Proposals for the Galway City and County Cultural Strategy and Culture 21 Pilot Cities program

Macnas Parade 2013

The hare a great symbol of fertility during the Macnas Parade in Galway. CC photo by

In January 2016 I prepared and submitted the following proposals to Eithne Verling who is developing the Galway City and County Cultural Strategy and coordinating Galway city’s participation in the Culture 21 Pilot Cities program. I am posting the proposals here to share with the artists, activists, community and cultural workers in Galway.

To be clear I am still waiting on feedback so I cannot say if any of these proposals have been adopted or included in the strategy.

Any feedback is welcome

I hope you find it of interest


Proposals for the Galway City and County Cultural Strategy and Culture 21 Pilot Cities

Submission by Kevin Flanagan

Collaborative Ways Forward (

P2P Foundation Ireland (


I submit here a number of proposals to compliment the development of the Galway City and County Cultural Strategy and to contribute to a sustainable vision for Galway as a Culture 21 Pilot City. First I will outline a broad vision with some international examples and then a specific project to support initiatives locally.

I fully endorse the broader definition of culture in the Culture 21 declaration on values. In particular the declaration’s recognition of the cultural rights of all members of the community to participate in cultural life.

4.Cultural rights guarantee that everyone can access the resources they need to freely pursue their process of cultural identifi cation throughout their life, as well as to actively participate in, and reshape, existing cultures. Cultural citizenship implies rights, freedoms and responsibilities. Lifelong access to, and participation in, cultural and symbolic universes are essential factors for the development of the capacities of sensitivity, expression, choice, and critical thinking, which allow the construction of citizenship and peace in our societies.” –

The Galway 2020 bid, Cultural Strategy and Pilot Cities present an opportunity for Galway to celebrate these values, to learn from the experience of other cities, to experiment and embrace innovative cultural practices. These local government initiatives can be important catalysts for addressing long term challenges for culture and community in the west.

As a Galway native I have been active in the arts and community for most of my adult life and recognise that there are recurring challenges. I have also had the opportunity to travel abroad and have seen inspiring examples of how other communities often in partnership with local governments have responded to similar challenges. Some of these examples inform my proposal. I hope that they will be as much a source of inspiration for you as they have been for me.

A Note on current barriers to sustainable Arts and Culture in Galway

Every year a significant number of arts students graduate in the city however there are limited supports and opportunities in Galway for these graduates, making it difficult to pursue their profession and faced with few options many are forced to leave or emigrate. This is a great loss to a city that prides itself on being a city of culture. Artists that do stay in Galway face further barriers. There is limited access to safe secure work space and studios as well as to exhibition space in the city. Artists have worked together to overcome these difficulties by forming artist collectives and artist run spaces and studios. These spaces have little funding and run on minimal budgets, surviving largely through the support of unpaid volunteer labour. These precarious circumstances mean that many artists and arts initiatives have difficulties in sustaining their activities and are highly vulnerable when faced with operational and financial problems which often force groups to discontinue cultural projects. The highest overheads these cultural initiatives face in the city are rents. Those that contribute so much to the cultural life of the city are effectively being squeezed out and forced out by high rents and a lack of opportunities and supports.

The community and social sectors face similar challenges, dependent on small grants, donations and the support of volunteers, they struggle to meet the social needs of the cities most vulnerable citizens.

This is unsustainable and deeply damaging to communities and the cultural life that the city prides itself on. The rights of citizens to the means for a healthy and sustainable cultural life must be supported.

Nobody would argue that the arts, culture and community sectors are not active or that they are unproductive or that they do not contribute in important and valuable ways to the welfare of society and to Galway’s reputation as a city of culture. Yet because the value they generate is typically intangible, social and reputational, making it difficult to quantify, these sectors are undervalued and marginalised by policy and planning focused only on monetary measures of value such as economic growth as a measure of social progress. For example the recent “White Paper on Innovation” Galway City and County Councils Industry and Economic Baseline Study makes no mention of the importance of Social Innovation. As a regional strategy for development it completely overlooks the value of social innovation be it cultural or community driven, not for profits or social enterprise. These are innovative and productive sectors that contribute to the well being of citizens they need adequate recognition and support.

