Sowing a garden for a healthy performing arts ecosystem

Sowing a garden for a healthy performing arts ecosystem 2560 1701 markeloptah
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Last December we got invited to facilitate a session in our hometown involving Baratza, an independent theatre, and its surrounding community. Baratza (vegetable garden in Basque) was born 6 years ago with the intention of being an active agent in the contemporization of performing arts in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Since then it has actively engaged with cultural, artistic and civil organizations in the city in several projects regarding education, cultural programmation and artistic support for creators. After these years a little bit of the initial energy and focus has been lost in the process. Moreover, the ecosystem has evolved as so has Baratza’s potential users and audiences. During the last months they have been realizing and effort to mediate and attract new people to the room but these efforts are yet scattered.

In the context of the celebration of its anniversary, we were invited to facilitate a session involving various actor from the ecosystem such as: civil servants, creators, audiences, staff… The facilitation proposal was orbiting around two important elements:

  • A narrative metaphor regarding the care of a vegetable garden and the health of soil and, generally, the ecosystem in which is embedded. This narrative vehicle helped workout some future guidelines for Baratza’s strategy from an ecosystemic perspective. For doing so we used the panarchycal framework and the life cycle of a project as the basic unit. We used some of the notes and tips offered by Liberating Structures materials.
  • The use of performing elements as well as environments. The workshop was celebrated in one of the rooms used as a theatrical stage. A lot of attention was paid to keep the scenic aesthetics in lights, space distribution, music… For setting up a final presentation of the scenarios developed in the session we suggested the use of a “lambe-lambe” miniature theatre set-up. This last element was not heavily used due to the lack of time.

Agenda for the session

12.00 – Ice breaking games

12.20 – Presentation of the agenda and the ecological cycle.

Relationship with natural cycles. Creative destruction. Feeling what is about to be born. Letting go of what is already of no use to us. Creative process.

12.30 – Facilitating the dynamics: maintain, grow, destroy, be born…

We will create some profiles of people (creator, producer, neighbour of the neighbourhood, neighbour of Vitoria, political/cultural). Current needs will be identified and latents from which the model will be filled with actions and interventions. In order to sort out the proposals the elements that must take part in a healthy ecosystem (entities, relationships, resources, knowledge…).

13.15 – Baratza 2022 – Elaboration of everyday life situations involving future Baratza.

Each group will take one or more actions and images of the Baratza that is about to be born and will materialize it in a particular everyday situation that will design, create and will be staged in the Lambé Theatre in the middle of the room.

13.45 – Presentation of scenes at the public and closure

Collective presentation and open space about what each has to contribute to those scenarios.

Some of the results and conversations

Industry Paradoxes. Need for freedom and flexible and emerging creative processes but dependence on public sector funding which is governed by particular tempos and cycles and needs of control and reliability by the creators.

How can we leave the necessary space-time but still ensure a timely harvest?

The need to nurture creative communities and act as such. Re-weave networks and put in value those connections. To make the metaphor of the orchard a mark of Baratza’s work in the creative ecosystem.

How do we rethink our role as community weavers?

The need for updating and access to different publics that the room usually accommodates. Finding ways to access the most young people from their languages without losing the essence of Baratza. We can’t try to cater to new audiences from the vantage point of the past.

How do you learn to let go and make room for new coming, with its new forms, codes and practices?

The apparent paradox between artistic realization and offer a cultural product accessible to a majority.

How to generate cultural experiences that evolve with the understanding, trust and experience of the public? How to find joint maturation processes between the works and the public?

The connection to the neighborhood remains a non resolved issue. There is a desire to articulate it but lack the energy or the channels to do so. Energy is a scarce commodity. It was widely discussed where to put the energies. A very intensive event in terms of investment in a short time or a more leisurely performance and distributed over time.

What other ecosystems or energies already present in the neighborhood could be symbiotic with the ones we want to nurture in Baratza?

