CHCstories: SMart & LaVallée
The first time we visited LaVallée in Brussels was in October last year after we decided to start writing stories from creative hubs around Europe. It is only now that we are sharing this article, but it is a perfect timing since last week, LaVallée hosted the closing event of the 2-year project European Creative Hubs Network which we had the opportunity to attend. Suddenly the huge space of the former laundry factory was filled with amazing hub leaders from all over Europe and the feeling of the space was definitely different. Filling the empty, abandoned spaces with creative and diverse energy magically breathes in a new life to this industrial building and transforms it into a space of co-creation, collaboration, sharing, connecting on different levels and being part of a large community in the making.
*Photo taken from: creativespot.be
LaVallée belongs to the SMart cooperative, created 20 years ago, which is dedicated to the needs of freelancers, having 12 offices in Belgium and in 8 other European countries. How does it work? “Without creating their own legal structure, freelancers can work within their legally secured framework, stay autonomous, focus on their core activity and on the customer relationships, while accessing the best social protection possible. As a platform coop, SMart aims to make sure that individual entrepreneurship does not mean isolation and precariousness.”
SMart is creating effective solutions to help artists and creatives develop their projects. Artists work in complex environments, often having a self-employment status and for this reason, the cooperative wanted to offer solutions and create a company which everyone could use as their own. The freelancers are thus able to invoice through the company and the company itself takes the responsibility of its users as if they were “real” employees. Their services include contract management, individual advising, educational programs, legal assistance, financing and other resources such as co-working spaces. It is a trust-based system – an online platform is available for users which eases the administrative work. They have managed to create a resilient ecosystem for individual entrepreneurs and an open community facing challenges in the cities through collective work.
Their Creative Spot Network offers different types of workspaces for creative sector professionals. It is a dynamic community where new projects and collaborations develop in an organic way. One of these spaces is LaVallée, a centre of creations, opened in September 2014 in a 6 000 m2 former factory not far from Brussels city-centre, but in a socially disadvantaged neighbourhood Molenbeek Saint-Jean. This rather complex area of the city is now being “occupied” by art and creativity (new contemporary centre MIMA also opened its doors in 2016) which generates positive impact on the community living there. LaVallée is creating and maintaining the contact with this community by taking some of their events into the public space and collaborating with the local NGOs.
LaVallée has workspaces, offices and ateliers varying in sizes, from a dozen m² to a hundred m². Several spaces can host events such as exhibitions, artistic performances, workshops, trainings and conferences…The main aim of LaVallée is to bring together a diversity of actors with wide variety of skills in order to encourage the emergence of new ideas and create new opportunities for collaboration, which together with the human aspect of the project are the key values of LaVallée. The long-term vision is to develop services according to the needs of the communities. The site now hosts more than 150 creative entrepreneurs, individuals and collectives, from various sectors (read more about their profiles).