The enthusiasm and initiative of artists in the cultural sector, community activists and social entrepreneurship in the social sector should be valued, celebrated and supported just as much as the entrepreneurialism and initiative of the business sector is celebrated.

In the following proposals I will provide some brief examples for your consideration of how culture and community could be supported and celebrated in Galway city and county.

I present these examples in 3 parts, Access to Space , Access to and Sharing of Resources, Participatory Democracy. You will see that these different approaches can work together to be self-reinforcing and enable social innovation and empower communities.

Access to Space (City as a Commons)

Repeatedly we hear that there is a need for affordable space in the city. Spaces for artists, community group, social entrepreneurs. Creative people find themselves without support in the city and without those supports they are inclined to bring their talents elsewhere. Galway city council needs to support creatives and community activists to stay and to support them in contributing to the social and cultural welfare of the region.

Civic partnerships, Bologna Regulation

Collaborative City, City as a Commons

The Italian city of Bologna recently adopted the Bologna “Regulation on Collaboration Between Citizens and the City for the care and regeneration of urban commons. The Bologna Regulation as it is otherwise known is a formal legal agreement and partnership involving local government, local institutions, Universities, Social Innovators, Cultural and Community Groups. The success of the framework is leading to it’s adoption in a number of Italian cities. The city of Mantova, north of Bologna provides an example of how the process was facilitated.

CO-Mantova is a prototype of an institutionalizing process to run the city as a collaborative commons, (see Jeremy Rifkin‘s definition) i.e. a “co-city.” A co-city should be based on collaborative governance of the commons (inspired by Elinor Ostrom‘s work) whereby urban, environmental, cultural, knowledge and digital commons are co-managed by the five actors of the collaborative/polycentric governance—social innovators (i.e. active citizens, makers, digital innovators, urban regenerators, rurban innovators, etc.), public authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, knowledge institutions (i.e. schools, universities, cultural academies, etc.)—through an institutionalized public-private-citizen partnership. This partnership will give birth to a local peer-to-peer physical, digital and institutional platform with three main aims: living together (collaborative services), growing together (co-ventures), making together (co-production).”

Mantova provides an example of the methodological process which was initiated in four phases. –

1) A public call for ideas on the theme of “Culture as a Commons”

2) Co-design Lab “Entrepreneurs for the Commons” where seven projects from the call were cultivated and synergies created between projects and with the city.

The Mantova Lab’s goal is the development of innovative solutions for the shared management of cultural commons, supported by the use of ICT. The digitalization of cultural heritage is crucial for the development of cultural economy. The fab labs are the incubators of the third industrial revolution, training for social innovation. The Laboratory applies the method of co-design, participatory design, collaborative communication and aims at prototyping and testing practices of shared care of cultural commons (i.e. project activities require testing of a living lab and Fab Lab, the creation of an incubator for cultural and creative enterprises and cooperative placemaking) aiming at promoting the cooperation and collaboration among civil society, co-operatives, local enterprises and businesses and public institutions in the care and regeneration of the common cultural heritage of Mantova can be cultivated, improved and finally become the engine of a “collaborative cultural and creative community interest enterprise””

3) “Governance camp, a collaborative governance prototyping aimed at creating a long-term, sustainable form of governance of the commons, which gave birth to CO-Mantova and led to the drafting of the CO-Mantova Collaborative Governance Pact, the Collaboration Toolkit and the Sustainability Plan.”

4) “Governance testing and modeling through the launch of a public consultation in the city on the text of the Pact and a roadshow generating interest in CO-Mantova among possible signatories belonging to the five categories of collaborative governance actors.”

Further details –

These kinds of initiative provide access to unused or under-used resources and in particular to provide access to space for groups to work and run projects and events. Institutional partners provide support in the form of space, public liability insurance, training in health and safety standards and training for those that wish to start social and community enterprise. Independence and autonomy of community and cultural initiatives is essential to encouraging people to use the spaces. However some spaces are provided on different terms with different tenure for different uses. Some of which could allign to meet with the strategic needs of local government, such as to meet social and environmental targets in Agenda 21.

