering new things. And the more members, the more we can make happen.

Each We Are Public programme is attended by about fifty members at the moment. A great beginning. But what happens when we reach 10,000 members? Our programmes would sell out in advance, regardless if the audience’s know the artists in question. Imagine this: new makers debuting in packed venues, young international ensembles booking additional shows to cater to demand, and small-time concerts being moved into big concert halls. The relationship between audience, maker and institution would be totally flipped around. That way, Amsterdam can escalate in thriving as a breeding ground for young makers. For artists who push boundaries. For culture and artistic expressions that wrings, scours, moves and disturbs – that strays from obvious paths. And not because the government subsidises it. But because there is an audience for it.

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But, first off, it’s time for a party. To celebrate everything we’ve accomplished so far. Under the header “Amsterdam is a Public Space”, we’re organising a full-day of inspiring programming on 28 May. Over ten of our partners are taking part. So get ready to go. Take someone with you. Because for this occasion, you can bring someone along for free with your membership card. It’s going to be great, so don’t miss out.

See you soon!
Leon & Bas

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