Welcome to the Village (WTTV) – a brand new festival, that had its very first year in 2013. A festival started as a way of presenting and celebrating the local community and a growing cultural scene in Leeuwarden. I paid a visit to the festival and city for the first time, and here’s what came out of it.
Imagine finding out, that a city actually celebrated the honor of being appointed European Cultural Capital, I know, it sounds weird if you’re living in Aarhus – where the cultural scene has sort of given up on being a part of something bigger, and “the bigger” seems like spending millions on art that no one cares about. Imagine meeting a person that tells you about how great things are going in their city, that the city is actually celebrating it.
That’s the impression I had about the story of Leeuwarden, Holland, a city that’s going to be European Cultural Capital in 2018. A Frisian city, where the work is centered around the word mienskip – meaning: a sense of community.
A friend and I arrived at the festival (WTTV) Thursday afternoon, and sat up tents and a tarp that we brought from home. It was a day before the three-day festival, so no one had shown up that early – except from all the volunteers. With a goal of experiencing the local people, we decided to set up “camp” by the volunteers, which turned out to be a great decision.
Being one of only few people bringing a tarp and speakers, people came to our place all by themselves – and didn’t leave when we presented them with the Danish discount beer ‘Slots Classic’, which quickly became “Classic Danish Slots”. Anyway, people seemed extremely easy to get in contact with and incredibly friendly.
When walking around on the camping area, or in the city for that matter, everyone sort of greets you by saying “hoi”. It’s a strange phenomenon when you come from Denmark, where we like to avoid eye contact and talk to strangers. A simple “hoi” breaks down barriers, and you feel like people really wants you here. You almost feel at home?
Both camping site and stage area is probably the most beautiful festival areas I’ve seen. Especially the stage area! See, the festival had a capacity of around 5.000 people, and still it had 6 stages placed around this big area. It seems weird to have that many stages, such a big area and only 5.000 people – but that turned out to be nearly perfect. No matter where you went, you had people there – but you could still breathe. The festivals I’ve visited in DK are most of the times really packed, meaning that you’ve got long lines no matter where you go. That wasn’t the case here. At this stage area you had a huge beach, meaning that you could actually go straight from a concert to a swim. Not bad when it’s 30 degrees hot!
On the other side of the beach there was this small island. Here you could find a small beach bar, serving quality beers served in glass – and they had build this small singer-songwriter stage out of 700 pallets, where you had the singer standing on a stage on the water.
The results of having a festival like this seemed obvious pretty fast. A lot of the people we talked with weren’t even from Friesland – they were from Amsterdam, Utrecht and Den Haag, and it was only the second year of this festival. It seems like a perfect way of showing the cultural scene, the nature and most importantly the atmosphere in Leeuwarden. To witness ‘mienskip’, the friendly mentality from people that really loves being from or living in Leeuwarden. Exactly that mentality could be seen in the work they were doing before, during and after the festival. See, the work is based around a bottom-up strategy, which is, as I see it, sort of the core of ‘mienskip’.
“In Fryslân it’s very common to do volunteers work, it’s part of social life. Besides that, lots of smart young people are either without a job (due to the depression) or want to start a career in the cultural sector. So it’s never been very difficult for us to find capable people. Our organization is on average quite young because of this, I suppose the average age is somewhere around 25. We really try to invest in all of them, by both putting them in charge (parts of) of the venue or the festivals. Almost all of them start out as volunteers and work their way up, we coach them. For example, we’ve ‘given away’ Podium Asteriks (local venue) to four of our most promising young professionals. They now own the foundation and run it in the same spirit as before. It gave us more space to focus on the Welcome to The Village festival.
Another important factor for all our activities, and Welcome to The Village in particular, is the fact that we try to work as locally as possible. So this means we work with local catering companies, we hire local technicians, we buy from local stores, etcetera. Half of the tickets we sell for the festival are sold outside of Fryslân, this means we impact our local economy. Also, we try to have small local companies ‘grow’ alongside us, to have them invest in their own quality because we sometimes require a higher standard than they’re used to.
By organizing the festival like this, we have created many ambassadors: from the local visitor who is proud of such an event in her backyard, to local companies with whom we do business to the local governments and city council.
Mienskip, to us, is turning off your television, getting up from the couch and start making shit happen with your friends and neighbors. It’s about being proud of where you’re from and turning your backyardin the best backyard in the world. Together.”
– Sjoerd Bootsma, Artistic Director and founder – Welcome To The Village
In my perspective, what you get from working with ‘mienskip’ are proactive people. I get this feeling, that if you are living in Leeuwarden you actually feel like participating in the work towards 2018 – and maybe even asking to be a part of something. That’s not the feeling I got in Aarhus, where most of the ideas depends on whether or not you can be funded – where most of the ideas die, because the communication between Rethink 2017 and the cultural entrepreneurs is non-existing. In Aarhus it comes down to being run top-down, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be pro-active and make good use of your ideas or already existing products? Why is it, that we aren’t taking advantage of being European Cultural Capital in 2017? Why aren’t we exited about this?
Leeuwarden is a beautiful city, and the mentality and atmosphere is absolutely incredible – but I love Aarhus, I love what we’ve got to offer here. A city that has everything you need – but at this point, it seems like we don’t care about showing this to the world. ‘Mienskip’ means a sense of community, and that’s exactly what we need right now. To show the beauty of Aarhus doesn’t depend on being funded, it depends on working together.
My hope is, and here at Sound of Aarhus we’ll be working on this, that we can gather the local community, that we can work on something that shows the identity of Aarhus – and doesn’t involve spending millions on projects that has nothing to do with Aarhus (and projects that no one cares about).
I recently read an article in Aarhus Onsdag, written by Adrian Matthew Fey (Culture Works). He wrote about a trip to Hamburg, stating that we could learn a lot from their way of getting in touch with the cultural scene and their way of being pro-active. Well, my article has the same point – and this time it’s from a city that celebrates being the European Cultural Capital 2018.