In 2012, a new cultural centre opened its doors in Aarhus, Denmark. After its first year of life, it has become a place where art, creativity and society come together.
When you stroll over the roof of the Freight Yard, the floor gets steeper towards a corner. From here, you have a view of ARoS Museum, crowned by a rainbow aureole by artist Olafur Eliasson. You can also see the remains of the old railways; industrial and chaotic. Here and there, you can spot the characteristic reddish façades of Aarhus’ urban landscape, with its green and wet roofs, rain is a part of the city. But some large windows interrupt the vast and angular extension of this grey concrete roof. Round-shaped, like a giant eye, it takes just a glance to notice something is happening down below, on the other side of the glass.
Something is happening at the end of the corridor with high ceilings and posters scattered on its walls. Something is happening in the living room with sofas and a table where you can sit down and have a chat. Or in the bar of Folkekokken, or at the tables where the film school students have coffee. Something is happening behind the Literature Centre’s gate, or in the workshops bursting with artists, students and regular citizens using the facilities on a Friday morning.
Godsbanen used to be that old Freight Yard, a freight traffic junction. Today, its appearance is reminiscent of a big factory. And in fact, it is. A factory of ideas, where there are no freights, but still, they join and are exchanged. That is what happens within the walls of the 10 500 m2 space. “It’s a cultural production center that offers artists an opportunity to create culture,” says Dorte Kerstens, from the Information Office, “but it’s not only for artists, everybody is welcome, you can also come with your kids.”
“It’s a cultural house for the whole city,” she summarizes. The Information Office is located inside the main building, after going upstairs, resisting the temptation to play a match of table football or sit in a sofa to have a chat. In the middle of a corridor where the wall is decorated with drawings and a quote from writer Homi K. Bhabha’s ‘The Location of Culture,’ this office is the administrative heart of Godsbanen.
Inside the adjacent facilities, film students, actors, writers or artists, among others, work on their projects. Last month, the building was used for some concerts as part of the Spot Festival, a music festival for Nordic and Danish music that serves also for the networking of the music industry, as well as seminars related to music. The creative people from different disciplines work there to create a flow and exchange of ideas, and visitors from the public provide the connection with society.
This “meeting place between the artists and the society,” as described by Kerstens, was born after some members of the City Council went on field trips to different cities, like Helsinki, where a former Nokia factory, Kaapeli, or The Cable Factory, had been converted into a culture venue. Ole Jørgensen, a member of the Culture Department of the City Council, located in Godsbanen, explains that they “waited for the state” to release the building in 2009, and having a “plan from the beginning,” since 2004, they organised and fundraised to get the venue ready to open its doors in 2012.
But, as Kerstens recalls, Godsbanen has a twist; it is not only a place for the artists and the creative class. “It’s open to families, old people, kids, not only creative class.” Godsbanen is not an elitist place, “the creative class also needs the normal people,” she says. That is why the workshops, for example, are “also for people who like to sculpt things or make Christmas presents, all sorts of people.”
Peeking from behind the open door of the textile workshop, a teacher quickly smiles and comes to say hello. She explains that everybody is welcome to use the facilities or ask for tutors, who teach on an individual basis. In the big room, one can see two girls talking over a design on a table, an old lady sitting down in the corner sewing her clothes with a machine, and Joaquín Zaragoza, an artist, showing his son his work environment. A collaborator in Aarhus Center for visual Art (AABKC), Zaragoza thinks that “art is a key” that leads people, like the children from the outskirts, who he teaches in workshops, “to think for themselves.”
Following him around Godsbanen, on the other side of the workshop corridor, some stairs lead to an open-concept office space where desks are a few meters from each other and the leaders of the institutions can meet easily to have a chat. Anja Raithel, the head of AABKC, is there. “The center is newly established in Godsbanen,” she explains, since the venue opened its doors last year. “We are still finding a focus, but we have been doing networking.” They help fundraise and promote artists, exposing their work in the big Raw hall like with a Mexican artist they hosted, Raithel tells.
“The advantage of being here is that you meet people relatively easily when you are starting and small,” says Jørgensen. Godsbanen is a way of supporting newcomers, “an incubator for creative firms and so on,” and the demand has been so great as to “have about 100% use of almost every facility.” However, both Kerstens and Jørgensen expect that in the future, in another stage of the venue’s history, the culture institutions have been able to grow up and move out, letting new ones come in. “There is demand for the next years,” she says. The creative firms already based in Godsbanen have the intend to stay there for now.
“The aim is to have Godsbanen as a cultural centre in the future, as a cultural reference in Aarhus, and also on a national or even international level,” Kerstens says. Being at the heart of a new urban area that is being planned, this year has been the first step. Maybe in a few years, from the pointy roof of the venue, one will see a different landscape. But one thing seems certain, on the other side of the large windows on the roof, a lot of things will be happening.