Behind Vooruit’s large façade hides a long history. Read more about it here!
- 1840: A small socialist universe – the creation of the Vooruit Cooperative
- 1899: The purchase of 'Ons Huis', a foothold in the center of Ghent
- 1910: The construction of ‘Vooruit Festivities Hall'
- 1913: A recreation temple for the ‘red army’
- 1914: The First World War – Solace in miserable times
- 1918: The solemn reopening of Vooruit Festivities Hall: a socialist beehive
- 1944: The occupation during the Second World War: from Soldatenheim to Café Quebec
- 1946: The return of the bustle
- 1970: The decline of Vooruit Festivities Hall
- 1980: A new life - Vooruit as a monument
- 1990: A monument under development
- 1980: A beehive and center for artistic renewal: Vooruit Arts Center was born!
- 1993: Vooruit Arts Center officially recognized as a center for the arts
Workers’ dreadful working and living conditions
In the nineteenth century Ghent was a major industrial city, with a mostly textile industry. The living and working conditions of the many workers here were simply abominable. They often worked twelve hours a day and lived in miserable and crammed workers’ quarters where hunger and lack of hygiene made disease and death a daily occurrence. These circumstances were the feeding ground for a strong socialist movement. Its undisputed leader was Edward Anseele thanks to his relentless dedication to the Vooruit cooperative, the backbone of Ghent’s socialist movement.
The creation of a cooperative as a means of converting the masses to socialism
Even before Vooruit’s creation in 1880, consumers and producers in Belgium and abroad had been experimenting for a while with cooperatives in order to more affordably provide for their material needs. The English Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society was the prototype and other cooperatives, including Vooruit, copied its principles: based on their usage, members received a part of the profits and buying on credit was prohibited. The Ghent socialists who created Vooruit, among them Anseele, wanted to convert the masses to socialism through the cooperative. It all started with a bakery at the Zacheus tavern. Whoever joined could buy bread cards which could be exchanged for bread one week later. The price was a little higher than everywhere else, but a few times a year the members received a share of the profit, proportionate to the amount of bread they had bought. The profit was distributed as coupons with which they could buy products from the cooperative only – not just bread but soon enough also coffee, blankets and clothing. This allowed Vooruit to strengthen its economic position and the members to build up some savings.
Bakery, coffee house, store, festivities & meeting space
Quite soon the Zacheus tavern became too small and the cooperative moved to a former factory building on the Garenmarkt, today known as the Edward Anseeleplein. A coffeehouse, a fabrics and attire store, a library with a reading room and a festivities and meeting space were added to the bakery. The building was a safe haven for the often vilified Ghent socialist family.
The purchase of 'Ons Huis': stores, party building, union.
The cooperative systematically expanded its patrimony and opened pharmacies and grocery stores around the city. In 1893, when the building at the Garenmarkt started bursting at the seams, Vooruit proceeded to purchase a big building on the Vrijdagmarkt ('Ons Huis') which gave the organization a foothold in the old city center. Ghent architect Ferdinand Dierkens transformed the building into a monumental and luxurious department store that was designed to make the workers feel proud; they had to perceive it as their own property. When the building was destroyed in a fire, Dierkens was commissioned to build an even more impressive structure. The Groote Magazijnen, inspired by the Parisian Bon Marché, opened in 1899. Next to it, the architect designed a second building, Ons Huis, which housed the party, the cooperative and the union.
The Festivities Hall in the Bagattenstraat: Vooruit’s predecessor
A little further down in the city, in the Bagattenstraat, Vooruit bought a large residence which became the predecessor of the Festivities Hall in the Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat. It had a coffee house, a theater and concert hall, meeting rooms and a library.
The cooperative grows exponentially & flaunts its power
For the members of the cooperative, the benefits kept adding up. The sick received free bread, medical care and medicine. Those who stopped working at the age of sixty received a small pension, calculated according to their purchases. For each birth, families received free bread for one week as well as one big celebration bread. This was how the cooperative offered the Ghent workers some protection against disease and poverty, at a time where the government wasn’t providing any form of social security. Anseele, who had been the manager of the cooperative for a while and had become one of the first socialist members of parliament, went even further. Through the ‘red factories’ he aimed for Vooruit to focus more on production. The cooperative weaving mill was a first step in that direction. Vooruit was proud to offer its workers better conditions than elsewhere. Other industry branches were soon to follow: a brewery, a sugar factory, a cotton and flax spinning mill. To top it all off, in 1913 Anseele founded a bank - the ‘Belgische Bank van den Arbeid‘. Most of the capital it managed came from the cooperative.
