Vereniging EHBK / OT301
Overtoom 301, 1054 HW Amsterdam
General Enquiries: ehbk(at)ot301.nl
Email contact Public spaces
Studios (Parties): party(at)ot301.nl
Studios (Concerts): concert(at)ot301.nl
Studios (Daytime programming): movementot301(at)live.com
Cinema of the Damd: cinemaofthedamd(at)gmail.com
4Bid Gallery (exhibitions, workshops): 4bidgallery(at)gmail.com
De Peper (vegan culture kitchen): de_peper(at)yahoo.com
AnaMorphic Rehearsal Studio: anamorphicstudio(at)gmail.com
Website designed by 310k.nl // Build by Usemedia
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OT301 is a nonprofit project in which public functions, work spaces and housing are combined to contribute to the fields of art, politics and subculture. The project is run by a diverse, international community that organises itself in an association called EHBK (Eerste Hulp Bij Kunst / First Aid in Case of Art).
Having started as a squat in 1999, OT301 today is collectively owned and committed to the values of autonomy and self-organization. Everything we do is based on the principle of inclusivity. All backgrounds, nationalities, genders, orientations and ages are welcome.
Please everybody, respect the following simple rules.
01) No drugs (dealing or using)
02) No tagging or graffiti in or on the building
03) No violence
04) No weapons
05) No noise or mess outside (respect our neighbors)
06) No stealing
07) No sexual aggression
08) No vandalism
09) No alcohol under 18 years
10) Follow instructions of OT301 crew when asked
11) No racism
12) Keep your drinks inside the building
13) Stay in public spaces, do not enter private spacesf!!
If we see/hear you breaking these rules we will ask you to leave our building.
In case of damage you will pay for fixing.
The OT301 is part of the collective project Amsterdam Alternative.
Autonomy - The Right to Self-Determination
What is the importance of autonomy to a site like OT301? According to sociologist and former squatter Erik van Duivenvoorden, autonomy’s significance is not easily definable in the context of an organization like OT301. According to Van Duivenvoorden there is a big difference between individual autonomy and collective autonomy and these two can be in strong opposition. Furthermore, it has become more and more difficult for the EHBK society to adhere to the old meaning of autonomy dating back to the Eighties, when autonomy meant operating independent of either state or market. This no longer applies to EHBK: now the society has become owner, it is committed to strict rules and it maintains relations with both the bank, the municipality and subsidy providers. To EHBK, the significance of autonomy sooner lies in the way in which it has succeeded in gaining a place in the city. The group that broke into OT301 to squat there, itself determined it needed space.
Autonomy to OT301 is then primarily autonomy in the practical sense: in varying ways, OT301 provides an alternative to existing commercial structures, for example by developing different ways of life and work, but also by handling food in a different way. According to some, OT301’s autonomy can therefore not become lost. It is rooted in the way that OT301 manifests itself, is organized and deals with space. Other members hold to a different view: they think that OT301 has its autonomy by committing to subsidies, mortgages, contracts and permits. From this standpoint, autonomy does equal complete independence from either state or market. The question is whether such a notion of autonomy offers a long-term guarantee in maintaining non-commercial space in the city. The current organization structure of EHBK/OT301, however much it is committed to financial and administrative duties, is offering that safeguard.
Context - Why Are You Here and Not Elsewhere
Different needs co-exist in a property like OT301. One tenant needs affordable workspace, while the other is actually in search of a dynamic environment and another wishes to live in an autonomous, political zone. For this reason, EHBK has consciously chosen an organization structure in which housing, work and public functions are combined. This means much is possible at OT301. At the same time there are many obligations. Agreements are laid down in contracts and both members and visitors have to abide by the house rules. As a society member you not only have to use the space effectively, but you are also expected to contribute to supporting the society as a whole. We take the premise that potential tenants chose this place conscientiously, but during introductory interviews we often find this not to be the case. One of the guests, Martijn Braamhaar, points out that it is also important to keep formulating what you are doing together, why and how. Braamhaar thinks the dialogue on this is missing at EHBK and says that the society has to work on improving its internal dynamics.
