Planning your next weekend away but feeling a bit bored of Barcelona, nonplussed by Paris, or unsatisfied by Seville? Why not think about spending a few days in the charming Belgian city of Antwerp.
One of the most innovative and engaging of Europe’s smaller cities, Antwerp’s been gaining a reputation for boundless creativity over the last few years, thanks in no small part to the pioneering efforts of the now annual artistic bootcamp that is D.A.T.E. — Discover Antwerp through Experience.
This May, the city hosted a kind of uber-D.A.T.E. inviting 12 previous participants back to Antwerp to delve even deeper into the city and what’s going under the surface, bringing together a dozen super talented creatives from across the globe for a week full of unique visits
and inspiring meetings.
By day the chosen creatives got to spend valuable time with Antwerp locals, documenting their experiences in a variety of on-the-hoof mediums, and then in the evenings everyone gathered at Onder Stroom – one of the best known cultural hubs in the city – to discuss what they’d experienced and how those experiences could be translated into a limited edition art book, celebrating everything brilliant about Antwerp.
“The first time I’ve ever visited, I honestly didn’t suspect there was such a vibrant creative scene hiding in plain sight,” says photographer Nabil Nadifi, who first took part in D.A.T.E in 2016, and was back for this year’s instalment of the series run by This is Antwerp, the tourism group dedicated to unearthing the most wonderfully atypical things going on in the city.
For Spanish illustrator Jose Roda, the appeal of D.A.T.E – and one of the reasons as to why he says he feels “truly grateful towards Antwerp and its people,” for having been asked back to participate in the bootcamp – lies in “getting to know more about the work and creative circumstances of diverse people you meet during your stay at Antwerp: discovering how things work over there, how each one has accomplished what they have. That always helps when it comes to broadening your own horizons and finding very enriching new perspectives.”
That sense of immediate creative inclusivity is echoed by Shirin Mirachor, co-founder of Get Me, a Dutch creative agency who work with policymakers, cultural institutions and companies within the private sector, bringing art and politics together.
“In max speed, you get to know sides of the city that normally take some time to discover,” Shirin says. Tasked with examining the notion of subcultures, Shirin’s group probed into alternative, underground Antwerp. “It provided me a better understanding of what I stand for, and how I could contribute to the city, and the city me.”
In just four days, Shirin, Jose, Nabil, and the rest of the assembled designers, illustrators, photographers, and multi-disciplinarians put together a 166 page books which celebrates all things Antwerpian.
That isn’t the only thing the participants have taken away from their time in the city. For Shirin, a trip to the hairdressers proved a memorable experience. “I’m super amazed by all the beautiful creative spaces in Antwerp – they’re as distinctive as they are serene. But what really stuck with me was the Labi Barbershop, a barbershop that became a community – and felt so real.”
Nabil’s highlights included striking up a conversation with a restaurant owner who just so happened to have been good friends with the one and only Keith Haring, and finally meeting local stylist Farah El Bastani. “She’s been killing it for years,” Nabil tells us.
“One of the most gratifying things I did was walk around the city at night listening to music on my headphones,” says Jose. Having spent an (enjoyably) full-on week in collaborative mode, he was ready soak up a moment of oneness with the city itself. “Oh, and I couldn’t get the plane home without having one last plate of frites, of course.”
Chips and creativity: what more could you want?