The creation of local government policy to priviledge “public social parterships” when tendering would support the growth of social benefit, social enterprise, social cooperatives. Reducing the startup cost on such enterprises by providing spaces can help this sector grow. This will be explored in more detail further in the section on Solidarity Economy.

LabGov web page on the Bologna Regulation –

Bologna Regulation (English Translation) –

Slide Presentation –

For an indepth legal and policy background on the concept I highly recommend reading ‘City as a Commons’ by Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione. –

There are many spaces in Galway in public ownership but left empty. Nama holds a significant property portfolio. Speculative investors have left numerous buildings sitting vacant throughout the city and county. There are many empty hotels such as the Corrib Great Southern falling apart contributing to urban blight. One of the simplest ways that local government could encourage property owners to make properties available for community and cultural purposes would be to apply different rates. Empty and unused properties would pay the highest rates. Properties in use for commercial purposes pay standard rates. Properties that are made available for community and cultural purposes would pay no rates at all or else very low rates. In addition occupancy of vacant building can support their maintenance and reduce potential future costs of renovation. What is needed to make this happen is a locally supported legal framework for such arrangements that protects the health and safety of occupants and respects the rights of the property owner.

It is conceivable that an independent but representative body could be established to manage the process and provide a website where citizens can find guidelines and a list of available spaces with various tenure options that support everything from one off meetings, hot-desks, co-working, cultural events, community festivals to start up social cooperatives and social enterprise.


Access to and Sharing of Resources (Sharing Cities, Solidarity Economy)

The aim here is to further reduce barriers for cultural creatives and community/citizens initiatives by supporting access to shared resources and the mutualisation of existing resources. There are 2 aspects to this which can be mutually beneficial –

1.Collaborative or Sharing Economy / 2. Solidarity Economy

Collaborative and Sharing Economy

When people think of the Sharing Economy they often think of Uber and AirBnB to be clear about definitions there is nothing shared by these businesses they are simply a new form of rental economy. When did renting become sharing? This is nothing more than branding and astroturfing. The real sharing and collaborative economy is huge and transforming the way people connect in their communities. Sharing initiatives are taking off in many major cities.

This recent article in the Irish Times highlights what is happening in Berlin

Barcelona Fab Cities – Barcelona is one of the leader cities in the Culture 21 program and the city has many excellent initiatives. The city is at the cutting edge of innovation in new modes of digital fabrication and manufacturing such as 3D printing. Barcelona Fab Cities challenges us to imagine a second renaissance based on the democratisation of access to low cost fabrication methods in Fab Labs, Maker Spaces and flexible manufacturing hubs where designers and entrepreneurs can experiment, collaborate, share ideas, learn and develop new products and businesses.

Local initiatives in Galway such as 091 Labs Makerspace have the technical know how, the skills and the talent but as a volunteer run initiative run entirely on membership fees they have had ongoing challenges to make the initiative sustainable. Access to affordable space has been an ongoing problem and the group have moved at least 4 times in the last 5 years. They are a social space for the Galway tech community and provide informal education on many aspects of digital innovation from web and app design, to 3d printing. Galway could have a public Fab Lab such as or work with on a fab lab for green technologies. These kinds of initiatives need more concrete support.

Seoul Sharing Cities offers many examples as to how a city government can support citizens initiatives through the sharing economy. From neighbourhood tools libraries to car sharing. Again access to space is supported in a variety of ways.

See a list here –

Seoul Sharing Cities has a partnership with Creative Commons Korea. Could Galway develop a similar partnership with Creative Commons Ireland and encourage open access and engagement with our shared cultural heritage?

There are already many examples in Galway of the sharing and collaborative economy such as community gardens, mens sheds, but what about shared tool libraries? There is a mobile public library. Why not a mobile makerspace? There are many examples of how public libraries are also becoming sites for the sharing economy.

