“Cultural Commons: (How) do we put it into practice in Medellin?” was a workshop held in Medellin, Colombia on 21 and 22 of June 2018, co-organised by Penny Travlou, a cultural geographer / ethnographer (Edinburgh College of Art/University of Edinburgh) and Platohedro, a local Medellin non-profit organization. The report (below, in English) reviews the two workshop days.
Context + What inspired us
The idea for these two workshops originated in earlier research and collaboration with Platohedro in the project Medellin Urban Innovation: Harnessing innovation in city development for social equity and well-being (MUI). MUI was a two-year (2015-2017) research collaboration between academic and non-academic institutions in the United Kingdom and Colombia, funded by the Newton Institutional Links Grant from the British Council and led by the University of Edinburgh in partnership with Heriot-Watt University, UK. The findings from the MUI scoping study suggest that there is indeed a thriving art community and emerging creative practices in Medellin. By merging traditional Colombian cultural values (buen vivir, buen conocer), participatory pedagogies and new media art values (Do-It-With-Others, free libre knowledge, open source, peer-to-peer learning), these grassroots art collectives and communities are instrumental in the making of new cultural heritage in Medellin. Looking at the ways different groups and initiatives within the network work together and, also with the local communities (comunas) and disaffected youth, makes it evident that their practices are based on creating collaboratively in a non-hierarchical manner.
From the initial MUI findings, it is also clear that this collaborative practice is a rather novel approach to cultural production, particularly as this is performed within and across a network. However, although this makes their practice of great interest across their international peers, recognition of the cultural values produced through these collaborative practices by local public art institutions and the municipality in Medellin is still lacking. This may be due to a failure to communicate this work to a language understood by public art institutions and municipal authorities. The MUI project also found that all these art collectives, organisations and communities that form a network of collaboration in Medellin face the same limitations: their collaborative work is primarily based on affinities; it is still informal and lacks of tools to become self-sustainable. The initial work identified a clear interest in co-creating cultural commons. By this term, we mean, a) something that participants create together, such as Wikipedia, Report: “Defining Cultural Commons in Medellin” Workshops, 21-22 June 2018 2 which participants research, write and manage together online, or ancient indigenous practices forged and passed along by a particular group e.g. Minga (‘communal work’ in Andean indigenous cultures) and, b) a way of creativity that embraces values such of sharing, community and stewardship as opposed to privatization, enclosure and exploitation.
The Cultural Commons workshops stem from these initial findings and represent a new line of investigation engaging with a network of local art producers and independent cultural initiatives to co-design a methodology that, a) can look at, reflect upon and evaluate individual organisations within an ecosystem i.e. network of collaboration and, b) become a tool for the collaborating network to communicate their practice and production of cultural values to public art institutions, other local authorities and funding bodies in Medellin. During meetings and discussions between the art collectives and Penny Travlou in 2017, the group agreed on the importance of developing together a methodology that can enable them to reflect on their practice(s), collaborative ethos, sharing values, common goods production as well as weaknesses. Co-designing a methodological toolkit is a good start to understand the position of the various art collectives, initiatives and groups in the cultural production ecosystem in Medellin and to establish a dialogue with local public art institutions and city administration.
The two workshops were based on a collaborative methodology where all participants worked together to define and explore key concepts: “cultural commons” in Workshop 1 and “intangible cultural heritage” in Workshop 2. For the exploration of “cultural commons” in Workshop 1, the Purpose Statement of the Coalition for the Cultural Commons (https://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Coalition_for_the_Cultural_Commons) was presented in the first part of the workshop to engage participants with the term, followed with examples of commoning practices. For the cultural commons methodology toolkit in Workshop 2, a series of key terms from the Arts Collaboratory Network (http://www.artscollaboratory.org/), a translocal ecosystem of 25 international art organisations including Platohedro, was used to develop the tools. Then, to explore the concept of “intangible cultural heritage”, we followed the official one by UNESCO (https://ich.unesco.org/en/what-is-intangible-heritage-00003) focusing particularly on the characteristics of the term: inclusiveness, representation, community-based co-creation and bridging traditional together with contemporary everyday cultural values and practices. Overall, we were interested in finding out whether and how we can re-define “intangible cultural heritage” as a “cultural commons” where cultural values are co-created, shared between groups and communities, support openness, collaboration and peer learning and thus become a common good.