Can you describe De Roma, and your role at the institution?
I work for Borgerhout’s De Roma, an old movie theatre that has been transformed into “A theatre for the people.” I’m in charge of the program and the promotion. Our main focus here are concerts, no matter the genre. But alongside that, there’s much more going on: from movie screenings and debates to thé-dansants and children’s flea markets. I live in Antwerpen-Noord, the 2060 district, a vibrant neighbourhood with a lot of different nationalities. The scene I feel closest to would be the live music scene in general, both as part of my job and as a big factor in how I plan and enjoy my time off.
How do you perceive Antwerp’s people, its cultural landscape, its vibe?
It’s a bit of a cliché, but Antwerp does a pretty good job of combining the amenities of big cities and small towns. It’s small enough to enjoy on foot or by bike, and you regularly run into people you know. At the same time it’s large enough to be known internationally and to have a lot of distinct neighbourhoods. Its cultural landscape is diverse, but I feel that there’s room for more places that are less institutionalised. In Ghent you’ll notice small concert venues popping up all over the place. They’d do well here too, if the regulations weren’t as strict as they are now.
What would you say is Antwerp’s main appeal for creatives? What gives the city its edge?
There’s a lot going on in a relatively small city. You keep running into the same people, which provides a lot of opportunities to work together and exchange ideas and for cross-contamination. Antwerp is well-known for fashion, music and theatre, and these different disciplines are easily combined.
Antwerp is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, but to experience it fully you have to get out of the centre.
How would you say has Antwerp contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
Moving to Antwerp had a huge impact on my life. It’s the first city I lived in after I moved away from home, the first city I had a real job in, the first city I bought a house in… De Roma, in turn, is rooted in the city in more ways than one. It’s impossible not to let that strong connection to Antwerp (and specifically, to Borgerhout) seep through to you. We work with a lot of volunteers of all ages, creating a unique perspective on all sorts of people living in Antwerp. I can definitely say living and working here has broadened my outlook on the world.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?
Younger, less institutionalised places for arts and culture. As far as live music goes, there has been some progress with live bars like Cabron and spaces like EMMA vzw. The move from Scheld’apen to Het Bos moved mountains for Antwerp’s live music scene as well.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Antwerp? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?
I would urge them to leave the centre and visit other parts of the city. Sure, spend some time in the fashion district and have a drink on the Vrijdagmarkt, but come to Borgerhout, visit Antwerpen-Noord, check out the parks outside of the ringway as well. Antwerp is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, but to experience it fully you have to get out of the centre. And come to De Roma of course!
A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth?
De Roma. This beautiful old building was rebuilt out of the ruins it was in by dozens of local volunteers of all ages, and many of them still volunteer here. It’s a beautiful example of how a community can come together to lift up their neighbourhood.deroma.be Photography Thomas Ost