Apart from members, OT301 also has various permanent users. They might not be renting a permanent space, but organize events in the building for example. One of these people is Shane. Shane knows about OT301 from Stichting Studio’s weekend programme, but wasn’t aware of the organization’s size, despite knowing of its value. Shane thinks that OT301 has both a chaotic and unorganized appearance. According to him no transparent vision is being propagated. It is striking that Shane sees us in precisely the light we do not want to see ourselves, that being a city club venue. Shane thinks that OT301 can grow into one of the most important stages in town, especially in the music scene. OT301 should then improve its place on the map. Shane’s example illustrates that not everyone understands what OT301 actually stands for and that it isn’t apparent to everyone as a diverse organization where activities also take place outside of the weekend. The group needs to realize that it has to do something about this faulty representation by itself. For the very reason that members themselves have influence on how the property is presented.
The network - How to Build a Collective?
EHBK consists of a colourful collection of members who each have their own network. All these contacts put together could create one large collective network. How do you organize such a network? EHBK’s foundation is to give communal direction to the property, while maintaining individual autonomy is the prime objective. That forces you to work together. The search for connections between the various voices and initiatives, both in and outside the building, is of vital importance to the society’s coherence. The question is, however, whether this is actually happening. Practically speaking, members prove not to be keen on sharing their network with others and there is much division among them. One member says he doesn’t really feel welcome and often doesn’t understand why it is easier for one person to accomplish something than for someone else. According to some there is favoritism at play.
This course of events needs to be altered if you wish to operate as a true collective. To improve your network, you need to know who you are and why you do what you do. You have to capable of formulating where you want to head, why your advice could be beneficial to others and why exchanging knowledge and experience matter. Only in this way can you build a network that benefits your objectives. To EHBK, the challenge remains to invest in improving internal dynamics and strengthening the relationship with other initiatives. It is of course important to know what sets you as an organization apart from others and where the similarities lie. EHBK is not alone, but is itself part of a network in continual development. It needs to keep a critical eye on its own position within this network. This necessitates a shared vision.
What does self-management mean to EHBK? EHBK is not an individual project: it is a collaboration between various individuals and parties. Together they provide a diversified programme and see to it that the organization keeps running. OT301 exists by the grace of its user commitment. That was the case in the beginning and the way it is now. This also goes for all practical duties. The daily affairs are divided between the members through a system of commissions, which are each responsible for part of the organization and maintenance, such as the finances or the selection and acquisition of new members. This form of self-management cuts costs, but also has a downside: it is time-consuming and puts great pressure on members. The society will therefore attempt to distribute members’ duties more evenly across the 24 members after concluding the Overhaul trajectory.
EHBK has its own property and knows about legalization processes, building maintenance and collective organization. This is why OT301 has much broader political and social value than the designation ‘creative breeding ground’ alone might suggest. OT301’s struggle concerns the sharing of responsibility as a group and remaining independent. Not only has EHBK seen to it that the property wasn’t demolished, but it has also proven the possibility of acquiring a loan with a group of people without capital, with which a building can be purchased – at a prime location to boot. OT301 is an example of how to capitalize on political developments and how to accomplish things with the powers of thought and action. Incalculable values such as creative and social capital are inextricably connected with OT301. We are faced with the continuing challenge to also give communal shape to the building, the organization and the programming in the future. Because EHBK represents development and not stagnation. The property wasn’t bought to create an ‘ossified’ breeding ground, but to realize something that is in continuous flux. When it loses sight of that, the society will lapse into the conformity it has always wished to oppose.
These texts have been written by Nienke Jansen.
Published in the book ‘Autonomy by dissent’ in 2013.
The history of the OT301 takes the reader back to the squatting in 1999, the first rental contract, and finally, the purchase of the building in 2006, and the difficult choices that the association has had to face during this period, sometimes at the cost of ideological positions.
Formation of First Aid for Art Society
Although there was no official injunction against squatting, clearances were rife in the mid-Nineties. This made large squatting strongholds like ‘De Graansilo’ and ‘Vrieshuis Amerika’ disappear from the cityscape. Despite many of these properties being broken into again, with the intention of squatting, and there being a few new additions, few groups still managed to break into properties with cultural and social significance to the city. Because of the repressive policies, many young people who aspired to a different way of life moved away or established themselves on the city’s borders, on sites like ADM, the Amsterdam DIY Society.
In 1998 the situation changed, when a large, diversified group of artists and squatters rose up against the wave of clearances in the city. In a so-called council address they raised their issues with the city council. They called on politicians to end the clearance policy, which seemed solely focused on marginalizing subcultures in Amsterdam. The city visibly emptied out, space became more expensive and the atmosphere more hostile. To turn the tide – as their appeal read – a constructive planning policy for culture makers needed to be drafted.
