by David Darler, Mandril CPC Volunteer
30th May, 2019
The Mandril has been in operation since 2009. Originally a squatted building at Boschstraat 5, it was transformed from an empty house into a cultural and political centre, a space for community, creative culture and political activity. The original project was also a living community and political statement: volunteers lived in an adjacent building and managed the centre as a non-hierarchical, non-profit, decentralised organisation. The volunteers endeavoured to run the centre as an example to the rest of the city, a reclamation of unused and abandoned space and a demonstration that it is possible to support creativity and culture by adopting the ideals of inclusion, political and financial independence and bottom-up decision-making. Underlying this structure was a progressive philosophy which embraced ideas of feminism, queer theory, sustainability and anti-capitalism. The events (jam sessions, theatre and dance, yoga, massage, meditation, workshops, reading groups, lectures and discussion rounds) reflected these political ideals.
In 2014 the Mandril was evicted and forced to relocate to Cabergerweg 45 in the old Radium Terrain. A five-year agreement was signed with the City Council to continue cultural and political activities in a legalised form. No longer a squat, the new Mandril is the legacy of the Maastricht squatting movement, of which only three organisations remain (the Landbouwbelang and the B32 being the others). Among the squats, the Mandril had a unique character: it was the only squat run by majority female volunteers and placed a high value on resistance to patriarchal social norms, providing a safe space for marginalised groups and ensuring events had a political theme or purpose. The political idealism of the centre continues but in recent years the image has become somewhat diluted. Electronic Dance Music parties have become hugely popular and this has taken the focus away from other activities which were traditionally the core of the Mandril’s output. In addition, the group of wider volunteers which previously formed a cohesive community has shrunk considerably, putting considerable pressure on the remaining core group.
Recently we have tried to move back to our original philosophy. An exhibition space for young artists has been created where students of Maastricht University and the Academy of Fine Arts and Design (MAFAD) are currently exhibiting work: this space is also open for students of the United World College. In our music venue, more space is given to experimental music and up-and-coming DJs and producers. And the continuation and success of the annual Ladyfest festival, which supports music, art and free expression of feminist, women, trans and -non conforming people, stands as a reminder of the Mandril’s idealist roots. In addition to these changes, we now need to build a solid community of engaged volunteers to carry the project forward and demonstrate to the city that there is broad support for such initiatives.
The contract for the use of Cabergerweg 45 will expire in November 2019. So far we have been unable to find a new suitable location and the Mandril project is in danger of joining the dozen or so other squatting projects of Maastricht which have been lost to gentrification, redevelopment and eviction. The public support of establishments such as UWC, MAFAD, UM, Muziekgeiterij and others would give us a great chance of convincing the City Council that such spaces are desirable and make an important contribution to cultural life. In addition to this, more projects at the Mandril organised by local students would increase our legitimacy, and the involvement of more volunteers from the above-mentioned organisations would enable us to increase and diversify our output, strengthening our campaign for the Mandril’s continuation. Right now we are at crisis point: the disappearance within the next twelve months of the Mandril from the city’s cultural landscape is very likely and only a sustained and coordinated political effort has any chance of preventing this. If the city’s population values cultural free spaces, now is the time to speak out.
Our organisational structure is simple: the Mandril is sustained and shaped by everyone involved, and everyone is welcome to contribute in their own way. We especially look forward to future projects and collaborations with UWC students, with whom we have so far had a very positive experience and who are always very welcome.