Night Mayor

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Dreaming of a new nachtburgemeester

By Sunny Bleckinger

On 20 February, a couple weeks before the official elections take place, Paradiso is hosting elections for the next nachtburgemeester. All the candidates will be there to present themselves, and the winner will be in a position to pump new life into our city nights. So, if you’re one of those hot-blooded souls who venture out after dark, it’s probably not a vote you should miss. But if this is all news to you, here’s a quick recap:

In 2003, after growing complaints about the dwindling nightlife here (Rotterdam had grown to be the hottest spot for action after sundown) a team of eight party organisers and DJs were elected to act together as the city’s first-ever Night Mayor—not an official municipal position, but with a bit of luck one that would refuel the fire that heats up the night.

Under the name ‘Nachtwacht’, they began holding weekly open meetings upstairs at Inez IPSC. They discussed every aspect of city life under the stars, and anyone was welcome to voice their concerns. The direct result of that was Nachtnota, a 15-page inspiring summary of what Amsterdam’s nightlife was, is, and could be—which was then presented to the real burgemeester Job Cohen. (You can download a Dutch or English copy from http://www.nachtwacht.nl). But once the initial statements were made, what were the actual achievements afterwards?

‘The physical accomplishments are perhaps a bit difficult for the public to see,’ explains Maz Weston, programmer for Paradiso and one of the original eight nachtburgemeesters, ‘but we created a positive atmosphere where people could work together to reach their many individual goals.’ Though not tangible per se, this is more substantial than it sounds.

‘The people who work in the government and those who work in nightlife speak very different languages,’ explains Marco de Goede, member of Stadsdeel Centrum, ‘and Nachtwacht was able to serve as translator. There’s still a lot of red tape but the civil servants are now much more willing to work with you, rather than just thinking in rules.’

De Goede goes on to explain that Nachtwacht was instrumental in helping many people open new clubs. ‘The Sugar Factory is a good example. A combination of theatre, club, and forum for political debates was something the city didn’t know how to deal with.’

Sugar Factory founder Jacek Rajewski feels that he may not have opened without the help of Nachtwacht: ‘When we first started we had obstacles with permits, and there was hesitation from the municipality. But [Nachtwacht] helped me to retain contact with wethouder Els Iping, and thanks to those guys, she warmed up to us quickly. We’ve since hosted her in one of our political debates, and her son is a frequent visitor.’

Rajewski hopes that Myra Driessen, his programmer at the Sugar Factory and director of the Miraculous Art Freaks, will be the next nachtburgemeester because she’s running with a group similar to that of the current collective. ‘With a group you can get more done, and it’s not too exclusive or one-sided,’ he explains.

As Driessen says in a phone conversation: ‘We’re building a coalition with a wide spectrum of people. And we want to set up a long-term structure so that [Nachtwacht] can have subsidy money.’ She continues: ‘We want to work with the original Nachtnota, improve it, and con-tinue in its path. But, this is important: we haven’t decided yet if we will run for the position, or act as a committee to assist the winner.’ This is something she will announce on election night, before the voting takes place.

Chiel van Zelst is also running. He’s concerned that too much of Nachtwacht is attached to horeca. And he stands for the individual over the group: ‘It’s called “Night Mayor”, not “Night Collective”. I feel that with a group, all you do is have meetings. I’m more of a doer than a talk-er.’ About two years ago he squatted what is now the Chiellerie, turned it into a legal broedplaats, and since then, has held weekly exhibitions for an assorted array of artists—as he had done for years at other locations around town. He was also a founder of Vrieshuis Amerika, and he started the Accidental Monday series at the Sugar Factory.

‘They thought I was crazy to programme that on a Monday night, Van Zelst explains, but it keeps selling out. You just have to be creative in your programming.’ He also feels that many people are trying to make this too political. ‘Why copy the day when you can create your own night?I plan to just keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is talking to lots of people and making room for the new initiatives.’

Like everyone I spoke to, Van Zelst believes our nightlife is already heading in the right direction. ‘It’s not going to turn into a grey eenheidsworst.’

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