SCHAAMTe vzw: the Primordial Artist-Run Organisation (1978–1987)?

In a week’s time, I’ll be giving a talk in Copenhagen at the Dansehallerne about artist-run selforganisation: ‘from buzzword to revolution’. The question the people asked me to reflect on was: there’s a lot of talking about this subject, but performing artists have always worked together, so what’s new? Yesterday, while compiling some material to answer this question, my colleagues Diane and Quinten delved into the archives of Kunstenpunt. They uncovered which truly wonderful material we have on SCHAAMTe, the artist-run organisation that was founded in 1978 and in the following years organized the management, promotion, touring, production, international networking etc of several artists without fixed companies or subventions, such as: Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker/Rosas, Radeis (Josse de Pauw, Erik de Volder, Dirk Pauwels), Jan Lauwers’ epigonentheater zlv and many others.

Googling SCHAAMTe vzw, I saw on Discogs that the organisation did not only produce theater and dance pieces, but also a number of records. Quinten checked and saw we have them all in our collection:

The 5 records produced by SCHAAMTe vzw, in the Kunstenpunt collection

Next to this, we have a number of interesting documents about how the organisation worked. The former archives of the Vlaams Theater Instituut contains an interesting folder with very interesting pieces: calendars, full listings of the shows produced by SCHAAMTe vzw in Belgium and abroad, and the text of a press conference in 1982:

Especially the text of the press conference in Gaasbeek, 1982, is revealing. I knew that the organisation is an early prototype of an alternative artist-run organisation, but there is not a lot of research about how Schaamte worked precisely. The text of the press conference is very interesting for anybody involved with organising solidarity between artists working together to share resources. I quote the passage about their financial mechanisms:

From SCHAAMTe vzw’s press conference in Gaasbeek, 1982.

“One of the important ànd exemplary elements of how SCHAAMTe works, is the financial management of all activities. The revenues from all members go onto one bank account, the expenses are taken from the same bank account.

Of course, everybody at any time can make use of the available money, while it is not being checked whose money it is exactly. However, a meticulous accountancy makes it possible at any time to check the financial situation of each group.

This way, it is possible to mount a production while the artist does not have the money; one works with the money that is available. Budgets are being made in this respect, taking into account everyone’s needs and with the possibility to recuperate the money once the project is finished and ready to be staged.

This might sound irrelevant. However it is, since everyone poses great trust in the productions of others and is willing to take risks without being directly involved in the artistic product.

This gives a clear and important example of how we work and the idea of the organisation.

As you can see, this is more — and different — than what is expected from a regular theater management office.”

This might sound very relevant in 2018. It would be a great idea to organise a workshop for artist run organisations, just by exploring the archive of SCHAAMTe vzw. Let’s put that on our bullet list.