Inspirations and examples
These are some of the places, projects, experiments and organisations which inspire me and embody the kind of approach to life I talk about.
I started trying to organise them by theme: "learning" projects here, "arts" organisations there. But then I realised how often these examples are boundary-straddling by nature. This reminded me of a passage I like from John Berger's essay, 'Ernst Fischer: A Philosopher and Death':
The categories we make between different aspects of experience - so that, for instance, some people say I should not have spoken about love and about the Comintern in the same book - these categories are mostly there for the convenience of liars.
Places, projects, organisations & experiments
- 00:/ is a London-based strategy and design practice, founded by the architect Indy Johar, a good friend to Space Makers.
- The Abundance Project is people getting together to harvest the unpicked fruit on trees around their city. It started as part of Grow Sheffield, but has now spread around the UK. It won an Observer Ethical Living Award 2010.
- Access Space is the UK's longest-running internet learning centre, a free media lab using open source software and recycled computers. Anyone can walk in and learning happens through participation and pursuing your own creative projects.
- Allenheads Contemporary Arts is an unusual arts organisation, based in a Victorian schoolhouse overlooking England's highest village. In July 2010, I took part in Future This, a two-day exploration of models for future living, hosted by ACA.
- Appropedia is a kind of Wikipedia of practical information about appropriate technology and a community of knowledge sharing around green technology, international development and aid.
- The Blackden Trust cares for a parcel of land which has been occupied for over 10,000 years. A community of world-class scholars work with students from local primary and secondary schools to study the landscape and history of this corner of Cheshire. For me, the Blackden Trust embodies the possibility of learning grounded in a sense of place and the understanding that where we stand shapes how and what we can know.
- The Chautauqua was an adult education phenomenon in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I first came across the word in Robert Pirsig's Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values and, in my imagination, it is a kind of philosophical travelling circus. Sometimes I think I'd like to start a chautauqua.
- Design for the First World is turning the tables on the West's habit of exporting well-intentioned but often very problematic "solutions" to the rest of the world. I often think that it's as hard for modern Western societies to accept that we have lessons to learn from the rest of the world as for a 19th century vicar to take theology classes from an African villager.
- The DIY Masters is Pippa Buchanan's experiment in self-organised learning. It started with an attempt to imagine her dream Masters programme, then use online and face-to-face social networks to make it happen.
- The Fab Lab network grew out of MIT and has become the best known of the emergence of a post-mass production economy. My friend Smari McCarthy was involved in setting up the Icelandic Fab Lab - which he talks about in this interview - and is also connected to the amazing Fab Lab Jalalabad in Afghanistan.
- FoAM is a hub of marvellous activities in Brussels, a laboratory and research group inhabiting the gaps between art, science, design and politics. They organise some of the best events I've ever taken part in.
- Furtherfield.org is a hub of art, technology and ideas. Its physical manifestations include HTTP Gallery in north London. We worked together on DIWO (Do It With Others) at the Dark Mountain.
- Go! Sheffo started out as a fan-zine about Sheffield, a love letter to the soul of the city, and a howl of protest against the kind of regeneration which eliminates the specific and the different.
- The Green Backyard is a magical patch of land in the middle of Peterborough, a derelict former allotment site which has been rescued by Renny Antonelli and friends. Their aim is to bring people together to make the city a bit greener, healthier and happier.
- The Hexayurt Project is an extremely simple shelter design, invented by my friend Vinay Gupta and made available as free open source hardware. This means anybody can take, use and adapt the design, without anyone being able to patent it. Early users include Burning Man festival-goers and the US Department of Defense, while Hexayurts have now also been built in Haiti and Sri Lanka.
- The KaosPilots is a kind of guerrilla business school based in the Danish city of Aarhus. It teaches people the craft of getting together and making things happen.
- Learning Dreams is the work of academic and community activist Jerry Stein. It started in his neighbourhood in inner city Minneapolis, when local parents asked him to develop an after-school programme for young people at risk of dropping out. Instead, he decided to focus on working with the parents of these young people - on the basis that parents who have had no positive experience of learning will struggle to engage with the school system. Working as a community-based "Neighbourhood Educator", Jerry provides personal mentoring to parents, helping them identify and pursue their own learning goals. So far, results suggest that such support for parents will translate into children's behaviour and academic performance improving, and the programme is being extended.
- Limehouse Town Hall has been home to many great things, including Kropotkin's desk and the Space Hijackers' legendary parties.
- The London School of Art & Business was the result of an invitation from Charlie Davies and Bryony Henderson to thirty people they thought were doing interesting things on the edges of art or business. It ran for six months from February 2006, with monthly one-day meetings, as well as school trips and other side projects. I was a member of the LSAB and met many of my later collaborators through this experience. LSAB was run entirely without funding, as a self-organised learning community.
- MzTEK started with a group of women who were dissatisfied with the taught postgraduate courses on offer in media arts. They approached SPACE Media in Hackney, London, a studio and exhibition space, and arranged to use their facilities for a self-organised alternative.
- New Work is somewhere between a body of thinking and a movement, coming out of the work of the philosopher and community catalyst Frithjof Bergmann. This interview from 1994 is a good introduction to this radical, practical rethinking of work - which began with a project with auto workers in Flint, Michigan in the early 80s.
- The P2P Foundation studies the impact of Peer-to-Peer technology and thought on society. Its website is a wiki with a fairly comprehensive index of P2P approaches to everything from education to agriculture, art to money.
- Pin the Pits and Out of Darkness, Light are two projects by Rachel Horne, an artist from South Yorkshire who was born during the miners' strike and works with the ex-mining community in which she grew up. Her work embodies the possibility of art as a way of honouring the dead and of remaking meaning after great loss.
- Slave City is a project by Atelier van Lieshout, proposing a zero emissions, cradle-to-cradle green city of the future - which just happens to be a concentration camp. This dark vision nails the inadequacy of the idea, sometimes heard from climate change campaigners, that the crisis we face is so severe we must suspend normal political considerations in pursuit of a solution.
- The Space Hijackers are a collective of anarchitects who subvert the corporatisation of public space, take tanks to protests and generally pull hard on the tail of global capitalism.
- Street Training is Lottie Child's playful art practice, an invitation to become aware of how we affect and are affected by our surroundings as we move through the streets. It started with the questions "How should I behave in order to be safe in the street?" and "How should I behave in order to have fun in the street?" Apparently, just about everyone has advice on how to be safe, but only children and teenagers seemed to know how to have fun. So Lottie apprenticed herself to them. Among other things, this has led her to run workshops in which teenagers teach authority figures (police, local councillors, the vicar) how to have more fun in the street, exploring the difference between social and anti-social behaviour.
- The Temporary School of Thought was a free school in a huge squatted townhouse in Mayfair, London which ran for three weeks in January 2009. Among much else, it was the birthplace of the Institute for Collapsonomics.
- Time's Up is a laboratory for the construction of experimental situations. Its headquarters - in a harbour on the Danube at Linz, Austria - is half media lab, half metalwork shop. I met them when they invited me to their Data Ecologies symposium in Brussels in October 2009.
- The Treehouse Gallery was a magical village that appeared on the north bank of the boating lake in Regents Park, London in the summer of 2009. At the centre of it were two large treehouses. The whole project was run on a shoestring, with no external funding, substituting good will and dedication for money.
- The University of Openness is a self-institution for independent research, collaboration and learning. It was the first wiki I ever met - and it still flares into life occasionally.