Tools for Collective Empowerment

By Jesse van Winden, Dries Van de Velde, Jacoba Cuppens

This overview describes tools collected by interviewing different artist-run spaces, collectives and initiatives.

This text talks about the advantages and difficulties of collective efforts and how individuals can take equal, active part in the creation and management of spaces for art.

a ‘how-to’ for artist-run

At the base of this project stands our wish to come up with tools to empower members of a collective – instead of empowering an organisation to include members. This change of perspective – from an institutional one towards a perspective of people concerned – is part of practicing what might be referred to as the third wave of institutional critique. We started from the often heard complaint that people who collectively govern a space put a lot of effort in but do not get an equal share in return. The return on investment is often experienced as out of balance. In other words, organising an artist-run space is often understood as a draining practice, where the motives were mostly to create a better world by giving a bit of yourself to this practice. We felt the need to provide some collectivising tools to the people involved, the members of a space. When we started watching out for ‘best practices’, it became clear that a lot of practices and approaches exist while not many people are aware of them.

In this article, we describe a number of tools we collected by interviewing different artist-run spaces, collectives and initiatives. They all speak about the advantages and difficulties of collective efforts and how individuals can take equal, active part in the creation and management of art spaces.

We asked, how do initiatives of artist and cultural workers that run a (physical) space collectively empower their members and environment? What are your ‘best practices’? What tools have you developed to operate your initiative in a truly collective way?

Together with them, we co-wrote the following collection of tools for space-bound forms of collectivisation. Further practices will be assembled in the online version of this toolkit.

Providing a good understanding of the concepts and tools of a project to everyone involved is key for any artist-run space. To keep an overview, it helps to look at a project from the perspective of different domains of its working. Here we propose a trefoil of four intertwined domains. Distinguishing your own tools within such domains might help to check whether they cover all aspects and needs.

For our own understanding, we defined the following four domains:


Dries Van de Velde & Jacoba Cuppens (2022),Trying to capture a systematic overview of spheres of collectivisation

ECONOMIC TOOLS to sustain on an operative, financial and material level. POLITICAL TOOLS to participate in structuring the collective: co-thinking, decision-making, negotiation of rules. CULTURAL TOOLS that help members to create the collective spirit and resolve its potential conflicts. CONTEXTUAL TOOLS to make it possible for others, care for the social surrounding and for inclusivity.


Rent and membership contributions

Level Five, Brussels

Renting space is a political act! Defend affordable and sustainable renting conditions for everyone. Level Five sets its maximum at 7,50€/m2/month, inclusive. Membership can be added as a contribution for the social cohesion of the space. Level Five’s active members pay €20 per month:

  • €5 for administrative, coordinating and location-bound tasks
  • €5 for common groceries
  • €5 for an artistic programme
  • €5 for savings

Solidarity Fridge

Meyboom Artist-run Spaces, Brussels

Buying drinks at gross prices with free delivery and selling them at modest prices. The ‘profit’ goes to the collective – for unforeseen costs such as energy bills. At Meyboom Artist-run Spaces, drinks are sold within the larger community that crosses the space, during public events and to subleasing organisations with proper funding.

Care Web solidarity fund

Level Five, Brussels

Develop a solidarity fund for people in trouble to pay the rent for their studio. Level Five installed Care Web, with a flexible contribution of €30, €60 or €90. It enabled artists to keep their studio during the COVID-19 crisis. The fund was co-sustained by a percentage of the Level Five savings plus, in 2020 and 2021, 50% of Level Five’s artist-run art fair Salon Sale profits and any buffer money that could be found. In the end, Care Web was used 27 times by 11 different people for an amount of €2280 from April 2020 to June 2021. It still exists.

Collective dance floor

Artist Commons, Brussels

A good floor for dance practices is expensive and quite hard to find. Artist Commons bought the material collectively and installed it themselves. They now have proper rehearsal space at the disposal of the dance community. It is suitable to host small audiences and that allows to organise pre-showings, public performances and other events.