Search for hybridization spaces and contexts with other practices or complementary knowledge. Public institutions, academic institutions, companies, organized civil society, etc.

How could we give away our knowledge and know-how to other orchards and/or other professions?

Systemic design course

Systemic design course 1810 1357 markeloptah
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Back to work after my trip to the US west coast I have been leading a course around systemic design at IED Barcelona.

Here some of the materials I have been using.


From problem solving to problem caring

From problem solving to problem caring 2072 1105 markeloptah
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One of the most important leaps in my career and general mindset as a designer came when I started reading and exploring a cybernetic (systemic) approach to my practice. Coming from a very engineering focused design background, characterized by a deterministic, simplifying, linear and positivist bias and while being studying Integrated Design in Denmark I realized there were other approaches to design embracing complexity.

My first step into this field come to be by ecodesign practice and life cycle thinking. Even though it was a pretty limited focus it brought to me a myriad of expanding horizons through the minds and hearts of people like: Donella Meadows, Buckminster Fuller, Rittel & Webber… But, most importantly, it showed me there was a chance for me build a challenge based career. Not specialized in the kinds of devices excreted from the design process (a disciplinar compartmentalisation of design) but around different “on the fly” defined challenges.

Meanwhile Design Thinking started to be mainstream in design industry as well as in education, policy, innovation driven by IDEO’s marketing effort. This followed in the wake of 70’s and 80’s design methods movement pioneered by designers such as John Chris Jones.

At the same time I started deepening my understanding about cybernetics and systems science through Stafford Beer and others. I started to understand the complex and interdependent nature of many of the challenges I was naively tackling in my job as Technical Director at Basque Ecodesign Center’s Ideas Lab. And, most importantly, I started to frame design projects as means to an end. This coincides with an increasing effort I was doing to understand micro and macroeconomics. I came to realize most of my models for understanding business and economy were flawed and started finding new foundations through ecological economics.

Couple of years after, around 2011, I came to meet Adrià in Copenhagen who would then be my partner in what today is HOLON. After months of intense and transformational conversations I came to hear from him about Transition Design, a then nascent body of work led by Terri Irwin et al. at Carnegie Mellon Design School. The next couple of months were what I might call enlightening.

A group of amazing people at the other side of the ocean were putting into words, models and practice many of the intuitions that have been coagulating in my mind the past years. Learning about Transition Design and its integration of design practice, philosophical and sociological frames, systems literacy and politics was the grammar that my design discourse and practice was lacking. One of the interesting turnarounds of Transition Design is that of understanding designer’s job as intervenors in systems looking for particular wicked problem dissolutions. In Donella Meadows words: “dancing with systems”. This acupuncture approach to systems change is also a repositioning proposal of design, coming from heroesque narratives emanated principally from Silicon Valley white guys.

Although systemic design is already a pretty consolidated knowledge pioneered by universities such as: CMU, OCAD, OHA, Politecnica Torino and disseminated by various organizations and companies (Namahn, MaRS Solutions Lab, Shiftn…) design community is still lacking important competences in this field. That’s why Barcelona Design Week invited HOLON and BillionBricks to facilitate a workshop under the name: ‘From problem solving to problem caring’.

The main framing question of the workshop was:

During the workshop the affordable housing issue was used as a MacGuffin for explaining issues around a systemic and challenge based approach to design projects. Over the course of afternoon the particular cases of BillionBricks Asian countries and la Borda in Barcelona were developed.

The hands on part of the workshop orbited around framing problems through systemic understanding and developing a portfolio of design interventions (done and to be done) to be more strategic in tackling our challenges. To do so, several frameworks were used such as: the iceberg model, Systems leverage canvas by Sam Rye and the now canonical 12 leverage points by Donella Meadows.

For the sake of elaborating the workshop we reflected around the intervention points in the case of housing system as well as around how to expand the impact of systemic interventions.

