We continue our interview series and exploration of Brussels through the eyes of the people who live and work in the city. We recently sat down with Mrs Karine Lalieux who is, among other things, in charge of culture, tourism and big events in the city of Brussels. Excellent opportunity to reflect on the topics that are vital for growth of any city.
Mrs Lalieux, you are the Alderwoman for Culture, Tourism, Big Events and Public Cleaning in the city of Brussels. Can you tell us more about your daily work? What are the most important issues that you are dealing with in the Brussels commune?
Brussels is a very dense city in which around 165,000 inhabitants from 180 nationalities live side by side. The unique feature of the City is that it is home to the main cultural and tourist attractions of the region, the major train stations, the main events and festivals, as well as various offices and administrations. As a result, both during the week and on weekends, the number of people visiting the City’s territory multiplies. The day-to-day challenge is to preserve the comfort and quality of life of residents, while making our city attractive and pleasant for visitors.
We are passionate about the city life and culture plays an important part in that. Do you think that the cultural scene and cultural activities in the Brussels commune are improving? Are there some projects or new locations that show this improvement?
Culture is the binding element in a city, bringing people together and changing attitudes. So yes, it is essential. The challenge is to encourage it and make it accessible to all. It must make sense for everyone. It is therefore, crucial to reach out to the various target groups, and hear what artists have to say. Yes, the artistic scene and the cultural offering are developing and improving in quality. Brussels is often portrayed as a new Berlin. When the New York fair “The Independent” decided to set up in Europe, it chose Brussels. Nuit Blanche is getting better and better each year. In the City of Brussels alone, we have opened 8 new cultural venues during this legislature, and have regenerated many others. It was also decided to use the famous Vanderborght building (Rue de l’Ecuyer) for cultural events. Cultural entrepreneurship is also more active, because it feels supported. CREATIS and the C12 are just two examples.
How is city of Brussels supporting creative people, are there any projects or initiatives that you see as “exemplary”?
Firstly, by finding the means! The budget for Culture has increased by 30% in the last 6 years! Next, by taking risks. In the City, the criteria are more flexible than in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation or the Flemish Community; we support dozens of innovative projects which have been rejected elsewhere because they didn’t fit into the “right boxes”. Innovative or alternative cultures receive a lot of support (Recyclart, Magasin 4, Nova, Street Art, acousmatic music, beat box, etc.) but also the unifying events that put Brussels on the global map (KunstenFestivaldesArts, new festivals including Listen! or BRIFF, etc.). An initiative that is very close to my heart: 5 years ago, I launched the “CurioCity” program. These are weekend cultural activities, either free or inexpensive, that can be enjoyed with the family.
Tourism plays an important role in the city of Brussels. Could you tell us how important are the “big events” in the city life and what is Brussels doing in that matter – also, are there any new or different events that are created by the city?
Brussels is the leading city in the world for congresses, so it attracts business tourists first and foremost. But leisure tourism is enjoying significant growth, and various events including Winter Wonders and the Flower Carpet, organised by the City, attract people from all corners. During these events, we of course observe strong growth in the HORECA sector (hotel occupancy, etc.) but also in cultural attractions; visitors take the opportunity to stay a few days. In this area, three recent events have been organised by the City: WinterPop, a kind of decentralised Winter Wonders in the districts (and intended more for Brussels residents), the Laeken Fireworks Spectacular in summer, and the International Kite Festival, for which the first edition in September was promising for the future.
If you could choose two things that you can change in Brussels immediately, using the magical stick, what would it be?
I would end poverty and reduce the production of waste (and its dumping without respect for others).
We ask this to question all the time – what is one thing that you love most about Brussels?
Conviviality and a sense of sharing!