Their Way: Elders Collectief

Their Way: In Conversation With Elders Collectief

With ‘Their Way’ Keytrade Bank and Horst inspire their shared philosophy of entrepreneurship and innovation through an interview series.

Published on
28.9.21

Words by Evelyn Simons
Photos by Illias Teirlinck

Keytrade and Horst share DIY entrepreneurship as a common denominator. With ‘Their Way’ they inspire their shared philosophy through a content series. ‘Their Way’ offers the stories of DIY entrepreneurs at the forefront of art, architecture and music. We delve into the messy, yet inspiring and insightful process of entrepreneurship. We celebrate and feature compelling stories, challenging initiatives and examples of integrity from around the world.

This month, we visited Elders Collectief (Elders Collective), a brand new non-profit organisation for visual arts in Kortrijk. We talked to Laure Decock, one of the initiators and also curator of the kick-off exhibition Alles Stroomt, on view until 24 October in the streets of downtown Kortrijk.

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Horst: Thank you for making time for us on this busy day of the vernissage, in the last quiet minutes just before the storm. Can you tell us a bit more about your organisation?

Laure: Elders is a non-profit nomadic collective that presents contemporary art in Kortrijk and the surrounding region. The project evolved from Avee Gallery, an art gallery run by Petrus Paklons and Matthieu Ronsse, who have been initiating art projects in Kortrijk with great enthusiasm and vision for some time now. Kortrijk is known to be home to many art collectors, but there is a lack of a continuous visual arts operation. I don't want to detract from the current artistic landscape of Kortrijk, because there is already a lot going on here: the Triennial Paradise (previously PLAY), and all sorts of interesting institutions that are, however, more focused on production than on presentation, such as BUDA, the City Theatre, Theatre Antigone, etc. What we will do specifically is organise three exhibitions per year, as well as forming the glue between all the initiatives that are already present on the other. We cluster the latter in an almanac: a collective monthly calendar with which we want to attract people for artistic day trips to our city. In the future, we will also focus more on artist residencies.

Horst: Kortrijk is Elders’ reason for existence, and also the focal point of your activities. Why this choice?

Laure: I grew up here myself and lived here until 2006. After I moved to Ghent and subsequently to Brussels, I became a bit of an outsider in my own city. However, the person I am now, and what I do in life, has been largely defined by where I come from. The art scene in Kortrijk was the gateway to a bigger world for me: I saw fantastic performances in De Kreun, did the box office at Cinema Budascoop, was an exhibition guard at NEXT Festival, and so on. In a similar way, I hope for Elders to inspire young people, show them that there is more out there, beyond the city’s perimeters. Kortrijk is inspiring, but it is also a fairly monocultural city, which is why we feel the urgency of bringing in some diversity and building bridges.

Horst: Elders Collective was founded during the lockdown, a period marked by isolation, and yet it is so unifying: Brussels with Kortrijk, artists among themselves, the people behind the scenes who decide to work together, how did all these connections come about?

Laure: Petrus and I have known each other for a very long time. His Avee Gallery ran more on his personal budget, goodwill and trust of the artists, than on income from sales. There was a kind of urgency to restructure the whole thing, and try out a new direction with non-commercial activities. My background in the Brussels gallery scene (I previously worked at Meessen De Clercq, Almine Rech, Baronian Xippas and also Axel Vervoordt in Antwerp), as well as my urge to explore a different side of the art field, led him to involve me. The rest of the collective joined quite organically.

