Welcome to your first Creative Hubs Leaders Magazine: a co-production from hub leaders across Europe.
This first edition features:
- 15+ hub-makers from 10 different countries,
- A series about creative heritage and hub-making inspiration,
- An in-depth piece on financial models for civic spaces,
- Agony Aunt: unconventional wisdom for hub-making frustrations,
- Interview about hub-leading peers in the Middle East
- And much much more.
Creative hub leaders are a new ‘profession’, a new trade but are not always recognised as such. Creative hubs are creating new forms of leadership using collaborative, bottom-up, interdisciplinary, and community-focussed approaches. They have a completely different skill set and understanding than more traditional forms of institutions.
The first online trade magazine is produced for and by the European Creative Hubs Network, inviting friends from around the world. With a dream to become a shared and co-owned multimedia magazine for hub leaders everywhere. Not just one magazine, but a kiosk where creative hubs can access and share curated stories, data and information, that is useful for your work, members and communities.
Done reading? This edition captures ideas and stories of the ECHN community. The next edition will be powered and created by a European community of hub leaders. Please get in touch with your stories, ideas and feedback.
This magazine has been prepared as part of the European Creative Hubs Network project, co-funded by the EU’s Creative Europe programme. It has been developed by the British Council together with Open°, an open-source platform and global meeting place for hub-makers.
(Photographer cover picture: Dominik Tryba)
What do you know about the creative history of your area? How do you uphold the legacy of the creatives who paved the way in your neighbourhood? Javier Buron Garcia of Colaborativa urges European hub leaders not to forget what creative hubs were once all about:
The first hub-maker to step up to Javier’s challenge is Kai Huotari, Managing Director of Kaapeli. It is Finland’s biggest creative center hosting more than 1000 coworkers.
Q What do you know about the creative legacy of Kaapeli?
A “The creative legacy of Kaapeli starts in the 1980’s. It is when Nokia Kaapeli, the Nokia Cable Factory, moves out of what was Finland’s biggest largest building until the 1970’s with a total of five hectares.
Nokia did not invest in the maintenance of the factory for years. The very first creatives that moved into the enormous empty space did not care much: they secured peaceful work spaces for collaboration. A small group of artists, designers & architects made Kaapeli their creative home.”
“The City of Helsinki made plans in 1987 to tear down the factory. The plan was to transform the area into schools, hotels, museums and a carpark. The creatives working in the factory organised themselves in the ‘Pro-Kaapeli’ movement.
Pro-Kaapeli started a campaign to save the building and its creative activities. They pointed out shortcomings in the planning of the area and got the media involved. The campaign took years, but right before the Soviet Union collapsed and Finland fell into a terrible recession, the city made the decision to proceed with the Pro-Kaapeli plan in the fall of 1991. Almost all tenants were allowed to stay.
The Pro-Kaapeli movement brought creative oxygen to this area. They transformed the area into five hectares of culture.”
Q How do you uphold the spirit of the Pro-Kaapeli movement?
A “Kaapeli is registered as a real estate company. It is owned by the City of Helsinki but the company owns the factory building. We are able to fully finance our own operations and to maintain the building with the rents that we collect from our tenants. Kaapeli’s turnover is roughly 6 million euros.
The fact that we do not depend on subsidies or project money gives us freedom to make decisions that are important to our creative community. As a company, we don’t have a mandate to support culture, but it has been in our DNA from day one: and it will always be the starting point of our strategy.”
“The second thing is that we mix creative with commercial tenants – it is a creative balance. At first, all tenants paid the same price. But when real estate prices went up, the subsidies for creative tenants were not sufficient. This caused a real confrontation with the artists and the company. Now, instead of uniform pricing, we look at our center as a shopping mall with all sorts of tenants: big chains and small shops too.
That means little shops can’t pay the same rent as big commercial chains. Artists now pay half of the rent, and the highest prices are market prices. We found that commercial parties are coming to Kaapeli for the creative atmosphere. We could easily toss out the artists and sell all the desks in the factory for market prices: but we would lose our soul and value proposition.”
Q Any tips for fellow hub-makers to safeguard their creative heritage?
A “Some of the creatives who were part of the Pro-Kaapeli movement are still with us. That is very important, try to keep those first creatives, the people who were courageous enough to move into empty or remote areas, close to you.
