For 34 years, Geert Knockaert was contact person in the municipality for Culture. As director of the Cultural Centre, he was involved from the start and has seen the cultural landscape in Wevelgem change radically. For the past seven years, he was a political officer for the Leisure Cluster.
When Geert Knockaert (64) was hired as a cultural consultant in 1988, he had already been active for a number of years as permanent manager of the Ten Goudberge Youth Club. Professionally and from a distance, it was only a small step to the cultural center Guldenberg. When the CC was officially recognized as a cultural center in 1992, Geert became its director.
“In the beginning, the hall was only made available to the associations: theatre, music, film forum…”, begins Geert. “Our team consisted of technician Bernard Deman and myself. In 1989 I put forward the proposal to program Boudewijn de Groot. The board’s response was reluctant. The politicians believed that it was rather something for the bigger cities. And that hardly anyone would pay the 400 francs entrance. However, it turned out to be a bull’s eye, and I was given permission to prepare a modest program.”
There were already well-equipped cultural centers in the cities, but the challenge was to put Guldenberg on the map. “Our success was due to the many Dutch artists we booked, such as Frank Boeijen, Liesbeth List, Berdien Stenberg, Harry Sacksioni or Bram Vermeulen”, continues Geert. “They weren’t cheap, but at the time there was a favorable subsidy scheme between Flanders and the Netherlands. It turned out to be the gap in the market. Afterwards we grew to a wider spectrum. With drama and humour, although the music remained important.”
Gradually, CC also became the trigger for events outside the walls. It started in 1996 with a big party around Moorsele 950, the following year it was Wevelgem 800’s turn. “But especially the celebrations around Anno 02 were a springboard for even more cultural events,” says Geert. “Little Tokyo was created from this, which was mainly about the fact that Wevelgem was urbanized without being a city.”
Wevelgem lacks a club of united people
The programming grew and so did the team, but so did the number of buildings where Kultur was located. The library, De Stekke, de Cerf, the event hall De Schelp, the Porcelænshallerne and recently the small Porsies. “Everything is quickly rented out. Wevelgem is very rich in associations, but an event that resonates in the wider region is still missing.The municipality should organize something like this, it sometimes sounds like, but such an organization should actually be supported by the residents themselves. You can’t force something like that, unfortunately we don’t have such a club of like-minded people. I have no explanation as to why it does not work here and in other municipalities.’
When asked which performance he would like to experience again, Geert does not have to think twice. “Bram Vermeulen has always been an experience. He was a philosopher. He came here once too soon. After the sound check we went to eat something and we took a walk through Wevelgem to soak up the atmosphere. And once we were national news. In 1995, buses of protesters arrived in Wevelgem, opposing the showing of French-language film screenings organized by Wereldcamera. CC was besieged, so the Gendarmerie attacked with the baton and the water cannons.”
Since 2015, Geert has worked as policy officer for the Leisure Cluster. Which also includes sports, the library, youth, tourism and cultural heritage. And since the well-deserved retirement in September, is there still room for culture? “Sure! Not an active member of the Culture Council for the first time since 1984, but my comprehensive CC subscription is ready and I pick up an exhibition here and there. There are also many books waiting for me to be read. And of course, there are the grandchildren Helena (2.5), Noud (1.5) and Katrien (5 months), who wife Hilde and I now have much more time for.”