Natalia, Managing Director at Many Studios in the UK went to Spain in August & September 2017, to meet Factoria Cultural and its team, through the European Creative Hubs Network and our Peer-to-Peer Scheme (P2P). This is his article about the experience of exchanging knowledge, creative hub to creative hub.
Peer to Peer
27 Aug – 3 Sept
On the 28th August, I arrived at Matadero – a former slaughterhouse in the Arganzuela district of Madrid, and a stunning creative hub itself – within which Factoria Cultural lived in a custom-designed co-workspace. Paula at Factoria Cultural had the job of hosting me and also Senad from Networks in Sarajevo for the week.
I am a self-confessed Instagram Story (just the ‘story’ part) obsessive, so I thought I’d string together my stories to create this report. In reality, it didn’t say much at all! So you can enjoy my instagram story thread (the ones I could find when I got back) at the end of some actual reflections…
While in Madrid, I also set up some meetings myself with organisations that were of particular interest to me and/or to Many Studios. These were Casa Arabe, La Casa Encendida, and Matadero, which I’ll discuss alongside Factoria Cultural, Impact Hub and MediaLab Prada.
Factoria Cultural support entrepreneurs in the creative industries through two opens calls a year (December and July), selecting 50 people across 5 categories. The successful applicants take part in a 3-month intensive programme in business planning, marketing, branding, skills development, creative strategy and more. Mentors are with individuals throughout, and have often come through the programme themselves. They’ve also developed Campus Factoria which is an online version of their education programme.
I was quizzing the team about Money! Many Studios is not core funded by a public (or private) body, unlike many arts organisations based in Scotland, as its always been important to us to be sustainable and robust as a business. We are always interested in how other creative hubs have built sustainability. Factoria is part-supported by the city, however they also apply for many small pots of funding, including sponsorship from Greenpeace, Ikea, Discovery Channel. These non-traditional partners really got me thinking about alternative funding opportunities.
A partnership with Sony Playstation brings a gaming expertise and mentorship to the hub. Playstation don’t pay rent in the hub but facilitate a gaming school on site.
The hub also runs an extensive education programme with courses across the board of creative industries. These are often taught by ex-residents which demonstrates the circular economy that hubs like Factoria can create to support creative practitioners locally.
Whilst on site, I met with Gema Melgar, content coordinator at Matedero. I met Gema a month earlier in Glasgow when she visited Many Studios as part of a wider British Council tour. Many Studios has two main focuses; creative industries and quality arts production. My own practice is curatorial and I work mainly with African and Caribbean and diaspora artists in The Gallow Gate – a project space located within Many Studios. We realised that there were some really interesting synergies between Matadero’s programming, and my programming here at The Gallow Gate, and I look forward to exploring these further in the future.
Matadero are supported by the city and they themselves then support a number of other, mostly government-supported, institutions, including Factoria Cultural.
After bringing in tenants, Matadero formed a steering group to identify what the gaps were in their building and in the city, and from that exercise they decided to focus on visual arts, and now, more specifically, on residencies and non-conventional arts exhibition.
On the last day, on leaving the building I met with Juan Lopez who will installing a new exhibition, launching on 15 September. Lopez is based in Madrid, and works links architecture and typography through sculpture. He has extended the existing structures in the project space – very identifiable architectural features from the original build – and played with old and new (it is very difficult to determine what was an original structure and what is new). Within the sculptures he has formed letters, and throughout the space there is a cryptic message – well it may or may not exist.
Matadero is undoubtable the most interesting spaces to me in terms of programming and perspective. Matadero work with a number of artists of colour and artists from Africa and the Caribbean. Gema gave me some interesting new references which I’ll look into further, including Espacio Afroconciencia, Gri Gri Pixel, Migrantes Transgresorxs, United Minds Book Shop, and CA2M who will be launching a season of African films in October. Here’s hoping I can come back in October for the Espacio Afrocenciencia programme.MediaLab Prado
Factoria Cultural set up a meeting with Marcos Garcia, the Director of MediaLab Prado. MediaLab’s building was the saw mill and the first concrete structure, built in 1920. Very interesting features on the roof emulating wood panels and beams.
MediaLab is funded by the city and acts as a centre for culture for the city. It is a public institution and endeavors to communicate the usability and accessibility of digital methods. It is a platform for experimentation and collaboration above all. They are excited by the process and results of interdisciplinary collaboration and act as an incubator for ideas with a social focus. In this sense, they are a community focused organisation, showing how and developing ways in which design can be used for social benefit or benefiting the common good.
They have residency programmes – an international residency that takes place 4 times a year, working with participants over a two-week intensive incubation. There are 50-100 participants developing 10 projects in teams. First the projects are awarded and then another call for collaborators go out to build the teams. The residency covers living costs but sits in the middle of education and work in that you don’t need to pay for it but you also don’t get paid.
Projects are very, very varied and include a migration project linked to ‘Data Lab’. I didn’t get much information on this but it sounds like an interesting platform which I’ll be looking into further.
We were also able to visit FabLab – a fabrication laboratory in the basement of the building with 3D printers etc.
