Sweet sixteen. Happy b-day OT301

by Francesca Spanò

Sweet sixteen, we definitely should say that. One of the most iconic ex-squat in Amsterdam, the OT301, celebrated its birthday on November 14th  with an open day event dedicated to underground culture.

“I think that variety and possibilities in our cultural activities are our strongest point and I think this is what people appreciate about the OT301. We don’t focus on 1 thing, 1 style of music or 1 form of art. We are open for all good ideas. We like to see ourselves as a laboratory”, one of the member of the collective Ivo Schmetz, said.

Music, dance, food, art, exhibitions, debates, radio and, of course, the ex-squatters who  – in an even more commercial Amsterdam – keep bringing forward the vision announced in 1999: to provide an underground cultural space and to invite the society to reflect on its own principles and purposes.

“I think our collective has gone through some transformations in the past 16 years but our main ideas and vision have always been kept alive. We still aim to be an open space for creativity and autonomy but we had to professionalize in order to be able to fulfill our new obligations. As squatters we didn’t have much obligations or rules to follow but when we bought the building with our foundation (EHBK) we knew that we had to change in order to make it work”, Schmetz continued.

Their history is well known: in ’99 a group of artists founded the EBBK (First Aid for Art and Society), with the aim to occupy one of the empty properties in the centre of the capital. The golden opportunity, in a few time, was the ex School of the Arts (AHK) in Overtoom 301.

The day established for the squatting of the building was November 14th. The first few weeks were chaotic, bur the OT301 opened its doors with the favor of the press and some political parties. Officially, it was supposed to remain property of AHK until January of 2000 and, after that, to become a state property. Despite the GroenLinks and PvdA support, on the 14th of December 1999, the Justice Department with the Council District Oud-West ordered the eviction of the building based on article 429. Moreover, the squatting of a building empty for less than one year was declared illegal.

The following two years were difficult: supported by the Municipality, the public opinion and some political parties, the collective, after heavy compromises and negotiations, succeeded in maintaining the building occupied and abolishing the building demolition order, planned in 1999.

After a closure period of two years, the three-o-one opened with the full support of the Municipality and of the Council in May 2004, living their so called Golden period: with the first prizes, the first subsides came. In 2006 EHBK bought the building in Overtoom and created one of the most important underground cultural centre in Amsterdam.

Today, 16 years later, the Dutch capital seems to be a hub for multinationals and that history is standing as a warning: “Now it looks that it’s getting worse for a lot of beautiful places like Friekens, ADM and Bajesdrop. If it goes like this then only the organizations that have their own property will survive and this is not a good development. Amsterdam is always so proud of being a so called creative and openminded city but the way they threat young creatives and openminded people is embarrassing”, Schmetz keeps explaining. “We have become followers instead of openminded leaders. It is a shame that politicians and society doesn’t allow failure anymore, if you do something it has to be a financial succes otherwise its bad. This attitude makes people weak and cowards.”

A strong political vision, from a collective in which no more space for politics remained: “We have always been an arts orientated building because we were all artists when we squatted the building and the majority of people still is. Within our group there is some people active in politics but as a building we don’t do a lot of political actions that are visible”, said, remembering that the biggest risk is that Amsterdam will become something like Disneyland in 10 years.

But with no characters inside.

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