art historian, freelance curator, cultural manager and researcher
Taken from Trans-Cultural Dialogues blog, a short reflection on how we worked together across the Mediterranean, which values draw us together and challenges encountered.
Before answering how we worked together, it’s important for us to state why we decided to collaborate at all. After all projects and actions we did together, this is what we consider to be the one of most important outcomes of TCD.
There are some reasons that easily come to mind: curiosity, getting into something new, generous support we have received by the Goethe Institute to make projects… But more important, there were some underlying values that connected us at first place.
All of us really wanted to reach out to like-minded people, creative and open, not just from the other side of the Mediterranean, but from various regions and contexts, using Cultural Innovators Network as a great pool of resources, contacts and support. There was a sense of possibilities and a breath of fresh air, after all the events triggered by Arab Spring(s).
We believed – and still do – that we could work together directly, building relationships and knowledge based on direct experience, getting to know each other, finding what brings us together, and working on similar (if not same) goals. There is something cosmopolitan about this, but also a desire (or need) to change our surrounding for better. We have become not just occasional collaborators or colleagues, but also friends.
From a formal point of view, the ideals we have invested in remained pretty much the same throughout TCD’s lifetime: equality, democratic procedures, share culture, transparency, participation (and participatory management), do-it-together philosophy, interculturalism, mobility of ideas and people, exchange and collaboration, learning together, utilizing the power of arts in public spaces, and seeing art as a tool to research and change the society. Now, how to put all these ideals in action?
Rather than a project with strict roles and hierarchy, we were open for changes and learning about ourselves and the work we were doing in the process, treating it as a true professional experiment. We started a project, but figured out at some point that we’re more like a platform, a changing team gathered around a set of idea(l)s, rather than a project with a beginning and an end.
TCD remained an umbrella platform, while projects such as DJART’14 and El Medreb were defined projects and concrete actions.
From the perspective of the team, we found ways how to utilize online & in-person ways of communicating and working together, bridging the numerous physical gaps and do team building at the same time. Most of it was constant hit-or-miss, learning and changing. We experienced that just a few days of in-person work was more productive than months of online meetings, when dynamics changes with our physical presence and ideas started pouring. At some moment, we talked about the “local team” (members based in Algeria), and the “international team”, but decided it’s obsolete: we’re all the same team.
Why we decided to work like this? Motivations between us were different: TCD was an opportunity for professional development, exploration, continuing with previously established Mediterranean projects, expanding the network of contacts, among other. For some team members from North Africa, this was a chance to try some things they have seen happening in the west, creatively adapted and in a local context, while for others from Europe it was a chance to establish a true collaborative project that would oppose the colonial heritage. After deciding to work in Algiers, we did did a research to understand the context better and respond as best as we could, rather than coming with pre-made solutions, so typical of many international collaboration projects.
There we no bosses, only leaders.
The organization model was flat, based on team member’s availability and commitment (this was, after all, a non-profit enterprise), as well as skills and ongoing tasks. Anybody could start leading in a certain direction, after numerous brainstormings, agreeing on an idea with others and gathering support. This process was not without challenges – could we all be available at the same time, financial & mobility restrains, being on the same page, communication gaps, different perception of time, other obligations… Again, we were learning by doing.
This way of working was fueled by the great team enthusiasm and demanded a lot of energy to keep it running, often sacrificing one’s own private time, constant negotiation and communication, and balancing TCD with a paid job or other projects as well. After a certain time, after growing in new directions and gaining recognition, the project took its toll. While initial enthusiasm was mostly spend, some of us experienced burnout, shift of focus, and need for a paid job. After a continuing communication challenges, we figured out it would be the best to close this story together, and allow all the members to take their own paths.
Even after TCD came to a closure (or maybe it is a hiatus?), these ideas and values were strongly supported by all of us, individually and professionally, reflected in our work (and continue to do so), with a hope and continuous effort that working together we can come to an understanding and tangible small changes in the Mediterranean region.
For more info on the TCD, check the official blog and a small documentary of DJART’14 festival below. Additionally, I did a MA thesis on managing cultural networks in the Mediterranean with Cultural Innovators Network as a case study you could read here. To brag a bit, European Cultural Foundation and UNESCO Germany included TCD in publication Building the future: On pathways to cultural diversity (Practises and projects from around the MENA region 2011-2017). More posts on TCD here.
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