Financial transparency

I value financial transparency in organizations because openness about the material facts of doing cool stuff—like, say, opening a residency center for writers and artists, or running a small press—makes a couple of things obvious. First of all, transparency shows how doing these things does not come out of nowhere. Transparency about money and material support makes it clear that there’s a certain amount of privilege that inheres in being able to do these things. Openness about the financial and material realities of big projects like these demonstrates that they do not come about in a vacuum, and I hope also shows that no matter how much I ‘bootstrapped’, certain things wouldn’t have happened without the practical, material support I benefit from. Second, being open about money puts me in a better position to explain how and why Dickinson House exists, and to talk about the ethics that inform it.

1. Initial investment (personal loan): €7000.

  • Paperwork and permits necessary for being legally approved as a guest lodging in Belgium, including architect’s drawing of the house and proposed changes;
  • Installation and inspection of fire-safety lights and fire extinguishers;
  • Electrical safety inspection and repairs;
  • Furnace and fireplace inspection;
  • Paint;
  • Materials for repairs in bathroom;
  • Materials for repairs to screen windows;
  • Furniture, all of which, besides mattresses, was obtained secondhand;
  • Cutting, planing, and sanding of boards for bookshelves;
  • White goods (new);
  • Rollerblinds/pull-down window shades (mandated by tourism code);
  • Seeds (for meadows) and other garden supplies;
  • Rental of equipment for tilling, trimming trees, and woodchipping;
  • Marketing/publicity

I am extremely fortunate to have a partner who (1) believes in me and this project and (2) understands my desire to make a space for writers and artists.

On top of this, we are able to rent and use the house itself because it belongs to my partner’s mother. There is pretty much no other world in which I could undertake this kind of thing. I don’t have the money to buy a house or land and I don’t have the kinds of contacts that might help fund such a thing. Regardless of that, I wanted to make this space. Marleen knew that, and when she decided she wanted to move, she offered to let me rent this house for less than the market rate in order to make Dickinson House real. That is possible because of all kinds of social factors that Jonathan, his family, and I benefit from here.

I should make it clear that none of that €7000 loan went to pay me. The majority covered things like permits and inspections. The sum total for the furniture was €800. The total for new white goods and other household objects that couldn’t be purchased secondhand was just over that. Our marketing/publicity budget is about €300—almost nothing.


2. Work done by me/us:

  • All cleaning, preparing, and painting of walls;
  • Building of bookshelves;
  • Restoration of furniture, including but not limited to painting, sanding, repairs;
  • Tilling and preparation of land for meadows;
  • Ongoing housework;
  • Chopping of wood for heat;
  • Garden care (borrowed sheep and ponies take care of long grass);
  • Website design and implementation;
  • Publicity
  • Ongoing upkeep of house and garden; repair work

3. Work I provide for residents:

  • Weekly linen laundering;
  • Cooking and all food preparation;
  • Bathroom and toilet cleaning;
  • Preparation of workspaces outside of rooms;
  • Cleaning of rooms before and after residencies;
  • Arranging transport from Deinze station to Dickinson House

Anything that can be done without a specialization, I do or will do. I can’t do things like electrical repairs or furnace inspections, and I can’t (legally) clean our chimney. I can cook, clean, help people get to the house; manage the website; do publicity, up to a point. I can economize and make ends meet. I can make people feel welcome.

What all this means for our residents:

  • This is a labor of love, supported by the privilege of having been offered this space. It comes out of the responsibility I feel—central to my work as a writer—to make space for and offer opportunities to others, in particular to those who might not always have access to space/opportunities.
  • ‘Fellowships’ are not backed up by an endowment or bankroll. There is no endowment. There is no cushion, except the cushion of the privilege to rent this house for less than what the market says we should. The bank stands at zero, as of this writing. Fellows’ stays will be subsidized by paying residents, and, failing that, by gritted teeth and my desire to make a place for writers and artists to be in community with one another.
  • I would have you all come as guests, as ‘fellows’, whatever, if I could. But somehow the heating and water and electricity and internet/phone bills will have to be paid. And somehow the groceries must be bought. And the rent, although cheaper than it might otherwise be, is still due each month. And I would like—at some point—to draw a salary for the work of cooking, changing bedlinen, planning, gardening, designing, cleaning—and as compensation for the fact that, however gladly and gratefully I do this, I am still giving up time, privacy, preferred routines for it.
  • It should be said that Belgian taxes are very high. All told, we pay almost 60% of what we bring in (said without resentment: those taxes provide the amazing state support/social security that make doing this possible).
  • Paying residents make everything here possible; that is a huge gift.
  • If there is no way you can afford to come to Dickinson House, apply for a fellowship. If you don’t get one, try again. Or write to us, and maybe we can help find a way for you to come here. At the very least, if we can, we’ll support your search for funding.
  • There are not enough fellowships. That’s a fact. Three is very little. When writers and artists who can afford to pay for their residencies come, we put some of each fee into a fund for fellowships. Eventually there will be a bankroll, and we will be able to welcome more people here without charge.
  • For now, we offer what we can. Again, not bankrolled. Not endowed. Out of my/our work and out of my/our conviction that making spaces like this is important. Our 2017 season has been underwritten by a generous, anonymous donor, who has made it possible for many residents to receive grants, and for us to offer four fellowships instead of two.