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  • Jang Kapgen

Amsterdam: A Place of Inspiration, Ambition and Young Creatives

To be a young creative in Amsterdam is an ambiguous sensation: while your surroundings are full of inspiration and passion, a certain pressure of standing out is put onto your shoulders. If driven by this sense of pressure, or just by their mere enthusiasm, Amsterdam hosts a multitude of young creatives, which have fearlessly launched their own multi-media platforms. Being a young creative myself, I went on a journey to investigate what it means to start an initiative in the Dutch capital, and the role Amsterdam’s dynamics play in all of this. To do so, I interviewed Marlene Brühl from Studio Fire Games, Alekhya Dossa Remedios from The Amsterdammer and Scintilla Benevolo from our PanDam Magazine. Here are their tales of persistence, ambition and love for their project.

Marlene is a Literary and Cultural Analysis student at the UvA, who started a multi-media platform in mid 2020: “Studio Fire Games stands for those different voices, scattered around the world and within Amsterdam alike, which you most probably do not hear from on an every-day basis,” explains Marlene. Her aim is that of teaching people the value and importance of listening, in contrast to having settled presumptions about the world. This mission manifests itself in a Podcast, hosting people from all over the world -from Columbia, to the Caribbean, to Australia and back to Amsterdam- as well as a Studio Fire Games blog, conceived for writers interested in sharing their stories.

“It started during my travels,” is Marlene’s answer to my inquiry regarding the origins of her initiative. During her 3-year backpack around the world, Marlene encountered an incredibly rich variety of people and voices. “I always saw a piece of their story within mine – or the possibility of their story becoming a piece of me.” These words enclose with precision the core message of Studio Fire Games: listen, and learn from each other.

As I asked Marlene whether she feels a certain competition exists between the multitude of initiatives in Amsterdam, she just laughed, shacking her head in disapproval: “I just get really inspired by these people. They motivate me to keep going.” She does however note that it hasn’t always been like this. Achieving the numbers, the clicks and the views was challenging – “Especially at the beginning, when you don’t have much of an audience yet” – but at the end of the day it makes little sense to keep comparing yourself to others. You just need to continue creating content, with the same flaring enthusiasm, because the number of followers will never matter as much as having one person telling you how much your content meant to them.

“If you have amazing people working for you, at some point you have to pay them,” and that’s where competition starts, tells me Marlene. Attention is the currency of today’s online economy. But Studio Fire Games is a platform at its starting point and, for now, Marlene wants her team to enjoy their content and take pride in what they do, before thinking about money. “The most important part is that you continue to inspire yourself!” she concludes.

Alekhya is the Copy Desk Chief who now manages – alongside her 25-member team – the student-led news outlet The Amsterdammer. The Amsterdammer is one of the best-established, student-news outlets of the city, covering not only campus news, but also local, national and international affairs. This year, however, started off with some difficulties as Isabel Bonnet, founder and head of the organization, left the team to pursue her studies in a new continent. “[The Amsterdammer] could have easily died,” remembers Alekhya. What kept it afloat, and the team’s engines running, was genuine dedication and love for this platform.

What makes the Amsterdammer stand out within the student-led, news outlets landscape is its effortful editing process. Instead of only having one editor, the Amsterdammer has a total of 4 editing stages, which helps keep the quality of reporting high. As the Copy Editor Chief explains, “we make content by students for students,” an important key for engagement.

Confronted with the topic of competition in Amsterdam, Alekhya expresses how: “I am sure there is, but we are never really aware of it.” Her advice to other initiatives is to stay dedicated, and focus on what really matters – namely content, and not traffic.

After talking to these two inspiring people, I reached out to Scintilla from our PanDam Magazine – curious to discover the story that lays behind this publication. As Scintilla explains to me, she founded PanDam with the hope of building “a space to experiment and experience with new story-telling formats, something I could not do during my journalism internship”. After two years in Amsterdam, she felt her network was rich enough to give this project a try: “Amsterdam is a relatively small city, full of enthusiastic and energetic humans. After two years living here, you know enough Facebook groups, friends of friends, and university circles to find the right people, willing to embark on such a journey with you”.

Scintilla however notes that “bringing it to the next level isn’t as easy as starting it”. In her opinion, an important reason for this is the difficulty in securing funding. As she explains to me, “trying to make a livelihood out of such an initiative requires an incredible amount of time and dedication, something you can’t really ask out of a team which is working on a purely voluntary basis, without any financial reward in sight”.

Scintilla furthermore wonders whether Amsterdam is also a place of ambition and inspiration for people outside the VU, UvA and AUC university environments. “These three universities are highly interconnected and, at least for me, represented the greatest part of my network. I also feel like most young initiatives I know about are born here. I wonder whether the ‘real Amsterdamers’ also perceive their city as one where everyone has the instruments to launch their own creative endeavour”. In Scintilla’s mind, students initiatives should do their best to reach outside this university network, so to diversify their team, “something we also struggle with at PanDam”.

After hearing all these stories, I genuinely felt pretty inspired. Everyone agrees that Amsterdam is a place of and for creatives – pushing each other to deliver the best they can. There might be some competition in the air, but once you know who your audience is, And you take pride in what you create, views and followers lose their importance. These initiatives are, just as Scintilla explained, a space for experimentation and fun. Coming back to my favourite quote: “The most important part is that you continue inspiring yourself!”

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