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IdeaCamp2017: Coming back home and seeing society being changed there

What does it mean to make common a city? How can we shape our society ourselves to make it better? Which could be the best process for a democracy to become more democratic? What tools can we have as non-policy makers to make the change that really affect others? How can we make an impact in our communities? All these questions were posed in Madrid in March during the Idea Camp 2017. This is a small chronicle from a German resident coming back home and attending to the last day of this fantastic adventure.

When I got the ezine from the European Culture Foundation in my inbox and read about the Idea Camp 2017 ‘Moving Communities‘ taking place in Madrid, where I was born and raised, I could not be more excited. This independent foundation, working over the last six decades from the Netherlands towards an open, democratic and inclusive Europe supports cultural exchange and creative expression, and also organises these Idea Camps for three years now. They do so because “culture inspires, empowers and engages people to contribute to democratic societies”.

Apart from me, many other people must have heard about it, as the Idea Camp Madrid received more than 600 applications from projects on the run or on the minds of people willing to shape societies, this year with a focus on communities and inevitably on refugees and marginalized minorities. From those applicants, the 50 chosen “idea-makers” from 24 different countries in wider Europe came to the beautiful and (not always) sunny Madrid for three days to share their experiences, fears and hopes for the near future; learn from each other and develop their own projects following the collective learning method implemented by Platoniq [hub for crowdfunding on social initiatives] – the Spanish partner in this Idea Camp, ECF and the City of Madrid. .

Platoniq also developed the IdeaCamp Road Book, where a team of Idea Feeders (between them, one of my first journalism professors at university) updated the whole time about the everyday progresses in the 3 steps of the collective learning:

  1. Who (regarding beneficiaries and stakeholders); 2. How (regarding the platforms on use and the values applied); and 3. Why (on the vision for the future according to the values).

As I read the call for applicants, and given that I (still) do not have a social impact project, I decided to offer my own storytelling skills asking whether my attendance would be appropriate. People from Platoniq kindly invited me to the last day (the only day I could attend, right landing from Germany) and welcomed me through this last session of the creative learning steps above mentioned. After an international lunch, a peer to peer panel followed, in which the Idea Makers (and me, the “spy”), got to know some self structured citizens’ organisations active in Madrid. This very interesting encounter (also for me, seeing that Madrid is growing fast in these issues) lead to an informal meeting with innovating city developers from all around Europe; to finish with an enriching (and also emotional) closing of the camp… And the compulsory “cañas”, of course.

Creative collective thinking and learning: shaping the idea
Many of the participants were coming with a project already running for years; others brought the seed of what ultimately will become reality. The common fact was that all of them have a focus on making society better, getting communities together and spreading culture, solidarity or hope around the world.

The canvases were exposed on an horizontal way so that Idea Makers would travel them step by step, and the Idea Feeders (let’s say, those giving feedback on the ideas, coming from ECF networks) could host them. Storytellers (taking notes for the Road Book) had a complete look over the steps taken towards the next conclusions. The 50 Idea Makers were divided into groups and each of them was in one of the 6 steps, which were focusing on one aspect of an imaginary project, as mentioned. Also this point is quite interesting, as all projects fit into these frames of study. One Idea Maker would be taken as an example for the process and all the others, together with the Idea Feeder, would work together on this project. Some of the projects I assisted to were an architecture and urbanism festival in Lisbon called “Rehousing Festival”; a volunteer network for Palestine; a refugees catering enterprise in Croatia to give them work; a hostel in the south of France for either tourists and refugees, or a cultural association in Cairo to raise awareness on disability.

So many points were tackled during all the steps: from the beneficiaries (putting ourselves on their feet), the stakeholders (funding resources, the communities already working on our field, etc.); the platforms we would use (doers and makers in our focus of work, partners); to the challenges we could meet, or my favourite, an imaginary projection of our project in three years… For example: A Street Art festival in Cyprus with refugee artists, an international master programme, a cultural centre/coworking space in Tunisia for fine arts or a performance/protest on the roofs of Athens.

Some participants missed a more focused discussion on refugees, taking the existing law in account, and others a more “compulsory” space to talk about their project. The main thing is that most of them had an opportunity to share with the others their project and shape it together in any way.

Idea Camp 2017. Walk with La Liminal. Photo by César Lucas Abreu


Networking and getting to know local and international projects
A big part of learning comes from getting to know about the challenges and failures other people on the same path faced before you. Also a strong network makes impact on a bigger scale. Idea Camp took this seriously and during the last day brought to Madrid professionals on similar fields as the participants.

