The end of Subbacultcha Belgium as you know it
My name is Kasper-Jan Raeman. Together with my sister Herlinde, I founded Subbacultcha Belgium, a membership-driven organization. Since 2011, we promote concerts and events, as well as introduce emerging artists through our magazine and online platform.
Like many of our peers in the cultural industry, we are struck very hard by the COVID-19 crisis. Despite this financial insecurity, we are not thinking of quitting or taking a break.
This is our story.
As Subbacultcha, we host and promote concerts and events, as well as introduce and promote emerging artists through our platform. Subbacultcha is a membership-driven organization, meaning that we get our fuel from monthly payments. In return, our members get free access to all the events we promote - concerts, movies and exhibitions - usually adding up to about twenty a month.
With this model, we aim to both make it easy for our members to discover new artists, as well as provide young artists with a larger fanbase. Over the past years, we are proud to have helped talented artists grow and get properly rooted, artists such as Mac DeMarco, Yves Tumor, and Chelsea Wolfe. And with them, we have also grown. Over the past eight years, Subbacultcha has evolved from just an idea into its current shape as a non-profit that employs three people and a number of fixed freelancers and is backed by more than fifty volunteers.
Subbacultcha makes it easy to discover new artists, as well as provide young artists with a larger fanbase.
Like many of our peers in the cultural industry, we are struck hard by the COVID-19 crisis. As a structurally independent organisation, we fully rely on our own means, which we secure from membership payments and partnerships with other cultural organisations. Our only external funding is a small grant we get every year from the City of Ghent for the realisation of two events. Given this situation, our future is very much in dire straits. Say, and that's with most of our fingers crossed, we reach normal operation again by October or November, we will already have seen slip through these same fingers more than 100.000 euros in revenues. Despite this financial insecurity, we are not thinking of quitting or taking a break. On the contrary, we want to take action by appealing to what is already our strongest asset anyway: our community of artists and members.
If we reach normal operation again by October or November, we will already have lost more than 100.000 euros in revenues.
The Art Series
Two months ago, we started brainstorming about how to revitalise the Subbacultcha membership. After three rather long days of online meetings, we began to see the light: The Art Series, which we launched March 20. With all events temporarily cancelled, the idea is to satisfy our members' desire for the arts by transforming their membership cards for events into Art Cards, enabling them to start a collection of exclusive art by emerging artists. We present a new work every week, and members will be able to pick up their collections from the moment events are allowed again. We are planning on doing this for as long as the situation remains what it is.
For The Art Series, we ask artists to produce new work exclusively for our members. Then we take care of reproduction and promotion. In all this, we choose for art made by young artists from our own network, artists we already featured on our website or in our magazine, or artists proposed by community members. The first item we presented was a print by Ghent-based artist Shirley Villavicencio Pizango. Up to now, we've revealed eight works, and for the upcoming weeks, we are already communicating with emerging talent from Belgium and beyond.
The Art Series makes it possible to start a collection of exclusive art by emerging artists.
Does the temporary concept of The Art Series save us? Not at all. Is it an antidote to insecurity? Unfortunately no. But, with The Art Series, we try to provide the Subbacultcha community, both members and artists, with a nice alternative, and even maybe a feeling of hope. How we will compensate for the loss of partnerships and such, is still a hard nut to crack. What will happen after the crisis, I don't know. Subbacultcha is not a typical enterprise, nor are we a classical cultural institution. Since our organisation is not on hold, there's no soft pile of hard cash awaiting us to break our fall or even keep us from stumbling. And since we aren't subsidised by the Flemish Government, there are no emergency funds in that way for us either. As an organisation, we're something in between other things, and that makes us very vulnerable.
The new normal
Subbacultcha is a lot of people's passion - mine, that of my sister Herlinde, that of our colleague Mats, and that of our freelancers and volunteers. Our biggest motivation has always been to create a platform for upcoming talent. A couple of years ago, Future Islands frontman Sam Herring gave me a hug for organising their first concert in Belgium. These kind of moments are the ones I will always remember. They are proof of the value of Subbacultcha, and even, of the impact of art. And that is something made very clear by the current crisis we're in: we stream and binge watch and read our troubles away - or how art soothes sorrows in sombre times.
Soon, life will go back to 'normal'. But that scenario does not include the young artist.
We find solace in knowing that we're not alone. I, therefore, dedicate this letter to all artists and small organisations out there that have to do their things with fewer means and that are struggling to survive. Soon, life will go back to 'normal'. We'll all go back to work and start consuming again. But that scenario does not include the young artist or independent organisations. Chances are they'll be out of work until the end of the year, and with no money to spend. This crisis really shows the precarious situation of this group of people.
Let this letter, therefore, be a call for support. Do you find yourself spending less on culture these days? Why not support some artists or organisations? And while you're at it, don't just like their posts on social media or wish them good luck, but ask for their bank account numbers and make a donation. For a lot of them, that could make a big difference.