Let’s begin with the beginning.
Creative Europe is a programme powered by the European Commission started now nearly 10 years ago. By supporting the cultural and media sectors, its objective is to empower Europe to be more creative and to become again a high place for innovation.
It is in this context that the Peer-to-Peer exchange program was launched in 2016. After a serie of conferences and meetings taking place throughout Europe, managers of creative hubs were invited to spend a few days in other european hubs.
The aim of the exchange was at first quite vague for us, and this whole story of grant to travel abroad also sounded too good to be true. But well, after looking in vain for small letters listing endless conditions or requisites, I thought that this program sounded… AWESOME!
So yes, this is how I, Lorene, decided to go to Denmark.
Republikken was my first stop.
It is a coworking space that opened in the heart of Copenhagen about eleven years ago. The one hundred and fifty members of this community are split between three floors of a building where they can access various areas (cafe, fixed desks, canteen, chilling areas, meeting rooms, prototype room…). With all that space, everyone can find his favourite spot to work from, while accessing unlimited filtered coffee. A self-service cafe located at the first floor is opened to members who wish to sign up by the hour, dynamizing this otherwise closed community.
During my stay, I also got the chance to visit LYNFabrikken, an other coworking located in the city of Aarhus (Denmark’s second city). Turning 25 years old this year, LYNfabrikken is one of Europe’s oldest coworking.
Our productivity is deeply linked to the wellness of the environment in which we evolve.
It’s hearing these numbers that I started realising how Denmark had, for while already, been a place of disruptive ideas. Indeed, for more than two decades now, similar initiatives saw the light around the country, supporting the idea that we could work in a new and different way than our parents used to. There, people have realised very early that our productivity was deeply linked to the wellness of the environment in which we evolve, and that creative ideas were often coming from exchange and collaboration.
Thanks to that belief, in Republikken, Lynnfabrikken but also in many other small or big places around the country, you will find some cosy and finely designed spaces that have now become proper working environments . With a soft music background, the new workers enjoy the advantages of the digital era while sipping a quality coffee and tasting a Smørrebrød (= Danish sandwich).
If the way of working is important in Denmark, it is nothing compared to education. You have probably already heard of new methods of learning coming from Nordic countries, so I will simply tell you about my experience at KaosPilot school.
On the second day of my trip, I went to visit Kaospilot, also located in the charming student town of Aarhus. Just as LYNfabrikken (the very old coworking), Kaospilot opened about 25 years ago and has since then been training “pilots” for social change. Founded by a small group of utopists, Kaospilot gives their students a project-based education.
The organisation is horizontal, skills are fluid and ideas are transparent.
Three promotions of students are sharing a building of five levels where they dispose of open-spaces and conferences rooms. The setting of the building embodies the way of learning of the students. At Kaospilot, the organisation is horizontal, skills are fluid and ideas are transparent. The students choose the projects they want to work on, they have their word to say in the selection of the next promotion and they have the duty to animate the space by organising workshops or conferences with the speakers of their choice.
Every year, the pilots work on various group or individual projects and they are sent to a city abroad to solve a local challenge.
Through this informal education, they are trained in all areas and aren’t dedicated to one speciality only (“marketing”, “design”, “management”, “business”…). They can flourish in all the areas needed and wanted. There, students stopped feeling the pressure of what skill or sector they should specialize in.
And if we start thinking about it, it makes absolutely no sense that we still have to ask ourselves these questions in other places. We don’t keep one job during our whole life anymore. During our career, we now evolve in various working environments, having to solve very diverse challenges. To undertake these challenges, it sounds more logical to be empowered with a wide range of tools, no?
After spending a day breathing the utopist air of Kaospilot and hearing the words “projects”, “teams”, “impact” and “change” many times, I left the school with my backpack tight high and with a forceful step, feeling that me too I had the power to make the change.
Another great place of Aarhus is Godsbanen.
