What’s better than a prostitute? In Amsterdam, the answer would seem to be an artist.
As part of its Project 1012, an effort to "clean up" the city’s famous Red Light District, Amsterdam’s city government has already teamed up with private enterprise to replace a number of bordellos with studio space for fashion designers. Now, along with the organization Kunstenaars and Co., a private enterprise that assists registered artists with financial and career planning, the city has collaborated with real estate company De Key -- a concern mostly known for providing government-subsidized housing -- in a new project designed to accommodate sculptors, painters, and other visual artists.
On Oct. 1, 2008, De Key concluded its purchase (for an undisclosed amount) of ten buildings in the district, with plans to transform them into living and working spaces for "today’s top talent" in the art world.
"With the purchase of these buildings," the company announced in a press statement, "De Key hopes to strengthen the residential quality and livability of the area, as well as to contribute to the preservation of its rich historical architecture." (De Key also owns the nearby Beurs van Berlage, the former stock exchanged designed by Hendrikus Berlage and a major monument of Dutch Amsterdam School architecture, a building that currently houses a premiere concert hall and is frequently used for exhibitions and small art fairs.)
Of course, it’s no news that nothing raises real estate values, even in a global economic crisis, like the arrival of artists to the neighborhood: the transformations of New York’s SoHo, East Village, Chelsea, and DUMBO are but a few examples. And since, through this purchase, according to a press release from De Key, two of the district’s streets will now be "prostitute-free," that is likely to become the case here, as well. The buildings had previously belonged to a single owner, who is reportedly now living in Tenerife.
With the venture still in its beginning phases, few are prepared at this point to discuss concrete plans or details (a woman who answered the phone in the communication department of Amsterdam’s promotion bureau, Amsterdam Topstad, was unaware the project even existed). Nor is it certain whether the studios will be open to international artists, or reserved solely for young Dutch talent -- though the latter, if past precedent can be used as an example, would seem more likely.
Manou Hebben, De Key’s communications director, could only say that designs for the renovations were under way, and that the project should be rolled out through the course of the year. She did, however, note that the first stages will involve a short-term residency program, Art Stay, for which De Key, together with Topstad Amsterdam and Kunstenaars and Co., will select young Dutch artists not only to live and work in the newly-purchased properties, but to exhibit their works in the windows previously used to exhibit -- well, women.
Now, that’s sexy.
ABIGAIL ESMAN is an American writer living in Amsterdam.