Crime, punishment and art

When new-build prisons are put out to tender in Belgium, a substantial amount is reserved for the integration of art. Unfortunately, the forthcoming construction of the prisons in Beveren, Marche-en-Famenne and Leuze-en-Hainaut shows that the path of art integration has not even been tried out. With a view to plans for another 10 new prisons, it is not a moment too soon to ask this question: can art be meaningfully integrated with the imposition of a custodial sentence?

Failed flirt


New prisons are built as public-private partnerships. For the new prisons in Beveren and Dendermonde, the federal government opted in June 2011 for a development consortium assembled around the Dutch construction company Koninklijke BAM Groep. The consortium convinced the jury architecturally by means of a design by Stéphane Beel – the architect of projects including deSingel in Antwerp and Museum M in Leuven. This was a generic design that could be carried out at both locations and was also offered for Marche-en-Famenne and Leuze-en-Hainaut (where the consortium failed to convince the jury). Following pressure from local residents the construction plans in Dendermonde have been put on hold.


BAM's offering of art integration was also highly promising. In Berlinde De Bruyckere, Ronny Delrue, Emilio Lopez Menchero and Wesley Meuris, some respected artists lent their name to the enterprise. However, it soon became clear that nobody was overly enthusiastic about input from top-flight artists. More than once there was whispering in the corridors about balancing the additional costs of building the prison by slicing the art budget. Today (December 2013), just three months before delivery of the project in Beveren, it is still not known which artist will be engaged – let alone information about the choice of works. The parties involved are confident that art will ultimately get a place in the prison – and that will undoubtedly be the case. But it will surely mark the end of the integration of art in the design and construction process.




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