We Make Places work from the philosophy that people, no matter where they live, or their background, know what they want, what they like and what they don’t like; they just need to be given the tools to express themselves. Our annual symposium, The Maverick City took place in Liverpool on June 23rd and our speakers explored common themes:
- the importance of sharing (stories, experiences, ideas)
- the rise of democratisation- the democratisation of communication and doing and how this can create new understandings, of place, of community and of ourselves; and
- the importance of delight in our public spaces..
Our speakers were:
Chiara Organtini- creative producer/curator from CAOS & Indisciplinarte; Terni, Italy
Carron Little – artist and curator of Out of Site festival; Chicago, USA
Tiago Cosmo – musician and activist Camerata Larenjeiras; Rio, Brasil
Kate Stewart- CEO We Make Places; Liverpool, UK
Steve Threllfall – designer Urban Workbench by We Make Places; Liverpool, UK
Jurien Mentink – urban designer & resident at Humanitas Elderly Persons Home; Deventer, Netherlands
Chris Coates – activist, carpenter, squatter & resident at Lancaster Co-Housing; Lancaster, UK
Our work focuses on supporting communities to make decisions about and take control of spaces and places in their neighbourhoods and to empower them to make positive change and as we are working with various communities who are exploring projects at the moment we invited speakers with experience of the relevant issues of Curating in Public Space, Using Collective Making, Models of Co-Housing.
Nobody can deny that these are interesting times that we live in; it certainly feels like we are living in a moment in history! And although it seems like society is becoming increasingly divided, there is a parallel movement happening, one of increased collaboration and working together – The Maverick City celebrates this and provides inspiration and exemplars to its participants and audience.
As with last year’s event we thought the best way to provide an overview of The Maverick City was to let invite someone who participated to do it:
The Maverick City Symposium 2017 – by Evija Taurene
One of the main reasons for my visit to Liverpool in July was to participate in The Maverick City Symposium – a gathering of brave city makers and change makers from a wide range of cities and countries.
The Symposium involved people working in the UK and also far away in different continents – the US, the Netherlands, Brazil, Latvia and Italy. The event was opened and facilitated by Toria, who is the chair of “We Make Places”. Her wise words could easily characterise the whole event:
“Isn’t it interesting how in this world of very divided society, there is a parallel movement of working together and tirelessly on a very small scale, which is actually creating all the change?”
As the event was a symposium rather than a conference, we all found ourselves in the middle of stories and conversations, which disrupted the traditional conference format and created a space and time for new ideas to spark.
Chiara Organtini shared her story of CAOS art centre located in a former factory building. She shared with us her firm belief in co-creating spaces with the local citizens and stakeholders, which has led to unimaginable and wonderful results.
Tiago Cosmo, a violinist and the co-founder of Camerata Laranjeiras (a string orchestra in Rio de Janeiro) shared his passion for music. He believes that music is so powerful that it can break down barriers – between rich and poor, between groups of society, and even between countries. He said: “Music can change people. And if you can change people, you can change the world!”.
Coming far away from Chicago, artist and curator Carron Little told us about her relationship with culture and cities. She challenged us with a question: “Is the council REALLY looking for a safe/boring/consumerism city?” Carron also brought our attention to the fact that we are actually building our cities around the official narratives; however artists are the ones taking a lot of personal and political risks just to be a part of the city. This thought had never crossed my mind, but now I see every artistic action as an act of true bravery.
Kate Stewart, the CEO and co-founder of We Make Places, shared with us several stories of how the simple act of making things can transform lives. Kate separated the act of making into three equally important parts: planning -> anticipation -> self-forgetting movement. ‘Making’ is also something “We Make Places” (as the name of the organisation already reveals) has tested in their work with local communities and volunteers. Kate invited us all to be makers in our everyday life back home, and this is certainly something I have taken home.
Steve Threlfall, a Designer who is also a co-founder of “We Make Places” and Friends of the Flyover, and had just returned from a residency program Madrid, introduced us to their newest project Urban Workbench, which is bringing practical maker skills to communities and individuals. He again emphasized the approach of understanding cities and contexts through activities and ‘doing’, rather than simply talking and planning. His speech evoked a discussion on how we actually teach the younger generations to analyse risks and claim spaces.
Jurriën Mentink, a young urban designer and innovator from the Netherlands, who has found his passion in the area of Elderly Healthcare, spoke a lot about the way different generations can interact and co-live, without judgments and with ‘play’ in mind. In the last four years, he has spent living in the Humanitas retirement home, his life and perspective as an urban designer has changed a lot, but he has also changed the life of many of his elderly neighbours. Game nights and casual pranks is nothing unusual when Jurriën is around.
The last but not the least of our maverick speakers was Chris Coates. Chris is a person with such an interesting life story that his current occupation is hard to put in any words. He comes from Lancaster, UK, and he is one of the people behind the Lancaster CoHousing project – a co-living community sharing not only a common neighbourhood, outdoor space and dining area, but also values and lifestyle. Chris’s story certainly found a way to my heart and mind, and gave an invaluable affirmation that co-living is not only possible, but very needed for the modern society.
All in all, the main day of the Symposium was really packed with valuable insights and ideas, conversations and discussions. Each speaker had come with his/her own story and no one spared personal insights – that is something to be grateful for.
However, the Symposium did not finish with a group dinner and ‘bye-bye’, we still had a full day ahead of us to be spent together in action. So, we all (speakers and some of the audience) took Kate’s invitation to became real makers with a day of community building the following day.
To my mind, “We Make Places” is the perfect organisation for Liverpool and one that every city needs. They have the power to positively shape the city and its communities, creating a more liveable, playful and integrated city for its people. And through hard, but inspired and passionate work they are reaching results no public administration could. I believe that all municipalities and both larger and smaller cities actually face quite similar issues – the lack of participatory culture and initiative among the citizens, the lack of quality public spaces in the city, open dialogue between the public and the administration etc. etc. Challenges like these can and should be solved by local change actors, if there are opportunities for these people to devote their skills and knowledge, and at the same time – to be appropriately appreciated.
Evija Taurene is an urban planner and activist with a passion for creative cities, urban regeneration, citizen engagement, & digital economy. She currently works as a project manager and citizen engagement officer in Cēsis municipality administration, in Latvia.