There are now eight of us in total. Hélène Depondt is the heart of our non-profit; she opened her house and especially her kitchen to the team and the participating artists of the first exhibition. Everyone was able to stay there overnight, rest by the pool after the construction days, and be served the most delicious meals (Hélène is a trained chef herself). She provides the warmth of Elders, and makes Kortrijk a home for so many. She’s also an art collector actually, so art always had an important presence in her life. Koen Titeca is head of the psychiatric ward at the hospital AZ Groeninge in Kortrijk and also a collector. In addition to having his own private collection, he also manages the hospital’s remarkably impressive collection, together with a working group.Siska Bulkens is another young, atypical art collector (I told you there were a lot of them here), who distinguishes herself with her cleverly conceived and daring collection. She does nothing but visit exhibitions and galleries worldwide, collecting in depth and thus supporting artists in a sustainable way. Brecht Saelens joined the team a bit later: after studying at the Sotheby's Institute, he stayed in America for a long time. He is now back in Kortrijk, and takes on the role of critical eye and outside voice. Louis-Philippe van Eeckhoutte is also present, an independent curator with a history in the gallery business, who equally has an active social media presence, and who does conversations with artists on his platform Drawing Room Play, and advises us on content. Finally, there is Joachim Coucke, artist and curator of Liebaert Projects, an art space founded by collectors who want to exhibit other things than merely their own collection. Petrus brought us all together in the middle of the pandemic for the project "Sorry We Are Claus": artists exhibited a photograph of one of their works in the shopfronts of closed cafés. The project beautifully activated these empty spaces and managed to do so with an impressive list of talented artists. The eagerness of artists from outside of Kortrijk to do something in this far-off city became apparent.

"In a similar way, I hope for Elders to inspire young people, show them that there is more out there, beyond the city’s perimeters." - Laure Decock

Horst: How do you find a balance in dividing tasks and responsibilities in such a large team?

Laure: Our meetings and brainstorms started in September 2020, of course at Hélène's home outside by the fireplace, after which we met monthly. There were a ton of ideas, the common thread being to do something in Kortrijk. We all made a list of what we could invest ourselves, in terms of time, energy, but also our own resources, while also exploring what we wanted to get out of it on a personal level. I had never curated an exhibition before, and that had been on my bucket list for a long time. It's great that this context gave me the support and confidence to experiment with that. We will see what the future brings and how we will organise ourselves, but one thing is for sure: we want to connect, and strive for the same artistic mission. Because this is Kortrijk after all. For many people, it’s far away. It’s elsewhere (elders).

Horst: So many collectors, so many dynamic artists, you would think that this is a perfect breeding ground from which to develop a commercially lucrative business? Why did you go for a non-profit structure?

Laure: The non-profit model allows us to apply for grants and set up a structural, continuous operation. Hybridity informs all of our activities: both on an artistic level as well as on an economical one. For instance, we want to attract entrepreneurs to support our activities, by proposing a range of different sponsoring deals. This allows us to combine various forms of revenue. I strongly believe in a 'best of both worlds' scenario, a belief that also stems from my previous position as fundraiser at WIELS. Public money is necessary and allows us to work "independently", while private funds can quickly give impetus to a project and generally generate more freedom. Entrepreneurs love to take risks. The public Flemish funds for contemporary art are very limited, so we don’t feel like counting 100% on them, fishing for the same fish as our colleagues in the field. For a young organisation like ours, that actually also doesn’t make any sense. We have to build our story before we’re eligible for state support. Companies and entrepreneurs can respond much quicker; they are more closely involved and can commit on a personal level.

"We will see what the future brings and how we will organise ourselves, but one thing is for sure: we want to connect, and strive for the same artistic mission. Because this is Kortrijk after all. For many people, it’s far away. It’s elsewhere (elders)." - Laure Decock

Horst: Still, contemporary art is not an easy story to sell, how do you convince people to get on board?

Laure: First of all, of course we strongly believe in our concept, it is much easier to sell something that you yourself fully support. In addition, there are eight of us: eight networks that bundle together and know how to convince each other. There is a lot of word to mouth. In addition, we consider ourselves equally as entrepreneurs in this project: people who have taken the risk to set up something new. In recent months, I have given the best of myself for Elders: free of charge and without any security for remuneration. That may sound reckless, especially in these unstable times, but I am doing it because I actually believe it will yield a lot: a creative outlet for both myself and the collective, a new platform supporting artistic talent, and a fresh dynamic and new attraction for Kortrijk.

