What happened with the MonsterMeet?

a 2018 S P I N project.

In Spring of 2018, S P I N initiated the “MonsterMeet”: an experiment in hosting community-initiated projects.

We used the “monster” metaphor (playing with Derrida’s concept of Hospitality) to re-imagine the guest as a kind of “monster” who is invited into the host’s home. The guest behaves in and uses the home in strange, unfamiliar ways - which makes the home also strange for the host, who is given the opportunity to discover new ways to be and behave there too.

MonsterMeet was, in its inception, a tool for S P I N to experiment with new ways of developing collectively-run practices. Before MonsterMeet, S P I N’s projects, trajectories and researches were always initiated in-house by the people at the core of the organisation - who then developed and led the projects, with invited external collaborators.

This time S P I N wanted to create a context for a different structure: an expanded assembly that would be distant from the S P I N core; a much wider discussion group, with the powers and instruments to make projects happen.

S P I N sent out a message to 40 Brussels-based artists, practitioners, academics, curators, cultural and social workers, inviting them to gather in an assembly: the “MonsterMeet”. Every invitee could extend the invitation to others interested in the experiment.

This meeting-of-monsters (at a monster-sized meeting) received these initial questions:

What would we love to see happening in Brussels, as an evolution / rupture / shared-resource / new-language / support / resistance / conspiracy / celebration / ∞ / ?

And what actions could we imagine initiating ourselves (individually or with others) as a celebration / resource / support / resistance / ∞ / evolution / ?

And concretely, the MonsterMeet received this request:

To knit, fertilise, conspire, and initiate actions or projects in the Brussels arts field, with 10.000€ at MonsterMeet’s disposal, and with a deadline of December 2019 for any of these actions or projects to be activated.

S P I N provided administrative support, but for the rest the MonsterMeet was completely autonomous, with full powers to govern itself, initiate ideas, and allocate the finances.

Present at the first assembly of the MonsterMeet were: Adva Z., Agnès Q., Anna R., Ant H., Bie V., Benjamin S., Britt H., Charlotte D. S., Christophe M., David H., Diederik P., Elisa D., Elli V., Erika S., Hans B., Ilse G., Jozef W., Kate M., Laura D., Lilia M., Livia P., Maarten D., Mai A. E., Marnie S., Mathilde M., Michiel V., Nicolas G., & Pierre H..

And following from a distance were: Anna C., Aurelie D. M., Daniel B., Dries D., Filip V. D., Gosie V., Hana M., Heike L., Laurence R., Luce G., Peggy P., Sarah P., & Sara M.

Over the following months and many meetings later - two initiatives sprouted from the gathering and are being enacted:

Joëlle Sambi Nzeba, Leïla La Boubou and Marnie Slater are working on a mental health support resource for racialised LBTQI+ people in Brussels. Finding therapists, support groups and mental health resources that people can be confident will understand their perspectives and traumas, and offer non-judgemental care, is a huge barrier that prevents many racialised LBTQI+ people from seeking the mental health support they need. They organised non-mixed mental health workshops animated by two queer racialised therapists at the end of 2019, where people gathered in a supported environment to share their experiences with mental health and seeking help. The workshops were hosted by Cafe Congo in Brussels, an art and event space created and run by black lesbians. Currently they are working on the next stage of the process, which involves further research into practitioners and organisations in Brussels that can offer mental health support from a racialised LBTQI+ perspective, and creating a platform to share more general information about accessing care.

A second initiative, powered by Engagement (an artist-led movement tackling sexual harassment, sexism and power abuse in the Belgian arts field), consisted of a quantitative study into the gender diversity on boards of art institutions that are currently (2018/2019) structurally funded by the Flemish government. This survey lead to the publication of The Skewed Gender Balance in the Boards of Flemish Artistic Organizations (16 May 2019, Rekto Verso).

Alongside the survey, Engagement wrote a letter to the then-unknown future minister of culture, in order to implement two tools that would start an accelerated process of inclusion:

1. A ‘shadow cabinet’: a direct advisory board to the cultural ministry made of people who identify as women, people of colour, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, people with non-binary gender identities, fat people (*), differently educated people, single parents and caregivers, people of different ages, and people in precarious living conditions. (*) See Fat Acceptance Movement

2. The implementation of quota which demands that 50% womxn as well as 50% people of colour sit in the boards of all publicly funded arts institutions based in Brussels and Antwerp, and according to local demographics for smaller cities. Currently 71% of the institutions have a majority of men on their board and 79% have a male president on the board.

In December 2019 the MonsterMeet gathered one last time to wrap up the project and discuss what happened. The venture brought up many questions and reflections that S P I N is now very happy to keep stewing on. We recap some of the most interesting ones here with the hope of coming back soon to investigate further…

Both projects supported by the MonsterMeet would probably never have received funding from other sources - but the MonsterMeet proposal allowed enough flexibility for them to happen. What can we keep from this experiment? Is it interesting to formalise flexible processes like this? Is it necessary to formalise them so they become more common?

Was S P I N perceived as an institution - in the sense that it provided guidelines, a budget and simple paperwork to comply with? What are the responsibilities that come with being perceived as an institution (even without having thought about being one)?

Also, what is needed to properly host a community? Does S P I N lack hosting skills? How can S P I N cultivate better ones? Is self-facilitation really possible in a temporary group? Within an invited-community, what is needed so that individuals (and the group) start having agency?

To conclude: instead of hosting the project, it felt more like S P I N was inviting strangers to pirate part of the S P I N budget - it felt like the final projects happened in the form of a welcomed infiltration, a leak, free of the heaviness of negotiations, bureaucracy, and convincing.

It is an interesting way to be in relation with our community, and it seems for our community it was an interesting way to be in relation with an “institution”… as if in a kind of pirate-guest arrangement… to be continued.