In January 2019, I travelled to Brussels to visit my friend Fanny, who's a children's book illustrator (and co-founder of CUISTAX) and has been living there for 12 years now. She had organized for us to visit the abc center. I didn't know what to expect. She had only told me "it's a creative place for kids, you'll love it!" - friends who know you well are the best.
As soon as we opened the door I was blown away by the magic, the simplicity, the honesty and the openness of this space. But let me start with the beginning.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
ABC (ART BASICS for CHILDREN) is the brainchild of Gerhard Jäger. When he became a father, he went in search of stimulating books and play materials for his growing son as an indirect visual guide to the arts. This book collection, in which culture and education are central, grew to the extent that he wanted to share it all around: not just with other parents, but with also with teachers, librarians, educators, and last but not least, with other children.
The most interesting ideas from the numerous books were selected and transformed into play and workstations: small islands where children and adults could get started, individually or together, using their imagination, senses, hands, etc in a fun and creative way. And of course, they could also rummage in the books where it all started. This is how the interactive ABC studios were born in 1998.
At the beginning, the ABC studio didn't have a steady place but it was often invited to events where they set up temporary libraries, workshops and exhibitions for kids.
In 2008, ABC found its own building in Schaerbeek. ‘De Fabriek’ (The Factory), a former youth center was renovated for two and transformed into the ABC-house. In the meantime, the multilingual collection of books has continuously grown to some 12,000 books.
The ABC-House is an open research center for art, culture and education welcoming school classes, families, teachers in training, supervisors of youth workshops, collaborators of museums/libraries,… anyone committed to arts education and cultural mediation is welcome! This industrial building (a former youth center) of 1600m2 on 3 floors is now transformed into an interactive and artistic laboratory to work, play, explore, to find out and to express the individual self.
At the heart of the ABC-House is a resource-library accessible to all visitors, an expanding collection of inspiring and stimulating books, ideas and materials on art and education. Further integrated are a wide variety of studios focusing on nature, theater, graphic design, poetry, paper, cooking, architecture, textile, wood and many more thematic subjects, a Kita-Café (and kitchen) and a cinema-auditorium. Outside playgrounds and a vegetable garden are surrounding the center.
THE PHILOSOPHY AND MISSION
ABC (ART BASICS for CHILDREN) is a non-profit organisation that is operating on the border of the arts and education as a labo for aesthetic experiences and awareness.
They create stimulating environments and projects that encourage children and adults of all ages to experiment with their imagination and explore their creative potential.
Interactive working-stations are equipped with selected books, visuals and specific research materials. Their well-defined settings enable small groups of visitors to explore and investigate at ease and in confidence. Supporting ABC-guides provide opportunities to have a different view, to not only answer but also to ask questions.
Starting from the idealistic idea that everyone has the right to a "poetic life", they are using the creative process as an opening for dialogue and as a reflective tool to enable visitors to integrate art in their daily life.
Besides their present work in the ABC-House and in mobile studios, ABC is also searching for strategies to inspire the present and future teacher generations with their informal learning expertise and lead them to a more artistic way of teaching in public schools.
Stepping into the ABC-House was like finding something I was always looking for. I did a big internal "yay"-jump to see that places like this exist and find a big interest amongst all ages and cultures. Although there were not kids there as I visited it during holiday, I could feel the energetic vibes and the good mood that inhabit this space.
After 4 hours of "oh" and "wow" and "I want to be small again", we left the ABC-House inspired and motivated by all these endless possibilities that kids' imagination offer! A good reminder to sit down from time to time, read a book, explore the unknown and just start creating art without knowing where it will take you.
Thank you Fanny for showing me this magical place!
Now, who wants this kind of place in Switzerland? :)
"Not only how we can bring the arts to youth, but in which ways are the young already artists of their own lives" – Jennifer Williams