I have been told that, ever since the French revolution, Paris has tended to view Brussels with slight suspicion, seeing it as a breeding ground for civil unrest. With the terrorist attacks of 13 November, a sombre new chapter was written into the 200-year-old narrative. Everyday life has been turned on its head and dark shadows loom large above us. The main suspects are Belgian nationals. The Molenbeek district, despite the protestations of its diverse community, is now synonymous with this new form of terror in Europe.
Brussels was placed under the highest terror alert level on Saturday. The city’s schools, nurseries, universities, shopping centres, libraries, metro system, markets, playgrounds and cemeteries remained closed for four days. Some museums are still shut and large-scale public events are being cancelled, notably the European Culture Forum, the European Commission’s bi-annual flagship cultural event, scheduled for this week.
The majority of the city’s restaurants are continuing to operate as normal but, in the centre in particular, they are not attracting much custom – the people of Brussels may not be frightened but they are bewildered and wary.
The response of the country’s leadership to the attacks has been unanimous and, so far, there appears to be a fairly broad consensus that the drastic decisions taken in response to the attacks have been necessary. Although the matter will likely be debated for a long time to come, it seems that the authorities have succeeded in preventing another serious terrorist atrocity, possibly several. This is excellent.
I have experience of organising hundreds of events myself – in private homes and public halls, in markets, on the streets. They have ranged from theatre performances for an audience of ten to stadium concerts broadcast live on television. Although on a practical level as an organiser you are of course focused on meeting the expectations of your audience and the performers, your primary duty at all times is to ensure the safety of everyone present.
While it may be impossible to eliminate risk entirely, how do we define “safe enough”? Even now, despite the daily bombardments, an art gallery in Aleppo, Syria continues to open its doors and invite people in. Our perception of what constitutes normal, of what is ”enough”, varies between individuals and depends on the prevailing circumstances under which we live. Gilles Ledure, director of the Flagey Arts Centre in Brussels recently said that, under these exceptional circumstances, ”he has to be able to demonstrate that they have done everything within their power”. But if our fundamental trust in our fellow humans is lost, no special measures, no precautions will ever be enough.
There is a view that people suffering from depression see the world in a far more realistic light than those who are not affected by it – the positivity bias protects us from paralysis at the face of adversity. The same is also true of societies; we all need a healthy, shared pair of rose tinted glasses to uphold trust. Despite the status of emergency continuing, we must not allow depression to prevail in Brussels.
One measure of a stable society is how quickly it can return to normal, to reinstate trust, following an emergency. What is it that we now need to do to make sure ordinary everyday life can resume? Karine Lalieux, the alderwoman responsible for cultural affairs in Brussels, has already decided to re-open all city council-run museums and was among the first in the city to do so. The restoration of life to the city, the re-building of mutual trust following a clear and acute threat is the prism through which to evaluate the success of the actions now being taken in Brussels. The arts and culture sector have an important role to play in this.
Blog post of January 2019: In 2018, the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s programme focused on Transition. In 2019, our theme is RE/definitions.
For some years now, I have tried to live my life with this principle in mind: because everything around us is constantly in transition, almost anything can become a reality. By this I mean our fears as well as opportunities, both the positive and negative ways of thinking about the future of our world. Personally, I would like to believe that we are capable of moving towards a better tomorrow, even if reality as filtered through our daily newsfeed often seems to contradict this.
Blog post of December 2018: How did you wake up this morning? Maybe to an alarm on your cell phone? What was your first thought? For many of us it’s “Can I sleep for another half hour?”. And, what was your last thought of the evening? Maybe you thought about whether you could watch just one more episode on your streaming service or whether it was really time for you to go to sleep. In fact, it is likely that these were the first and last risk management decisions of your day. Each of one us makes hundreds of risk management decisions whether we are at home, in our free time, or at work. Do you know the kinds of risks you are taking while navigating the digital world in our everyday life?
Blog post of June 2018: What if the future of music came from the Far North? There is no doubt that Nordic and Finnish musicians play an important role in the international music scene. Every category has a Nordic touch : vocal and instrumental music, metal, traditional and contemporary music, and jazz. Unlike here in the South, there are no fixed boundaries between musical languages in the North. Every musical genre finds its place between tradition and modernity, fusing into a fertile synergy without losing its own character. This is one of the cultural strengths of the Nordic countries.
Blog post of May 2018: For several years, this small international festival has been experimenting with new curatorial practices in a fierce and open way. The festival distinguishes itself by introducing co-curating, by politicising curatorship, and by rethinking the international. Baltic Circle hereby positions itself as a forerunner and is an ideal ground to visit with students who are themselves operating in the field of “expanding curation”. Three students, their tutor (Lara Staal, independent curator and publicist) and artistic director of DAS Theatre Barbara Van Lindt visited the festival and proposed some moments of exchange. In January we invited artistic director of the Festival Satu Herrala to visit us, and engage in a conversation where we reflected upon our visit (and already anticipated a next visit, in the autumn of 2018…)
Blog post of April 2018: Less than two months ago I moved from Tokyo to Brussels, straight into the heart of Europe and the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s great programming for 2018! We have our excellent previous Director Aleksi Malmberg to thank for carrying out the preparations for the start of the year, as well as our amazing team, with whom I now have the privilege of adding new initiatives and ideas to the programme.
Blog post of February 2018: “Okay, so there’s nothing here on the Sami people”, I noticed at the end of an introductory tour of the House of European History. I was visiting the relatively new House of European History at the beginning of February as part of a group of twenty odd individuals involved in the Remembering 1918 programme. Each one of us had the task that day of leading our own public tours of the House of European History. After the introductory tour, we were given a few hours to prepare to offer our own views on the museum’s exhibition which deals with European history.