The address proved effective: the politicians began to worry more and more about the decrease in the city’s cultural climate and more often saw the importance of in-house business sites for artists and starters. In 1999, this resulted in the establishment of Bureau Broedplaatsen (Breeding Grounds Bureau). The objective of Bureau Broedplaatsen, which formed part of the breeding ground policy implemented by the council, was two-fold. Firstly, the project was to seek out alternative locations for the cleared in-house business properties. Secondly, it was to develop policies that would lead to the expansion of available in-house business spaces for artists and starters. Under the heading of ‘No culture without subculture’ a plan of action was drafted, for which a million guilders was made available.
Despite the tough clearance measures, many artists and activists kept fighting for the maintenance of an affordable and less regulated culture supply and affordable in-house business space. A good example of this was squatters breaking into the ‘Anna en Maria Paviljoen’ in the Amsterdam-Oost district in 1998, better known as the ‘Onze Lieve Vrouwen Gasthuis’ hospital. This property quickly grew into a much frequented place providing refuge to many different groups. Infamous parties were organized, artists worked in studios, a gallery opened up, activists organised events and ‘De Peper’ began a vegan neighborhood kitchen.
In 1999, a number of regular users of the ‘Anna en Maria Paviljoen’ put their heads together to establish a new society aiming to break into a city-centre property and developing it into an alternative culture stage. This formed the birth of the First Aid for Art Society (EHBK). At the same time, there were talks with political representatives about the property’s future in Amsterdam-Oost. Despite assurances from Bureau Broedplaatsen and the positive reactions from the city council, it was nevertheless decided to clear the ‘Anna en Maria Paviljoen’. This resulted in a depressing end to a lively place in town.
The Film Academy Squat
EHBK was already on the look-out for a property in the city centre at the time. Thanks to coverage on Amsterdam’s city broadcaster AT5, the former film academy on Overtoom came into view. A golden opportunity: the property was vacant and had everything we wished a new property to contain. When all preparations had been made, the EHBK launched an appeal to gather on 14 November 1999 for the big break-in. Everything went according to plan and soon the property was ready to be opened to the public.
There was an energetic atmosphere in the property those first few weeks, not only because of the successful course of the break-in, but also because the property was at once accessible to everyone. Both the politicians and the press were kept informed from the beginning. In this way, we wanted to make sure a discussion came about concerning the realization of affordable in-house business space and approachable events stages in town. This succeeded: both politicians and journalists were very interested in our initiative and recognized its importance.
After the squat break-in, it became clear the property was still owned by the Amsterdam School of the Arts (AHK). In January 2000, it would be transferred to the urban district council that was planning to demolish it for the lay-out of a cycling path to the Vondelpark and construct expensive owner-occupied houses in its place. Therefore, it was far from clear we could stay. The district council projected three possible scenarios: a temporary contract would be offered, we were to deliver with vacant possession, i.e. have the place cleared, or the district would uphold the exemption status indefinitely. In principle, the urban district was prepared to condone our actions, on the condition that the district would not be held financially responsible.
Little had come of the new civil policy to create breeding grounds in different places throughout the city. Maarten van Poelgeest, alderman for GroenLinks, did promise that, together with PvdA colleagues Sybren Piersma and Duco Stadig, he would do his best in the city council to preserve the propert. Following the letter by Van Poelgeest and Piersma, the district council also expressed the wish to implement more amenities for beginning artists and artisanal businesses. From a just published report by sociologist Trevor Davies, who, by commission of the municipality, had studied the value of subcultures and breeding ground amenities, it also appeared that Amsterdam was running the risk of losing this important ‘breeding ground function’. In other words, the time seemed ripe for our initiative.
Despite the political support, we were confronted with an eviction order of Overtoom 301 on 14 December 1999. This was based on article 429, stipulating that the breaking into of a property that has been vacant for less than a year with the objective of squatting is illegal. Indeed, the building had been vacant for no more than three months. But the district’s plans for temporary occupation through anti-squatting sounded vague to us and – more importantly – we thought anti-squatting was not a structural solution to the lack of affordable space in the city. Squatting, however, did provide this solution in our opinion: the former film academy had at its disposal a large number of suitable spaces that could be let at low prices.
