Ghent, Belgium: The Word on the Street is Art

Jul 16, 2012    /    get off the beaten track, stories & photos

Art in Ghent

While I’m on this quest for a place to call home, I am trying to not only live like a local, but also get to the root of each city. I want to know what the people think about, where the city gets its energy, what drives the local population.

For Ghent, Belgium, it didn’t take long at all to figure all this out. After just a few days of breaking bread (and lindy hopping) with the locals, an idea of the city and its populations’ passions started to emerge. Ghent, my friends, is all about ART. Creating it, appreciating it, making room for it, sneaking away to do it. It’s on everyone’s minds and its the dearest thing to every heart.

And I do mean every heart. The accountants are secretly painters. The children do graffiti in their gardens. The programmers are dancers. And I’m certain that the bus driver and the woman who serves me my cappuccinos have secret artistic ambitions of their own.

I’ve met painters and sketch artists, dancers and world-class chefs. Even a calligrapher.

They don’t all admit it up front. There’s a certain shyness about these artists. But dig deep, ask specific questions, and you’ll find that this passion for creating, for uniqueness, for creativity – it eventually comes up.

Once you know this about Ghent, the city makes perfect sense, with its sometimes-wild fashion sense and its total lack of caring about the graffiti around town. It’s grittier and cooler than its big sister, Antwerp, or fairy-tale Brugge. Because it’s busy creating, fostering, being art. And art is beautiful and messy, gritty and gorgeous all at the same time.

In America, the most interesting thing about me is that I own a business. That’s what people zero in on. The land of the free, as you might have guessed, values freedom (in this case, the freedom to make your own schedule, work from anywhere, not answer to a boss).

In Morocco, value comes from what you own. A quest for wealth dominates conversation. Being American and owning nice things makes you interesting.

But in Ghent, what makes me interesting is that I wrote a book, that I keep a blog, that I am a dancer, that I can sing. In other words: art. Art is what makes me interesting here.

If you’re an artist or a hipster, a music aficionado or a chef, quirky, wild Ghent is your city, with its devil-may-care rebel attitude, its underground music scene, its art-covered walls, and its graffiti streets. Bring your paintbrushes and your dancing shoes and your battered guitars. Ghent would like to welcome you with open arms.

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