The success of the cooperative
Things were going well for the cooperative: at the eve of the First World War it had about ten thousand members. It had, to put it in progressive-liberal sociologist Louis Varlez’ words, created ‘un petit univers socialiste’. Vooruit had become an economic counter-power and the Ghent socialist movement had evolved into a political power that could not be ignored. Its monumental buildings aimed to improve the sense of self-esteem of workers and to show opponents the position of power of the movement. To put it in the triumphant words of socialist newspaper Vooruit in reference to the newly opened Festivities Hall in the Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat in 1914: ‘It’s as if it is yelling at the enemy: “Touch, only if you dare!”’ The building was ‘the workers’ cathedral’, Vooruit’s ultimate showpiece.
In 1910 Vooruit bought a big residence and two adjacent houses in the Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat. This was to become the location for a new festivities hall because the old building in the Bagattenstraat had become too small and part of it even had collapsed. With this new cultural temple the socialists wanted to prove that they were no philistines, and that they cared about the intellectual development of the workers. Once more, the cooperative commissioned Dierkens to be the architect and he gave the workers a colossal “House of the People”.
A restaurant, a library, meeting and rehearsal spaces & two big halls
On the street level, the front of the Festivities Hall got a store and a café-restaurant with a kitchen, while the storage areas and the restrooms were established in the basement. On the intermediary level were the quarters of the caretaker and a ‘rinsing room’ for the restaurant. On the first floor there was an upper restaurant with a kitchen and reception hall and on the second floor there was a library, and meeting and rehearsal spaces. The Domzaal on the third floor had a glass dome roof and was designed to be a rehearsal space, among other things. On the very top there was a big wooden attic and the previously mentioned little towers. Thanks to the level difference between the Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat and the Scheldt, Dierkens was able to build two big halls on top of each other in the back of the building: the Concertzaal & the Theaterzaal. The lower one could host 1000 spectators, and the upper one 1600. The phrase ‘Kunst veredelt’ (‘Art ennobles’) was written in gold letters above the stage of the upper hall (currently the Theaterzaal), emphasizing the goal of uplifting the workers intellectually. The stained-glass panel of the roof was decorated with the first notes of “The Internationale”, the socialists’ most famous anthem.
Eclectic & complex building
All of this resulted in an eclectic and very complex building where all levels were ingeniously connected. Dierkens used state-of-the-art techniques for the heating, the lighting and the fire safety and the interior was very lavish: parquet flooring, stained-glass windows, ceramic tiles, gold gilt… The total cost must have been astronomical.
Construction didn’t finish in time for a grand opening during the World Fair, but the café & restaurant did welcome visitors
The Festivities Hall had to become the central meeting place of the Ghent socialists. Together with Ons Huis on the Vrijdagmarkt they would make a ‘pretty couple’: Ons Huis as the headquarters for the troops, the Festivities Hall as a temple where the ‘red army’ could relax. Vooruit wanted the building to be ready by the 1913 World Fair in Ghent, but they didn’t make that deadline. The café, however, opened to visitors of the Fair in mid-July. A while later it started serving affordable daily hot meals - hundreds of them a week. On May 1st, 1914 the socialists held their first May banquet in the Restaurant Hall on the first floor, in what would become a yearly tradition for the celebration of the May 1st holiday.
Vooruit Festivities Hall: recreation for the workers
Early on, Ghent had quite a flourishing cinema life. The Festivities Hall too made plenty of room for movies, and in fact, the movie theatre was always its key feature. ‘In the splendid coffee house-cinema hall, the party members were in awe. […] they had never dared to dream of such a gem of a hall’, the Vooruit newspaper wrote the day after the first screening in the lower hall of the Festivities Hall. It was still the era of silent film and the pictures were accompanied by a symphonic orchestra. Going to the movies had become a popular form of recreation for the workers and Cinema Vooruit was extremely successful from the get-go.
The café-restaurant and the cinema provided recreation to the workers, while the library with the very explicit name Vrijzinnige Werkmansbibliotheek Leren Vereert (Liberal Workers’ Library Learning Ennobles) was there to develop their intellectual capacities. It was a library branch for the collection that had once been at the Garenmarkt and had later been moved to Ons Huis. The library branch itself moved in 1915, in the middle of the war, from the Bagattenstraat to the new Festivities Hall.