The politicians proved sensitive to this argument, as only a few days later the municipality put out a press statement stating that the property would certainly not be cleared before March 2000. This was confirmed by mayor Schelto Patijn. From an article in the Parool newspaper of 16 December 1999:
The squatters and artists of the former Film Academy on Overtoom will not be evicted from the property before March of next year, despite the letter from the Dept. Of Justice stating they have to leave this month. This was stated by mayor Patijn yesterday. He admitted that the property is very suitable as a breeding ground for artists – which the council wants in various places across town – but he thinks the squatters should not be allowed to jump the queue. The owner, the School of the Arts, wishes to use the property for student studios.
Patijn emphasized the importance he attaches to both breeding grounds and in-house businesses and argued in favour of a short-term start to implementing the plan of action concerning the breeding ground policy. The political will to realize a small-scale infrastructure for mostly non-commercial, cultural entrepreneurs was growing.
A Temporary User’s Contract
For the time being the property had been saved. However, we were obliged to enter into negotiations with the district on a temporary user’s contract, because an extension of the squatter status was not possible by law. Negotiations were tough. Not only was there external pressure, the society itself was also finding it difficult to agree amongst themselves about the course to take: to be conservative or focus on the future.
Part of the group did not want to talk to the district as yet, never mind how realistic the threat of clearance. These members thought the society had been confronted with a false choice: either to clear out or be legalized – there was no in between. It would be better to postpone the legalization process another year, so there would be more time to prove the importance of our initiative. The society’s negotiating position would be all the stronger for it.
Opposing this was a group wishing to sustain the dialogue with the city council and the district, because a clearance could not be prevented otherwise. Then the struggle would have been in vain: the objective of the squat was to realize a permanent location in the city. Political support was vital.
Others were against any form of negotiation, because we irrevocably stood to lose part of our influence over the property. Also, economic motives would gain the upper hand with possible legalization, meaning the society would become a miniature version of society at large.
Despite our differences of opinion, we always kept the dialogue with each other and district open. The Amsterdam School of the Arts wanted to get rid of the property and was obliged to deliver with vacant possession, while the district council wanted to leave us be – on the condition we would be prepared to pay rent. And we were, providing that the users’ income levels be taken into account, as also the plot’s state of repair and the necessary investments.
The price per square meter that the district demanded was, however, far too high in our eyes, because we had designated the large spaces in the building as public space. The district council took little notice of that choice and, during negotiations, emphasized the creation of workstations for artists and smaller companies. A tricky issue for us, because this shifted too much attention onto individual artists and entrepreneurs. The social component – the realization of new housing and creating space for non-commercial initiatives – disappeared from view. The urban district was not interested in supporting alternative culture and was wary of squatters.
For this reason it was sometimes complicated to keep the conversation with the district going. Nevertheless, we signed a letter of intent, in which we laid down that both the EHBK society and the district council were prepared to come to an arrangement. A crucial part of the letter of intent was the agreement that the Amsterdam School of the Arts would not deliver the property in vacant possession to the district, but that it would take over the property from the School of the Arts with us in it. Apart from the declaration with the district, we also signed a statement with Bureau Broedplaatsen, which stipulated that the property could be used by the EHBK society for the period of five years for their breeding ground activities. The district would, facilitated by a financial contribution from Broedplaatsen, be able to make the property both wind, water and fireproof.
The contract that the district offered us was valid for two-and-a-half years, with the possibility of an extension after evaluation and contained a rental fee of 50 guilders per square meter. With this contract the district enabled the society to prepare for a payment of rent on a monthly basis. After this period a better assessment could be made of the society’s financial capacity and what costs would be incurred along the way. EHBK was prepared to support this proposal.
The result of the negotiations, along with a financial underpinning, could soon be submitted to both the district and city councils. Only after their approval could the financial contribution from the Bureau Broedplaatsen be awarded to the district.
Like It or Lump It
However, by November 2000, the contract had still not been signed. This was mostly contributable to delays in the decision-making process in the various executive boards. But it was also because the district Oud-West had sent us a new, revised contract in October, which contained a number of amendments that we found wholly unacceptable.