Share your stuff

ISO Amsterdam, Amsterdam

If anyone owns something scarce but valuable, share it – if needed for a friendly rent. For example: one of the artists at ISO owns a van. They rent it to other member artists at 40€ per day, which is enough to cover the costs, save for maintenance costs and it’s much cheaper than other options.

Shared video station

Hectolitre, Brussels

Share your video or audio editing hard- and software. At Hectolitre, the owner of such material gives basic instruction and support to other users. The owner can do this because in exchange, they pay a cheap rent for their working space – which in turn becomes a good context to have their professional devices permanently installed.


Space for public

Meyboom Artist-run Spaces, Brussels

Spaces on the ground floor of the interim occupied Meyboom are free to use for all renters of the building. This brings valuable potentials: the spaces can be used to host public moments, exhibitions, film screenings, etc., or for rehearsal and workshops. Wherever possible, space is given to people in need. There is a shared online calendar for reservations.

Braking through paywalls

Level Five, Brussels

Install a collective computer with access to diverse private accounts for video streaming, libraries etc. ! University libraries have many subscriptions to newspapers and journals whose articles are behind paywalls. If one member is privately affiliated, the collective can make use of their access. That’s how common access is given to information that should be a commons in the first place.

Kangaroo projects

Wanda (no physical space), Flanders & Brussels

Small organisations can benefit from a ‘kangaroo’ relationship to bigger ones. One of Wanda’s members has a mentorship at Argos as their intern and can make use of Argos’ spaces. Argos’ partnership with Wanda is part of their commitment to connect with the city by making their infrastructure and staff available to groups in need. It fits the aim to make Argos’ space more accessible by sharing agency. Other institutions may offer similar opportunities.

Visitors programmes

Level Five & Cas-co, Brussels & Leuven

Invite groups of (international) curators for studio visits of more than one day! Organising public or professional studio visits provide wide visibility and in depth collaboration between artists and curators. Level Five and Cas-co joined forces to organise with the support of Kunstenpunt such visits under the umbrella of UFO (network of studio management initiatives).

Trust and exchange of knowledge

LookIN’OUT, co-organised by Ad Lib, Brussels

Professional feedback on eye height fosters a culture of trust in the art field. Organise public working moments around projects in development! LookIN'OUT invites artists to present their projects to each other, which enables new contacts and collaborations. Training a mutually supportive yet critical culture is crucial in situations that can otherwise easily create conflics.

A Serious Apéro

Hectolitre, Brussels

Create casual situations where it’s a pleasure to get to know each other’s work. At Hectolitre, Serious Apéros are monthly gatherings for the community where other members get the floor to present their practice. Time and space is given to just this practice, offering occasions for collective reflection and association, while enjoying drinks and snacks.


Meyboom Artist-run Spaces, Brussels

Inspired by sociocratic principles, Meyboom Artist-run Spaces is working with decision-making ‘circles’ per theme, and working groups for collective projects, using consent-based decision-making processes. While with consensus, one asks “do you agree?”, in consent-based decision-making processes, one asks “do you object?” This makes time-consuming collective processes much easier and faster, as individuals in a large group might consent with something they may not consider optimal but still good enough for the whole.

Codes of Conduct &
Complaints Procedures

OFEN Co-Arts Platform

No group is too small to have a code of conduct and complaints procedure. Take time to work collectively on a code so that you're all on the same page. OFEN Co-Arts Platform shares insights into what to cover in a code of conduct:

  • How do you as a collective go against white patriarchal dominance?
  • What are your values as a group? (including social responsibilities)
  • Individual needs (i.e. quiet, breastfeeding, child care, privacy, confidentiality, social media tagging)
  • How will new people be initiated into the group?
  • How will you change social norms?
  • Complaints procedure – different methods of resolving conflict, sexual harassment, bullying
  • Texting and email hours – are you happy to receive work calls, etc. on scheduled days off?