The grand opening was cancelled but the Festivities Hall remained open
The solemn inauguration of the Festivities Hall was scheduled for August 15th and 16th, 1914. Delegations of socialists from around the country and abroad were expected to attend. When the Germans invaded Belgium on August 4th however, the celebration was cancelled. From October on, Ghent was an occupied city. Its inhabitants were subjected to a harsh occupation regime. For many workers, the Festivities Hall was a place where they could temporarily escape the misery. The film screenings, for example, were very popular and visitors had to be turned down repeatedly because the hall was completely full. After a while, daily screenings were offered to accommodate the flow of people and the Groote Zaal – the upper hall in the back of the building – started being used as a movie theatre as well. During the official opening of the Groote Zaal, which took place during the war, Anseele held a moving speech in which he pointed out the role the Festivities Hall could play in bringing solace to the people. He also raised the audience‘s morale by talking about the glorious time which undoubtedly lay ahead for the building after the war.
Occupation by the Germans
The café and restaurant kept operating normally during the war. The German soldiers who were stationed in Ghent often went there to eat. During the last year of the war the Germans requisitioned the Festivities Hall. They turned it into a Soldatenheim and apparently did quite some damage. During that time, the Ghent socialists reverted to meeting at Ons Huis or at the Festivities Hall in the Bagattenstraat.
Reopening & revival
On December 1st, 1918 the cooperative was able to solemnly reopen its Festivities Hall. The library branch that had been transferred to the Bagattenstraat during the war returned. The Restaurant Hall started serving daily hot and cold meals again. The brasserie concerts on Sundays were very popular. The cooperative once again started screening films in both halls at the back of the building. Cinema Vooruit’s success remained huge: during the 1927-1928 season almost 300,000 visitors came to the movies. This was partly due to the deliberately low admission price, which offered poor workers the opportunity to see movies. The program changed every week. From time to time a propaganda movie, such as the controversial Pantserkruiser Potemkim by Sergei Eisenstein, was shown, but commercial entertainment movies dominated. This made some socialists unhappy because they would have preferred to see the medium used to spread their ideology and to educate the workers.
Many different associations had a home here
During the interwar period, the building became the hub of various socialist associations, who filled the agenda with their rehearsals, meetings, performances, banquets, balls, etc. Because of all of the activities there, the Festivities Hall was often compared to a beehive. The associations, sometimes called “the children of Mother Vooruit’, were very diverse: some of them pursued cultural and intellectual development, others wanted the workers to be fit, and others were simply focused on recreation. Their common denominator was socialism, as they all were serving the party.
During the 1930s most associations had a hard time retaining their members. The economic crisis was often held responsible for this, but the cinema’s success was probably also partially to blame.
Even though the Festivities Hall was mainly intended as a recreation temple, during the interwar period many activities were held there that probably belonged in Ons Huis. The union, the cooperative and the health mutual sometimes held their meetings here, while the party held its congresses, political meetings and celebrations for members and organizations of the party. There was, for example, the grand homage to Anseele for his fifty year membership to the party, an exhibition on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the cooperative, and propaganda meetings for the Plan van de Arbeid, which was intended to boost the economy in the 1930s.
During the Second World War, very soon after the invasion, the Germans transformed the Festivities Hall into a Soldatenheim and Cinema Vooruit became a Wehrmachtskino for the soldiers. The socialist organizations not only had to leave the building, many of them were forced by the occupiers to stop their activities and suddenly it was collaborating extreme-right groups who were holding their meetings in the Festivities Hall – talk about an ideological makeover. The Germans also closed the library. Ivo Paul Ego, a Ghent native who at the time had been working as a waiter for years at the Festivities Hall, wrote in his diary about the beer fests and banquets organized there by the Germans and about the gluttony of the sisters of the Red Cross who were keeping them company. That abundance was in sharp contrast to the food scarcity the Festivities Hall employees and most of Ghent’s population were experiencing at the time.
After the Liberation, the allies turned the Festivities Hall into a recreation space for the troops, where they could go to the movies, among other things. The Canadians renamed it Café Québec.
The Vooruit cooperative regained the Festivities Hall in 1946. Just like in the old days, balls were once more held in the Restaurant Hall, and young people came back to drink, dance and date on Saturdays. The daily specials, the banquets and the brasserie concerts also returned. The cooperative moved its headquarters to the Festivities Hall and it held its member reunions there while other branches of the socialist movement, such as the party and the union, started organizing meetings there again, with the traditional May 1st celebration as their yearly highlight.
