It’s coming up to the most depressing day of the year (15 January), so you need to keep your spirits up. Fortunately, there are inspiring events happening in January that will take the edge off this gloomy period.
EXPERIENCE THE BRUSSELS ART SWAP
It’s hard not to love Truc Troc. Launched by two local artists back in 1975, the idea is for young unknown artists to exchange their works for something other than money. It could be six bottles of wine, a language lesson or something even more creative.
Relaunched in 2004 as Art Truc Troc & Design, the event now attracts about 100 artists and as many as 20,000 visitors. The idea is quite simple. If you see a work you like, you take a Post-it sticker and write down the Troc you are willing to offer in exchange along with your contact details. Some works end up surrounded by little white stickers, while others get little attention. The artist then gets in touch if an offer is accepted.
Artists have received some strange offers in the past, from a simple kiss to a return flight to Lisbon. Someone once proposed to give an artist his weight in pancakes. Another jokingly offered to hand over his neighbour’s dog in exchange for a painting.
The organisers say the main aim is to provide young artists with a place to show their works. They estimate that about one thirds of the works will end up being exchanged.
The focus this year is on body art, featuring live body painting, performance art and tattoo workshops. Held in Bozar from 26 to 28 January.
STEP INSIDE AN ART NOUVEAU HOUSE
Start the New Year with a resolution to explore the city’s most sublime Art Nouveau interiors. Brussels region has launched a whole year of events dedicated to the architecture that flourished in the years around 1900, but many of these buildings can only be seen from the outside. The Art Nouveau organisation Réseau Art Nouveau Network has solved the problem with a smart website called Inside Art Nouveau. This uses mobile mapping to reveal hidden interiors as well as indicating trails that lead to other Art Nouveau houses in the neighbourhood. Designed to work with PCs, tablets and smartphones.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BAKER
Many local bakeries have closed down, but you can still pick up a crusty baguette for breakfast if you know where to go. Founded more than a century ago, Renardy is located in the Matonge quarter of Ixelles. It was taken over in 2015 by Laurent Maes and Sophie Broes, who bake their own bread as well as serving coffee and specialised teas in an attractive interior furnished with round marble tables.
To find a local bakery, you could consult the French language site tartine-et-boterham.be. If you are passionate about baking and the trade, the site gives you a comprehensive list of all the artisanal bakeries in Brussels as well as interesting recipes and events.
Chaussée de Wavre 111b
LISTEN TO SOME JAZZ
Band playing in the Flagey venue in last year’s Brussels Jazz Festival.
Linguists believe that the origin of the word jazz comes from the now outdated American slang “jasm”, used in the 19th century to express a sense of spirit, energy or spunk.
If you are a Jazz lover, Brussels is the place to be in January. No fewer than three jazz festivals, Brussels Jazz Festival, River Jazz Festival and Djangofolllies are taking place in the capital, offering everything from classic jazz, gypsy jazz and afro jazz to more progressive and free jazz. Whether you are looking for classic names or some emerging talent, you are sure to find something you like. Check out the calendar and the different venues.
FIND A SPOT TO PARK A LAPTOP
L’Architecte Canteen by Place Flagey
Brussels used to be a city of bureaucrats locked in a nine to five routine, but it is now filled with digital natives working to their own timetables. Several coworking hubs have sprung up across town where lone workers can book a table for a day or longer. You can try a free spot before you sign up at Betacowork, which occupies a stunning industrial space in Etterbeek near the VUB university campus.
But others prefer the relaxed mood of a café with free wifi where you can work away during quiet hours. One of the most welcoming spots is Workshop Café on Avenue Louise where the mezzanine is a favourite hub for laptop nomads. Or you can get down to some serious work at one of the big tables in L’Architecte canteen. Located in the La Cambre architecture school on Place Flagey, it’s the perfect urban spot to work.
DISCOVER THE NEW BERLIN
Brussels is renovating the large Citroën building by the canal to house a massive space for contemporary art
The contemporary art museum Kanal will open in a year or two next to the canal. From May this year the public can get a good preview of the venue and enjoy several exhibitions while final works of the museum are finished. In the meantime, you can set off through the streets of Brussels to check out quirky contemporary art galleries in unusual locations. Begin at Wiels where edgy art is shown in a former brewery next to the railway tracks. The rooftop space adds to the excitement of this industrial space. Then head uptown to Place Poelaert where several galleries including Jan Mot have taken over a large building once occupied by a law publisher. Now head into Saint-Gilles to Galerie Valerie Bach where art is exhibited in a stunning former skating rink. End your art tour at Galerie Rivoli in Ixelles where several small galleries including Xavier Hufkens have taken over a 1970s shopping mall.
EXPLORE THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOKSHOPS
Cook and Book next to Rodebeek metro station
The city has several stunning bookstores where you can pick up a good book to take you through the dark winter nights. In the heart of the EU Quarter, Filigranes has evolved over the years into one of the world’s largest bookshops. The sprawling store has sections dedicated to French fiction, art, travel and international magazines, along with English and Dutch books, a café and even a wine corner.
Out in the suburbs next to Rodebeek metro station, Cook and Book occupies a row of nine shops designed by interior architects Delacroix & Friant. The colourful, quirky interiors are dedicated to themes like travel, literature, comics and cookbooks. But you can also grab a quick coffee, meet for lunch in a retro Parisian bistro or drop by in the evening to drink a beer in the jazz bar.