Someone in the group can put themselves forward to be a confidential advisor, and they would be responsible for knowing how to carry out complaints safely. (Tip: use infrastructure already in place in Belgium: Engagement Arts,, Ombudsvrouw Gender en de Genderkamer, for instance.) Funds can be gathered to put this person through a training course! (Tip: choose someone who isn't bearing the burden of any emotional weightlifting already).

Online Forum

Zonneklopper, Brussels Vorst/Forest

Beyond messaging groups via WhatsApp, Telegram or Facebook, build an online forum to share information, questions, etc. , in an unlimited amount of categories and public or private groups. provides many features for such organisation based on open source technology and ethics. In a large community like Zonneklopper’s, where management takes a lot of time, this is an all-round communication tool within the community and its direct networks.


Invisibility for local

Zonneklopper, Brussels Vorst/Forest

Organise events for the neighborhood where the usual communities aren’t invited. Zonneklopper organises Sunday afternoons for children. Besides direct information to the neighbors (flyers, word of mouth…) these events are not communicated. The goal of this is twofold:

  • As a community, be of value for and in communication with the direct surroundings
  • To avoid being a gentrifying factor by keeping this communication invisible to real estate developers and politicians, as well as the wider society in general.

Grow slow and local

M33, Brussels north quarter

In neighborhoods with particular challenges, let a majority of the activities be organised by and for the inhabitants and users of the surroundings. It slows down the creation of a programme and excludes proposals that are not linked to the neighborhood. It ensures that the space grows locally, dictates its own pace, and follows a more moderate and unhurried trajectory. Communicate the activities locally on a small scale, trying to avoid making the neighborhood attractive for developers and politicians. Constructively resisting gentrification may come down to navigating continually between visibility and invisibility.

Positive Discrimination

Level Five, Brussels

Composing the community involves more than selection on the basis of a waiting list. Selection of a new member may also be based on:

  • their urgency
  • the suitability of the available workspace for various art disciplines
  • a medical indication
  • diversity of disciplines
  • diversity of artists

At Level Five, studios are generally assigned to candidates with the longest registration period. Depending on the work space, the discipline practiced by the candidate will also be considered. Level Five strives for an interesting mix of disciplines per location, and a mix of beginning and more experienced artists. Sometimes they use a specific allocation for a particular building, for example, because the spaces are suitable for certain artistic disciplines. Within Level Five, there is an ongoing discussion about positive discrimination of artists with a diversity of backgrounds.

The interviewed spaces

Artist Commons

The Artist Commons (a-C) is a membership based group of artists in Brussels. Founded in 2017, it is an interdisciplinary artist-organised platform that aims to create a sustainable way to practise and make work by sharing working spaces. Within the a-C structure, artists have the opportunity to hold events, workshops, share their practice, present their work and contribute to the running of the a-C. The a-C has a responsive and malleable structure to meet its members’ needs. It aims to be an alternative to commercial and institutional practices. The a-C has a core group of around 15-35 active members, and has occupied six temporary spaces so far. facebook > ArtistCommonsBxl


Hectolitre is a space in an unusual building in the heart of the Marolles neighborhood dedicated to artists who wish to delve deeper into their projects, experiment with transdisciplinarity and connect their art form/research to the neighborhood. The artists living and working at Hectolitre are part of interconnected community rings, together with involved neighbours, socio-cultural activists, local and international artists/curators. The project is based on open, curious and benevolent exchange. Innovation, perseverance the desire to undertake guide the approach, all in an atmosphere that is joyful, lively and harmonious. The methodology of co-creation and collective intelligence governs the organisation of the life of the place and the design and implementation of projects. Seven people live and work at Hectolitre, and eight come to work as members. Associate members come to prepare public events in a format of micro-residencies of 7-14 days.

