INTERVIEW: Cas-co, a co-working space for artists – THE WORD
Leuven may not boast a buzzing arts scene as larger neighboring cities, but it’s nonetheless present in places like STUK andOPEK. Chances are it can broaden its purview with recently opened artist working space at Cas-co. Claiming former brewery archives as acreative nest for the arts, Cas-co makes room to nurture the ‘particular concentration that artistic work needs.’ Cas-co’s coordinator Sammy Ben Yakoub gives us the scoop about this much needed initiative in Leuven, about striking a balance between anchoring quality space and creating a meeting point for artists of different disciplines.
Article by Nadia Rivera
Can you describe your concept in a few words? What is its core business? What are its driving principles? What, in your eyes, makes it unique?
Cas-co is a new organization in Leuven that provides studios and working space for artists, both visual artists and theatre makers or performers. At the moment we are housed in a former archive centre in Leuven. It’s a beautiful old industrial building, with high ceilings and big spaces. We’ve installed ten artists studios and a project space on the first level, below we have a theatre, an office and a space for shows. We continue our search for other buildings where we can install more artist studios. Overall, the core business is to provide spaces for artists to work in.
Can you discuss the concept’s first steps? When did the idea first rise? How did it come about?
As far as I can tell, there has always been the need for artist studios in Leuven. A few years ago, the first initiative took place with Batiment A, where a few artists started a community in an older building. But still, there was the need for more good locations. Then, Luc Delrue and Steven Dusoleil had the idea of creating an organization in Leuven that would turn empty buildings into places where artists could work. They immediately found support from the city of Leuven through the aldermen for culture Denise Vandevoort. The city supported the initiative financially and in the search for a location. Delrue and Dusoleil then triggered other people and organizations to work together, and Cas-co was born. At one point there was anopportunity given by the real estate developer Virix to start in this building, situated in the Vaartkom neighborhood in Leuven. This is where we are now, and this is where I work as coordinator.
Can you talk to us about the concept’s name? What is its significance? How does it relate to the concept’s core idea?
I don’t know if it’s a word in English, but in Dutch “casco” refers to the shell of a building: the very basic form, or just the structure ready to be turned into something. In a way, that is how we started. From that construction state we built what is needed to provide good ateliers and working spaces.
What excites you the most about your concept? What are you most proud of?
As a coordinator, what excites me at the moment is the fact that we can start from scratch. We have enough space for artist studios, theater rehearsal space, project space and space for shows.
We just started, but it’s clear that not only artists from Leuven show interest but also from Brussels and other cities. Six artists are already working here, and rehearsals in the performance space have started too, showing there is great potential. In May we will house eleven artists and two theater companies. What’s unique is that on the one hand we offer studios for autonomous professional artists, but on the other hand we also have partnerships with M -Museum Leuven and the cultural centre of Leuven, 30 cc. This will create a proper dynamic and offers our partners the opportunity to give their artists more spaces to work and create.
How and why did you choose the neighbourhood you’re currently located in? What attracted you to it in the first place?
We started in this neighbourhood of the Vaartkom because of the opportunity that was given of being housed in this building that happened to be located in this neighbourhood. But this is no coincidence, as this was a former industrial area that has now become available. A lot of the more creative companies or start-ups have flocked to this area. It is a known urbanist momentum, and now it happens in Leuven.
How do you feel you’re bringing something fresh to the neighbourhood? Do you feel you’re adding value to it in any way? Are you working with the neighbourhood in any way?
There are already remarkable initiatives here in the Vaartkom, like De Hoorn and OPEK amongst others. De Hoorn is a hub for creative industries; OPEK is a former customs building that houses several art education organizations and theater companies. Cas-co will undoubtedly bring a new dimension to this neighborhood. The connection with the specific texture of this area and artists from Leuven, together with the fact that we also attract artists from the outside, will undoubtedly add value in this fast-changing part of the city. Formerly, the Vaartkom was very known, also abroad, for its club Silo. Nightlife together with a new artistic scene is finding its way back to the Vaartkom.
What, if anything, do you hope to change with this new opening?
We hope that artists can now find affordable and qualitative spaces to work in this area. The dimensions, temperature and presence of Wi-Fi do not solely measure the quality of an artist studio, although that’s primordial, but what is also important is the way it can sustain the particular concentration that artistic work needs. Spaces to make this possible, space for try-outs, and creation: it sounds evident, but it is not. In fact it has to do with defending a territory. So there is plenty of space, and we go on the hunt to see what’s possible and to find people with whom we can synchronize to make things happen, and claim specific spaces as territory for the arts and defend them. Those spaces can very easily be taken for something that is much more lucrative at a certain stage. Suddenly you can have a big for-profit business taking the space, or a supermarket and it’s gone. What we do is claim the space and resist for a while, claiming it for the arts, because we are convinced it matters.