Second, I wish for every hub to have the same freedom as Kaapeli to make decisions that are not about subsidies or project money. The fact that we own our factory building gives us independence and protects us from gentrification. Ask your self is there anyway you could get ownership of your premises. Try not to become a budget line for your municipality, but build meaningful relationship where you add creative value to the city.”
Reading tip from Kai: “anything from Richard Florida on Creative Cities and the Creative Class”.
This new series celebrates the creative experiments and inventions of hub-makers. There is much more to a hub-maker’s identity than community managing and project planning. A strong creative drive is often what got us into the game.
Bager Akbay founded Iskele47, a small neighbourhood hub for artists in Istanbul. He created a poetry writing robot named Deniz Yilmaz; Turkey’s most common name for men.
Bager: “I find artificial intelligence stories a bit weird. It is like transforming a stone into a human being or transform something inorganic into organic. So I tried to do the opposite: transform a human into a stone.”
Intrigued? Watch the clip below to find out more about Bager’s work or, how he calls it: ‘the pitiful story of Deniz Yilmaz’.
Students at the Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden prototyped MARC0: the first coworking robot.
“MARC0 is a service composed by an artificial intelligence, sensors and a digital platform for potential coworkers, hosts and current coworkers. For the host, MARC0 helps to keep a nice environment by monitoring the stress levels and minimising the amount of practical tasks required to maintain a nice space.”
“For current and potential coworkers, MARC0 also helps to discover the most interesting space to work. When arriving at the space, the assistant can help with small errands, clarifying rules of the space, bonding with other coworkers and keeping a nice environment in exchange for points that lead to discounts.”
What do you think? Would MARC0 help your space become more social?
Read their full thesis of Madyana Torres de Souza (2016) on ‘promoting social interactions in coworking spaces with artificial intelligence’ here.
By Daniela Patti and Levente Polyák, founders of Eutropian, a planning, policy and research organisation helping urban regeneration processes.
In the past decade, with the economic crisis and the transformation of welfare societies, NGOs, community organisations and civic developers – City Makers – established some of the most important services and spaces in formerly vacant buildings, underused areas and neglected neighborhoods.
Consolidating their presence in the regenerated spaces, these initiatives are increasingly looking into the power of the local community, the dispersed crowd and new financial actors to invest in their activities.
A year ago, the cultural centre La Casa Invisible collected over 20.000 euros for the partial renovation of the building including the installation of fire doors and electric equipments to assure the safety of their revitalised 19th century building in the centre of Málaga.
A few months later, East London’s Shuffle Festival, operating in a cemetery park at Mile End, collected 60.000 pounds for the renovation and community use of The Lodge, an abandoned building at the corner of the cemetery. In order to implement their campaigns, both initiatives used the online platforms Goteo and Spacehive that specialise in the financing of specific community projects.
The fact that many of the hundreds of projects supported by civic crowdfunding platforms are community spaces, underlines two phenomena: the void left behind by a state that gradually withdrew from certain community services, and the urban impact of community capital created through the aggregation of individual resources.
The question of whether community capital can really cure the voids left behind by the welfare state has generated fierce debates in the past years. This discussion was partly launched by Brickstarter, the beta platform specialised in architectural crowdfunding, when it introduced to the public the idea of crowdfunded urban infrastructures.
Those who opposed Brickstarter, did in fact protest against the Conservative agenda of the “Big Society”, the downsizing of welfare society and the “double taxation” of citizens: “Why should we spend on public services when our taxes should pay for them?”
Nevertheless, in the course of the economic crisis, many European cities witnessed the emergence of a parallel welfare infrastructure: the volunteer-run hospitals and social kitchens in Athens, the occupied schools, gyms and theatres of Rome or the community-run public squares of Madrid are only a few examples of this phenomenon.
European municipalities responded to this challenge in a variety of ways. Some cities like Athens began to examine how to adjust their regulations to enable the functioning of community organisations, others created new legal frameworks to share public duties with community organisations in contractual ways, like Bologna with the Regulation of the Commons.
In several other cities, administrations began experimenting with crowdfunding public infrastructures, like in Ghent or Rotterdam, where municipalities offer match-funding to support successful campaigns, or with participatory budgeting, like in Paris, Lisbon or Tartu. Yet other public administrations in the UK, the Netherlands or Austria invited the private sphere to invest in social services in the form of Social Impact Bonds, where the work of NGOs or social enterprises is pre-financed by private actors who are paid back with a return on their investment in case the evaluation of the delivered service is positive.
