Sophia Simons (24) has a bachelor in Communication Sciences from the University of Antwerp and studied Graphic Design for a year at Sint Lucas, Antwerp. She also took several courses in cultural education at De Veerman. Sophia is the founder and head editor of huisstijl – a small sincere magazine that mainly exists online, but is now making the big step to print. It’s an expression of her love for (graphic) design and inspiration that comes from looking at people around her who do what they love and love what they do.
Her fulltime job is at the Port Pavilion, the ‘embassy’ of the Port of Antwerp. In her free time Sophia volunteers at MAS in Young hands. Together with 10 others, she organizes events in the Museum aan de Stroom such as the yearly MASked ball. And as if all of the above isn’t enough, Sophia also sings in a band called The Furst.
How do you define yourself?
I don’t define myself in terms of profession. I like to see myself as a kind person, someone who is interested in how the world works and how other people live. I like to observe and listen, instead of giving my own opinion right away. I’m also a very visual person; I love to be surrounded by beauty, but in a broader sense of the word. I can find beauty in the grey and dirty buildings of Brussels for example.
What does ‘culture’ mean to you?
Culture is a framework for the way you see the world. It makes it easier for your brain to process the daily experiences and impressions. Culture is like a language; it defines your vocabulary. You need to be aware of the danger to get stuck in your own culture and try to stay open for different frameworks. The only way to do this is communication as an exchange of culture.
What kind of added value does culture give to you?
Culture inspires me and gives me energy. When I’m inspired everything comes naturally and this is when the best ideas are born.
Being a cultural professional is… Dreaming as big as I can and then seeing my dreams become reality (this sounds very cliché, I’m sorry for that 😉 ).
What is the role of culture in your country?
I’ve been living in Belgium for 6 years, and I’m still trying to figure that out. It’s very difficult, because culture is quite fragmented here. There’s lots of political discussion about Flemish and Wallonian culture, like whether the differences are too big to talk about a united Belgian culture. In Belgium culture is often (mis)used for political purposes.
Can you sketch the cultural scene in your city?
In the sixteenth century Antwerp had its golden age. It was a wealthy and blooming city with many talented painters and other artists. With the occupation of Antwerp in 1585 most of these intellects fled to Holland, where a new golden age was born. Antwerp was left empty and it took many, many years to get back on its feet again. Today there’s an interesting combination of old heritage, brilliant like Rubens and new small-scale cultural initiatives by young entrepreneurs.
How did you end up in this city? Why did you choose to work in this city?
I came to Antwerp to study Communications. I liked that it was foreign, but familiar. Through the years, I’ve learnt to love it, even if I often complain about the bad state of the roads, the noise and traffic jams and the Flemish nationalists. It’s a small city, where I can do everything by bike and know people. At the same time it feels like a big city, that keeps on changing, especially the northern part, where I live. After my studies I stayed here and found a job in the Port of Antwerp.
How is it for you to work in this cultural scene?
Sometimes I’m afraid, because I feel like I don’t know anything. Other times I feel very confident, because I’m surrounded with all these young, creative entrepreneurs, who also lack experience, but just go for it. We get together, talk about it, and look for a way to finance our projects and make them successful.
How can you define the position of the cultural professional in your city?
There are many organizations in Antwerp that support cultural initiatives. Also, there are many respected, well-known cultural organizations with a high quality program. On the other hand, there’s a political climate that keeps on cutting in cultural budgets, which makes it difficult for cultural professionals (especially the young ones) to find a job and keep it too. The importance of a healthy cultural climate cannot be stressed enough, but sometimes it is difficult to explain why. This makes it problematic to defend high budgets for culture in times of economic crisis.
How do you see the future for yourself as a cultural professional in your city, are there any opportunities here? And why?
It’s difficult to predict the future, especially after the recent Belgian/Flemish/European elections. My fear is that they will keep on cutting in cultural budgets, and that it will become more difficult to get subsidies or other financial aid for cultural initiatives. I don’t know what the consequences will be. Maybe only the bravest and profitable ideas will succeed or maybe they will be on a smaller scale. Or maybe young creatives will move to other cities, where the cultural climate is more welcoming.
Are there initiatives in your country that help cultural professionals/artists at the beginning of their career?
There are many organizations that help cultural professionals with the execution of their ideas. One of them is for example Idealabs.
Did you do residency/internship/studies outside of your country? If yes, what differences did you see?
No, but Belgium is not my country, so I have an everyday foreign exchange experience.
What tips can you give to other young cultural professionals? Don’t be afraid to network (I still need to work on this myself). Not just with people from your own industry, but also over the boundaries of your discipline and country.
Thanks a lot Sophia!