Werchter Fans Hooked On SMAK

The joint initiative between Rock Werchter and volunteer arts organisation Amusee Vous that arranged for festival-goers to use their wristbands to get free entry into Belgian museums was a huge success and could be expanded throughout Europe.

Amusee Vous chairman Ria Verbergt said she hopes to find a couple of French and Dutch museums to join the scheme, but emphasised that building the project in Belgium remains the top priority.

The scheme ended September 30 and the results show more than 8,000 of the fans who attended this year’s festival took advantage of the offer – approximately 8 percent of the total Werchter crowd.

Festival press officer Nele Bigare said Ghent’s Stedelijk Museum Voor Actuele Kunst (or SMAK, as it’s more commonly known), a contemporary art gallery, was the most popular choice.

Bokrijk’s Open Air Museum, the Het Huis van Alijn and Dr. Guislain museums (also in Ghent), Antwerp’s KMSKA and Museum of Photography and the Musee des Arts Contemporains du Grand-Hornu were others high on the Rock Werchter crowd’s list.

The results may have been influenced by some of the country’s best-known acts, who contributed to the scheme by recommending their favourite museums to visit: Arno chose the contemporary art museum in Grand-Hornu and Millionaire picked the Bokrijk Open Air.

All of the 20-plus acts were filmed at the museum or gallery of their choice, which means each establishment can now have a video of the artist explaining why he or she had picked it.

Festival promoter Herman Schueremans, who had aimed for 4,000 as a take-up rate because “you need to set yourself some sort of target,” was hugely encouraged to do double that number. He said he’d be further encouraged if he could persuade other European festivals to run similar schemes.

Effortlessly morphing between promoter and politician, Schueremans – who was elected to the Flemish parliament last summer – argued that it’s an initiative that shows there are lessons society can learn from festivals.

“The museums and galleries are like the heavily subsidised province of the elite because the young tend not to go, which is the problem, but the solution can be to reach them when they come to discover the new music they like – and then also introduce them to other cultural activities.”

With the figures showing that 75 percent of the 8,000 festival-goers who took up the offer of a free visit to a museum or gallery were aged 16-27, Schueremans looks justified in saying, “I think we’ve found a way of achieving this solution.”

— John Gammon