Collaborative Economies

Digital production has given rise to an ever-growing number of innovative collaboration formats that are heavily influencing economies around the world. New paradigms of ownership, production and diffusion of knowledge challenge traditional economic concepts. The 'free culture' movement for example suggests a culture where all its members are free to participate in its transmission and evolution. Whereas in the old economy, exclusivity raises the price of a product, in the network economy to share is to generate greater value.

Creativity as an economic resource

Around the same time as the free culture concept started to become a mass movement, the global bank crisis set in - and along with it a decline of many industrial branches. Today we are facing a new economic reality where traditional industries slowly get replaced by the creative sector, with creativity and networks ousting steel and coal. Therefore, the norm of the economy supporting the growth of culture is due to be reversed.

Politicians engrossed in cultural affairs never cease in heralding the healthy creative market which is poised to outperform all traditional industrial sectors. Cities become creative hubs boosting their potential as sought after locations. Whilst in the past, creativity used to be treated as a kind of 'self-fulfilment', it is increasingly advancing into a distinctive feature on the job market - and into a highly political issue! Creativity is not any more a personal affair, but rather a social imperative. Marion von Osten reflects quite ironically on this in her project Be Creative! Der kreative Imperativ.

The creative imperative: everyone can be an artist!
According to Tessa Jowell, the UK secretary of state for culture, media and sports, "artistic creativity is just an ordinary human activity and therefore can be trained and learned."
It remains unclear however who exactly may count themselves as part of the creative class, and why. Especially when artists or related practitioners disapprove of the label “creative” and especially with regards to it being appropriated by politics. Suddenly artists and cultural producers no longer inhabit an outsider position but have been drawn into the spotlight of society for their creative potential: risk, tolerance and "flexibility" (meaning the will to lead a life on the economic edge) have become values increasingly demanded from employees in all fields.
Richard Florida is one of the pivotal figures to praise the advantages of a creative economy and he got famous for quotes like the one in his book The Rise of the Creative Class: "cities without gays and rockbands are loosing the economic development race".

Many questions arise as a result of this development, how do you evaluate and determine the price of cultural production? Or, how much is culture actually worth for us today? Is it possible to consider creativity as an economic resource? And if so, how can cultural practitioners position themselves on the creative market?
With regards to the theme of this book, I'd like to add another question, can there be such a thing as a collaborative economy at all? And if so, what would it look like?

Why free collaboration and creative clusters are not the same thing
The principal strategy that cultural politicians suggest to adress structural issues is to pool resources into networks, clusters, quarters and other kinds of partnership. Silicon Valley or the Museumsquartier in Vienna are often cited as examples. One of the many definitions of 'creative clusters' goes like this: "geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialised suppliers, service providers, firms in related industries, and associated institutions (for example, universities, standards agencies, and trade associations) in particular fields that compete but also co-operate", as can be read on the creative clusters-website

This definition mainly points to traditional economic ideas such as 'value creation chains' or 'competition'. However, creative clusters are often attributed as places for cooperation or free collaboration. But there is a huge difference between strategical cooperation in the creative industries and independent models of free collaboration. As Trebor Scholz points out in his article Working Together: "Cooperation commonly means that people assist each other to reach the same end. In cooperation, people walk in parallels. Each participant is in it for herself, motivated by egoistic 'micro-motivation' or altruistic collective reasons. Free Cooperation (...) emphasizes that everybody can freely leave the cooperation at any time taking with them what they put in (...)"
One important point would be to research a set of good practice models of free cooperation and collaboration structures that can serve as inspiration for independent cultural workers.

Good practice in open collaboration
I am thinking for example of the collaborative structure that brought The Oxcars, the "first non-competitive awards in the history of culture", together. On their website the team states very transparently how they managed to get the event together - in terms of philosophy, organisation and funding. This making-of is equally as interesting as the outcome of the whole Oxcars show itself.

Then there is definitely a lot to learn from networks such as EduFactory, Bricolabs, MyCreativity and many more. They all rely on open collaboration, shared resources and values. Their cultural practice is mainly web-based, as the members of those networks are located in different geographic regions and therefore do not meet up in person very often. The main challenge of those network structures is to keep them alive and kicking over a long period of time and to manage change, rules and hierarchy.

Also interesting in that context are hackerspaces, for example NoiseBridge in San Francisco. They are not only physical spaces, but have communities around the world. NoiseBridge for example provides infrastructure and collaboration opportunities for people from all walks of arts, culture and technology. As a space for artistic collaboration and experimentation, it is open to all forms of art – with a special emphasis on the crossover of art and technology: "from hardware labs to electronics, cooking, photography, and sound labs, anything that’s creative is welcome."

Is a shared culture incompatible with the possibility of generating profit?
If we want to explore the economical side of cultural production then we need to look at the specific qualities and values that are facilitated by open collaborative networks. Another question would be: how is the border between cultural production and cultural goods actually defined? Do we have a common understanding of the value and price of collaborative cultural production? And do artists and culture producers really know their own market value? 

What is usually also left out of the discussion are the life and work conditions of independent cultural practitioners. "Those aspects are either ignored or cynically exploited by the cultural industries and the ‘creative industry’ models proposed by the cultural funding departments of nation states" writes Armin Medosch in his essay Paid in Full: Copyright, Piracy and the Real Currency of Cultural Production.

For the Salon program of the upcoming transmediale.10 we try to find answers to some of those questions within the Free Culture Incubator program. The overall aim of this program is to form an outline of what a culture-based economy might look like. The Free Culture Incubator is based on open workshops, panel discussions and artistic presentations throughout the foyer of the House of World Cultures, Berlin. According to the huge number of applications for the workshops there seems to be an enormous demand for sharing knowledge in the field of free software, copyright and licensing models as well as organising creative teams. 


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