Odense is moving fast. But where are we going?

Odense is moving fast. But where are we going?
Debate | Written by: This Is Odense | Translated by: Pil Lindgreen | Tuesday, November 14, 2017

ELECTION DEBATE: More things are happening in Odense than ever before. But what direction is the cultural scene going in? And more importantly, where do we want it to go?

In a series of articles leading up to the local elections, we will be asking questions about the city’s culture and providing our best answers, helped by some of the people involved in arts and culture in Odense. Read along, voice your opinion and show up on Saturday at the pre-election debate organized by Kulturklyngen at Storms Pakhus at 6 pm. Central figures in the election will be there to answer for themselves.

CULTURE WITH COURAGE!

Photo: Theatre Momentum, 2016

 

This Is Odense’s aim has always been to show that the city has more to offer than you might think. Today, this is truer than ever before, and our job of looking through Odense’s events and selecting the best is getting more and more difficult each week. But as exciting as this new multitude is, all new things are not good merely on account of being new.
And what do we mean by that?  

No matter how much we might differ in opinion within the group in This Is Odense, we all share a dream of culture that challenges us; arts that do not merely aim to please, but strive to provoke and change.   

A cultural scene that does not begin and end with audience numbers, but cares to move its audiences. A cultural scene that is open to the world, but does not rely on tried and true cultural package-deals passing through town. A cultural scene that allows artists not only to survive but to live and play in Odense.

A cultural scene that causes a stir throughout Denmark, but is as real and present to an Odensian on a Tuesday night in some muggy attic as it is in the crowd in front of the stage on a June evening in Tusindårsskoven.

A cultural scene supported by a free and open discussion about its own merits and direction.

In other words, culture with courage. And there is still some way to go before we get there.

BIG QUESTIONS - BIG POTENTIAL

The cultural scene in Odense is small enough that most people in it are connected somehow, depending on support from each other and often from the City itself. This kind of close network often means fruitful conditions for collaborations, but also sometimes that necessary critiques and critical questions are only posed in private conversations. And we should not forget that at This Is Odense we too are part of this network.

But the questions have to be asked, so the starting point for our series of articles is to bring some of these difficult questions to light.

 

IS ODEON WHAT WE WERE PROMISED AND WHAT ODENSE NEEDS?

Photo: Odeon’s main venue, Store Sal. Credit: Klaus Knakkergaard

ODEON has been long in the making - from the initial plan to place a cultural centre in the former Thrige factory, to a political decision to establish a centre for music and theatre at its present-day location back in 2005 that stranded during the financial crisis and went through two consecutive adaptations before it reached its final form. The question is: has ODEON become what we hoped it would? And is it what Odense needs today?

A political decision in 2005 allotted DKK 90 m to a projected new centre for music and theatre. The project was called a cultural beacon for the city and both Venstre and Socialdemokraterne were eager to stress the importance of smaller, non-commercial cultural initiatives being invited to join this new centre.

When the sketch for the ODEON project was unveiled in 2008, it was accompanied by the story of building a “cultural powerhouse”. Then-mayor Anker Boye (A) called the centre “the beating heart of the city”, and predicted it would finally put Odense on the cultural map. Jan Boye (K) pointed out that ODEON would allow the city to attract performers of a whole new calibre, while Jane Jegind (V) called it a “cultural beacon that will make the citizens of Odense proud of their hometown”. Meanwhile, urbanist Lars Engberg commented that a cultural centre will only become a landmark when it provides content of unique quality.

What followed was a lowering of both price and quality, especially for the main venue, in order to make a profit on student housing, a supermarket, and conference facilities at the centre. A more realistic project for the post-2008 market, some might say. Meanwhile, the City increased its share of the investment. Jan Boye (K) maintained that the centre would be of high quality. The Danish National School of Performing Arts and the Danish National Academy of Music argued that this was their chance to make a mark on the city and create new synergies by settling their activities in the building. Steen Møller, who replaced Jan Boye, called it a possible “international dynamo”, and both S and DF expressed enthusiasm.

Cut to late 2017. ODEON has been open and running for about eight months now, and what do we have on our hands? The city has gained an acclaimed communal restaurant and a much critized supermarket.
We have not seen much of the non-commercial initiatives so far, contrary to the original intent. And whether such performers would be able to carve out a meaningful space for themselves in the building remains to be seen. It is still too early to judge what has been gained by moving the schools of music and performance to their new location.

What we can judge is the cultural landmark, the “beacon” itself; ODEON’s own bookings and visiting events of the past eight months. This is where projection and reality differ the most. A cross-section of the programme so far includes: City Singler, Tina Dickow, Chippendales, Linie 3, The Bootleg Beatles, Kim Larsen, Stine Bramsen, Caroline Henderson, Svend Brinkmann, Midt Om Natten-musical, Cliff Richard, and of course productions by Odense Teater and Odense Symphony Orchestra.

