Dutch creative industries: smart uses for disused urban spaces

By November 5, 2017Original Article

Photo by G.Lanting – Own work,
CC BY 3.0

After having completed a MA in Creative Industries in 2015/21061, I returned to my civil servant position at Arts National Foundation2 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was a hard task to face Brazilian reality again once I have experienced the Dutch mindset on Arts & Culture. At the same time, I realized that there is a huge gap between the two countries, far beyond the economic issues. For example, one of the most iconic Brazilian prisons – known as Carandiru Penitentiary3 – were the scene of a massacre of 111 prisoners, due to a riot in 1992. In 2002, after an intense debate on what should be the future of Carandiru, the state government decided to implode the building, except for a hidden wing that was left and adapted into an unimpressive museum. It seems Brazilian decision makers have opted to erase the past instead of fostering initiatives towards a resignification of the building, which could bring together the citizen participation.

In this sense, what I think Brazil should learn with the Netherlands is the interplay between cultural policies and the entrepreneurs/citizens. For example, on the oncoming of the contemporary world scenario, where overcrowded prisons take place in most countries, the Netherlands has been in evidence due to a declining rate of incarceration and the subsequent proposals for the reuse of the penitentiary buildings. In this regard, the domed prison in Breda named Boschpoort4 serves as a good starting point. Designed by J.F. Metzelaar around 1883, the domed prison follows the Panopticism principles: an all-embracing point of view which should maximize the surveillance methods. It can be understood as a classical use of social theory emerged first from the philosopher Jeremy Bentham and elaborated by Michel Foucault. Closed in 2014 and marked by a heavy past, the Boschpoort prison has flourished as a new cluster for start-ups ventures, centre for asylum seekers, escape games, among other uses5.

In the realm of the Creative Industries, I intend to develop a research (luckily a PhD, back in NL) focused on the diverse uses for closed prisons and the role of public policies in the emergence of citizen initiatives in order to re-use prisons for economic and social projects. The central question asks: what is the role of public policies in enhancing the attractiveness of cities for citizen initiatives? To answer this question, I would like to establish an innovative combination of a theoretical study of both public policies and regional development, focusing on citizen initiatives in an international comparative study of disused prisons in six diverse countries, as follows:

Place Prison Purpose
Continental Europe (the Netherlands) Breda > Boschpoort prison start-ups ventures, centre for asylum seekers, escape games;
Continental Europe (the Netherlands) Veenhuizen > Norgerhaven prison “importation” of prisoners from Norway;
Anglo Saxon world (US and UK) San Francisco > Alcatraz prison experience tourism, film locations;
Anglo Saxon world (US and UK) London > Tower of London historical tourism, museum;
Global South (French Guiana and South Africa) Devil’s Island exotic tourism, scenery for the Papillon novel;
Global South (French Guiana and South Africa) Robben Island ‘political’ tourism, Nelson Mandela was held there;

Lastly, I find it enriching to compare European countries with Brazil, taking into consideration that as a “Third World” country, many solutions are not necessarily to be grounded upon sophisticated technological apparatus, showing that creativity can emerge from social exclusion as we see illustrated during the Samba Schools parades, especially in Rio de Janeiro, a phenomenon which we could classify as part of our cultural legacy.

1 Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
2 Ministry of Culture of Brazil.
3 https://www.gutsandgore.co.uk/prisons/carandiru-prison/. Accessed 08 November 2017.
4 https://www.biedboek.nl/en/realestate/view/106/kloosterlaan-174-in-breda. Accessed 19 October 2017.
5 http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/912461/look-life-behind-bars-gets-new-twist-in-empty-dutch-prisons. Accessed 20 August 2017.

Jose Moreira's photo - creative industry innovation

Jose Moreira is an historian with an extensive experience in research activities on cultural entrepreneurship in developing countries. For the last decade, he has managed pilot projects in critical areas like the Amazon region, the Brazilian Northeast, amongst other social risk venues. Jose holds an MA in Creative Industries and is Post Graduated in Health Sciences/Cultural Accessibility.