This piece introduces a weekly series of articles curated by Voluntary Arts and authored by cultural thinkers and doers. The series will be published between November 2017 and February 2018. It is being shaped in response to the emerging practice of cultural commoning and as a way of articulating ideas that have arisen in conversations about Our Cultural Commons over the past two years across the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Our intention is that the series will help make visible the cultural commons in action and will encourage new approaches to sustaining creative cultural activity in local places. And we hope that the articles and the conversation they stimulate will contribute to the forming of ever more enabling cultural policy.

Cultural commoning is of its time. In a world where it is becoming clear that the everyday creative things we do have a value to us, to the social fabric and wellbeing of our communities and to the health of our democracies it offers an alternative approach to sustaining our creative lives. We live in an era when the consequences and effects of dominant economic, social and political paradigms are pressing upon people, damaging democracy and fomenting feelings of frustration, helplessness and despair. It is now when creating together, wisely and hopefully, matters most.

Across the world, the wider commons movement is growing hopeful alternatives to the dispiriting status quo. Peer-to-peer networks of organisation and production are on the increase, multiplying exponentially year by year. Working together, collectives of diversely experienced volunteers and professionals in various sectors are facing into challenges creatively and with concern for the common good. In their ‘small acts of creative transgression’ these citizen commoners are using open source methods, cooperative learning and collaborative approaches to design and development. New civic and cultural ecosystems are springing up everywhere providing alternatives to economic and social organisation and development. Take Platform Cooperativism for example or the Urban Commons plans in Ghent, Barcelona and Bologna, to name but a few, or the more ethical blockchain developments in digital currency such as FairCoin. These movements are well beyond the hopeful aspiration stage. They are on the ground, happening and here to stay.

The practices, principles and values of the commons and ‘commoning’, are very relevant and directly applicable to the world of creatively cultural activity. Indeed, in a time when perceptions of priority regarding use of the public purse are leading politicians and policy makers to cut back on funding for ‘the arts and culture’, the ways of thinking and acting that are associated with the commons and commoning need to be highlighted and heeded. Cultural commoning happens when people come together through personal choice to initiate and grow creative activity and practices through participative and collaborative approaches. It acknowledges the abundance we have around us and offers a pragmatic and complementary approach to sustaining the means of cultural creation in local places. It sits alongside the public sector and private enterprise with perhaps the most potential being realised when interdependencies are recognised and built upon. And, in enacting alternative ways of working, cultural commoning is exerting influence through contributing the processes of transformative, whole system innovation, the need for which is becoming ever more evident and urgent.

In the sphere of cultural creativity, not least, we have the advantage that the basic resources and building blocks of cultural creativity - the knowledge, the practices, the human impulse to express ourselves creatively - are held in common. These abundant human resources are accessible to everyone. At any given point we can draw from this rich reservoir to imagine and create anew.

More contested are the means by which we turn these building blocks into new expressions, unique to us and by which we nurture, share and celebrate our individual and collective creative acts. The cultural landscape is more fragmented and complicated here. And there are more enclosures.

One next step, as we look to provoke thinking, inspire doing and help to form an enabling environment of policy and practice within which culturally creative commoning in diverse ways and places becomes more of the norm, is to name it and explore it actively as emerging next practice. This series of pieces aims to do just that.

Kevin Murphy & Denis Stewart, Voluntary Arts Ireland

Next week, on Wednesday 8 November 2017, Nat O’Connor, Lecturer in Public Policy and Public Management at Ulster University writes about Cultural Commons and Social Wellbeing.

We invite you to participate in this ongoing conversation:

  • Comment on this article below to share your thoughts.
  • To receive the articles directly into your e-mail inbox, sign up here.
  • To offer to contribute a piece of your own, to tell us about discussions on this topic you are having or planning to have, or for any other queries about the series get in touch with series editor, Kevin Murphy, at: [email protected] 

Creative Commons license - CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

This article is published under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.
Image: CC0 Creative Commons, Pixabay