Commons Libraries is just such a project in the UK


What is the Social Solidarity Economy?

The term social and solidarity economy (SSE) is increasingly being used to refer to a broad range of organizations that are distinguished from conventional for-profit enterprise, entrepreneurship and informal economy by two core features. First, they have explicit economic AND social (and often environmental) objectives. Second, they involve varying forms of co-operative, associative and solidarity relations. They include, for example, cooperatives, mutual associations, NGOs engaged in income generating activities, women’s self-help groups, community forestry and other organizations, associations of informal sector workers, social enterprise and fair trade organizations and networks”

Sample Typology of Solidarity Economy Organisations

Many Collaborative and Sharing Economy initiatives relate closely and can be considered part of Solidarity Economy. However Solidarity Economy is also ecompasses a broader variety of more traditional community organisations and initiatives. A key feature of Social and Solidarity Economy is clustering of organisations for mutual coordination and benefit. This is done by mapping SSE organisations and doing a critical analysis of organisations needs and how they can work together to meet those needs.

There is a stigma that the not for profit and charitable sectors are entirely grant dependent and always looking for handouts. The SSE involves a shift from this view. SSE acknowledges the social value and contribution that these organisations make to society and seeks to build greater independence for the sector by supporting self financing initiatives such as the creation of social enterprise. One example would be a Not for Profit Cooperative Cafe dedicated to providing employment to socially marginalised groups. Any return made over costs is reinvested into social causes. In this sense the SSE is seen as a productive social force rather than entirely dependent on grants.

An excellent example of a social cooperative is the Aran Islands community owned Energy Coop which has initiated a plan to make Aran carbon neutral by 2022. How could Galway city and county work with citizens to meet their international commitments to reduce carbon emmisions? Development of community owned energy coops are a unique opportunity with returns providing communities with an independent source of revenue for community development.

Kieran Cunane of Transition Galway and Martina Finn of Third Space and Collaborative Ways Forward currently have plans to create a Centre for Sustainable Living in Galway as an incubator for community owned energy initiatives but also offering training and workshops on a broad range of sustainable practices.

Again Pilot Cities offers an opportunity to build learning partnerships. Montreal, Canada is leading the way in the development of Solidarity Economy with the support of excellent organisations such as the Chantier de l’économie sociale. Montreal is a Culture 21 leading city.

For a detailed report on the Social Economy in British Columbia, Canada see

Defining the Social Economy by John Restakis

Restakis has also written a report on the Social Cooperatives in the Emilia Romagna Italy

Participatory Democracy (Participatory Budgeting)

Participatory Budgeting provides a means for citizens to become active in the decision making as to how public money is spent. PB has been done in a number of the Culture 21 cities and both Pilot cities Lodz and Lisbon have also done this recently. This would be a great opportunity to engage citizens in democratic life of their city. The local government makes a certain portion of the city budget available for PB and citizens can propose and ultimately vote on projects. Project call can be categorised to align and meet the needs of local government such as environmental projects or those that promote social inclusion. I also recently attended a conference that had examples of youth participation in PB where young people in schools where given a real budget and the support to design and develop their own community initiatives. This is a great way of encouraging active citizenship.

There is a lot of excellent information about PB available online –

There are some nice videos and resources

The ECAS report “Co-deciding with Citizens: Towards Digital Democracy at EU Level” offers a good overview of different approaches and the experience of different cities.

Paris recently announced the biggest Participatory Budget ever.

An Initial Proposal

What kind of project could facilitate, enable and turn some of the ideas I have proposed here into actions?

The idea is simple, to build mutual awareness between community and cultural initiatives and to develop and incubate collaborative projects and cooperative social enterprise that support the development of a Collaborative and Social Solidarity Economy in the region. There are a few phases to my project proposal.