While, as the previous cases demonstrate, the public sector plays an important role in strengthening civil society in some European cities, many others witnessed the emergence of new welfare services provided by the civic economy completely outside or without any help by the public sector.
In some occasions, community contribution appears in the form of philanthropist donation to support the construction, renovation or acquisition of playgrounds, parks, stores, pubs or community spaces. In others, community members act as creditors or investors in an initiative that needs capital, in exchange for interest, shares or the community ownership of local assets, for instance, shops in economically challenged neighborhoods.
Crowdfunding platforms also help coordinating these processes: the French Bulb in Town platform, specialised in community investment, gathered over 1 million euros for the construction of a small hydroelectric plant in Ariège that brings investors a return of 7% per year.
Besides aggregating resources from individuals to support particular cases, community infrastructure projects are also helped by ethical investors. When two artists mobilised their fellow tenants to save the listed 10.000 m2 Rotaprint in the Berlin district of Wedding, they invited several organisations working on moving properties off the speculation market and eliminating the debts attached to land, to help them buy the buildings.
While the complex was bought and is renovated with the help of an affordable loan by the CoOpera pension fund, the land was bought by the Maryon and Trias Foundations and is rented (with a long-term lease, a “heritable building right”) to ExRotaprint, a non-profit company, making it impossible to resell the shared property. With its sustainable cooperative ownership model, ExRotaprint provides affordable working space for manufacturers as well as social and cultural initiatives whose rents cover the loans and the land’s rental fee.
Creating community ownership over local assets and keeping profits benefit local residents and services is a crucial component of resilient neighborhoods. Challenging the concept of value and money, many local communities began to experiment with complementary currencies like the Brixton or Bristol Pounds.
Specific organisational forms like Community Land Trusts (CLT) or cooperatives have been instrumental in helping residents create inclusive economic ecosystems and sustainable development models.
In Liverpool’s Anfield neighbourhood, a community bakery is the symbol of economic empowerment: renovated and run by the Homebaked Community Land Trust established in April 2012, the bakery – initially backed by the Liverpool Biennale – offers employment opportunities for locals, and it is the catalyst of local commerce and the center of an affordable housing project that is developed in the adjacent parcels.
Similarly, a few kilometers east, local residents established another CLT to save the Toxteth neighborhood from demolition. The Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust, with the help of social investors and a young collective of architects (winning the prestigious Turner prize), organised a scheme that includes affordable housing, community-run public facilities and shops.
The economic self-determination of a community has been explored at the scale of an entire neighborhood by the Afrikaanderwijk Cooperative in Southern Rotterdam. The cooperative is an umbrella organisation that connects workspaces with shopkeepers, local makers, social foundations, and the local food market: they have developed an energy collective in cooperation with an energy supplier that realises substantial savings for businesses in the neighborhood; a cleaning service that ensures that cleaning work is commissioned locally; and a food delivery service for elderly people in the neighborhood.
More recognition and support
With community organisations and City Makers acquiring significant skills to manage welfare services, urban infrastructures and inclusive urban development processes, it is time for their recognition by established actors in the public and private sectors. Whether through match-funding, grant systems, or simply removing the legal barriers of cooperatives, land trusts and community investment, municipalities could join the civil society in developing a more resilient civic economy with accessible jobs, affordable housing, clean energy, and social integration.
In what unusual things or places do you find hub-making inspiration?
Rosalie Hoskins of The FuseBox in Brighton, explains how science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick is a source of inspiration in designing a new space for The FuseBox.
Fusebox now also welcomed its first science fiction writer-in-residence: Al Robertson. During his residency, Al is contributing to a series of events the FuseBox calls Imagined Futures. Read Al’s first blog here. About using Dick’s work as inspiration, he writes: “I’m sure that it will all combine in very exciting ways. It could be we’ll find a road map to steer us past the pot holes and wrong turns and confusions of now; it could be that – like so many of his heroes – we’ll find that losing ourselves in them all is the only way to move on.”
How do the spaces we work from - the old factories, schools, abandoned buildings - impact on our hub’s identity and activities?
The Waag Society, a Dutch foundation for art, science and technology, is located in Amsterdam’s oldest non-religious building. Nicolo Merendino, digital fabrication expert at Waag Society, gives a tour and explains what it means to work in between 15th century walls.
What thought pieces are essential reading for any hub-maker? Don’t waste time and only read what is suggested by your peers.
