THE CULTURAL FREEPORT RUIGOORD
Has its origins in the squatted artists village that for nearly thirty years fought to preserve its natural surroundings but eventually had to give way to Amsterdam’s harbour development. In 1999 the artist’s community of Ruigoord presented a plan to make the village over into an artist’s work place. Together with the Amsterdam Harbour Authority the plan was developed further and in 2000 gained the approval of the city council. Since then a management structure has been created by the parties concerned ad a plan to designate the available space. The church and the big remaining barn are to made suitable for public performances and exhibitions. The open area is to be developed with a view to ecology and to make interaction possible between the indoor and outdoor areas and for festivals. The former residences are to be converted into workshops , studios and service centres.. There are plans for new buildings amongst which a stillness centre. In the meantime the work has begun to make of Ruigoord a green oasis at the head of the Africa harbour, in the heart of the developing port and industrial area.
Art is said to thrive by grace of contrasts. In Ruigoord they could hardly be greater.
We know from discovered shards of pottery that the location where Ruigoord now stands was inhabited as early as the 11thcentury. In the following centuries the Ij grew in size as the peat-soil crumbled away through storm and flood but by the 16thcentury an island remained because an old embankment jay there. In the course of time it became a real island in the Houtrak. At that time it was called t’Ruyghe Oort and in a map dated 1849 is also called Kooijen Island (referring to the presence of animal pens there). In the 17th century the twelve landowners of the island signed it over to the Hoogheemschap Rijnland (the national water authority) In 1835 a house was built for the first time. When the Houtrak was drained in 1873 with the digging of the North Sea Canal Ruigoord lost its status as an island. A village arose for some hundreds of people from Zeeland and West Friesland who were brought in as agricultural workers on the newly recovered surrounding land. A café appeared and in 1892 a Roman Catholic church was built. Administratively Ruigoord fell under the municipality Haarlemerliede and Spaarnwoude. In the area close to Ruigoord two other were also swallowed up, namely De Hoorn and Jan Rebellenwaard..
In the 20th century the village grew until some 200 people lived there. Ruigoord had a school and a bank but no gas connections or drainage.
During the 1950’s Amsterdam came with a plan to move its harbour activities westwards. The reclaimed land of the Houtrak was for the most part covered in a meters thick layer of sea sand with a view to future industrial development. The village of Ruigoord was for the most part demolished and the the villagers – with a few exceptions – were bought out or driven away.
In 1973 the church, the rectory and the remaining houses in Ruigoord were squatted by a group of artists and kindred spirits from Amsterdam. After a brief confrontation with the demolition workers the then councillor Lammers of Amsterdam decided that for the time being the situation should be tolerated.
The municipality of Haarlemerliede and Spaarnwoude, under which the village fell, also decided to accept the new inhabitants and the settlement slowly grew in size with new, improvised and quite singular houses. A flourishing cultural life arose under the influence of the artists and friends united in the Amsterdam Balloon Company.
THE PAST PRESENT AND FUTURE
The artistic and cultural roots of Ruigoord go back to the end of the sixties when a wave of renewal swept over the western world. This was later variously known as the student revolt, the rise of flower power and the hippie movement. It was the time of ‘power to the imagination’. The Netherlands had its own forerunners in this in the Provo movement and related groups such as the Deskundologisch (Experts) Laboratory, the Insect Sect and the Amsterdam Balloon Company who all posed the great social questions of the time in an artistic and playful manner – issues such as the drive to (over)consumption, ecology and envirolment, sexual liberation and emancipation, artistic renewal, the pulling down of false authorities and the democratisation of social institutions
Since 1973 Ruigoord has been the place where the philosophical inheritance of the Provo movement has lived on. Artists from that time still work there and the many cultural and artistic events still reflect the spirit of that period. Bt time has not stood still in Ruigoord either. The old ideals have taken on new forms and of course many younger people have joined in. This is as it should be for in the present day and age the ideals of that time are still (or rather once more) extremely relevant.