Not only I loved this place because it was taking me out from the snowy and windy air of the small town but also because it was a space full of life.
How to describe it… Godsbanen is like an enoooooooormous cultural centre, entirely government funded, in which you can find a cafe (you will very often find nice little cafes in Denmark, the only bad thing about it is that a coffee is worth almost 5EUR!!), an exhibition area, a rehearsal room, a theater aaand… a big space where to MAKE stuff! (doesn’t it sound like our maker’s dream?!).
Like in a library, you can buy a very affordable member’s card that allows you to use the workshops room with a free and unlimited access. There, you will find some massive laser cutters, 3D printers but also fabric or pottery workshop rooms. The result is that even though I passed by Godsbanen an afternoon in the middle of the week, the place was crowded with people from all ages, and everyone had their hands dirty.
In Denmark, the communities and the local government are defending together a new way of doing things.
In the outside area (I’ll be honest, I only went there to take a few pictures), second hand markets are being set up once a month and there’s a furniture dump.
Yes, a furniture dump (that we could also call “paradise”). This is another simple and brilliant idea coming from Denmark. Like in Barcelona, once in awhile, everyone is invited to throw their old piece of furniture in the streets. The only difference there, is that the pieces of furniture are collected to be brought to this kind of giant parking, where everyone can come to pick up a treasure, at any time of the year. After discovering this place, I asked around myself if people knew about it and I was surprised to hear that lots of people had furnished their place thanks to this system.
So once again, I found that a small community and the local government were together defending a new way of doing things. Not a new way of working or learning, but a new way of consuming. Godsbanen stands against mass consumption. It proves how full-filling it can be to fabricate at small scale, by yourself and for the community before all.
Godsbanen garden was also occupied by some kind of strange housing. Inside them, a few folks had been experimenting for a few years how to grow food differently. In between the heavy rain, I managed to identify greenhouses and permaculture structures. Thanks to further explanations, I found out that all kind of alternative agriculture were being tested there.
So this visit pushed me to learn more about food innovation in Denmark. That’s why once back in Copenhagen, I tried to visit the Nordic FoodLab part of Noma restaurant, set up on the small island of Christiania. Numa is a three michelin star restaurant, so yeap… I “tried” to visit it.
The chefs are transmitting their passion and belief in local products.
However, with a bit of research I discovered that the Nordic Food Lab was trying to explore new ways of cooking, while training the next generation of chefs. It is called the Nordic Food Lab because of their respect for local ingredients. Denmark offers plenty of locally cultivated cereals, vegetables and fish. The chefs are therefore transmitting their passion and belief in these products, that not only are tasty but also environment friendly.
Not far from the Nordic Food Lab, my journey ended at “Christiania Freetown”, an alternative district of Copenhagen built in the beginning of the 1970’s. There, I discovered that people were living their dreams of a different and community-focused life, again far away from mass-consumption and monetary enrichment. However, this little piece of free land seems to have, a bit sadly, vanished with the smoke of all the drugs that have been consumed by its inhabitants.
Nonetheless, Christiania Freetown still stands proud to show us that another way is possible. And if this first try wasn’t the one, the first generation of Christianians have definitely placed their small seeds of change in the minds of the next one.
So after these few days in Denmark, the objective of the Peer-to-Peer program was perfectly clear to me. Thanks to this experience, I didn’t only created connections with other creative and entrepreneurs souls, I have done a trip back in times.
It is now our turn to build the world we really want to live in.
It made me realise how in some places the will of something else, something better, had appeared a few decades ago in quite an anarchic way. It made me realise that it is now our turn to build the world we really want to live in, drawing on the utopia of our parents.
In Denmark, I discovered that not only we could make better, but that all our lives should be organised around the positive impact we want to leave behind. And most importantly, that it is something we can do.
I came back to Barcelona with even more faith in what we do at MOB and in the small actions we can ourselves do for the change. So, if you still have doubts about the power of individuals and of local communities, please, plan a trip to Denmark.