Summer’s here! DOK Ghent

The site at the Old Docks in Ghent is now made publically accessible for the 5th time. The opening of the site is the result of cooperation between DOK (nonprofit organization), the City of Ghent and the local city development agency (sogent). The terrain is lent by sogent from 2014 to 2016 onwards and the coordination is co-financed by the City of Ghent.

DOK provides for the temporary use – up until the incipience of the project developer’s construction works – of the terrain at Koopvaardijlaan in Ghent. Liesbeth Vlerick, co-ordinator of DOK, sketches the identity of one of the pioneers of temporary use in Ghent.

Bringing summer feeling since 2011

Since June 2011, DOK transforms the abandoned site into a lively and inspiring meeting place. It is a platform for creation and a working place, but at the same time DOK is a public place with large and smaller events for all ages. In short, everyone is welcome. A bunch of organizations, residential neighbors and upcoming artistic talents and companies are involved in making the project what it is and what it has been the past four years.

IMG_2551_web (c) Michiel Devijver

Founding organizations of DOK are CirQ, Democrazy and Ladda:

  • CirQ is a production company that exists of a collective of likeminded people with different backgrounds and specializations. From professors to actors and graphic designers, they are all connected by a love for exuberant performance and absurd humor.
  • Democrazy is a music club with activities and concerts on a few places in Ghent. The club is licensed and subsidized within the Decree of Arts. The npo receives support from the City of Ghent.
  • Ladda is an organization that is enthused by societal evolutions and how the youth is influenced by those changes. They were licensed and subsidized by the Flemish Community (more specifically the Youth department). In 2013, however, Ladda put an end to its activities.

The goal of the cooperation between those organizations is to create a ‘hiring site for encounters, recreation and creative maneuvers’. On the one hand, that translates to the development of a safe and attractive recreational zone of meeting space. On the other, it is also a platform for creation, participation and experiment; a place for anyone who is looking for cooperation and inspiring cross-pollination. DOK explicitly does this by hosting and inviting new initiatives, starting organizations and projects on the site. Productions are being tested, started and executed. DOK, together with its temporary character, serves as a think tank with refreshing regard to city development. Proposals concerning the realization of the new Ghentian quarter can arise from the initiatives on the DOK site. The project reaches out to the surrounding neighborhoods and offers a place to initiatives when it comes to culture, sport, ecology and well-being – both from a nonprofit and profitable point of view.

The goal of this immediate and ‘temporary’ effort to allow socially engaged artistic projects on the fallow grounds is to let organizations and individual residents create their own networks autonomously. From those projects onwards, new initiatives and ideas can erupt and evolve.

Temporality triggers transformation

DOK evolved a lot the past five years. Temporality – from a two year contract (2011-2012) to a one year extension (2013) to a three year agreement (2014-2016) – made DOK grow to what it is now: from an extremely organic platform to a place of renewal and encounter.

In 2014, DOK only cooperated with the full-time DOKresidents and the hosting of separate day activities was completely rolled back. In 2015, the number of DOKresidents grew and DOK had the opportunity to give them more autonomy.

This year more than ever, DOK represents superdiversity. Strategic choices helped us to create a more intimate and familiar atmosphere on DOK. We were able to transform the somewhat reserved character DOK had in its starting days to a more approachable project with an open personality. The jumble sale plays a crucial role in doing that: it continues to be an important catalyst for the large attendance en it puts people of different backgrounds on the move. Another cause is that organizations know our way of working and are more eager to join the projects we host, which are very diverse thanks to the different perspectives of our DOKresidents. A good example of this is Stand & Deliver, who have a remarkably young and multicultural audience.

The past five year, we saw the DOK terrain evolve from a new ‘city beach site’ with the largest terrace of Ghent to a sort of ‘sculpture site’. The supposed intention of the terrain changed as well: from an event zone that needed tight maintenance to a place where visible traces of the past are more than welcome.

IMG_1626_web (c) Michiel Devijver

Reactions to that evolution are mixed: some think it is deterioration of the project, whilst others look at it as a ‘comfy disorder’ that they can alter themselves. It is a space fit for artistic interventions, mobile structures and events. The park is multifunctional and serves as a play zone, but it can also prove its use as for example a camping site, as we have proven last summer.

The interaction between the terrain and our expectations makes sure that flexibility is the core of DOK’s working environment. Our working methods are adjusted to the terrain and vice versa. Since we only have a temporary schedule, we are subjected to the construction site and the future plans for the old docks. Making the necessary smart investments is a challenge we are happy to face, together with investigating how DOK can continue its endeavors according to its three core values: mobility, modularity and flexibility. That way, it can offer a structure to socio-cultural initiators who coproduce the available space and make it as available and open as possible for its surroundings.

Mobility was an asset when selecting the DOKresidents. Thanks to the focus on mobility, it was possible to share the terrain with a big amount of partners. DOK was available for more residents who could use it as a working and testing space.

In 2015, we therefore had significantly more mobile groups, such as Rooftoptigers, Circus Ronaldo and Collectif Malunés. They had the possibility to rehearse, build and organize their try-outs on DOK. Furthermore, we offered space for residents such as Compagnie Friede with their mobile ØSTERKLAN/K, the mobile kitchen of Lokaal, Fase with its moveable art, the catering on the DOKmarket happened by distribution of food trucks and we installed a circus tent – the ultimate symbol of temporality and mobility. And let us not forget the canteen, which, because it was shared and used extensivelt over the past few years, has become the metaphorical heart of DOK. We also constructed a theme cell that traced the mobility of DOK and its residents.

IMG_1720_web (c) Michiel Devijver

Trust is at the core of the DOK-community

The alliances we create on DOK and the projects we cooperate with have been – from our point of view – the very core of DOK of the past five years. We can describe this in one word as ‘coproduction’. Coproductionwise, we build a socially committed and shared story. In 2014, the role of DOK as co-initiator of projects was moved even further to the role of facilitator. More than ever, we invested in autonomous organization. The DOKresidents were the key to realize that, as they formed the to be trusted base of a (largely) autonomous network. By selecting a great diversity of DOKresidents, a great amount of very diverse activities could take place, just like direct and indirect cross-pollination. In that way, the story of DOK was carried by a larger audience than before.

It is important to note that in these processes, DOK has clearly become a more mature project after five years. That is primarily the case in the fact that there is – more than before – a possibility to ‘let go’ and that is clearly noticeable in the programming: DOKresidents receive complete autonomy. They do not, once they are licensed residents, have to present the content of their projects. Every DOKresident gets an equal amount of trust from the organization and therefore DOK chose not to impose too many rules. We did, however, ask the residents to act upon the norms and values that are linked with DOK. That trust has never been broken.

DOK does not feel like just another organization; instead, it is a big community. The reason for that is the engagement from all its participators and the accompanied feeling of involvement in the construction and ideals of the project. The executive committee is growing more towards a community management; that is a separate structure that differs fundamentally from classic management, with extra attention for coordination behind the scenes of all of DOK’s residents. The core job is to let everyone contribute in respect to their motivation in a way that the members enforce each other by framing their efforts in a bigger picture. DOK profiles itself less as an organizer and more as support for the different initiatives and residents. It is very hard to specifically present the knowledge we acquired in this process, but it is indispensable to build a tight community in the neighborhood.

One thought on “Summer’s here! DOK Ghent

  1. Very interesting story about community development; I was especially intrigued by “equal amount of trust’


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s