Jeff, Co-founder & Technical Director at Beta Bar in Montenegro, went to Zagreb in December 2016, to meet Hub385 and its team, through the European Creative Hubs Network and our Peer-to-Peer Scheme (P2P). Jeff has created a blog post series about his P2P adventure, published both in English and Montenegrin. This is an extract of his second blog post about the experience of exchanging knowledge, creative hub to creative hub.
With this post, we continue building on lessons learned and ideas generated from our recent visit to HUB385 in Zagreb, Croatia through a Peer-to-Peer grant from European Creative Hubs Network and The British Council. Previously, we focused on what we learned about building a community. Now, we focus on what we learned about incorporating the identity we want into the design of our space.
The first thing a visitor notices when walking into HUB385 is how they designed their space to increase member flexibility and encourage engagement. They offer a variety of configurations, from spacious open floor areas and meeting rooms, to walled offices perfect for small teams. While HUB385 enjoys a much larger space overall than our Beta Bar on the coast of Montenegro, there are principles that translate well to any size when designing shared work spaces.
A survey of coworking spaces in our region, including HUB385, quickly reveals that identity is an essential trait, perhaps even more so than the floor plan or services offered. Identity grows organically from a combination of the vision we communicate and the members we attract. While members come and go, and their needs will constantly change, it is vital to maintain a consistent identity while listening and responding to members’ needs.
HUB385 state their identity succinctly on their site. They are “the home of young developers, makers, creatives and entrepreneurs in Zagreb, Croatia.”
This identity is reinforced and communicated everywhere one looks at HUB385, from the learning workshop events for all ages offered through their Academy, to the cleverly and comfortably arranged open floorplan, and the fully stocked hardware lab, worthy of even the most hardcore geek, such as myself. After just three days in their midst, I found myself dusting off project ideas I had shelved long ago. Hmmm… maybe they’re more possible than I thought! I just needed the right environment to get the creative juices flowing again.
I returned home with a fresh focus on nurturing that innovative and creative spirit I had experienced. I wanted it for myself, and for our members! A key value for me has long been collaboration. It has almost become a virtue. It permeates much of what I do, both professionally and personally. Our identity at Beta Bar is defined in three key words: collaboration, community and sustainability. Simply hoping that this identity will be established when people occupy the same workspace is naive. The design of our space must facilitate the identity we want from the beginning. We want a sustainable community that collaborates – “watercooler chats”, making new friends and business partners, sharing knowledge, sparking new ideas and helping each other make those ideas achievable – this is the identity we envision for Beta Bar!
We came away from our time at HUB385 with three principles to guide the incorporation of our identity in our design.
#1. BE OPEN.
Just like many homes are centered around their kitchens, we noticed a similar phenomenon at HUB385, especially later in the afternoon. If the kitchen area is comfortable, such as has bar stools and perhaps a couch nearby to have a casual meeting or work on your laptop, it encourages people to leave their desks from time to time and sit in the communal area.
The open floorplan areas were also beautiful in their simplicity. The design and configuration are crucial as there is a fine balance between community interaction and personal space. Long banquet style tables are a good option. They work well for individuals, and are also comfortable enough to strike up a conversation and collaborate.
Balance is key. Make sure the communal and open areas that encourage interaction are separated from those individual workspaces where people may want a quieter environment to help them focus on the task at hand.
#2. BE FLEXIBLE.
Flexibility means that we can utilise every inch for coworking and host events in the same room on any given day. Foldable chairs, or chairs on rollers, and easy-to-rearrange work surfaces are a great place to start. Plentiful electrical outlets are also a must!
#3. BE INSPIRED.
We sat down with a local artist, Srdja Dragović, and communicated our vision to him using our key words: collaboration, community and sustainability. What he came up with for our walls (and ceilings) was amazing! We’ll even have the words themselves stenciled in both English and Montenegrin (our local language) in a unique spot on the underside of our spiral staircase in our common meeting area for all to see and ponder.
Another way to inspire our members is to provide ample space to write down creative ideas and communicate thoughts to each other. One of the most tangible benefits from our visit to HUB385 happened as Luka, the managing director, was showing us around on the first day. He pointed out that several of the meeting rooms had walls treated with paint or lacquer to make the surface writeable, like a whiteboard. I think I remember seeing some painted chalkboard-like surfaces as well. I mentioned that I would really like to do something similar at our space as well. Luka immediately put me in touch with his contact at Escreo in Bulgaria (very close to us in Montenegro!). Escreo responded before the end of the day, and we started looking at their product offerings. Nothing facilitates spontaneous creativity like a whole wall that functions as a whiteboard! I mean, who hasn’t dreamed of writing on walls without getting in trouble since the earliest days of their childhood, right? I envision many great ideas being sketched out on our walls.