The movie theater as the associations’ financier
In the re-opened Cinema Vooruit thousands of visitors came to watch – mainly commercial – movies every week. The cooperative created the non-profit Volksontvoogding (Emancipation of the People) for the exploitation of Cinema Vooruit. It then distributed the revenue from the movie theater among the various socialist cultural organizations in the region. This is how the movie theatre became an important financier for the red associations and thanks to its non-profit structure, the cooperative avoided the tax on recreation. These associations were very grateful for the subsidies from Volksontvoogding and in return the cooperative counted on its members’ loyalty. They were expected to shop only in its stores and to have drinks only in its pubs.
The Festivities Hall as a beehive
After the war, the Multatulikring, Harmonie Vooruit, and the Rode Valken, once more transformed the Festivities Hall into a true beehive. A few new associations were also added to the mix. The Anseele Vrienden, for example, was a co-ed choir that held its rehearsals and often also performed there. At the Festivities Hall, the Studiekring Edward Anseele also analyzed all kinds of problems the cooperative was faced with, in order to improve its functioning. Once a month De Samenwerkster, a women’s league, held meetings in the Restaurant Hall for lectures, movie screenings or slide shows. For a short while, the Leesclub Boekuil organized lectures by famous authors such as Willem Elsschot and Louis Paul Boon at the Festivities Hall, but that didn’t last long because one could barely hear the writers speak through all the noise from the dancing people in the Restaurant Hall. In the early 1950s the library also returned to the Festivities Hall.
Bank van den Arbeid’s bankruptcy in 1934 and the Second World War were heavy losses for the cooperative and its patrimony emerged heavily damaged from the conflict. What the Germans did to the Festivities Hall was not pretty and the looting after their retreat had left behind tremendous havoc. Once the building was handed back over to the cooperative, it started a cleaning operation but lacked the resources to undertake a thorough rehabilitation of the building.
Loss of income & visitors
During the 1950s Vooruit seemed to recover, but then in the next two decades the cooperative deteriorated again. Thanks to higher living standards, workers now had a wider range of options for recreation. The new entertainment culture was more attractive to them than the often corny activities of the socialist associations, and of course there was television. All of this led to a steady decline in visitors to the Festivities Hall. Cinema Vooruit was no longer making a profit and there was no money to modernize the movie theater. After a while the chairs became decrepit, the smell unbearable and the temperatures Siberian. The few visitors that kept coming did so because of the low prices, the solid art house movie programming and the size of the venue - ideal for finding a spot to make out in peace. For the cultural associations that didn’t have much money to begin with, the decline of the cinema meant that they were slowly but surely losing their subsidies.
The decline of the building & the exodus of the associations
Because there was less and less money to upkeep the building, more and more spaces were abandoned. There were water leaks, the fire security was lacking and many associations started leaving the building. In the 1970s, the café was one of the few spaces in the building that still had visitors, but its lively days were long gone. The seniors’ weekly dance on Sundays was as exciting as it got.
From exhibition to rehabilitation
Everywhere in Belgium ‘Houses of the People’ were suffering the same faith and as cooperatives had a hard time staying afloat, neglect and dilapidation followed. Some ‘Houses of the People’ were repurposed, others were torn down and in the late 1970s demolition also loomed for Ghent’s Festivities Hall. In 1981 Proka, a center for artistic renewal, organized an exhibition about the Festivities Hall at the Royal Academy for Fine Arts. Photography students took impressionistic pictures in the many hallways and chambers of the building and those were showcased together with old archive photos. The promoters of the initiative wanted to draw attention to the architectural value of the Festivities Hall as they hoped it could be rehabilitated and once more start to attract many visitors.
The exhibition came just at the right time for a group of enthusiastic young people. They had been trying for a while to convince the cooperative to let them manage the lower hall in the back of the building so that they could breathe new life into it. After all, Ghent was confronted with an acute lack of cultural infrastructure. They were finally given the green light and in 1982 they created the non-profit Socio-cultureel Centrum Vooruit (Vooruit Socio-Cultural Center) who planned to rehabilitate the entire building and use it as a progressive artistic meeting center. Even though almost all of the board members were also prominent members of the socialist movement, the promoters of the initiative wanted to get rid of the building’s “Red” label. They stated that they were not members of the party and considered the de-pillarization of the Festivities Hall to be a priority. They meant business: to the consternation of some party militants, they banned all election materials from the building during that year’s municipal elections.
