From Brussels with love: Follow Your Art offers support to the global arts scene

Follow Your Art

The corona crisis is making countries and communities withdraw into themselves more than ever. The new Brussels non-profit organization Follow Your Art is opening vistas up again with a cross-border initiative that seeks to alleviate the acute needs in the global arts community. “Art doesn’t stop at borders, nor should solidarity.”

It is well-known that the whole world is at home in the Brussels art scene. The city's reputation extends well beyond the municipal and national borders. And many international artists seek out the vibrant hotspot of contemporary creation – in the visual arts, but also in theatre, performance, and dance – and settle here. At a time when this diverse scene in the capital is suffering a heavy blow, the city is opening its heart to the rest of the world by launching a new cross-border initiative to aid the global arts community.

“It developed very intuitively,” says Eva Blaute, who along with Sana Ouchtati and Ziad Erraiss is part of the Brussels-based trio behind the non-profit organization Follow Your Art. “Sana has been stuck in Tunisia for some time due to the corona crisis, and when the first measures began to be introduced around the world and it became clear that the global cultural sector was collapsing, she sent Ziad and me a WhatsApp message: 'I can't just sit and watch, I want to do something!' The next day, we started discussing what that action would entail precisely.”

The trio did not need long for that first conversation. Eva Blaute: “All three of us felt like we needn't think about it for too long, but simply had to do it. It was very impulsive and based on a conviction that we had to send a signal. Because things were quiet for a long time, and it is still relatively quiet.”

Follow Your Art brings together two components: on the one hand, a call for artists and art workers hit by the Covid-19 measures across European countries and beyond, and on the other, a funding campaign organized in several cycles. “Each funding cycle aims to provide 500 euro each to 50 artists or art workers in three different countries. The first cycle, which began on 2 April with the launch of a site and a Facebook page, aims to alleviate pressure on artists from or living in Belgium, Tunisia, and Italy. We realize that people who have lost their monthly income will not be able to make ends meet with 500 euro. We just want to give as many people as possible a little extra help as quickly as possible. It may not be sustainable, but it can offer some form of relief in the now.”

That is why Follow Your Art decisively opted for a cross-border perspective. And it can certainly be described as radical at a time when so many countries are withdrawing into themselves. “The three of us are all based in Brussels and engaged in international cultural relations on a daily basis (among others via the Goethe-Institut and More Europe, a civil initiative aiming to strengthen those relations, ks). This perspective of cross-border dialogue is self-evident to us because the artistic community is international anyway, through collaborations or residencies. Brussels itself is already home to so many different nationalities.”

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Follow Your Art

“But it is true,” Eva Blaute continues, “I have also noticed that people are withdrawing not only within their own national borders but even into their own bubbles. We asked several cultural centres and festivals for help communicating about this initiative, and I could sense their reluctance to join the project. Because they are afraid that this initiative might reduce the funding of their own freelancers. It is an understandable reflex, but Follow Your Art aims to be complementary, not to reduce anything but only to add something.”

“This is the time to support the international community, which for so long has ensured that we could enjoy stories, dance, performances, visual art…everything that stimulates us every day. The testimonials by artists and art workers who are applying for support – after only five days there were 158 of them, from Belgium, Tunisia, and Italy, but also from other countries – demonstrate how urgently that support is needed. Painful is a word that doesn't do justice to what you read. This is a worldwide crisis. Everything is connected, especially art. Art doesn't stop at borders, nor should solidarity.”

This solidarity is building rapidly. “In the first five days, we managed to raise ten percent of our first goal of 25,000 euro,” Eva Blaute tells us. “While it is a new initiative. That makes it more difficult to build trust, to bring people over the line, and to mobilize them. That is why we consciously keep this personal, small, and human. Many people are looking for ways to make a difference. And this is very simple: you can already make a donation from 5 euro, pounds, or dollars. Together, all these contributions ensure that many people will feel supported temporarily.”

Follow Your Art - artiesten


Aws Al Zubaidy
Palestinian actor based in Tunisia

“I was born in Palestine but came to Tunisia two years ago. I was working on a theatrical performance as an actor, but due to the pandemic, we stopped rehearsing and all work on the show has been cancelled. As an actor, I can't work from home because I perform on stage. My income comes from rehearsals and shows. We don’t know for how long we will need to stay at home, and we don't know how this will affect theatre in the near future. As a theatre professional everything depends on gatherings, shows, events, and festivals, and everything is cancelled until November. Thanks to Follow Your Art, I will be able to cover some of my living costs.”

Irina Lavrinovic
Lithuanian performing artist based in Brussels

“COVID-19 is affecting me and my family in a significant way, since my husband and I are both freelance performing artists and we are both still without access to unemployment rights in Belgium. Our artistic residencies during March and April – one month of work (for the both of us) just got cancelled. My husband’s work in Scandinavia for the next month got cancelled too, as well as my job in an art school. Furthermore, I am three months pregnant and this situation limits our ability to stabilise our income during the summer. We wonder how will we pay our rent in the following months. Meanwhile, we are keeping our calm and offering online conversations for those in need of company, free of charge. We are also continuing to work on our performance project in our own living room.”

Yasmina Gaida
Tunisian freelance camera assistant (focus puller)

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, all current and future projects have been cancelled or put on hold, without a future timeline. This is highly impacting freelancers such as myself as these few months represent the peak season in terms of projects. The compensation that we normally get around this time is the main financial income for the rest of the year, when work slows down. Being jobless because of this outbreak as a freelancer now is simply terrible. There is no money to get around nor to get the basics and survive...”

Serena Vittorini
Italian photographer and visual artist based in Brussels

“I had all my work cancelled until October because of the coronavirus, and the agencies I work with are closed until September. Also, some important exhibitions I had – one of them in collaboration with Manifesta, the European biennial of contemporary art – have been cancelled. I have been trying for days to get some form of help from the Belgian state or from associations, but working through Smart I am not entitled to any form of help. I am not entitled to anything in Italy either, as I am now a resident in Brussels and thus part of the Belgian tax system – I pay my taxes here. I know that many artists are in the same situation as me and I think that it is absolutely necessary to work on forms of protection for artists and freelancers working through cooperatives like Smart. The Follow Your Art initiative and contribution are fundamental.”

“We will keep going until we have raised that 25,000 euro and before we start a second cycle focused on three different countries,” Eva Blaute continues. “But that doesn't mean that we won't already support in the meantime. Many people have no safety net right now – and that is our criterion for providing support. We select the most urgent cases and we will soon make the first transfers to the first five artists. It is in the most acute cases that we want to make a difference.”

“Hence this impulse action,” Eva Blaute laughs. “We have no major communications plan or a plan of attack or strategy. We consult with one another every day and we expand the initiative step by step. We learn new things every day. This is very small-scale, and each of us has occupations besides this project, but we do it because we want to do it, because we hope to create something good by it. It sounds somewhat fatalistic, but in this sense I see Follow Your Art surviving once the corona crisis is under control. There will unfortunately still be a need for this fund.”

But Eva Blaute would not go so far as to call Follow Your Art an indictment. “This initiative is based on the desire to send out a positive signal,” she emphasizes. “To extend a helping hand and to be an example of solidarity, exchange, and dialogue by taking the lead on a small scale. To show that it is possible to break down these fake mental and physical borders. With good will, a lot is possible.”


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