It is very hard to see a beacon taking shape from that. Nothing on that list does not already feature on every major venue across the country and most of the performers could have been booked at Odense’s existing venues. And though the acoustics might be better at ODEON, other venues might have offered a more fitting setting for several names. Worst case scenario: because of ODEON, Odense is left with a lesser culture and the new venue could be said to cannibalize the bookings of other, existing venues.
We might be so bold as to ask: Has Odense gained anything culturally by ODEON that the city did not already have?

And does it have to be that way? The special merit of ODEON must lie in its size and in the quality of its events. So what happened to the ambitions for its bookings? Where is the courage to be a cultural beacon? Could it really be that there are still people who doubt that Odensians are ready to step out of their comfort zone? And what role does the City play in challenging this tendency?

 

IS POSTEN LIVING OP TO ITS RESPONSIBILITES AS A HIGH-QUALITY REGIONAL VENUE?

Photo: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at their almost sold-out show at Posten last week

Posten is the regional venue in Odense - one of 18 across the country - and is comparable in size to Radar, Train and Global/Jazzhouse in Copenhagen and Århus.

It is furthermore a venue with a solid economic record and a strong network of sponsors. Comparing Posten’s finances to the accounts for Vega, the two receive roughly the same state funding (Vega DKK 6.1 m, Posten/Dexter DKK 6.2 m), and have roughly the same income from sponsors (Vega DKK 1.8 m, Posten/Dexter DKK 1.4 m). The big difference lies in their turnover. Ticket income at Posten/Dexter amounts to DKK 10.3 m; Vega DKK 56 m.

Posten states its strategy as follows: offering audiences “high-quality live music” and big international names, and in later years have also expressed ambition to support upcoming local bands and underground acts. After its extension in 2007, Posten has a capacity of 900 at its main stage. In comparison, the count at Vega is 1,550, at Radar 300 and at Train 1,000.

All things considered, Posten should be able to offer Odensians a combination of high quality upcoming bands and midsize international acts, on top of those classic Danish acts touring the nation.

Between now and April next year, Vega has (among many other) the following acts scheduled that would easily fit the bill at Posten too: Joey BadaSS, Destroyer, Alex Cameron, Sun Kill Moon, The Kooks, Mastodon, Mando Diao, Thomas Dybdahl, Iron and Wine, Niels Frahm, First Aid Kit and Editors. Hiphop, singer-songwriting, indie rock, folk rock, pop rock, heavy, alternative rock, modern classic and electronic music.

Posten, in that same period, presents a list of cover bands, well-known Danish touring bands and a handful of lesser known international acts, that are not unknown because they are on the verge of a breakthrough.

Is it not possible to improve this booking profile? Shouldn’t Posten be Odenses main venue for medium-sized international acts? And what about the ambience? Why don’t audiences tend to stay and hang out at Posten after a concert? Why is there no sense of a creative environment when you enter through its doors? Why is it that one tends to feel more like a number being handled in wardrobe than a valued guest?

 

DOES THE CITY LACK AN ALTERNATIVE SCENE AND A CREATIVE CLASS?

Photo: Kenneth Danielsen, Odense Offentlige Slagtehuse

This leads us to the next question - does Odense lack a true alternative upcoming venue surrounded by production facilities and rehearsal space for off-off centre arts with less obvious commercial potential? A creative hub without a neat and orderly municipal ambience? In a central location? Where bookers do not have to end concerts early, and where artists and organizers can shape everything from start to finish?

Is the lack of such a place not one of the main reasons why the city’s creative talent is so hard to find, even though it is growing in numbers? Kansas City is trying its best to be that place on the music scene, but its efforts have so far been held back by its location far from the city centre and its small following.

Kulturklyngen is on it; several cultural and educational institutions are talking about it, and initiatives such as Røde Himmel and other talented people from Ungdomshuset and Flow HF have been looking for an inclusive home for a while now.

How will we get there - what will it take? What is the ideal location? Could the last remnant of pristine industrial history on Siloøen be an option? Not every bit of industrial history has yet been developed into apartments, but we are getting there, and fast. That is not the recipe for a big city. What role should the city play in establishing such a project? And how do we ensure that it does not end up another temporary space, fertilizing an area for investment and development?

 

WHAT DIRECTION IS BRANDTS MOVING IN? AND WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO BRANDTS 13?

Photo: Disney exhibition at Brandts

The new Brandts is big, shiny, and ready to position itself as an ever-larger-looming figure in Odensian culture. Central to this ambition is (mostly) pop(ular) art. Soon the fourth floor that hosts the Funen Art Academy will be cleared and included in Brandts. The Media Museum will also have to go. More room - bigger exhibitions - more visitors.

Brandts has since its relaunch in 2014 exhibited tattoos, fashion, air travel, the sea, Walt Disney (with hands tied and no creative input) and, currently, the work of Lars von Trier. All no doubt with the admirable aim of getting more people to visit, and to establish itself among the big players in Danish cultural institutions.