Clean-up of the building
The young troops started with a major clean-up of the building. Thanks to the high unemployment rates at the time there were more than enough volunteers, who literally took out loads and loads of trash. Many of them still remember the countless pigeon carcasses and kilos of pigeon droppings. The Restaurant Hall, the café and the lower hall were fixed up with money from various socialist organizations and from a fundraiser among Ghent’s inhabitants, so that the venues could be used again. To this day, many volunteers fondly remember those times - the enthusiasm, the creativity, the atmosphere, all ingredients of a probably romanticized memory.
Reopening of Vooruit: the ultimate meet-up place in Ghent
On September 17th, 18h and 19th of 1982, the building re-opened its doors. The public received a guided tour through the many hallways and chambers – speleology helmets included. There were performances, theater, and a ball for the elderly… The weekend was a success: it attracted thousands of visitors and massive media attention. During the weeks that followed the café was packed all over again. It became the ultimate meeting spot for anyone in Ghent who thought of themselves as progressive. After a few weeks pop and rock concerts began to be held in the lower hall.
The new Vooruit was mainly run by volunteers. In order to get some revenue the spaces were rented out for parties, dance and music classes and all kinds of other activities. Vooruit very much needed that revenue in order to maintain the building and to develop its own programming. In 1983 the Festivities Hall made the list of protected monuments, which then allowed the non-profit to claim rehabilitation subsidies.
The Festivities Hall was under development for a few decades. Architect Ro Berteloot, who specialized in rehabilitation work, managed the entire process. The state of the building was dramatic when he started: ‘It rained in the Sportzaal [currently Domzaal], through the Library and into the Ball room. The attics above the theater were filled with buckets and even tubs. […] The wooden frames were rotten, […] beyond repair or rehabilitation.’ First, he carried out urgent preservation works which were to protect the building from further deterioration. This was followed by a thorough rehabilitation during the 1990s that was carried out in phases. It was important for the building to remain accessible to the public throughout the entire process because the revenue was very much needed.
Façade, Café & Front of the building
They started with the façade: they cleaned it, treated it against humidity and repaired the masonry. Stainless steel rods were placed to keep the pigeons at bay and the roofs of the front part of the building were covered in red copper or lead during the first phase. The translucent dome of the Domzaal was replaced by a wooden roof structure containing lead, to keep out the noise from the city and the rain. The interior of the spaces in the front part of the building got most of their old splendor back. During the second phase, the rear of the building received treatment similar to the façade. The rehabilitation of the café took place in the third phase during the summer closure of 1994. Copies of the original wooden doors were installed, the floor was replaced with tile from the hallways toward the Theaterzaal, and the stairway to the Wintertuin was repaired. Tables and chairs that were made in Indonesia - based on the design of the old furniture, arrived later. The department store to the left of the Festivities Hall was tackled during the fourth phase, in what was more of a redesign, carried out by architect Luc Reuse: it now housed a new Box Office as well as office and meeting spaces. During the fifth phase the remaining roofs and exterior walls were tackled, as well as the annexes, while the dressing rooms, kitchens, dining halls and rehearsal spaces followed in the sixth phase.
Back of the building: Concertzaal & Theaterzaal
In 1998 the renovators were able to start working on the back of the building. The Concertzaal got a new hardwood floor and the walls regained their original color: pink – quite unique for a rock temple. A bar was added as well as a new broad entrance. In the Theaterzaal the chairs were replaced by identical copies of the old ones. The rehabilitation of the stained-glass ceiling was quite a feat as it had to be reconstructed from what was left over from the original pieces. The American manufacturers, who had built the original glass back in the day, provided the missing pieces. Finally, in September of 2000 the final completion of the rehabilitation could be celebrated. All in all it had cost over 12 million euro.
During the 1970s and 1980s new alternative cultural centers emerged in Belgium as an answer to classic cultural centers. Vooruit Socio-Cultural Center was one of them. It was not afraid of taking artistic risks, but it faced problems in terms of staff, finances and infrastructure and it functioned mainly with employees with precarious contracts and volunteers who were getting almost no compensation for all the work they were contributing. It wasn’t until 1986 that Vooruit started receiving subsidies from the Flemish government, and a little while later the City of Ghent and the Province of Eastern Flanders also started providing some funds. Because at first it received so little financial support from the government, Vooruit tried to generate as much of its own revenue as it could through hall rental and the café. Vooruit’s programming was very broad and it wasn’t very selective when it came to renting out its spaces – following a programming vision was not yet within reach. The first few years this resulted in chaotic diversity: concerts, bread lunches, experimental dance and theater, parties, aerobics - from kids to elderly people and from new wavers to punkers, they had a true motley of visitors. There was no money to expand the staff, as most of the revenue was used for the upkeep of the building, and therefore the arts center was not yet able to fully achieve its artistic ambitions.
