In a quiet canal street in the heart of Amsterdam sits a former bathhouse, transformed in 2013 by a group of artists into a purpose built space for music. When Music Australia visited Splendor Amsterdam in 2015, we were amazed at this unique space, it is an extraordinary inspiration. We interviewed Manager Norman van Dartel who shares its story.
Splendor Amsterdam is the culmination of an extraordinary vision “a dream for a space for artists – in the heart of the city” says Norman van Dartel. It is an artist driven space, created and run by artists, conceived in 2010. Independently owned and operated by a group of fifty artist members, who lease the Council owned building, it provides a space to rehearse and perform, to program work, and to build a community of peers and audiences.
a dream for a space for artists – in the heart of the city
Splendor Amsterdam was the brainchild of musician Wilmar de Visser, now chair of the Board. He gathered people with similar thoughts, formed a shared vision, and developed a concept for how it could operate. They also crafted and implemented a unique business model. “Vilmar is a very big inspiration, has great ideas, and found people who wanted to join” Norman notes. Musicians are proud of the building, “they feel it’s their building”.
A new venue from a Bathhouse
Splendor is housed in an old Amsterdam bathhouse, in a central canal-side location, ten minutes’ walk from the city’s main railway station. Two former internal bathhouse areas were converted into performance spaces, one small and one large, plus theatre facilities, and a small and welcoming bar. Good sound proofing enables activity to happen around the clock.
How it came about
The impetus came around seven years ago as a solution to a problem after closure of a couple of small Amsterdam performance spaces. Two small halls, the Icebreaker, and the Bimhuis (now moved to a larger modern venue) both well known in the city, closed down. These were accessible and affordable places to present concerts. Once these two venues disappeared, an idea developed for a group of fifty to find their own space.
The artists called on their networks to realise the vision … raised close to 200,000 euros. The money can be returned after ten years, and the interest is music.
The wish was to do it without subsidy. “That is the only way really to have your own thing” explains Norman. “They needed two things – money to start and a place to work. They found this hall, an architect was involved, plans drawn up, and 300,000 euros were needed for renovations, and another 300,000 euros required to fit-out the venue.
How it works
Splendor has minimal rules, and maximum activity. The onus is on the artist to make it work, so it suits enterprising artists with ideas and energy.
It presents a varied program, from cutting edge contemporary, to crossover, to traditional recitals, and there’s an active childrens’ program with concerts and music lessons. All members are exceptional musicians from across the music scene, including about seven from the prestigious Concertgebouw Orchestra. Artist members use Splendor for their own projects and to collaborate with visiting artists.
The artist members provide the program, so there are 50 programmers, 50 artist managers, supported by the manager who advises and coordinates the program. Four or five concerts are held each week, and member concerts attract 60 – 80 attendees, with about 20 percent being sold out. There is a have a big annual concert where all member artists participate.
A Committee of seven musicians provides oversight. This committee selects the 50 musician members. Places are also offered to three young musicians who join for two years, and can stay on if it works out.
Just over two full time staff manage the venue. The concerts are run with one staff member and a pool of volunteers handle ticketing. Musicians set out the chairs, and arrange the lighting. 30 per cent of box office revenue goes to Splendor and 70 per cent to the artists.
The small size works, because the overhead costs are low and performers are also the producers and organisers. This does mean there is limited money for marketing, and Norman notes the modest publicity budget is something he would like to increase.
“It’s not a new way of making music work economically, the space is too small for that” he states. It is a community of musicians who can make their own work, on their own terms and have freedom to express and create.
A unique business model
50 artists: There are fifty musician members, each contributes 1,000 euros. The musicians all have a key to the building, and can use the building any time, for rehearsals or performance projects. The artists each give one concert a year for free to members, and contribute to an annual celebratory program.
1,000 members: Members are able to join for 100 euros per annum. For that you can attend 50 concerts a year. “Everyone pays the same, whether you come once or weekly you pay the same, 100 euros” .There are now 1,000 members. Most attend five times a year. “The neighbour who lives next door comes almost every week, he has just retired and he’s the happiest man on earth!”
Splendor has minimal rules, and maximum activity
Private supporters: The artists called on their networks to realise the vision. This well-respected group, including top flight concert hall artists, raised close to 200,000 euros privately. They used a unique form of financing, a type of loan they call an ‘obligation’. “The money can be returned after ten years, and the interest is music”. Each supporter is entitled to a private concert in their home by one of the member musicians. Now some people are forgiving the obligation, effectively converting it to a donation, and charity status has been achieved, meaning donations are tax deductible.
The landlord: Before the project could commence Splendor had to demonstrate viability to the City Council, by raising their share of the capital require for the renovations. This was achieved in a short time, and unlocked a contribution from Council who undertook the renovations. Commercial rent is now charged by Council, close to 65,000 euros per annum, which is how they recoup their investment in the renovations.
Into the future
Having achieved an extraordinary dream, the task now according to manager Norman Van Dartel is to maintain the energy and a sense of community. “The vision is working, but it’s not sustainable yet”. More than 1,000 members are needed for viability.
The neighbour who lives next door comes almost every week, he has just retired and he’s the happiest man on earth!
What is clear is that Splendor Amsterdam has shown what is possible when a determined and talented group of artists embark on a visionary journey, and take their public with them. In the words of founder Wilmar de Visser: “it is a place where everything is possible”.
If you visit Amsterdam, don’t miss Splendor!
Visit the Splendor Amsterdam site here.
Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 116, 1011 LX, Amsterdam
tel. +31 20 8453345