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Discover Belgium's cities through their street artists

18:07 01/11/2018
In the latest in our series of articles on exploring Belgian cities from a unique angle, we meet the man behind Street Art Antwerp, and find out about Brussels' Parcours Street Art

A couple of years ago, Tim Marschang was cycling around Antwerp and happened upon a piece of street art that he found cool. He took a photo and posted it to social media. “And then a whole new world opened up to me.”

Buoyed by the contact with fans of street art, Marschang – by day a chemist at the port of Antwerp – began photographing and documenting street art in his city.

In 2015, his son, who was nine at the time, decided to sell waffles in support of Music for Life. The annual fundraiser run by radio station Studio Brussel encourages citizens to raise money any way they see fit, send it or bring it in, and they will see that it is passed on to the non-profit of their choice.

“I thought, if my son can do something, then I can do something,” says Marschang. So during the 2016 edition of the fundraiser, he  decided to organise some street art tours. “The tours were free, and people could give what they like for Music for Life.”

Mural in Wezenberg swimming pool in Antwerp

The tours were so successful, that Marschang found himself facing constant requests for more. The wheels in his head began to turn when he discovered an interactive street art tour website designed by some enthusiasts in Heerlen, in the southeast of the Netherlands.

He went to see them. “I told them that I thought their website was cool and that I wanted to launch the same site in Antwerp. That’s how Streetartcities started. We thought if we can expand their site to one city, we can expand it to every city.”

Last month, Streetartcities.com welcomed its 250th city. Each city page is run by ‘hunters’ in the city, vetted by Marschang and the rest of the team behind Streetartcities. Hunters post photos of their city’s urban art and maps of where to find them. Some map out walking tours, while others do tours in person – like Marschang.

He’s so booked with tours, in fact, that he’s considering cutting down the hours of his day job to concentrate more on them. But it goes far beyond that.

Street mural by Joachim

In two short years, Marschang – having launched the organisation Street Art Antwerp – has become the port city’s go-to facilitator of urban art. Now with contacts in city hall, he organises empty wall space for local and international artists.

“I sometimes get request from artists who are passing through Belgium or through Europe, and they contact me to see if there are any walls available,” he explains. “Sometimes I can find them one, sometimes I can’t, it just depends. If it’s an international artist, I try to arrange room and board. I call myself a ‘facilitator’. I don’t like the word ‘curator’. I facilitate these artists.”

When a city councillor in Antwerp’s Merksem district – where Marschang lives – had some unused budget for neighbourhood projects, he contacted Marschang. “Last year, I  helped organise 20 murals in Merksem alone.”

Sometimes he sees a wall he thinks would make a good canvas for a mural. If it’s privately owned, he just knocks on a door or makes a phone call and talks to the owner about getting a painting on it. “If they give me permission, we go from there. I talk to the owners about what they like – maybe they have a certain style they like – then I try to link it to an artist.”

Street art by Joachim and HNRX

And this from someone who “had no interest in art at all”. Though he did draw as a kid, he admits, and he was a big Marvel comics fan. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot these days, where does all this come from? I guess because I used to be a little creative. Something inside me just came out, I guess.”

Scheduled tours are listed on Street Art Antwerp’s Facebook page – there are two in November –  but additional tours can be arranged if there is a enough interest. Anyone who wants to arrange a tour can message him there or contact him through the Street Art Antwerp page of Streetartcities.

As most of the interest comes from within Flanders, the tours are in Dutch, but Marschang can also do them in English. “Sometimes I just arrange a tour in English, but sometimes I just ask the group if English is OK, and they are usually fine with it,” he says. “I try to adapt so everyone can enjoy it.”

Brussels launches public tender for street art as murals proliferate

In Brussels, the Parcours Street Art itinerary is a self-guided tour for tourists and locals alike which has grown rapidly since its inception five years ago.

In five years the project has not only created more than 150 murals (comic book murals not included) but has led to co-operation between the private and public sectors.

"There are murals in all neighbourhoods - it’s culture that goes to the public," says Brussels alderwoman for culture Karine Lalieux. "There are no entrance fees, the artists hail from various movements (graffiti, Beaux Arts graduates, self-taught) and over the last six years the city has signed close to 2,000 artist contracts."

Originally placed on city-owned walls, the murals are now also on buildings owned by various public agencies including the Brussels prosecutor's office, Citydev.brussels and various schools, plus commercial buildings - a striking example is at CCB’s site along the canal, the biggest mural in Belgium.

More than 100 private building owners have also offered a wall for the project. Orders for three SNCB tunnels in the Marolles and three public toilets at the Atomium and on Place Anneessens have been completed. In 2018 alone, murals were created by artists Bozko, FSTN, KOOL KOOR, Sozyone, Oak Oak, NEAN, Obêtre, and HELL’O Monsters among others.

Sibelga is ordering a mural, and in a further co-operation, has offered to create mural lighting across the city so that the tours can take place at night.

And not just walls are involved: the artist Alto painted the columns supporting the Portalis Building, and 10 artists painted shop shutters on the Rue des Eperonniers so that an evening or night stroll down the street near the Grand-Place will be an art walk.

The latest tender has just been launched and for the first time it involves an ephemeral project. During the three years of construction of the new Brussels city administration building which will replace the Parking 58 downtown, the construction site will be surrounded by a wooden fence.

Called 9 Visions, the tender is looking for nine artists to paint their vision of Brussels on the portion of the fence along Rue du Marché aux Poulets. Individual artists or collectives can apply by 14 November and the actual painting will take place 23 to 26 November.

Information about the itinerary and the complete tender can be found at www.parcoursstreetart.brussels

Written by Lisa Bradshaw, Richard Harris