Sowing a garden for a healthy performing arts ecosystem

Sowing a garden for a healthy performing arts ecosystem 2560 1701 markeloptah
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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.


Design for the New

Design for the New 1600 1062 markeloptah
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Last couple of weeks we have been working on a new course for the Master on Design for Emerging Futures, a joint program of Elisava and IAAC. One of our main goals for this course is to prototype some ideas from our reserarch concerning Performing Transitions. I will try to keep track of my main learnings from that process.

In this first post I will start by explaining the syllabus and main structure of the course.

Frame of the subject and fit in MDeF

The learning process in the MDeF has materialised over the last few months into a personal project on the part of each student. These projects constitute socio-technical interventions on reality which take as reference the coordinates offered in the contents of the master: urban environment, digital manufacturing, technology, new design postures … These interventions are beginning to outline possible, critical and/or desirable futures that are to be constituted as alternative normalities.

One of the pillars of the evolving body of knowledge that constitutes Transition Design is that of the theories of change, that is, the mental, theoretical and practical frameworks under which change happens and is meant. In this context, Transition Design bets on a reconquest of everydayness as a political positioning and an engine of change that builds bridges between the hitherto opposed theories that explain change from normative structures and the individual agency.

One of the most promising cultural theories for explaining social phenomena and analysing everyday life is that of Social Practices. The analysis of present practices as well as their historical evolution and future potentialities creates fertile ground for an aesthetic policy that questions the status-quo and overcomes the crisis of imagination in which we live submerged as a civilization. We believe the adoption of this tools, mindsets and theoretical scaffolds might expand design’s ability to construct preferred futures from a systems perspective.

Throughout the course the design interventions proposed by the students will be framed under the theory of social practices as a means for:

  • Understanding and reflecting on the implications of the performativity of everyday life in the creation of new normalities from a mind-body perspective and the role that design plays in that context.
  • Designing paths of transition from the present (and its practices) to the desired scenarios through strategic interventions in the metaphorical, material and practical spheres through the construction of speculative prototypes (material, performative, narrative…)
  • Engaging in a process to iterate, concretize and refine students’ projects integrating the learnings of Transition Design and the work on social practices.

Targeted competencies and goals

  • Learn how to integrate a futures and systems centered practice into the design process.
  • Learn how to bridge discursive and speculative work with a system transition perspective.
  • Learn how to embed alternative ways of knowing, thinking and reflecting in our posture as designers.
  • Explore a continuum of strategies for system change both at a structure and granular level.
  • Enrich the students’ projects with a transition pathway towards the creation of new normalities involved in their work.

Structure by days

DAY 1 (april 26th)

  1. 15’ Introduction to the course
    1. explain that this is a research field for us on design of social practices.
  2. 30’ Frameworks and theory– Transition Design and theories of change (Max-Neef needs, Social Practice Theory and Socio-technical transitions).
    1. Theories of change – intentionality
    2. Human needs – we have developed different ways to satisfy these needs (Max-Neef).
  3. 2h 15’ Practice – Using the student’s projects as a reference we will use different lenses (temporal and ontological) to assess their future fitness by mapping stakeholders and their needs, understanding current ecologies of practices and deconstructing them in order to find design intervention points.
  • Stakeholder needs mapping
  • Historical analysis of related practices
  • Analysis of emerging practices
  • Future practice envisioning
  • Collective practice deconstruction
  1. Homework for next session – Practice mapping and deconstruction

DAY 2 (may 9th)

  1. 40’ Check-in about the homework. Feedback circle.
  2. 30’ Frameworks and theory– Transition design and new ways of designing. From user centered design to xenodesign. Speculative and discursive design. Performing transitions and embodied intelligence.
  3. 1h 50’ Practice – Pulling from the practice deconstruction performed during the time between sessions we will explore the potentialities of different interventions in the present that may lead to the targeted future social practices. For this we will use a combination of tools and frames that might help iterate, test and discuss the different approaches.
  • Tasting of different tools for imagining alternatives: speculative prototyping, ontographic machines, mental landscapes, forced metaphors, experiential futures, performing transitions, LARP…
  • Defining KPIs and measurements of impact
  • Outlining of a transition path using the spatio-temporal matrix
  • Defining the interventions to be designed next session

DAY 3 (may 10th)

  1. 20’ Check-in about previous session. Feedback circle.
  2. 120’ Practice – In this last part of the course we will focus in one of the mapped interventions of the previous sessions and design it from a performative perspective. Throughout this workshop each of the students will design performative situations in order to explore future social practices from other kinds of intelligences and ways of knowing such as embodied cognition and gut-level discernment.

40’ Presentations – performance of the interventions


Transition Design Seminar. Carnegie Mellon Design School (2019).

Xenodesignerly Ways of Knowing. Johanna Schmeer (2019).


System Innovation and the Transition to Sustainability: Theory, Evidence and Policy. Elzen B, Geels FW, Green K, Eds (2004).

Typology of Sociotechnical Transition Pathways. Research Policy 36. pp 54-79. Geels, Frank W. and Schott, Johan (2007).

Implications of Social Practice Theory for Sustainable Design. Kuijer, S.C. (2014).

Designing change by living change. Kakee Scott, Jaco Quist and Conny Bakker (2012).

Extrapolation Factory Operator’s Manual. Montgomery and Woebken (2016).

Performing transitions within emergent paradigms. Grace Polifroni, Mercè Rua and Markel Cormenzana (2019).