Amongst others, the contract stipulated that the living and public spaces had to disappear and it only provided for temporary use. This went against our own concept and the breeding ground policy wishing to stimulate breeding grounds’ public function and only wanting to support permanent projects. Also, in determining the rent sum, the district based their calculations on the property being in a good state of repair. That was by no means the case: there was much overdue maintenance. Furthermore, the district gave us no guarantees as to the nature and time frame of the renovations. The district council presented this new contract as an accomplished fact. Not signing it would lead to clearance, even though there was a detailed letter of intent countersigned by both the district and Bureau Broedplaatsen to reach an agreement suitable to all parties concerned. The proposed contract did not meet these criteria and seemed only to exist to safeguard the district’s legal position. We, as a society, would not gain any rights in the process. We let the district know we were unable to sign the contract offered. This led to a statement by telephone that there was no room for further negotiations. The contract needed to be signed within a fortnight, otherwise the district would not rule out clearance. An incomprehensible position, as OT301 had within a short space of time grown into an invaluable stage in the city, which drew much attention by both the public, media and politicians.
We decided to seek out the media. In October 2000, we distributed a press release entitled ‘like it or lump it’. In it, we explained how the district council was pressuring us into signing a contract that completely went against our concept and how bitterly disappointing it was in the light of what we had already achieved. The city council had after all called us a shining example of the breeding ground policy. We thought, therefore, that it was the responsibility of the city council to help realize this breeding ground – the first of their brand-new policy – and jointly find a way out of the conflict with the district council.
Against this background – failed negotiations, a painful start to the breeding ground process and the threat of clearance – a public debate was organized in January 2001. The question at the heart of this debate was why the occupied film academy, by then of lasting value to Amsterdam’s subculture, was being threatened with clearance. The debate was an attempt to break through the impasse in negotiations concerning the realization of a breeding ground in the former film academy.
Taking part in the debate were district chairman Hans Weevers, Jeroen van Straten of Bureau Broedplaatsen and representatives of in-house business property the ‘Kalenderpanden’. Both the district chairman Hans Weevers and Jeroen van Straten made positive contributions concerning the progress and future plans for our project. The debate’s result was that all three parties would resume negotiations.
And with success: in November 2001, after heavy negotiations, a user’s contract was signed for all parts of the plan: both housing, work and public activities. A week after signing the contract the district announced that the intended demolition had been definitively cancelled. The district wished to preserve the property as a permanent breeding ground.
A New Vision
Even though, partially thanks to a municipal investment, we had managed to guard the property against demolition, this did not mean the struggle against free-market processes was over. The rising lease prices for institutes, companies and shops had made the supply in the city increasingly one-sided and chased both social, small-scale and divergent initiatives out of town. Like any collective wishing to provide an alternative to the mainstream, we had to arm ourselves against the advancing market forces. The moment had arrived to research what our communal vision on this struggle was to be. Even though a clearance had been averted for the time being, it still remained necessary to safeguard our independent position. After all, contracts and municipal subsidies threatened to institutionalize the project. A partial vision of what bound us together and the way in which we wanted to further develop ourselves and our organization would strengthen our position.
For this reason we decided to organize a vision workshop in 2002. This firstly addressed our conference culture. From the outset we had had to fight for the property’s preservation. That often entailed daily meetings. The squat and the ensuing political struggle demanded complete dedication from some people within the society, meaning that their own activities suffered under the strain. A solution had to be found for this. After all, we were not squatting in this property to provide a platform for the work of others. We also wanted to produce and present our own work there. That is why we decided to change the consensus model, by which the society had functioned from the squat break-in up until the first lease, into a model based on a voting majority. This would restrict the conference burden.
Another problem raised during the vision workshop was the split within the collective between members in favour of legalization and members principally opposed to this. When EHBK signed the contract with the district, the decision had been made to accept the difference of opinion on the matter within the collective. As a consequence, we were entirely at odds at every meeting. This led to many conflicts within the group. These sometimes concerned practical matters, such as the distribution of costs, and also often ideological concerns, as for example working with subsidies or the question whether we would use the brand name ‘breeding ground’.
The society’s structure was also discussed. We briefly considered changing our legal status. However, we still preferred the society status, because it was less formal and every member in a society has a vote. This prevents decisions from being taken without a consensus. We came to the conclusion that even as a society it was possible to guarantee a lasting and independent position.
The workshop led to a new vision on the collective, which formed a good basis for the program and public activities we wanted to organize. At the squatted property of Overtoom 301, EHBK would bring together a wide range of activities that were both self-willed, experimental and most of all in development. No and low budget projects that could not survive without a low rental rate. The society would come to function as an umbrella for various initiatives by individual artists or collectives. The society expressly wished to be able to maintain the property under their own supervision. Everyone had to settle for the fact we as a collective had decided to use the property in this way. This decision stands to this very day.