Marcos make an interesting point when we were chatting… He pointed out that this narrative driven by most creative organisations at the moment, primarily Factoria Cultural, that builds an ‘entrepreneur culture’ that focuses on building strong business actually harms the narrative that design can be used for social good. There is too much emphasis on business and not enough on common good and collaboration. This is complex though, and needs to consider individual sustainability and living. Not everyone is funded by the city…
The most striking part of our visit to MediaLab for me was the introduction of cultural mediators. When entering MediaLab, public are first met with a cultural mediator. In many ways, this is a host, receptionist, invigilator, but in defining the role in this way it definitely encourages a new engagement with creative hubs. The cultural mediator gets to know the member of the pubic – what they like, what they don’t like, where they go on holiday, what their hobbies are, etc – and directs their experience accordingly. I’d like to see this in action to see if it works as well as it sounds like it could.
Some numbers, there are 18 staff and 1500 users at MediaLab. The cultural mediators seem to be volunteers, and work for two years whilst developing their own project (as a free member).
At the Impact Hub we met with Sebastian Fernandez. Sebastian showed us various co-working spaces, and offices, as well as communal areas for members. Impact Hub has a great vibe and is currently under construction to expand. This is one of 100 hubs in around 85 countries. It is a big hub, but not as big as say Sao Paolo or Berlin.
They have 350 members who have one of 5 memberships that relate to the amount of time they can work in the space.
- 5 hours per month
- 40 hours per month
- 100 hours per month
- No limit
- No hours (virtual)
All memberships include use of other resources including access to networking events and mentorship. On becoming a member, the directors will meet with each person, understand their project, and introduce them to others in the hub that could feed into their project, as well as keep their priorities in mind for other links later.
Sebastian said something that stuck with me.. If the community isn’t working/collaborating/harmonious, then it is essentially a library. People come in, don’t talk to anyone, pack up and leave without interacting.
The front of house and operations, to some extent, is run by ‘hosts’. Hosts are volunteers and they give 6 hours a month to the hub. In exchange they get a free membership and a lot of mentoring with Sebastian. Hosts cover reception and the external events etc. Many Studios pointedly doesn’t work with volunteers or free internships as a response to a problem with unpaid work in arts industries, however, it’s clear to see that there is a substantial benefit for hosts in the context of this exchange.
La Casa Encendida
Main points of interest: Community – inclusion – accessibility – quality arts production – public resources
La Casa Encendida was a very interesting space. It’s a private organisation, funded by a foundation (Caja Madrid bank) but run as a public institution. The organisation is split into four areas: Culture, Education, Solidarity and Environment. Teams programme within these areas and links are drawn between when it’s relevant to do so. I met with Monica Carroquino Rodriquez who is leading the Culture team. She programmes through exhibitions, events, film screenings, performances. The focus is primarily on emerging and young artists but where relevant and contextual parallels can be drawn to contemporary art, they will programme retrospectives of established artists.
LCE run 2 competitions – one for visual artists and one for curators, based in Spain. For the artists call out, 600 people apply and 12 are selected. For the curatorial competition, 3 people are selected and each have a budget of 25,000E. This exhibition is currently on, with all three curators exhibitions at once, in three different spaces within the building. An additional exhibition was on called Improbable Libraries.
LCE have an extensive events programme, with over 500 workshops a year. The programme is varied, from photography skills, basic computing to curatorial intensives and more.
They also run a joint residency with CA2M for a festival called Acento (http://ca2m.org/en/older-activities/item/1163-acento).
The most interesting aspect of this meeting and the organisation was the public use of this space. My work and that of Many Studios is very focused on accessibility and breaking down barriers for non-arts audiences to experience creative and cultural content. La Casa Encendida is grand – the entrace is as intimidating as any large, well-funded, arts institution and normally would act as the first and primary barrier for non-arts audiences. On walking around the library, computer centre, cafe, FREE co-working space, I quickly noticed that this was a space that the public feel is theirs. They can use services of the centre without interacting with the visual arts exhibition, although from time to time artists will intervene in the ‘community’ areas to bring these two audiences together. I’m very impressed with how the organisation has achieved such a broad usership. This is largely to do with being placed in Lavapies – the most multi-cultural and probably working class neighbourhood in Madrid, and a community that has been connected, long before this space existed. So, what they have done, as I understand, is identify the key leaders in the community who were already working with people in creative ways, to bring those projects into the space and thus bring the local community in very early on.
Moved into their building in 2008 and working in four departments and 12 people on the staff:
Economy, Culture, Politics and Learning/Language.
The focus here is on Arab history and contemporary histories in these areas. The language school is a popular element of their services, teaching classical Arabic and Arabic dialects, mostly to Spanish people who want to work in Arab countries.
The audience is mainly Spanish – students of history etc. I was left wondering whether there was much of a desire to bring Arab communities into the space, of which there are many in Madrid. Surely this is a brilliant opportunity to integrate Arab and Spanish communities, build cultural cohesion. I do think it’s a good tool to challenge misconceptions of Arab cultures and definitely seems to be a focus on addressing Islamophobic in Madrid, however, a lot of the problem with creative and cultural misrepresentation is not consulting those subjects you are portraying and those communities not feeling like they are being represented. If they knew this existed, they would be able to use this to celebrate their identity in the city they live in.
That said, they have worked with some great Arab artists. They do also, though, work with white Spanish artists who are documenting Muslim communities in Madrid, which to me is very problematic. These stories are always better told authentically, by those communities themselves.
Whilst in Madrid, I also done some marathon sightseeing, visiting CaixaForum, Sofia Reina, La Tabacalera, Scala 31, Ipsum and Sabrina Amrani (which was closed for install!), Circolo di Belle Artes, Telefonica, Anthropology Museum. I’ve included some photos below of my sightseeing! Thank you to everyone who took the time to host me in Madrid and also to meet with me and for being so open and generous with information.