Horst: How did you approach this practically? On the one hand, you take the plunge into uncertainty and work for free, but on the other hand, you had to organise an exhibition, which means motivating and mobilising people.

Laure: Throughout the process, I have always been clear and transparent with everyone involved. After eight years in the arts, I obviously have a pretty solid network, including many talented artists who luckily trust me and were ready to jump in together. For each step, we conceived two possible approaches, since the budgets we had applied or lobbied for weren’t yet confirmed. I came up with a plan A - the ideal scenario (what we could achieve if the money came in), and a plan B - bare-minimum option, for each artist. Fortunately, the project finally went break-even (excluding remuneration for the collective itself), but we have now shown what we want to do, and hopefully have earned some confidence. Now that we have this first exhibition as a reference, we can proceed with more requests for support, both from the city and the private sector, as well as on a public Flemish and European level.
Apart from these financial risks, it has also been a personal challenge for me, a rite-de-passage so to speak. Coming home to the city where I am from, where I had my first love, and now am curating my first exhibition. I could not have done this without a solid support circle around me: people who believed in me, and encouraged me to go for it and trust myself.

Horst: Can you tell us a bit more about the exhibition ALLES STROOMT?

Laure: The title refers to panta rhei, the philosophical concept of Herakleitos that describes how everything is constantly changing: a river flows, while we as humans are also in constant evolution. Two moments in time can never be the same. During the lockdown, I developed the new habit of walking a lot and listening to podcasts. Institutions and galleries were closed, there was hardly any chance to experience art. I departed from these realities and curated an exhibition with works installed in empty shop fronts throughout the city centre of Kortrijk. ALLES STROOMT can be visited while listening to a podcast composed and recorded by singer Laura Huysmans, saxophonist Mattias De Craene and pianist Maya Dhondt during a residency at music centre Track in De Kreun. Their music is interspersed with interviews of the participating artists, who talk about their practice. Honestly, I consider music to be a grateful lubricant for communicating thoughts: everyone reacts instantaneously to music, it needs no explanation, nor does it have to represent anything else. It is an ideal Horse of Troy so to say to open up an audience and generate access to contemporary art. Because of its physical manifestation in six shop windows, the exhibition can be viewed day and night, which results in an audience that is difficult to measure, but also extremely diverse. The installations are all site-specific, in symbiosis with the space, and will also change and evolve throughout the exhibition.

"Honestly, I consider music to be a grateful lubricant for communicating thoughts: everyone reacts instantaneously to music, it needs no explanation, nor does it have to represent anything else. It is an ideal Horse of Troy so to say to open up an audience and generate access to contemporary art." - Laure Decock

Horst: How does it feel not to work for a boss anymore?

Laure: It is risky and a bit scary, but it is fantastic. I wouldn't go back to a classic employee-employer situation. Setting your own agenda can be a pitfall, especially with this kind of project that thrives on wild passion, but you don’t have to forget to write an invoice from time to time. Finding that balance between working from inspiration and a sense of freedom, while making yourself profitable.. Let's say I’m not quite there yet. But I did make a radical decision: I no longer want to work on projects that are not in line with my own principles and ethics. I want to take risks, and be thoroughly challenged in terms of ideology and artistic vision.

Horst: Any tips for young entrepreneurs?

Laure: Surround yourself with people you trust, and with whom you can brainstorm in depth about the content, so that you can go further than you think you would dare!

ALLES STROOMT
A project by Elders Collective,
with Martin Belou, Paulien Föllings, Philip Janssens, Camille Le Meur, Sarah Margnetti, Marina Pinsky.
Curated by Laure Decock.
Runs until 24 October 2021 in the city center of Kortrijk.
More information: https://elderscollectief.be/Alles-Stroom
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