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Rotterdam Cultural Histories #17: Artists as city makers, the case Kaus Australis

Artists have long played a crucial role in Rotterdam’s cultural development as makers and as city makers. RCH #17 questions how that role can remain possible in the city.

Rotterdam’s current landscape of art institutions emerged in the 1990s. In contrast, artists have been shaping the city’s artistic milieu since the late 1970s. Artist initiatives provide workspace, presentation possibilities, local cooperation, international exchange, and inspiring models of self-organisation. Artists join forces, using their creativity not only to develop their work but also to create conditions for advancing art and culture. This attitude was always elementary – and possible – in Rotterdam.

Kaus Australis is a telling example of how artists literally create space for art. In 1993, the artists took the initiative to develop a DIY model and commissioned and partly built the facility themselves. The building became a place where artists have scope to make large-scale work, known for its international guest studios, exhibitions, and welcoming kitchen. In short, a place that gave substance to a neglected corner of the city. This presentation details how such a project was possible and the effort it entailed.

The booming real estate market is now putting Kaus Australis under pressure, and they have been ordered to dismantle the building. RCH#17 is an expression of support for them to find a new location and a call for broader discussion. The importance of ‘incubation sites’ and a sustainable cultural ‘ecosystem’ has been under discussion for decades. The International Advisory Board for Culture recently said Rotterdam’s strength is that it is a place where initiatives and grassroots organisations can develop. However, the city has reached a tipping point. What impact will current real estate policies have on Rotterdam as a home for makers? Is the Kaus Australis model feasible in 2020? Can artists still contribute to the making of the city?

Artists Sandro Setola and Chris van Mulligen compiled RCH #17.This archival presentation tells the story of Kaus Australis, while a growing timeline functions as an invitation to help visualise the long-standing debate about the importance of space for artists and their initiatives. If you want to contribute something to this timeline, please contact us via aletta [​at​] tentrotterdam.nl.

In the coming months, we shall organise several events around RCH #17 and Kaus Australis. Announcements will follow via tentrotterdam.nl and kausaustralis.org.

This exhibition is the 17th edition of Rotterdam Cultural Histories, a collaborative project between Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art and TENT, both housed in the same building.

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