Arts Collaboratory is an ecosystem of twenty-five like-minded organizations situated predominantly in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, all of whom are focused on collective governance. The organizations engage in expanded artistic and curatorial practices for social change, as well as sustainability practices in their respective contexts, with the aim of being effective in and beyond the field of art. The network operates as an active ecosystem, where knowledge and strengths are brought together and harvested in processes of collective organization. It is a radical experiment in exploring the potentiality of art and social transformation when the experiences, dreams, and critical reflections of cultural practitioners from across the globe are allowed to meet.
Founded in 2007 and currently in its third phase of life, the network strives for horizontality among members. Each of the participating organizations commits to common ethical principles and contributes to the ecosystem’s health by way of translocal triangles made up of three organizations. An annual assembly for collective decision-making and knowledge exchange is hosted rotationally by the members. Otherwise the ecosystem regenerates itself through collective projects and small-scale meetings called Bangas, which are based on a “call for gathering” for friendship, reciprocal support, collective study on a particular subject/issue, and tooling. Arts Collaboratory is a place for self-care and working in common across territories to form a community of solidarity based on mutualism, empathy, and vulnerability. The aim of unlearning capital- and productivity-driven working methods is central to the way the network thinks but also lives. Instead of filing reports, members participate in collective and consistent study practices that prioritize process and openness over success.
These principles are given form in collaborative artistic projects that range from residencies, exchanges, and curatorial enquiry, to grassroots action and co-publications across the ecosystem. Such projects create tools that allow for new channels of creation and “radical imagination” beyond geographic, political, and linguistic divides.
Arts Collaboratory was established in 2007 by two Dutch foundations, DOEN and Hivos, as a funding program and as a platform for knowledge-sharing among artist initiatives in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Its aim was to support the growing number of artistic organizations providing alternatives to the oft-lacking or inflexible arts scenes in their local context, and to strengthen the South–South connections between these initiatives. Soon the Mondriaan Fund joined, supporting the exchange between Arts Collaboratory–linked organizations and the Dutch arts field. In 2013 the program of Arts Collaboratory was redesigned with a revised mission to promote sustainable, collaborative, and open visual arts practices that contribute to social innovation and emphasize building translocal communities among participants. From here, twenty-three participating organizations were selected by the funders to constitute the core of the community. To better facilitate the knowledge-sharing and relation-building process within the network, DOEN and Hivos initiated a collaboration with the arts organization Casco Art Institute in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
The phase following 2013 focused on building trust and sharing through face-to-face meetings in assemblies, “tents”, and institutional residencies. These gatherings produce and develop collaborative projects between the participating organizations. From 2015 Banga meetings merged the previous tent and institutional residencies strategies as a method for organizational care, knowledge exchange and tooling. Following the 2015 Senegal Assembly, Arts Collaboratory members agreed to go further in their collaboration and develop a common vision, articulated in the Future Plan. The Future Plan was also used to negotiate self-governance and mutual accountability that values transparency around struggles and failures instead of dressed-up reports that satisfy trajectories of progress, selection, and evaluation. In light of the paradigm shifts, the position of DOEN, Hivos, and Casco were revisited. Both DOEN and Casco became members of the ecosystem. Hivos remains as an observer for the time being with potential interest in joining in the future. In this process, key areas of enquiry are the rethinking of funding models; methodologies of working with art locally and transnationally while unlearning the current modalities of working; and, most importantly, devising a self-sustainable and open system of translocal collectivity.
Participating organizations 2013–2018:
32º East | Ugandan Arts Trust, Kampala, Uganda
Al-Ma’mal, Jerusalem, Palestine
Art Group 705, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Ashkal Alwan, Beirut, Lebanon
Casa Tres Patios, Medellín, Colombia
Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons, Utrecht, the Netherlands
Centre Soleil d’Afrique, Bamako, Mali
Cráter Invertido, Mexico City, Mexico
Darb 1718 Contemporary Art and Culture Center, Cairo, Egypt
DOEN, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Doual’art, Douala, Cameroon
Kër Thiossane, Dakar, Senegal
Kiosko Gallery, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
Kunci Cultural Studies Center, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
lugar a dudas, Cali, Colombia
Más Arte Más Acción, Choco, Colombia
Nubuke Foundation, Accra, Ghana
Waza Contemporary, Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo
Platohedro, Medellín, Colombia
RAW Material Company, Dakar, Senegal
Riwaq, Al-Bireh, Palestine
ruangrupa, Jakarta, Indonesia
TEOR / éTica, San José, Costa Rica
Theertha, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Visual Arts Network of South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa
Editors: Arts Collaboratory members
Visual identity and layout concept: Wok the Rock
Design activation and programming: Eerens + Gadiot
Programming update in 2017: Eelke Feenstra
User experience design and update in 2017: Joel Galvez