They had the chance to talk to people from around Europe who had experience on active politics (like Claudia Delso, councillor of innovation and participation in La Coruña, Spain; or Julie Ward, MEP and cultural activist); art (Tomasz Thun-Janowski is the director of the culture Dpt. in Warsaw, Poland; Slaven Tolj, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Dubrovnik, Croatia); urbanism and architecture (like Fabio Pascapè, working for the Unit of promotion of Public and Private spaces likely to be identified as Commons in Naples, Italy), and many more.

Afterwards, the locals made their appearance and many projects working for active citizenship and involvement of the neighbours came unto stage. Personally, I did not know some of them! For example, the project La Liminal, a collective from Madrid studying the frontiers in the city, together with the development and transformation of neighbourhoods from a historical and social point of view – their name comes from “an anthropological concept that refers to what we find between a given reality and what comes after. It means what we find in the frontier, in the transformation space, a floating area open to all kinds of possibilities”. There was a guided tour programmed with this collective around the area where the Idea Camp took place (Pacífico) and those participants who I asked told me it was greatly interesting.

Another collective who presented itself was Basurama, “an artist collective dedicated to research, cultural and environmental creation and production whose practice revolve around the reflection of trash, waste and reuse in all its formats and possible meanings”. They have developed enormously since their creation in 2001 towards the world, with current bases in Milan and Sao Paulo. One of the founders, today working as an architect in the first citizen-chosen urbanisation project in Madrid (thanks to a direct vote-based referendum) and ex-participant in the Idea Camp 2015 – focused on urbanism; Juan López-Aranguren, came to support and enrich the participants with his experiences.

Finally, but not last, Carabancheleando, a collective “militantly investigating” (as they define it themselves) the evolution of one of the biggest periferic neighborhoods in Madrid, Carabanchel, also made appearance.

These are not all the projects represented, but they represent a small piece of the horizon which the organisers of the Idea Camp wanted to show the participants: building societies with greater equality, sustainability and solidarity, and a stronger sense of social justice is something possible, it is about the power of people to “move” their communities through their progressive and creative ideas. These 50 Idea Makers, plus the others mentioned above, me myself and all the visitors who came during those three days, are the proof that we cannot change society alone, but learning from and supporting each other, creating networks based on common values and goals, so they are strong enough to, at one point, sustain themselves.

Final session: opening horizons
And after so much networking, a small walk under the wind and rain until reaching the MediaLab Prado, an ECF 2016 PMA laureate hosting a citizen laboratory of production, research and broadcasting of cultural projects that explore the forms of experimentation and collaborative learning which have emerged from digital networks.

There, the powerful Antonella Broglia, host of the TEDxMadrid and self proclaimed Madrid-lover, welcomed us with the idea that the city had been the global citizenship’s capital during these last 3 days in which we had all been moved inside. But also we had learned that we need to move on! And bring those projects and ideas all participants brought to the next level. It was an open session, so journalists, citizens and friends were there to listen what all had to say about those three days. There was an open panel organized in a very free and dynamic way, so many just came up and talked. Sabine Choucair, who has an on-the-move theatre and performance project with real stories from refugees she records and manages herself, talked about the great inspiration everyone brought her, and she concluded by saying she would “steal great ideas”. The youngest participant, Yosser Belghith, who wants to bring a coworking/cultural space to the south of Tunisia, pointed out how much he had learned and how he saw that “culture kills terrorism”, an other continued with the statement: “We have to give hope to communities who don’t have it”, “risking out of the comfort zone and widening our picture by going out from our own community”. Anna Kooi, who studies in  Utrecht University and works for Commoning the University of Amsterdam through interdisciplinary commons of students and researchers compared this experience as “emptying our pockets to make space to new things and ideas”, working from problems towards solutions, learning, giving, and sharing from and for the other.

These were just a few of the take backs from the last collective discussion, I got to see how much people had squeezed from their counterparts to make the most of the experience they had been given the chance to participate at. And that can only give us hope for the future, on the idea that there are people wanting a society shaped in our same ideals and values, in which social justice substitutes marginalization, in which integration overcomes disparities, in which citizens become active creators of society, and not only a few. And hopefully, these ideals will grow thanks to projects like the European Cultural Foundation, like Platoniq, or like the 50 “Idea Makers”. And that can only keep us on the move!

Andrea is a Spanish journalist living in Berlin with experience in Amnesty International's and other corporations Communications Department. Her field of expertise has drifted into European issues, youth and active citizenship over the last three years. She is starting a masters programme on Globalization.

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