2002 saw the beginning of a period of renovations and alterations. Through self-maintenance we managed to keep costs down. From the outset it was our objective to share all expenses. However, it proved difficult to find a fair distribution code for the various spaces. Every type of use burdened the property in a different way. For this reason, a system was chosen in which different rates were charged for different functions. For instance, people living in the property had to pay more than those only using the space for work purposes. The idea behind this was that someone living in the property uses more gas, water and electricity.
We decided to subsidize the public spaces internally, because these spaces were the largest and therefore the most expensive and had yet to be developed, making their approachability important. This distribution code allowed us to fairly distribute the burden of the rising rent, without making too high demands on the users and their projects. In this way we could keep supporting the subcultural, cultural and artistic circuit and maintain our independence.
In the first phase of the renovation the asbestos was removed, amongst others. This had direct consequences for the fire safety of the public spaces, as proven by a fire inspection in October 2002: the property was declared completely unsafe. This forced EHBK to put a halt to all public activities. Payment of the monthly rent was suspended in consultation with the district council. After some pressure the district resumed the renovation work. We agreed to subdivide the renovation work, so that the building’s ground floor could be reopened to the public as soon as possible. In the end, OT301 would remain closed for a year.
Despite the renovation not having been completed, the doors were reopened to the public in October 2003. The official reopening of the building followed on 1 May 2004. The district was by then on side and had proclaimed themselves unequivocally in favour of the presence of a collective such as OT301 in the district and the city. In the words of district council member Weevers:
The creation and rise of OT301 is a textbook example of an unplanned, autonomous, yet valuable development. An example also of a successful cooperation between the central city, squatters and artists and the urban district.
All in all, in 2004 we had transformed, in the eyes of the district, from a bothersome group of squatters into an interesting acquisition for the Oud-West district. We had managed to prevent a clearance, a temporary lease had been signed and we had succeeded in formulating a communal vision. The planned cycling lane had been cancelled and made way for affordable in-house business spaces and a properly functioning infrastructure for non-profit cultural organizations. At OT301, an exceptional subcultural environment was being given the chance to develop. And all this at an expensive location. Now the district had made it known they wished to realize a permanent breeding ground with EHBK, it appeared increasingly likely that we would be allowed to stay for good.
This heralded another very intensive period, in which the group still struggled with mutual distrust. Some of the mainstays within the organization, many of whom had been active since the very beginning, had by then left the project. An executive committee was set up, responsible for the running of the organization. The committee was paid by the society and had to take care of the renovations, the administration and steering the next negotiation phase, concerning a new lease, in the right direction.
Apart from an executive committee, a process manager, namely Jaap Draaisma, was appointed. There were not only the alterations to be considered, but also the continuation of negotiations on the new contract. Our objective was a long-term agreement and so we registered the competences and responsibilities of all parties concerned to prevent any conflict. Both the district, the EHBK society and Jaap Draaisma and Bureau Broedplaatsen would see to it that these agreements would be honoured. In case of discord, the first thing on the agenda would be to search for a solution. Until this was found, negotiations would be suspended.
From Lease to Sale
Despite the agreements made and the presence of a process manager, both preparations and discussions were difficult. Thijs Jonkers, the interim manager at the time entering into negotiations with us, took a tough and business-like negotiation approach on behalf of the district. Despite the positive statements by district council chairman Wevers, the district committee inclined towards the point-of-view that it was not part of his core business to lease property and support a breeding ground.
Partly because negotiations on a new contract were so awkward, EHBK came to the conclusion in 2005 that sale would provide the only guarantee for a permanent breeding ground. We wanted to preserve the location for the city of Amsterdam and were not convinced that the politicians would be able to safeguard the existence of OT301. If we took ownership of the property ourselves, we could have everything under our own control. To buy the property, the contract would have to be amended. The contract we had been offered had a duration of 15 years. We did not consider this to be long enough. We demanded a contract lasting 30 years and a ground lease period of 50 years, on top of a cost-effective lease without a profit motive. In other words: the district would have to actively support the designated use as a breeding ground.
In the first instance, the district refused to take us seriously as buyers: they openly doubted the solvency of the society and its members. To remove the district’s distrust, we explained we were squatting this property for the long haul. That realizing a permanent facility for Amsterdam’s subculture had always been our objective. And that a motion tabled by GroenLinks and Leefbaar Amsterdam – both political parties on the city council – had eased the acquisition of the ground lease for a number of breeding grounds in the Oud-West district. There were opportunities to be had.