Artistic policy first
Vooruit decided to change that. In 1988 Socio-Cultureel Centrum Vooruit (Vooruit Socio-Cultural Center) was renamed Kunstencentrum Vooruit (Vooruit Arts Center). From now on its own activities were to fit a specific profile and its artistic policy had to become the number one priority, with a focus on innovative work from various artistic disciplines. Vooruit was no longer just showcasing others’ productions, it was starting to (co)produce them. The building became a place where local and foreign artists could come together to work on productions. The staff shortage was now being felt more and more sharply and as the workload increased the atmosphere at times became tense. The artistic staff blamed the staff in charge of hall rental and hospitality for not putting enough effort into Vooruit’s own activities, and the hospitality staff were unhappy because they weren’t kept in the programming loop, but all this was resolved when clear arrangements about hall rental started being made.
The Podiumkunstendecreet (Decree on Performing Arts) of 1993 put Vooruit on the list of officially recognized and subsidized arts centers, placing the organization in a much better financial position. More staff were hired and Vooruit’s functioning became more professional. Just like other similar institutions, Vooruit shifted more and more toward the center of the arts world, and the rock-’n-roll style was replaced by a business approach. Throughout the 1990s Vooruit kept focusing on innovative performing arts. It had intense connections with theater companies in Flanders and the Netherlands, and with co-production support from the arts center, its own in-house company Blauwe Maandag Compagnie made Belgian theater history in 1997 with ‘Ten oorlog’, a twelve hour long adaptation of eight Shakespeare dramas by writer Tom Lanoye, and directed by Luc Perceval. Vooruit also showcased the diversity of the contemporary dance landscape, through work by many Belgian and foreign choreographers and dance companies, with Les Ballets C. de la B. as its main partner. The same innovative approach was found in Vooruit’s music programming, where it offered an adventurous mix of jazz, avant-garde rock and ethnic classical music.
Vooruit a beehive once more
On top of theater, dance and music, Vooruit also organized exhibitions, lectures, debates and post-performance discussions in order to provide interpretation and critical reflection along with its programming. For its hall rental it now made sure the activities were in line with its own programming. The building remained a beehive as it was still the favorite spot for parties and other activities among student organizations, LGBT organizations and groups such as Oxfam and Amnesty International. For a while the Vlaamse Opera held its lunch concerts at Vooruit and Behoud de Begeerte held its literary events there, while On the Rox brought Nirvana, Sinéad O’Connor and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Concertzaal stage.
Internationalization & professionalization
As it entered the twenty-first century, Vooruit continued to internationalize, and it developed a more intense project approach while focusing more on co-productions. Even though it was one of the best subsidized arts centers of Flanders, this still wasn’t enough to pay for the entirety of its functioning. More than other institutions, Vooruit generated its own revenue, through hospitality services, hall rental and box office sales. Another important step in that process was the creation of Yesplan, a spin-off that commercialized the planning software Vooruit had developed in collaboration with the software company Inceptive. All of this allowed Vooruit to hire more staff and to expand various departments, such as marketing, which helped the organization to become more professional.
Social involvement as a priority
On top of its continued innovative arts programming, space was (once more) created for social involvement. In 2003 ‘Oorlog is geen kunst’ (‘War is not art’), a demonstration against the impending invasion of Iraq, was a huge success. This made the arts center realize that it had focused too one-sidedly on its artistic programming and not enough on social involvement, so it started organizing lectures, discussions and debates about social themes – Middle-East reporter Robert Fisk and Egyptian activist Nadal el Saadawi were among the guests.
Today, with a staff of about 100 people and roughly 2,000 activities and 350,000 visitors each year, Vooruit Arts Center has become a major cultural institution. While it started out at the periphery of the Flemish performance landscape it has now become part of its core. Just like its predecessor, the Vooruit Festivities Hall, Vooruit Arts Center is a place of encounters, culture and social involvement. After more than one century above the Theaterzaal stage, the phrase ‘Kunst veredelt’ (Art ennobles), despite its pompousness, can today still be the motto of this cultural temple.
Text by Servaas Lateur - Amsab, Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis
Synopsis of the book Vooruit 1913-2013