In intervening systems scaling-up prototypes might not be the best suitable solution since the act of scaling can decrease the effectiveness of a successful prototype intervention even worsening the situation. Sam Rye proposes three different approaches inspired by nature:

  1. Swarm. Much of the effort that goes into scaling efforts is about centralising the coordination, monitoring or otherwise. What we’ve learnt about swarm behaviour in nature, is that it relies on self-organised, collective behaviour.
  2. Replicate + Adapt. The driving force of evolution is the constant cycle of replication and adaptation. Incentivising this approach for systems change activities could avoid the need for scaling up individual efforts, by significant replication of the core of an intervention, which is then localised to a specific context. Really connected to open-sourcing (FOS).
  3. Cascade. This is a nascent thought, but I regularly see this pattern in nature whereby a species of animal or tree creates conditions for many others to live. Whether it’s a beaver dam, a tree with a large canopy, or a hermit crab, this pattern is common and has potential to be explored.

The contents, references and presentation of the workshop can be consulted below.

A brief ethnography of digital nomads

A brief ethnography of digital nomads 1500 996 markeloptah
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Last week I had the chance to visit my friend Jon in Xàvia (Alicante). He has lived there for a couple of years since is the basecamp of Sun and co. project he as his partner Eduardo founded several years ago.

Since his experience in Edinburgh’s The Melting Point, Jon has been involved in dynamizing creative communities in coworkings contexts. Four years ago a new opportunity emerged for him to put a step into co-living schemes. Eduardo, the owner of a youth hostel in Xàvia wanted Jon to start a co-working co-living space there while in low season. And there he went.

All those years, intermittently Jon has been speaking to me about one of their main clients in Sun and Co: location independent freelance workers or so called digital nomads. This social phenomena took my attention since it constitutes a niche prototype practice of a future of work. The future(s) of work has been a buzz topic for a couple of years now on, exacerbated by digital technologies which facilitates remote (and mainly cognitive) work and the first resonances of work robotization and automatization. Infused in these conversations topics like universal income, networked organizations, algorithmic companies… have been commonplace.

Remote workers, most of whom are liberal professionals working in digital-related businesses have made working remotely not only a contingent practice but a whole new lifestyle with it’s own ethics, aesthetics and practices. This fact has been driven by important changes in organizational dynamics regarding control, presence and personal/work life balances.

One of my interest areas regarding my self-directed masters is that of emerging organizational structures, dynamics and forms. Apparte from spending some time with my lovely Jon, getting to know and understand a little better motivations, values and purposes of these digital tribe was of high interest for me. At a personal level framing this trip as a sensing journey helped me train a little bit some of the arts of being, such as deep listening, which are also a important focus of my learning process. At an spiritual level, engaging in quality time with Jon left me really energized by his charm. We had the chance to discuss some personal leaps that Jon had made in the lasts months thanks, in part, to a cathartic reading of Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now. This week I just started leafing through the book. I might write a review once I have finished it in my books section.

Hereafter you can find some of my notes regarding what I experienced about the digital nomads zeitgeist. I has the chance to have many conversations with Jon and his co-workers regarding some of the ideas there.

Some ethnographic notes

Tool: frameworks for structuring etnographic material

Community and culture in Sun and Co.

  • Weekly goals and projects
  • Self-led event agenda and skillshare scheme
  • Mastermind. Go meetings.
  • Rol of the host (Jon).
    • Hosting manual
    • Community building manual
  • Intimacy and bonds seeking. Host as a love node in the community.
  • Use of space
    • Lunch and dinner time

Collective imaginaries of the digital nomad community

  • Adventour and newness
  • Community.
  • Home-making and signifying
  • Non-normality and otherness
  • Happiness: joy vs. excitement. Everydayness neglection. In search of the peak experience. Waterfall effect (Jon).
    • Mechanistic thinking. Love as an excel formula. Leisure as a timetable to be filled. Friends as something you find in a place.
  • Productivity, efficiency and willforce.
    • Waking up at 5 am and cold baths.
    • Doing everything I need to have done before 10 am
  • Being in search and/or scaping
  • Money and financial freedom