Finally, a word about the other core component of our identity, sustainability. It’s hard work to be sustainable. When we started to design our space, we wanted to follow the lean startup model. We began by asking our potential community members what they thought our MVP should be. We asked HUB385 the same question. They provided fast Wi-Fi, desks and chairs, plenty of workspace with meeting rooms, kitchens, Skype rooms and little cubby holes for storage of personal items. Members are free to bring in anything else to help them work better. The members take ownership of the space, and in return, HUB385 doesn’t carry the burden of catering to each individual need.
Hub leader featured in this article:
Jeff, Co-founder & Technical Director at Beta Bar
Your agony aunt is here... let it all out! What makes you cringe or cry a little? Anything big (can’t pay the rent) or small (Cobot crash) goes. Tell Agony Aunt what is on your mind and receive her unconventional wisdom within three working days.
Tell your story here! Tell your story here ! The ECHN & Open° teams will post three calls for questions & answers over the next three months on the ECHN Facebook channel. You peer-reviewed questions and answers will be addressed and published in this magazine.
Examples of questions (that were recently posted on the ECHN community Facebook community) are:
By Jennifer Buxton (Beta Bar): “We have a small room in our space and have NO idea what to do with it. It would have been perfect meeting room, except that it is connected to our bathroom. Any suggestions?”
By Rosalie Hoskins (Fusebox): “How do you approach insurance for users? We used to say that people left belongings at their own risk but something got damaged recently and it’s opened up questions about our policy. Any thoughts?”
Creative hubs in the Middle East follow their own arrow. With roots in the active spirit of the Arab Spring, hub-makers now find a way outside the hum of big cities like Cairo and Tunis. Arthur Steiner of Mideast Creatives explains the latest trends and suggests hub-makers in the Middle East that you should follow.
A tipping point
Tahrir Square in Cairo 2010. Are mass protests and tear gas are the first things that come to mind? Arthur Steiner was in Egypt at the time and noticed something else too: “What I saw was the ignition of an incredible organisation: a new collective of local entrepreneurs. Youth were building makeshift hubs at the square, distributing food, they were really getting things done.”
“It felt like a tipping point where youth stopped waiting, but united to make an impact together. The square, the entire city, became a giant hub to collaborate for change.”
This mood echoed through the region and inspired hundreds of creative hub-makers across. The Mideast Creatives Community is growing with 24 hubs. “Creative hubs in this form are a new trend, but the idea of spaces for exchange and collaboration are centuries old in the Arab region.”
“Just look at the ancient Caravanserais: oasis-like meeting and trading points where Silk Route travellers and their camels rested and recovered. Inside, travellers would exchange knowledge and culture.”
The first Egyptian hubs have now become successful models for other hub-makers in the region. The District is a pioneering coworking space in Cairo, established right before the Arab Spring (check out their recent impact study here).
A second frontrunning hub in the Middle East is Cogite in Tunis. Cogite was awarded world’s third best coworking space by Forbes in 2016 and now hosts more than 100 co-workers.
Just as these first hubs inspired each other in the region, the mobility between the northern and southern Mediterranean also proved important: “The hub movement flourished because of people moving between Morocco and Spain or between Greece and Turkey and Lebanon for example.”
“One of the most distinctive features of Middle East hubs is their focus on access to knowledge, especially so in Egypt. In Egypt, most hub-makers are student leaders. Universities don’t have suitable places to meet. So instead, they start their own study and knowledge centers. They become important places to access information and for creative expression.”
Away from the cities
“The trend I am most excited about is that hubs now move outside capital cities. An inspiring example is the youth hub Cirta in the city of Kef in Tunisia. Kef is a small city in the northwest, right on the Atlas mountains that border Algeria.”
“The situation in Kef is challenging: the city is plagued by skyrocketing unemployment rates. Terrorist groups look to recruit the desperate youth. And then there is this one guy that decides: I need to build a place for youth to meet and improve their CVs.”
“Another space I admire is ScienceCamp, a makerspace in Basra in the south of Iraq, a very active community is working from old U.S army caravans.”
Get in touch with hub-makers in the Middle East:
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