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Community life: The Arts Society Brussels plans lectures on Surrealist art, the cinema of David Lean and the story of wine
What is the background to The Arts Society Brussels, which recently changed its name from BRIDFAS?
We were originally created in 1987 under the name, British and decorative fine arts society, which is a member of the London-based NADFAS society. After their 50th anniversary in 2018, they decided to reflect evolving times and became The Arts Society to better communicate who we are, what we do and what we mean to our members. A big part is social, hence ‘society’, and an even bigger part is a belief that ‘the arts’ are essential to enriching people’s lives. I volunteered first as membership secretary in 2015, and then moved on to become secretary and programme secretary before taking over as chairman in 2019. I was a great believer in what the arts society was offering and I was determined to continue providing our members with fantastic lectures. Our programme secretary created an interesting programme from the selection of our accredited lecturers - we have 360. We realised that we also needed to reflect the new name and joined forces with the Brussels Women’s Club. The idea of reaching out to other organisations, providing more activities where people could make friends and speak English, seemed to be a great opportunity.
How did you adapt to moving lectures online over the past year?
Our talks on arts subjects in English are usually held from October until June at Woluwe-Saint-Lambert’s town hall. We meet up for a drink before the lecture and we also organise guided tours and have a cultural partnership with the Foundation Frison Horta. Due to the pandemic, we were the first society in mainland Europe to use the Zoom app. It proved to be essential for a large majority of our members who were delighted to connect with one another. Our overall evaluation was positive and we managed to maintain our membership throughout the season at 70 members.
How do you choose topics?
In view of the fact that we are an international organisation with different interests we try to vary the programme, because it’s a question of learning something new and from a different perspective. People come to the town hall for a lecture and suddenly realised that they had never looked at a painting in the way it had been described. It is a question of surprising participants, by varying the programme with things that they have never seen before.
Tell me about your summer project 80 days around the world following in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg?
It invites arts society members to join a virtual journey around the world this summer with a new lecture programme following the original itinerary devised by Jules Verne. We explore the art and culture of three continents through the eyes of our lecturers. So far, we have been to London, Paris, Turin, Brindisi and the Suez. It’s free and the most perfect way to travel and go abroad this year while restrictions are in place. There’s also a virtual book on the website that you can read.
What are you planning for your autumn programme?
The 80 days project will take us until mid-September and then we’ll start our new lecture season in October. We hope to welcome everyone back at our venue, or on Zoom, depending on the situation. Our first event with local lecturer, Christiane Krauss, is on Belgian surrealism. She will explain how René Magritte became world famous and put Belgium on the map of surrealism. We have eight lectures in total for the next season and people can find more info on our website, along with details about becoming a member (€80 a year) or signing up for our newsletter.
Is it also possible to participate without being a member?
Yes, if people want to try one out they are free, as are the 80 days summer lectures. This is an initiative by the society to enable new members to sign up for the programme. Our members can also bring along a guest free of charge, naturally with the hope that they become a member afterwards.
Do you need volunteers to help run the society?
Like many organisations in Brussels, we are experiencing difficulties attracting volunteers to help us out, although our committee is constituted of devoted and dynamic members. It’s also nice to have younger people with brilliant ideas. You don’t have to be on the committee to be a volunteer; if you have a couple of hours to help us with various tasks, the burden is evenly spread out, which makes them more friendly and amusing.
Photos: The Arts Society (main image); The Arts Society Brussels 2020-21 programme; The Arts Society Brussels chairman Muriel Lowe