What to do in corona-times with… Jasper Helmer

In times of #socialdistancing, we’d like to introduce you to all those people at the wharf. We’ve asked them for their Monday motivation and how they’re getting through these unusual times. This week: Jasper Helmer from Noorderlicht.

Jasper Helmer is a cultural entrepreneur at the NDSM-wharf. He is co-founder of Noorderlicht, which started in 2004 as part of ‘Broedplaats NDSM’. This place is a location for the subculture of Amsterdam with a focus on live music and performing arts. With Noorderlicht, Jasper supports and facilitates many cultural and creative initiatives and is also involved in ecological, circular projects and social programmes. This summer he organized the NDSM Kinderwerf with all kinds of fun activities for children that take place every Wednesday.

Hi Jasper, nice to find out more about you this Monday! What has kept you busy lately? 

The lock-down was very drastic in the beginning and regularly led to frustration. We were so well prepared for a crazy summer season! In the first weeks I spent a lot of time with my great love Floor and our son Kuba who kept in touch with his friends from the nursery through the whatsapp group. Super sweet and sometimes very pathetic and confronting. Both my parents also turned out to have Corona at the beginning of March and that was quite exciting considering their age and physical condition. Luckily after more than a month they recovered quite well and soon after that there was room for new, positive things. For example, we thoroughly overhauled and redesigned Noorderlicht’s corporate identity: from website, menu to gift voucher… everything now really breathes the atmosphere of who we are and what we do here. Take a look at https://noorderlichtcafe.nl/. We have also extended our terrace very nicely and now organise an alternative programme for our Hemeltjelief Festival every Wednesday afternoon during the holidays: NDSM Kinderwerf. I’m also working on the idea of alderman Van Doorninck for radical greening at the shipyard. For a long time we’ve wanted an exciting sustainable natural playground next to Noorderlicht and space for hi-tech urban agriculture, preferably also in the water…

It has been a difficult time, but nice to see that new projects have come out of it! What was the golden tip for you to get through the months?

Being outside a lot, doing things you normally don’t have room for, keeping moving and most of all trying to keep in touch with each other. Strangely enough, I found the latter quite difficult, especially when everything was locked. Because yes, what do you have to share with each other when the days are so tedious and subdued? For the rest I try to keep myself well informed about corona so as not to live in the delusion of the day or – even worse – in fear.

I think that’s a good attitude to adopt! Noorderlicht offers a stage for live music. Which music can you always play?

My all-time favorite is the live album of Manu Chao & Radio Bemba Soundsystem. But to be honest, I haven’t listened to much music lately. For years, music has been a big part of my work, so maybe it was necessary somewhere not to have that around me. Silence can be confrontational or boring. But also deepening work. Silence gives space in a certain way to experience reality in a different way.

You said that beautifully! Is there an inspiring podcast you can recommend to us? 

I love The Joe Rogan Experience, I really do. Joe Rogan is a great hero of mine because he gets the biggest names in his show and doesn’t shy away from the most controversial subjects. Besides that he has an incredible amount of knowledge and a very strong charisma.

And maybe a nice movie or a book?

The Biggest Little Farm really came to me at No. 1! Splendid real life documentary of a couple that manages to transform a totally emaciated piece of land into an organic farm paradise. Just look, really impressive.

Furthermore, I am currently reading “The footprint artist” by Kees Aarts. A very accessible book that goes deep into the idea of the footprint you leave behind as a human being. It shows very well how you can make certain choices to reduce the size of your footprint, without restricting you (too) much in your modern lifestyle. In addition, he makes it a loaded subject like the climate issue a lot less heavy. Did you know, for example, that all the people on our planet with 1 meter distance from each other fit perfectly in the provinces of Brabant and Utrecht? What are we actually talking about? You often think about this book. We are really able to adapt and build more sustainable systems with each other. Very refreshing information in the whole discussion and really an eye-opener for people who want to participate in “The Great Change”, but don’t know how.

That sounds very interesting and relevant. We’ll put it on our book list! Is there a work of art that fascinates you?

I like interactive installations, especially the rougher, unpolished kind. Art you used to come across on Dutch soil, especially at Robodock, like “Charon” by Peter Hudson with his skeletons in a kind of Ferris wheel. I don’t go to the museum very often, but the retrospective in the Stedelijk of Kazimir Malevich was really impressive. So nice to see how, from the context and background of Impressionism and Expressionism, he ended up with completely abstract art.

And what have you missed the most lately? 

The spontaneous, easy contact with others, the conviviality of getting together. Joyful excesses in which life is celebrated. The fear of corona makes dealing with each other stiff and distant. I don’t feel comfortable with that.

Hopefully that will soon be over… Have you tried anything new lately?

I’ve been working out… haha! After years of stagnation and inner dialogue about why I don’t have to deal with that, I started it anyway. I train on the lawn next to Noorderlicht under the guidance of Alex, our manager’s friend. This really makes me feel a lot better and stronger, both physically and mentally.

What corona is doing to you! Did you get a certain insight?

I want to focus even more on the transition we are in as a society. A more sustainable way of doing business, making better choices and taking advantage of this crisis to make a real difference in the environment that I myself influence. During the lockdown, for example, we made a very progressive menu that we are currently reaping a lot of success with. In addition, we are busy developing a new, sustainable building for Noorderlicht. Our aim is to eventually make a zero-footprint restaurant out of Noorderlicht 2.0. We are working towards this step by step in cooperation with a number of major parties and pioneers from our immediate surroundings. Also nice to mention and fitting in with this picture, is that last month we were nominated for the Gaia Green Awards, the national sustainability award for the hospitality industry. We’re among the last three, so that’s a huge boost! You can help us with this by voting here.

Awesome! You have our vote! And what do you expect from a time when we no longer have to worry about corona?

Clearly, we need to redesign our society. But how? The Amsterdam administration has embraced Kate Rayworth’s Donut model to guide the new policy. I think that’s a good development, setting Amsterdam high standards. I just hope it doesn’t stop at good intentions. The closure of Pllek, for example, does not fit in at all with this sustainable story. It’s pure destruction of capital and, in my view, the wrong choice at the wrong time. Precisely now that the crisis is hitting hard and the end is still a long way off, a healthy company has to make way for an abstract policy of ‘constant temporariness’ while nobody has thought up a better plan for that physical space. If you really want to change this world, you will have to have the courage to make far-reaching choices. It would be wise to re-examine old agreements or political choices from the past. When you look at NDSM shipyard Oost, this is the moment to accelerate and move forward so that we can work with existing and new parties towards a sustainable, circular and cultural shipyard. This part of the NDSM-wharf and everything else you want to program and develop here should be at the service of the city and its residents, not at the service of big business. Only in this way can the NDSM-wharf regain its pioneering role and make this – once leading and progressive – area exciting and innovative again.

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