Exploring the Potential of Cultural Commoning

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* Book: Making Common Cause: Exploring the Potential of Cultural Commoning. Curated and Edited by Kevin Murphy, Damien McGlynn and Denis Stewart. Voluntary Arts, 2018.

URL = https://www.voluntaryarts.org/News/makingcommoncause

Join the Conversation

  • Use the hashtag #makingcommoncause
  • Join the Making Common Cause WhatsApp group - would be great if we could all connect there too and share additional links/audio/video that could stimulate new ideas and connections
  • Host your own conversation on particular aspects from the book - email [email protected] for help in setting up
  • Connect with the network, Coalition for the Cultural Commons

The Context

David Bryan:

"Our Cultural Commons began with a series of round-table discussions across these islands. These gatherings provided a space for discussion that could uncover innovative local collaborative practice and build networks of people and organisations exploring new approaches. A result of these discussions was that we developed our collective understanding of the problems facing local places as well as the potential solutions.

What we were unprepared for was that many of the solutions were based on some very traditional ways of working. We knew, from our work supporting voluntary creative groups and networks, that pooling resources was an everyday feature of how people organised things. And the practice of commoning - a pooling of resources in shared local participation - turns out to be part of a trend towards a more sustainable and ethical world, which is being progressed actively across the full spectrum of human endeavour.

Almost accidentally we found ourselves being part of the global commons movement and in the midst of this cultural shift. Those of us active in the world of cultural creativity can learn from others who are applying commoning approaches in worlds as varied as organic food production, land management, software development, energy provision, online services, and local civic governance. This wider world of the commons is a flourishing world, and something of a renaissance in the making.

This book is a contribution to that renaissance. It is a simple compilation of the weekly Our Cultural Commons series, curated by Voluntary Arts from November 2017 onwards, and authored by cultural thinkers and doers. Our intention is to help make visible the cultural commons in action and to encourage related approaches to sustaining creative cultural activity in local places. There is food for thought here for cultural policy-makers who may not yet be minded to embrace the potential of local participation and everyday creativity, and the importance of enabling citizens to identify concerns and create solutions."


David Bryan:

"The structure of the book is straightforward with a section dedicated to perspectives on our cultural commons and one to practice-based case stories. These main sections are framed by an introduction to why cultural commoning matters and an end piece that looks towards a potential future. '

Throughout the book a range of themes is explored, including:

• new governance and business models that are more participative and collaborative and centred around common needs and bonds • localities as cultural commons (cities and towns, rural regions, neighbourhoods) • the digital and online cultural commons • creating sustainable asset based financial supports that encourage common wealth • the making of art as a commoning and peer-to-peer practice • how cultural democracy can be enabled through commoning.


  • Why Cultural Commoning Matters 5


  • Cultural Commons and Social Wellbeing 8
  • Cultural Commoning and Civic Conversation 11
  • Parks as Commons 14
  • The People’s Parish - Singing Our Own Song 17
  • Cultural Commons - Who Pays and Who Benefits? 20
  • Culture Banked - Our Digital Commons? 23
  • What Does Cultural Democracy Mean? 26
  • Mindfulness and the Contemplative Commons 30


  • Howlround - A Case Study in Cultural Commoning 34
  • Rights and the Power of Real-Life Gathering 37
  • Cardboardia - Forming New Communities 40
  • No 11 Arts in Birmingham - An Instance of Cultural Commoning 43
  • Garvagh People’s Forest - A Commoning Practice 46
  • Hebden Bridge Handmade Parade - Our Big Day 49
  • A New Role for the Artist 52
  • Creative Citizens Together - Building Hope in Local Communities 55


  • Shifting Culture


Why Cultural Commoning Matters

Kevin Murphy and Denis Stewart:

Cultural commoning is of its time. In a world where it is becoming clear that the everyday creative things we do have value for us, for the social fabric and wellbeing of our communities and for 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 to processes of transformative 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. The series of articles in the following pages aims to do just that."