Furthermore, we stated that OT301 had long since become a fixture in the neighborhood due to its idealistic and self-willed character. Although there was still much work to be done, both in the organization and on the property itself, we had made much headway in many areas. Research into alternative means of finance had been carried out and this had shown there were possibilities for co-financing by Triodos Bank in cooperation with other in-house business properties.
The council committee said they would take our proposal under advisement and, a little while later, gave us the opportunity to put forward a bid by 1 January 2005. Because a feasible plan had to be presented, we asked the district for more time to prepare. In the end they gave us a year to look for funding: it had to be arranged by 1 February 2006. The asking price was € 900,000. According to the housing associations this was the property’s market value. While we prepared the property’s sale, negotiations with Thijs Jonkers on a long-term lease continued as normal.
The acquisition plan sustained a blow when it transpired it was hardly a matter of course for EHBK to be given the opportunity to place a first bid. A rumour was doing the rounds that the district wanted to hive off their realty as quickly as possible. But leasing from an association or commercial party was not an option for us, as we wanted to acquire the ground lease. Bureau Broedplaatsen supported our case. The annual report of 2004 had shown that they were in favour of letting land on a long lease, providing it concerned an active group. In Jaap Schoufour’s eyes (of Bureau Broedplaatsen) we were exactly that. But negotiations with the district council faltered. To find a willing ear we needed to take it further.
Again we entered into a discussion with district chairman Weevers on the order of business concerning the sale, the current lease and the zoning plan. The district still took the view that it was a misunderstanding that EHBK would be the first to be considered in the property’s sale. We thought this was incomprehensible. The property simply would not have existed anymore without EHBK. Thanks to our activities the property had prospered. That the district did not want to give us the right of first refusal, but instead was planning to sell the plot at market value – or expressly kept that possibility alive – worried us greatly. Our continued existence was at stake. A commercial party would of course be interested solely in the property if it was in some way profitable. This clashed with our objective of using the property as a permanent breeding ground. The district was bound to their pledge of realizing a permanent breeding ground. If the district only wished to commit to us for five years and then sell it at market value, this pledge would be broken.
This proved a reason for the district to change tack. In December, we received a letter containing an offer of sale. We thought the price too high and so made a counter offer, based both on the expenses the district had made in buying the property – at least, in as far as we had managed to find out – and the expenses we ourselves would incur to acquire the plot and restore it to a good state of repair. We estimated that the district’s cost of acquisition amounted to € 490,000. Because we were keen on reaching an agreement we raised our offer to a total € 500,000. On 8 February we received a reply: the district council had approved our counter offer.
Having struck this deal, we went in search of a bank willing to finance the sale. We talked to various banks, among which ASN-SNS, ABN Amro, Rabobank, ING and Triodos Bank. In the end, Triodos Bank put their trust in us. EHBK’s total loan on mortgage amounted to € 625,000. Part of this was reserved for the acquisition, the costs pertaining to the transaction and the work needed to clear the property of overdue maintenance. Part of the sum was set aside in a building depository and would be used to make the property ready for use.
The property was sold to EHBK explicitly as a breeding ground. On 31 July 2006, EHBK’s board signed the ground lease contract. The collective struggle for preservation of the property having begun on Sunday 14 November 1999, had been concluded. EHBK had become the property owner. We could now continue and further develop our activities with confidence.
Prizes and Nominations
Late 2006, we were informed that the Amsterdamse Fonds voor de Kunst (Amsterdam Art Fund) had awarded us the Amsterdam Prize. The prize consisted of a sum of € 35,000. The committee stated that OT301 as a cooperative made an exceptional, contemporary and cross-border contribution to the arts in Amsterdam:
OT301 is both a catalyst and outboard motor that stimulates new cultural impulses from various disciplines and functions as a mediator between (international) artists and visitors in Amsterdam. Furthermore, it is a site where thought and action are joined together and where the task has been taken on to ‘jolt Amsterdam awake’. They successfully combine various disciplines and all their cross-overs under one heading and this multiformity is, according to the jury, a great asset to Amsterdam.
