For more innovation and diversity

IPoP wrote an article about the importance of independent production spaces. The benefits of independent production spaces are emphasised, and it is argued, that such production spaces present value in the context of urban development. Because of that, a diminishing supply of independent production spaces in Ljubljana raises concerns.

The article is part of a photo book titled SKUP. The SKUP photo book is a document of the year-round collaboration between the Kela photographic collective and Škuc Gallery in the artistic research of community production spaces. It has been published by Zavod Artard and Galerija Škuc and edited by Tia Čiček, Peter Rauch, Sara Rman and Anja Seničar.

 


For more innovation and diversity

IPoP – Institute for Spatial Policies

  1. Independent production spaces

When we talk about independent production spaces, we are usually talking about community spaces. This means that they are developed based on the needs of the community of (potential) users. The bond that connects the members of the community is first and foremost the profession they do, but that is usually not the only bond between the users. As community production spaces are more likely to be found in creative, cultural and artistic professions, where the boundaries between work and leisure are blurred, users are to some extent also connected by their lifestyle and mutual trust.

Independent production spaces are more or less independent of institutional support, which does not mean that they never receive support from institutions, but that this support, when it does occur, is project-related and thus unpredictable. This enables these production spaces to work independently.

 

  1. Their development

It is quite common for such spaces to develop out of a community, which in practice often means that development depends on a few interconnected individuals, who nevertheless enjoy a great deal of support in the community of potential users. The start-up of such spaces usually depends on the investment of volunteer work and other resources (tangible: e.g. furniture and equipment, intangible: e.g. organisation, coordination, communication) by the user community.

Independent production spaces are easier to develop in cheaper buildings that allow experimentation. Firstly, because these spaces are cheaper, and secondly, because these spaces allow for adaptation and experimentation, unlike expensive new buildings.[1]

It is not uncommon for these spaces to be old industrial areas or buildings. Older industrial buildings are often located near the city centre and at the same time have large production halls. An example of such areas in Ljubljana are the Tobačna factory and Rog. In both areas, there was a large concentration of production spaces at certain times, where creative or cultural activities also took place or even stood out.

 

  1. Why we need them

The provision of accessible production spaces is the most obvious service that independent production spaces provide, if that term can be used at all. However, their function is broader.

These spaces are often used by people working in the creative industries, i.e. professions that individuals often do themselves. Collaborative production spaces enable networking and potential collaboration as well as mutual learning. At the same time, these spaces are one of the few points where workers in a similar profession also meet in person. As these are often professions with the characteristics of precarious employment and project collaboration, a shared production space is one of the few constants within a particular activity and profession or professions. An essential component of these spaces is to enable collaboration and mutual exchange of skills, experience and knowledge. This is the added value of such spaces and therefore worth supporting.

However, not all users of the community space necessarily seek or want to participate. It is possible that participation in the community is only to facilitate individuals’ access to a production space because it is a way to share costs or reduce certain common costs. In such cases, the main motive of the individual user may be the production space rather than participation in the community, which is of course a perfectly legitimate approach.

 

  1. Urban policies

About fifteen years ago, the concept of the creative city came onto the agenda of cities, and this was the beginning of more strategic support for the cultural and creative industries, as it was believed that these two sectors represented the untapped potential for new jobs and economic development. As the usual way of supporting entrepreneurial development had often proved unsuccessful – cultural and creative activities are only slightly different from usual entrepreneurship – cities began to create new forms of support. Two approaches stand out in particular.

The first is the construction of large new spaces for the presentation of culture, with Bilbao often cited as a model. The second approach was based on the idea that to develop the creative professions we do not need new so-called flagships with large, expensive spaces, but affordable spaces in old buildings that allow the production and development of new ideas.[2] While the first approach was financially demanding, the complexity of the second was hidden in the organisational approach. Independent production spaces, especially collaborative spaces, develop from the bottom up or not at all, so the city administration can only support them but not develop them itself. Cities that opted for the strategic development of the cultural or creative sector pursued the development of such spaces with inclination, while indirectly supporting the development of production spaces. Either through tenders by which such spaces received funding for various programmes or through co-financing or free renting of suitable spaces. At the same time, cities kept sufficient older spaces suitable for the formation of community production spaces through urban policies and planning documents.

