Atelier Cirkel - Background to the Collective behind the International Ceramics Biennial at Brasschaat, Belgium.

30 Apr 2004

30 April - 23 May 2004

Joint Venture - PETER LANE visits Atelier Cirkel, a collective enterprise with a programme of international contributors in Brasschaat, near Antwerp, Belgium.

The notion of a communal centre for the visual arts arose in 1986 when Patty Wouters lost her job as a teacher during a governmental reorganisation.

Together with a few friends she decided to look seriously for any suitable premises where a variety of creative activities could take place. Initially, the Brasschaat town council allowed them to occupy an empty building used only during the summer vacation as a children's day-care centre. It had one main room, an attic, an office, services and some storage space but it had been vandalised due to infrequent use. A small group of volunteers redecorated the interior and launched a publicity campaign in September of that year.

By January 1987, the enthusiastic response had encouraged them to run practical courses in ceramics, drawing and watercolour painting. Until sufficient funds became available in 1989 all tutors gave their services willingly without payment and any course fees were immediately reinvested to improve the amenities or to cover the costs of materials.

The success of those early ventures attracted more practising artists until the group had grown to the point where they could afford to offer extra workshops in graphics, weaving and painting on silk. All the more mundane maintenance work was done mainly by Patty herself with the help of her husband and a few friends. With constantly escalating numbers of students and courses the inadequacy of the original location soon became apparent.

The search for larger, more relevant accommodation produced what Patty described as a 'dream studio' in the wooded grounds of a large domain belonging to the Quadens Association, founded in the 1960's to care for children with social and behavioural problems. Numbers of children on the site had dwindled from 600 to around 150 so that several 'temporary' buildings were no longer in use. So much renovation was necessary to renew the leaking roof and repair plumbing etc, that Patty and her friends were able to negotiate a favourable contract that will sustain the project until 2006.

All the running expenses still had to be found by their own efforts because it was not until 1989, when they had begun to achieve wider recognition, that a small grant was obtained from the community council. The following year the Belgian government donated £850 and in 1997, they received about £1500 from the provincial authorities. Another arts organisation sharing similar aims but based in the city of Ghent had approached them in 1986 for mutual support. More public monies became available when their joint association was formalised the following year.

Today, Atelier-Cirkel' (an appropriate name chosen by Patty) consists of six spacious, fully furnished workshops leading off an even larger central area housing several glass-fronted display cabinets and a cafeteria. Within the complex, there are well appointed kiln and glaze rooms and an office. Patty's own ceramic work is widely exhibited but she still manages to devote much of her time and energy to running the many and varied activities of the Atelier. During 1999 for example, she organised nineteen different workshops and master classes in oil paint- ing, furniture restoration and soapstone sculpture as well as ceramics courses in porcelain decoration, paperclay and kiln building.

Even more ambitious plans for the future include Artist-in-Residence schemes and, in particular, the foundation of the International Ceramics Biennial event partly sponsored by the local town council which will be held in the cen- tral park on Sunday June 4 2000 CR .

Update from Patty Wouters on what's been happening since 2000:
* nowadays Atelier Cirkel runs about 20 workshops weekly in different art disciplines: ceramics (handbuilding), potterymaking, drawing and painting, sculpturemaking (clay, wooud, soapstone, bronze, ...) and we have about 300 people who attend these workshops weekly.

* during the summer and fall we have a special program with workshops and masterclasses for which we invite renown artists from all over the world. In the past we had people from Australia, USA, Germany, Holland, UK, Italy and of course also from Belgium. From England we had: Peter Lane, Mo Jupp, Ian Gregory and Jane Perryman.

This year I'm organising about 30 different workshops. In about a month the new program will be on our website: The program of the masterclasses will be mentioned in English as well.

Information about this year's Festival:
There will be several exhibitions:
1. Ceramics from Great Brittain: opening on Friday April 30th (goes on untill May 23rd)
2. exhibition "Mirrors" for students: opening May 15th
3. a "one-day-exhibition" near the fair
4. the outdoor exhibition/fair on May 23rd

And there will be a conference on May 2nd where English ceramists will do demonstrations and give lectures.(more details see attachement). This conference is from 9.30 AM until 6 PM

Facts about the 3rd International Ceramic BiŽnnal:
Location: Cultural Centre, Library and City Park of Brasschaat (15 km North of Antwerp), Belgium
Dates: April 30th - May 23rd: exhibition "Ceramics from the UK" open Wed., Sat, Sun 2-6 PM
May 2nd: Conference with demonstrations, lectures and slide presentation of several Brittish ceramists: Mo Jupp, Ian Gregory, Eddie Curtis, Geoff Cox and others from 9.30 AM until 6 PM
May 15th - May 23rd: Exhibition + competition "Mirrors" by ceramic students
May 23rd: open-air-exhibition + ceramic art fair in the Parc of Brasschaat (near the castle) from 10 AM unitl 6 PM

for more information: