Cultural Value & Berlin SUPERMARKT



Free Culture Incubator #12 Finale

The culmination of a 12-month workshop series, the final Free Culture Incubator showcased people, themes and highlights from two years of extensive research covering the price and value of freelance creative work. Key questions explored are: “How can an open, collaborative initiative transform itself into a sustainable, long-term enterprise? Can such a step be taken maintaining the concept’s initial integrity while at the same time preserving the interests of the community? And, is it at all possible to convert cultural value into a market value?” Six speakers who helped shape the Free Culture Incubator presented their latest projects and insights:

Denis Bartelt, CEO of the Crowdfunding-Community Startnext.
Nadia El-Imam, Creative Director of Edgeryders, Council of Europe / social cohesion research & early warning division.
Andrea Goetzke, Curator and Organiser, e.g. all2gethernow and newthinking.
Stephen Kovats, r0g_media – agency for open culture & critical transformation, artistic director of transmediale 2008 – 2011 and initiator of the McLuhan in Europe 2011 Network.
Eric Poettschacher, CEO of Shapeshifters and initiator of cultural investment project 100 x 10.000.
Adam Thomas, Communications Manager of Sourcefabric – a not-for-profit organisation who build open source newsrooms and tools for independent media..

>These are my notes during the presentations exploring the price and value of creative work<

Ela Kagel framed the project in her introduction as “Free and open culture mixed with a business incubator, offering access to knowledge sharing that is not so easy to find. The social movement of ‘free culture’ is based on the freedom to create an distribute creative works in many (mainly online) kinds of media. The motivation for this open innovation workshop series merges two worlds; that of the idealistic sphere ‘free and open culture’ with the concept of a business incubator, to create a breeding ground for profitable new ideas. However these terms and labels in themselves are quite problematic, at the same time as they open lots of space for discussion and have helped us for the past two years, if this series continues in the future, I think we would come up with different titles.”

>Indeed, the importance of naming is that the terms we choose both defines and creates the space and marks the boundaries or limits of potential. Naming is an act with powerfully resonant political and philosophical implications<

“Just merging creativity and economy doesn’t automatically lead to new economic models, or necessarily shape the transformation from creative initiative into a business. This is a long and challenging process of trial and error, as most of the creative people we know are really struggling to come up with a price value of the works they create. We still know very little about the price and value of creative work – two years after asking these questions, I really may be more confused.

There is a huge demand for alternative economics and social innovation, and a growing awareness of values created by culture and creativity, so this is a perfect time to develop new forms and to help people understand that they have a lot to say, not simply as individual players on the field but as part of a huge collective. How can open collaborative initiative transform itself into a sustainable, long-term enterprise, and is this possible at all or are we just daydreaming?

While maintaining the concept’s initial integrity while preserving the interests of the community, is it possible to convert cultural value into market value?” We’re still not sure about that…

Denis, the founder of Germany’s number one crowdfunding platform Startnext, talks about the business model in evangelical terms, stating that the first step of EVERY project should be crowdfunding, and that ultimately you can crowdsource everything you need. He notes that it does work best in projects that are growing along with their community, and allows people to contribute both their own skills and financial resources as the project develops.

>One thing he didn’t mention is the need for offline promotion or networking beyond your immediate personal contacts, which I believe contribute greatly to the success of a crowd-funding campaign. Having attempted one with limited success recently on indiegogo – although all support was greatly appreciated – I also found myself in disagreement with his certainty about the format, asking silently: What if your ‘crowd’ is as broke as you are? This is almost certainly the case with many artists, and no matter how generous our intentions, it simply may not be possible to contribute cash to each other’s projects. I definitely agree that artists need to be less reliant on cultural funding or patrons, however this model has certain limitations and seems to work better for social change or development based projects, rather than purely arts and creative endeavours.<

Next up, we heard from Nadia El-Iman, whose clarity of vision and focused energy made me want to go out and join her in taking action immediately. Working with the Strasbourg EU Council, as creative director of Edgeryder think tank on social innovation and expression Nadia proposes and maintains connections between states and the court of human rights, and notes that the EU Council exercises soft power and has a voice. Her background is as an engineer and designer with technology, policy and building relationships between citizens and our public institutions. “The best bet for ensuring we all have access to meaningful, engaged lives in Europe – and the large amount of resources tied up in institutions means that we have to work with those institutions – is to effect change at a systemic level”. Nadia tells us that she first tried to go head to head with these institutions, before realising the list of things that she care about deeply and wants to change, affecting change at different levels – through constitutional civil codes and policy style.

Describing an art exhibition of Lumibots, small autonomous robots that both emit and react to light, creating beautiful complex patterns that can’t be replicated or simulated – the generative piece operates with only two rules: Go where it is brighter and change direction when your bump sensors are activated.

>A nice metaphor, I thought, to describe her way of engaging with political process while maintaining creative integrity and social sensitivity.<

“How can we improve the conditions for creative and cultural production in Europe?” asks Nadia.

Noam Chomsky was asked at an event she recently attended, if he viewed education as a cost or an investment for society. He replied that the question was posed incorrectly, do we want to create free and open beings who can enjoy culture or do we want to increase GDP? Nadia notes that for her, the way the question has been asked of free culture also skews things, proposing another: “How can we affect society at large so that the tables aren’t so turned against us? and status in the labour market – traditionally held by long term steady jobs – is arrived at now by bringing creative value to the market place. The unreasonably high percentage of people up to age 30 who are not currently in education, employment or training – the young and cultural workers – are especially in the firing line. Getting the political framework refined, in order to access this level and be actively engaged in framing the political discussions is vital – seeing as the game has been rigged.”

Edgeryders offers an opportunity to collaborate with well meaning public institutions. What are the questions we should be asking when we talk about meeting our long term needs, however we are making a living in Europe today? What strategies are working, and not working? Find the sense of agency and understand that these policies affect you too, proposes Nadia, working on aggregating data, seeing patterns emerge and improving conditions on a systemic level. I find her approach and energy very inspiring, it almost makes me want to get on a train to Strasbourg right now!

Andrea Goetzke, of new thinking and all2gethernow talks about a workshop and case study. all2gether now offers “an invitation to all players in the music industry and related cultural and creative sectors – from artists to music companies, policy-makers to interested fans – the renewal processes in the industry to think ahead, develop solutions and ideas, and learn from each other.  An independent platform and event series that looks for new strategies within the music business and it’s cultural landscape. a2n invites all artists, music labels, industry professionals, the web community, media and fans to a constructive exchange of perspectives, collective brainstorming, network building and creates a platform for social interaction with peers”.

‘Free is the new black!’ poster exemplifies how ‘everything is a remix’ in media culture, particularly in the context of the music industry. I’m not entirely convinced and keep thinking, but ‘everything is NOT a remix’. Andrea talks about “culture for the sake of culture”, and how to converge environmental sustainability and financially sustainable practices to make open culture together. a2n runs an extensive workshop and salon series, while newthinking offers a valuable resource for exploring online funding, social business and strategies for open source enterprises through workshops, conferences, camps and events exploring the interface of digital technologies and media/culture/society.

Stephen Kovats, Artistic Director of Transmediale 2008-2011 is now working at the supermarkt studios, which he describes as a ‘co-thinking space’ and has founded r0g_media, Agency for Open Culture and Critical Transformation. Stephen speaks of his 20 years focus on the role that open technology and collaborative processes work in creating foundations of free expression and free speech, and the way art and technology can work to solidify notions of what an open society is about. He is introducing a project focused on Juba, the current capital of newly created nation South Sudan, as a proposal for an open source city. How can we use the mechanisms and methodologies of open source culture for creating open and free societies?

The recently established r0g_agency aims to enact cultural transformations in extreme and rapid political, post-conflict situations. South Sudan political structure and cultural identity as a state is not very strong, newly created and still malleable – on a policy level, this could be a viable and effective space for the proposed open society and cultural hacking summit. Talking about agency, and how the nonconformist ‘rogue’ attitude can be instilled at policy levels in a state, thus creating Juba as an open source capital city (until the new one is built) of South Sudan.

Canada, Alaska, Russia, Northern Europe, Greenland, these are the hottest places for economic and resource speculation, and the Circumpolar region one of the most contested territories, “an increasingly complex transnational zone of competing interests and new opportunities” as global warming heats up our oceans and the ice starts to thaw. The Inuit use of technology in the Far North Arctic Circle has a particular focus of highly developed and sophisticated approaches. Issues of autonomy and the people who live there are discussed in ‘Art, Culture and Open Technology in the Changing Arctic’, an open event at the Canadian Embassy, McLuhan Salon 29th February during high level government (closed) talks on the situation in the arctic. The event is run by The Arctic Perspective Initiative (API) a non-profit, international group of individuals and organizations, whose goal is to promote the creation of open authoring, communications and dissemination infrastructures for the circumpolar region. Its aim is to work with, learn from, and empower the North and Arctic Peoples through open source technologies and applied education and training.

Eric Poettschacher introduces Shapeshifters*, bringing “freaks together to exchange capital”. There are two sorts of people in this equation, those who are money rich and meaning poor, and those who are rich in meaning but poor in cash. What does that mean? He gives a hypothetical example of a lawyer, aged 36, close to burnout, who is rich in money, with an interest in ‘aggression’. Next to him is a t-shirt company making clothes with certain fabric that changes colour when people get aggressive, as their body heat rises, the fabric shows the shift in mood and temperature. A perfect match for ‘investment’. However even if these two met at a fashion show, they may not find their topic of mutual passion. Eric spent 14 months researching creative ventures so freakish not even any venture founder or capitalist would put their money into because it’s too spaced out. When we put these ‘freaks’ together, you get things happen that are beyond our wildest dreams. In the real grounded world, public funds can’t put money into risky, innovative projects, and venture capitalists want to see a 300% return on their investment, fast. In private savings all over Germany, there is around 600 to 900 billion euro tied up and Eric believes he can find matching creative projects for these home-grown cultural supporters. People are approaching us, he says, saying “we want to put money into creative ventures, find us the right people” – but they don’t find each other because they are not talking the same language. We need to start a conversation about values that really matter, what they are (on both sides of the equation) passionate about, granular words, like aggression. If you get them to talk about that, then you get a perfect match. Shapeshifters and 100 x 10,000 do this by an interview with people who want to put money into a creative venture, and those who are creating, taking a sample of their ‘Cultural DNA’ in order to identify the real values on both sides, and only then do they know who to reach out to. In Boston and San Francisco there are existing philanthropic models, “taking off like crazy, with one in particular run by a woman with 600 clients who only want to invest in women. This woman allocates millions to great clients according to their values, as they don’t want to support the existing male power and economic structures”. >Sounds like a plan to me!< Eric claims that “once we have the Cultural DNA, it’s easy to matchmake them on a very grassroots level”. He tells the audience not to come up with their great ideas after the talk, as they are currently only taking capital providers on, but will reach out to creative ventures and artists in the future. *Unfortunately, Eric has since abandoned this idea and returned to corporate work.

>I have to confess that I know a little more about his process firsthand, having been through the interview process and receiving the report on my Cultural DNA. Eric is working rather differently to the Boston philanthropic service he mentioned, who makes all her matches based entirely on personal knowledge and intuition. His approach is to set up a thoroughly planned and organised system, with a set of criteria to determine the choices, and transparent guidelines in place so that the selection can be replicated by a team of shapeshifting associates. The company is still in beta-research stage and so I haven’t yet had an interview with any prospective capital providers, this is apparently on the cards sometime in the next year. Beyond the natural appeal of someone offering to find money for creative work, I am attracted to the idea as the exchange of money for meaning, rather than profit or goods/services. I imagine that it could be difficult to standardise a process that has been done on a personal level.<

>Eric assures me that their process is committed to providing an equal exchange between meaning and capital, although I have to say that from an artist’s perspective, the loading seems to still be in favour of the needs and desires of the capital providers, with the ‘creatives’ waiting to receive the call depending on whether they are chosen. This may be more to do with living in a capitalist society than any lack of balance on the part of Shapeshifters. In an ideal world, I would like to see more agency with the people offering meaning in exchange for money, being able to select who they most connect with, as this seems to be the one thing that needs to be built-in to the process and transactions at all levels if we really are trying to create a different economic model. It is only when the providers of culture are valued as highly as the providers of cash that we can start to view our exchange as truly equal, with the added meaning as beneficial to the receiver/capital provider as the injection of cash is to the creative venture/artist.<

Finally, Adam spoke about open sourcing the newsroom with Sourcefabric open source tools, making newsrooms open and profitable, also working with post conflict and zones ‘in transition’.

Giving examples of data collected in a recent world news media innovation study of 300 newsrooms, he told us that 48% prioritise tablet or ereaders, 39% prioritise mobile phone services, and everyone wants to save money and make more profit, streamline their workflows, converge multimedia processes and content management systems. The news is something that we’re used to getting for free, and in an ever more crowded and more fragmented information sphere, it is more and more difficult to make a profit. Open source software and methodology is part of Sourcefabric’s approach, the other part is how journalists can work in an open and transparent way. In order to engage a community, you need to build relationships with sources, and shared cultural values. How you process things is important – create/edit/translate/publish with efficiency.

Create once, publish everywhere – push to any platform (existing or still to be invented).

You need to build workflows to serve content. Mobile, web, table, tv, radio output – not to be restricted by an inability to display video, for instance, but able to adapt content to any format.

Prepare for platforms that don’t exist yet, evaluate and move on – learn to fail quickly! Innovate through inspiration, evaluate through numbers – if something is working, people use it.

Superdesk – newsroom tool for independent media, code/free. In February 2010, the liberal Swiss newspaper Basler Zeitung was sold to private investors and most of the journalists walked out in protest. They wanted to start a new publishing company that would reflect the fair and open standards of journalism, and came to Sourcefabric with a list and a deadline. The new Superdesk was developed in order to satisfy these requirements:

  • being able to push to print/online/mobile
  • open up new revenue models, be sustainable
  • use existing content
  • community generated
  • local hub with international reach

Within a short time of launching, the new print-online hybrid independent Swiss newspaper TagesWoche had 4000 subscribers and a print circulation of 100,000. Co-executive editor Urs Buess said: “TagesWoche stands for innovative, quality journalism and engages into close dialogue with its readers following cutting-edge technological possibilities.”

Superdesk fulfils all the stated criteria, using Print Desk to bring print and online processed into a streamlined workflow, and Feed Ingest to integrate external newswire feeds into the editorial process. The TagesWoche editorial team promise to challenge the Swiss media landscape with daily news and commentary online, and a weekly print issue.

  • print version/subscriptions/registered users
  • content tailored to platform
  • build a relationship with audience
  • quality focus at core
  • open up new revenue streams
  • increase speed of delivery

“Transforming your news room into a fully convergent news platform is possible for anyone with an open mind and open technologies like Newscoop,” explains Sourcefabric co-founder Micz Flor. “Entering a new publication into an established media landscape is not easy. Sustainability requires profitability and TagesWoche are both business and media innovators.”

>from Strasbourg to the Arctic via Berlin, funded by crowd or private capital; making art, music, policy or the news… It seems that any social change or creative venture you want to try just might be possible, if you can find the right process and collaborative partners. Whether it turns out to be viable, sustainable or ‘purely’ of unmeasurable cultural value, well that remains to be seen. Whatever you decide to do, make sure to visit the new cultural supermarkt and take part in creating new forms of cultural value, whenever you’re in Berlin. Tonight, I’m looking forward to visiting there to experience Holiday Island, a taste of Sardinia transplated to Wedding… <

Photos by Ruthe Zuntz Courtesy of Ela Kagel & supermarkt Berlin

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