The prize was given to us on the main stage of the new Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ by mayor Job Cohen. Shortly afterward, Amsterdam decided to nominate the EHBK society for the title of ‘Amsterdammer’ of the year 2006. This award was not won, but it illustrates the transformation that the EHBK society had gone through over the years: from a troublesome, critical group of squatters to an established name with the public, the art world and the politicians.
For quite a while, things had looked quite differently. If the district’s civil servants had had their way the old film academy on Overtoom would have been demolished. Then a cycling path would have been laid on the site of the monumental property and a hideous new-build would have been erected in its place. Without the neighborhood’s sympathies we would not have succeeded either: the local inhabitants had been against demolition and wanted to retain OT301’s public function as much as we did. And with Bureau Broedplaatsen, the politicians had once again opted in favour of the creation of in-house businesses for artists, albeit with more regularized use.
Waning Interest within the Collective With the sale of the property, the awarding of the Amsterdam prize and the nomination for the title of Amsterdammer of the Year behind us, the group became ever more inward-looking. Many people are tired of all the excitement and stress and lock themselves away in their studios to be able to focus themselves on their own work again in peace and quiet. An understandable reaction, but unfortunate nevertheless. After all, the only way we had been able to buy the property was thanks to a good self-maintenance plan, which had kept the purchase price down. It was essential that every member dedicated themselves to the organization at this time. However, meetings were attended by increasingly fewer members and there was much discord among the members themselves. The group’s composition changed. A new crop of tenants arrived who were less well informed about the rules and regulations. We were also faced with substantial arrears of rent, which put pressure on our exploitation budget. After the sale, communication with the district had dissipated, many civil servants who had experienced the process at close quarters having left by that time and the district itself being in the process of reorganization.
As the property’s owner, EHBK was responsible for all complaints and problems caused by its members. The pressure of work had increasingly fallen on the shoulders of the by then depleted board, while demands where permits, safety and finances after the sale were concerned had only become stricter. Also, visitor numbers to our public activities increased. We had not succeeded in keeping this onrush and its negative consequences in check. More often, neighbours called the district with complaints and more often we had visits from the police and inspectors. In 2009, the district informed us our user’s permit was at risk if the inconveniences continued. It therefore became urgent to curtail our activities and improve supervision.
But this was not all. Because of the sudden passing away of our treasurer, it became clear how deplorable OT301’s financial situation actually was: there was an acute cash flow problem. If we did not take action there was a good chance that the society would be bankrupted. It was absolutely necessary that the members became fully aware of this. During the golden period between 2004 and 2009, when the subsidies and prizes flooded in, we had closed our eyes to the mismanagement – also because we were convinced that ultimately we would find a common solution. Reality proved less rose-tinted.
Partly due to growing outside pressure, we succeeded in gaining more command over our members and calling them to account. Organizational renewal was also taking place. In 2009, a new board and a new chair were installed. The board had the task of mapping out the total debt owed and rejuvenating the society’s financial position. Sorting out the numbers and handling all the interviews took a whole year. After that, the board presented some improvements. The members would transfer their rent directly to the bank as of 2010. The days you could pay the rent in cash were over. We agreed on a repayment plan with the individual members. Finally, it was decided to completely computerize EHBK’s administration and to contract out.
Also, the board developed a new proposal to distribute the rental rate and the property’s other expenses. The rent was being distributed through an outdated system. One item in need of restructuring was the rental system of the public spaces. The tenants of these still enjoyed an internal housing benefit that we had instituted back in 2004. The idea behind the original arrangement – the public spaces had to be able to develop without too much financial pressure – had been overtaken by reality in 2009, because the public programming was running well. For this reason, every tenant would from then on pay a rate per square metre. For the most part, this was a fair and reasonable decision for the tenants. This caused the relationship between EHBK and its members to become more business-like, more formal.
Even though the new board, made up of society members, had created stability, there were still great challenges ahead. New legislation had made the use of a cultural property more complex and due to social, economic and political changes, financial means - such as subsidies – had grown scarce. Bank interest rose and we were obliged to begin paying off the mortgage. Instigated by the board to formulate an answer to these developments, we began the ‘De Overhaal’ (Overhaul) procedure in 2011, which aimed to involve members more in both the organization and projected course of OT301. ‘De Overhaal’ would, in the board’s view, work as true portage: a conveyance mechanism to haul a boat across a dam and lift it onto an ultimately higher plane – and into smooth waters.
This text has been written by Nienke Jansen. Published in the book ‘Autonomy by dissent’ in 2013.