Welkom in de Biotoop

De kunst van een kunstbedrijf.

Gastles workshop
Welkom in de Biotoop

The Biotoop: a dreamy place. In an abandoned school complex, half overtaken by nature, businesses and individuals have moved in. Around 250 independent, and creative people work or live here on a daily basis. The once-empty halls have been revitalized with artwork, lounge areas, and professional offices with a palpable DIY energy.


Weekly meals bring the whole community together (though with COVID these have been paused). There are daycare spaces for children and rehearsal spaces for bands. Between the wings of the building locals have built gardens, picnic areas, yoga and meditation spaces. Walking trails wind through the neighboring forests (the Biotoop is right next to Haren Hortus Botanicus). Throughout the Biotoop huge windows bring the surrounding nature even closer. Today dark clouds blow overhead, turning into a thunderstorm with pouring rain. But the earnest kindness of the community keeps it warm and comfortable inside. This really is a cultural biotope: a breeding ground for creation in the form of a miniature society. 


On the third floor of one of the many buildings we find Andrea Hooymans in her office at NonFiction Photo. inspired by the lack of easy career pathways for artists, Andrea founded this creative photography-based business to both economize and platform art with important social missions. Today Andrea will discuss her experience in the Biotoop as well as her decision to base her office here. 


The NonFiction office itself is as cozy as a production studio can be. Bright light flows across the room through a row of oversized windows, where soft chairs and reading material are ready for use. Handmade communal tables are lit by fluorescents overhead. Computer equipment and art books line the walls. The next room over is the production studio, where welding, carpentry, and exhibition construction takes place. Andrea sits near one of the communal tables next to a guest chair with a sheepskin blanket. 

Spotlight op NonFiction Photo

Building such a dynamic space was not an easy feat. NonFiction didn’t have many good options before the Biotoop, bouncing around small traditional offices or startup spaces which couldn’t handle the unique double requirements of computer- as well as production fab-lab space. “We were basically a kitchen office,” Andrea says. The exhibition-based schedule also meant a stark fluctuation between large group- and small core-members-only periods. On top of that, NFP was balancing disparate directions - being both a business, a group for social good, and an artistic collective. Fortunately, Andrea was told by a Biotoop resident artist that a photographer wanted to share his space with like-minded groups. NonFiction took this opportunity immediately. Soon it was clear that the Biotoop was not only a perfectly suited physical space but also a perfectly suited ideological space. “I think this was a match made in heaven,” Andrea says. “But also we love the ideology of it. It's a space with a story.” The whole legal construct of the Biotoop, as a formal reallocation of empty, wasted living space, “is a very social initiative, and we can only applaud that… We got very lucky. We could finally really be ourselves.” For more information on the group that turned the Biotoop complex into the living community it is today, check out CareX via this link. 


Andrea points out that the photoshoot papers behind the exhibition stands were generous gifts from a neighbor. As a space “the Biotoop really is suited for creative collaboration, people are primed for these valuable interactions that you wouldn’t find at other places.” This is apparent when walking down the hallways, where spontaneous collaboration (whether piece work, construction, or helpful cleaning) is a regular feature. But despite the bohemian energy the businesses here are very serious. Rent is due and wages are paid, keeping the overall tone remarkably ‘normal’ for such a unique space. “We like the buzz of people being entrepreneurs, and we also like the entrepreneurial side of the creative field, because I think a lot of creatives that need to be entrepreneurs don’t love that side of it… A lot of creatives here have that entrepreneurial spirit. Fitting into the community was easy, everyone is just being entrepreneurial, and we are as well. Everyone’s interested in each other, so they visit and meet each other. Everyone tries to help each other out.” 



NFP was at first sharing its current location with several others, but over time they left the site. Before long NFP was the sole renter of the group-contracted space. With the newfound permanent location the office has flourished. Enjoying the wide spaces, office dog ‘Saartje Popcorn’ runs across the room and pulls our attention away for a moment. Across the room a tall fence-like grating holds miniature exhibition design layouts. Next to these are printed 3D renders of the exhibition designs from isometric views. Notes for new recruits, volunteers, and old teammates mingle on the posterboards. 


As part of its social focus NFP actively tries to integrate new people so that they can see the arts industry in real life. “A lot of people that are doing an internship or are new in the business, they are really looking for a sense of what the business really looks like. So not just the theory of it but the practice, and not just their own practice but getting an idea of what everyone else is doing, and that's something you can really get from that. Just doing it, and just being there and seeing a lot of people and having them surround you is the way to get it, because you never know who you end up hanging out with. And they tell some story of a project they're working on and it gives you insight, and a whole new perspective into other businesses.” This holds true for NFP, where the team has a rainbow of backgrounds and past experience


De Biotoop Social Experience

The Biotoop’s social orientation, while not declared anywhere, certainly encourages collaboration. This naturally leads to cross-pollination between ideas and industries: “If you would just have a group of artists in one space, and you have those as well, it's a different dynamic, because they are fishing in one pond, but here in the Biotoop there's so much diversity they’re fishing in lots of different ponds, and they help each other get jobs as well.” The NFP office, for one, is located next door to a photographer, several designers, and an architect’s studio. “So for instance if you’re an artist who works with video you could also get hired by a marketer who needs video, or something to do with architecture, or with another artist that wants to do something with video but doesn’t have the expertise. You do have to take that initiative though... you really actively have to be part of that, and immerse yourself in that biotoop culture.” 


“We’re planning on hosting a playful meetup with drinks where you can present yourself and your business, ask us for a brainstorm or comments and perspectives.” Hopefully soon, Andrea says, the Biotoop communality will reemerge. But only when it's safe. The thunderclouds pass by and sunlight slowly begins peaking through the grey sky. The natural spaces are glowing from the rain. Soon it will be evening, and the yellow lights of the Biotoop interior will restage the outdoors as a mysterious forest. 


Right now NonFiction Photo is looking for a graphic designer to join the team. The new team member will get to help design posters, tickets, flyers, etc, and help co-develop the aesthetics of NonFiction. 


Any interested individuals should email _______@nonfictionphoto.nl by _________.


+31 6 306 530 13


Stichting NonFiction Photo
Kerklaan 30, 9751 NN, Haren
ANBI | Algemeen Nut Beogende Instelling


NonFiction Photo Festival Groningen
November – December 2022
Synagoge – Folkingestraat 60


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