 

  1. The balance between expensive representative and accessible production spaces

If we spare ourselves the decision of whether it makes more sense to build or renovate expensive and luxurious large spaces for the presentation of art and culture on the one hand, or to allow the creation of affordable, sometimes neglected or older production spaces on the other, we come to the conclusion that they are two parallel, even complementary processes. Two sides of the same coin, you might say. However, the sides of the same coin are identical on the surface, which is not insignificant, as there must be a certain balance between the two approaches described above. Otherwise, if too much emphasis is placed on large and luxurious presentation spaces, over time this can hinder the development of content that could fill brilliant new buildings, as young artists cannot flourish if there are not enough production spaces. This is especially true for young artists from less affluent social backgrounds, who do not have the financial background to support artistic development. Thus, art and culture may become impoverished in the future if it becomes the domain of the middle and upper classes. However, we by no means want to make the inaccessibility of production spaces the main obstacle to the development of underprivileged artists – these obstacles are of course greater and go beyond the realm of production spaces as they are broader socio-economic issues.

 

  1. Independent production in Ljubljana

Ljubljana is a small city in terms of population. Nevertheless, Ljubljana is characterised by a developed cultural and creative scene, which cannot be taken for granted, as Ljubljana has a relatively low critical mass compared to other European capitals, for example. Due to the low critical mass, the spaces where new trends develop, i.e. independent production spaces, need to be actively supported, as their survival on the market is more difficult due to the already mentioned small size of the city and critical mass.

In recent years there have been two obvious processes in Ljubljana. The first is the slow closure of various independent production spaces. In recent years, Kreativna cona Šiška, Poligon and many other production spaces in the Tobačna factory have been closed, and recently the Rog factory was also demolished, which, despite all its problems and challenges, offered a huge production space to various individuals and collectives.

At the same time, the number of more or less dazzling spaces dedicated to the presentation or consumption of culture and art, so to speak, has been growing for more than a decade. Kino Dvor, Kino Šiška, Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, Tobačna 001, etc., while the extensive renovation of Cukrarna was recently completed, as well as the extensive renovation of the Rog Centre, which is supposed to be a place for creative production. The question is for whom and what. The broader question, however, is whether the balance is not tipping too much towards presentation spaces, while at the same time widening the gap at the level of production spaces?

 

  1. The time for independent spaces

In one of the first lessons on the basics of economics, the transformation curve is explained, which, greatly simplified, says that the more cannons we have, the less butter we have, and vice versa. If we already have many cannons, each additional cannon is less useful, while new units of butter would be very useful, since we have few of them.

If we transfer the curve to Ljubljana, we see that the independent production space is shrinking, while the number of institutions for the presentation of art and culture is increasing, and at the same time, we are investing significant public funds in them. At the same time, these investments have intended or unintended effects on the environment – which is improved and thus made more expensive by the considerable public investment. Since access to spaces is based on a free-market, neoliberal logic, large public investments affect supply by increasing the price of spaces, which further limits access to such spaces for people with fewer resources. So, the question is whether these investments really benefit those who need production spaces. Often these are young artists who have not yet made it into the elite. We should therefore not be surprised if art develops differently as a result – there will be less diversity and innovation because there will be no production spaces where the most innovative part of art and culture can develop in cooperation, perhaps even in community. And that is ultimately a pity for the diversity of the programme of institutions that present art and culture.

[1] Numerous authors have written about this, for example Jane Jacobs, Richard Florida, Richard Lloyd, etc.

[2] At this point we could also delve into independent exhibition, theatre or performance spaces, as they have similar functions in parts, but we will limit ourselves to production spaces.

Photo: Creative centre Poligon. Author: Jure Gubanc

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