ISO Amsterdam

ISO is a collaborative workspace in Amsterdam. It combines over 30 individual and shared studios – the intimate workspaces of a multitude of creative professionals operating within an expansive range of disciplines – with a public programme boasting exhibitions, workshops, screenings, lectures, performance and music events. ISO is supported by Bureau Broedplaatsen and Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst (AFK).

Level Five

Level Five is an artist cooperative in Brussels that supports artists by providing artist studios, artistic development programmes and advocacy for artists in Brussels. Since 2019, Level Five provides accessible and qualitative artist studios through a practice of collective organisation and a culture of mutual support. Currently, 112 artist members work at three temporary locations (Van Volxem, Van Meyel and Van Overbeke). Two other temporary spaces have been occupied by Level Five and its predecessor. In addition, it provides facilities and programmes to support creative practices such as visual arts, performing arts, theatre, architecture, film, writing and curating.


In January 2022, artists Paula Almiron and Wouter De Raeve opened M33 on the ground floor of a building in the Northern Quarter of Brussels, that was constructed in 1974 as a 'replacement’ during the destruction of the neighborhood by means of the Manhattan plan. The space is part of their critical reading of top-down, large-scale urban gestures in relation to local movements. On a daily basis, a diversity of activities take place in M33: from popping and hip hop dance, circuit training, boxing for children, dance for womxn, French classes and logopedy, Ecuadorian traditional dance, to social organisation and engagement through neighborhood meetings. Parallel to these activities, at M33, Paula and Wouter conduct their artistic research regarding the relationship between the notion of the swamp and the creation of space. This chapter grows interconnected with the life of the space.
No website. Contact: Paula Almiron Wouter De Raeve

Meyboom Artist-run Spaces

Meyboom Artist-run Spaces, formed over the years since 2013 in four locations in Brussels, brings together a community of individuals and collectives working in different fields. Primarily, Meyboom is a working space for around 40 artists and artworkers. The broad variety of practices gives this community the chance to exchange, support each other, and extend their spirit into the city. Their engagement with the public includes hosting and collaborating on programmes such as showcases, artist residencies, reading rooms, film programmes – in addition to providing smaller groups a space to meet or conduct workshops. This community is both a space to work on practice and a space from which myriad interdisciplinary practices engage with the local context, the city and beyond!

OFEN Co-Arts

OFEN Co-Arts (Belgium/Germany) is a choreographer-run platform whose work includes artistic collaborations which contribute to a shift to ethical and sustainable working practices. At the core of the company’s practice is an analysis of the context surrounding projects, including working conditions and the role of arts in wider society. OFEN has a membership programme aimed at individuals and organisations for medium to long-term integration of change/learning. It offers discussion groups, workshops for groups, speaking engagements, mentoring, creative processes and resources.


Wanda is an independent action group of directors from public films to arthouse cinema, from creative documentaries to animation films, from experimental work to series. It unites women in the fight against institutional inequality within the Flemish and Brussels audiovisual sector. In doing so, it not only looks at gender-based discrimination but endorses the need for anti-racist feminism. Wanda examines inequality from the perspective of intersectional thinking. Wanda does not have a physical space but aims to be a point of contact for all directors and underrepresented groups in the film landscape. It wants to facilitate dialogue and debate in an open and accessible way. It is an ally of all equal opportunity organisations. Wanda has around 15 core members and more than 100 members in a larger group. facebook > wandacollective


Zonneklopper is a self-managed space in Brussels for living, welcoming, building and creating. Since 2020, around 100-150 individuals, including 16 collectives, live and work on cultural, artistic and social activities where alternative ways of doing and seeing are explored in an aware, collective and benevolent manner. Everyone is invited to take part in decision-making bodies General Assembly and Agora and in various working groups. Zonneklopper is keen to move away from dominant economic models that encourage personal profit at the cost of general well being. This implies principles of cooperation, mutual aid and the sharing of knowledge and resources. Zonneklopper refuses to develop activities in the service of profit, competition or growth under any circumstances.