The question is: What do we lose along the way? Is it really in a serious museum’s best interest to purchase a readymade (by Disney) exhibition on Disney? Is it desirable to fill the museum bookstore with assorted bric-a-brac instead of art books and make a visitor’s first impression that of a Bed, Bath and Beyond? Exit through the giftshop, please. And buy your identity here.

The rebranding of Brandts has included a satellite in Brandts 13; home to every risk and chance the museum has taken in the past 3-4 years, and as a result, often the most interesting exhibition space in Odense. Now it too faces closure. Brandts 13 has played the part of the empire’s frontrunner; pushing forward, moving ahead with installatons, photography and contemporary artist from Funen, Denmark and the world. Every exhibition has met an impressive still- higher standard.

What will happen to these ambitions when Brandts 13 closes its doors? Will the ambition and cultural courage move to a different site in the Brandts empire? And what will happen to the building - the former Funen Art Museum? Might a clever investor eye an opportunity to develop luxury apartments with a desirable tint of culture?

DOES ODENSE HAVE ROOM FOR AN ART ACADEMY?

Photo: Funen Art Academy at Brandts

This is one question that has already been raised and discussed in the past few years - it usually comes up whenever the city council is negotiating their next budget, and there are rarely any visions for solutions beyond balancing the accounts.

Instead of discussing whether the City is allowed to fund an institute of higher education, we should be talking about why it is important to have an art academy in our city. Could the art academy anchor a new creative scene on the harbour? What kind of art might arise from establishing a alternative cultural centre? Could it create an enviromnent attractive to more people than the art students themselves?

Might it challenge the mentality of headless progress that has lead to a massive billboard lighting up the city with commercials for the airport canteen and Svendborg, day and night? And what is the Art Academy itself currently doing to ensure its future existence?

DO OUR MASSIVELY FUNDED LIBRARIES LIVE UP TO THEIR POTENTIAL?

Photo: Odense Kommune - the new “Borgernes Hus”

The city’s libraries receive DKK 70 mio.  in yearly funding, and, seen together, as a result, they could be called one of the largest cultural institution in Odense. The institution also distinguishes itself by having branches located all over the city; a potential to cater to and interact with a very broad spectrum of citizens.

Running a library in 2017 must be somewhat similar to planning a city of self-driving cars: the possibilites are revolutionary, but no one knows what the future holds and there is a danger of destroying something that already works in favour of something uncertain.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the best option is to continue shelving books and just wait for time to make the choice for you. Næsby Library started the Harry Potter Festival in a back room 15 years ago and now service 15,000 visitors for that event alone each year.

The Music Library was hosting and creating some of the most interesting and challenging cultural events in the city before they were given the unwelcome task of being the main library while Borgernes Hus was underway. What will become of their energetic ideas in their new, gilded setting at the central station?

And why is there not a handful of other examples of libraries breaking the mould? The money is there. What might happen at the new Borgernes Hus? Will it finally become a place where people will want to create, hang out, play? Or will it be “yet another library”?

BIG EVENTS - WHO MAKES THEM AND WHO ARE THEY FOR?

Foto: Robbie Williams, Tinderbox

Odense has made a name for itself as a site for big events in recent years, thanks to funds from Odense & Co. Events sponsored by this fund have been well-executed on an unprecedented large scale.

This justifiably excites a lot people, but has also raised some eyebrows. Who is these events catering to? Are they for the benefit of current Odensians or do they serve to attract new citizens - and if the latter is true; are these the best events, then, strategically?

How do we strike a balance between buying events from professional Danish/ international event organizers and supporting local organizers who may not have the same ressources, financial or otherwise, but who could anchor the profits as wells as the experience in local talent?

It is a difficult queston. Could local forces have organized Tinderbox on the same scale and with equal success? No, probably not. And the same could be said for a number of smaller events in the same category. There IS a difference when it comes to skill, experience and turnover. Yet what happens to all of that when the organizers move on and go back where they came from; when the money leaves?

It has been integral to the strategy to ground know-how locally, but has it been successfully done? There is no doubt that the local commercial event organizers are frustrated. Are they right to be?

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD - MAKE YOUR MARK ON THE CITY!

S o. What do our future representatives in public office think about all this? Do they even have an opinion? Who and what do the arts serve? What are the hidden possibilites in Odense? Which cultural institutions have the potential to do better, and how do we foster a distinct cultural scene, whose influence reaches across Danish borders while maintaining a clear Odensian spirit? Is there room for dreams of more than counting pennies in next year’s political plans? Do arts and culture mainly serve to create growth and attract new citizens or is there inherent value in this field?

These are some of our concerns and questions for the future. What do you think? Are we far off? What is the most urgent thing for politicians to discuss before the elections? And what do we need to talk about when the elections are over?



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