The initial phase of the project will involve a comprehensive mapping and typology of community and cultural initiatives in Galway city and county. A lot of work has already been done by various organisations in the city and county and so I would begin with a consultation process with organisations such as the Galway City Community Forum and the County Community Forum. The Community Knowledge Initiative at NUIG has also done some mapping work. However the aim here is not simply to map organisations by geography but to map their organisational needs and having identified common challenges match skills and expertise for collaborative initiatives to bring organisations together for mutual and community benefit. Collaborative initiatives are not part of the initial mapping phase but start later in the project when relationships between organisations are better established. There are also number of international mapping initiatives which I already have contact with such as Shareable’s Sharing Cities and Transformap. Lisbon another Pilot City is listed as a Sharing City, Puerto Alegre in Brazil is also listed and is a Culture 21 leader city. Depending on the nature of the collaborative projects it would be great to organise international exchanges with initiatives from other cities.

The mapping project will also provide community initiatives with a platform for public engagement and visibility online through open street map and participation in

2)Data and Metrics by the Community for the Community

How do we measure community well being and development in the transition to more sustainable way of living?

As I mentioned earlier metrics that focus on monetary measures of value and targets overlook a lot of the value that community initiatives create. However shared data can offer deep insights into the impacts and inform strategic development for this sector. This phase of the project would initiate a dialogue with groups and organisations in the sector who identify with these needs through the initial mapping phase. The project will analyse current practices and standards within organisations through a process of peer review, offer advice and explore the potential for alternative shared metrics while at the same time respecting personal privacy of clients and service users. This could lead to the creation of a community owned data cooperative that can harness the insights of shared data for peer development, to identify areas of social need and possibly initiate collaborative projects and social enterprise to meet those needs.

The inspiration for this phase of the project is

However I would go further by asking how can Galway’s cultural and community sector take a leading role in responding to the challenge of climate change?

Shared metrics can also be used for benchmarking and strategic planning what if this could be put to use as part of a plan to reduce carbon emmisions and waste in Galway?

The data initiative could partner with Transition Galway to develop a community led transition plan for the city and county. Members of the data coop initiative would participate in a peer to peer eco-audit such as the Economy for the Common Good –

I have also spoken with Niall O Brolchain at the NUIG Insight centre about the potential for including community driven metrics for development on the Galway Dashboard.

For further information on digital cooperative read –

David Bollier on The Promise of “Open Co-operativism”

Trebor Scholz on Platform Coops

3) Collaborative Initiatives and Social Cooperatives

The third phase of the project involves a call for projects to build on partnerships forged through the mapping and data phases. The final outputs being community owned social enterprise for the common good. Initiatives that create employment and tangible social cultural benefit both for communities and organisations in the region.

A data cooperative could be one example but there are also many possibilities, an Eco Fab Lab, participatory budgetting initiatives for schools and communities, community owned energy, sharing networks, skill sharing, timebanks and even mutual credit systems as an alternative community currency for Galway to support local projects. Another social enterprise I particularly like is in Montreal which brings together young people to provide meals on wheels for the elderly in their communities. Meals are prepared with food donated by local organic producers and community gardens.

These initiatives would need startup support both through peer mentoring and financing. Perhaps this could be done in partnership with organisations like SCCUL Enterprises.

Final Note

This project could be considered as representing initial steps towards a broader and longer term Commons Transition plan for Galway City and County.

Through my work with the P2P Foundation I had the opportunity to meet with many of the people working on the projects that I have mentioned. (

I hope to have the opportunity to work with you and to draw on that network of expertise and to contribute to the development of Galway as a dynamic cultural centre and leader in sustainable living.

I will be available from late April but if you wish to speak to any of my colleagues from Collaborative Ways Forward in the mean time you can contact –

Martina Finn(Third Space)

Kieran Cunnane (Transition Galway)


Kevin Flanagan


Europe in Crisis and in Transition


Last October I participated in the The European Civic Forums Civic Day and I was subsequently invited to write an article for their magazine ‘Activizenship’ which has just been published. I include the article below, it’s a bit of a rant but little has changed since the time of writing, if anything we continue to see the rise of right wing populism across Europe. The magazine tackles this issue head on with leading articles on the rise of Illiberal Democracy so labelled by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. While I offer a few examples of how citizens initiatives in France, Italy and Spain are challenging neoliberalism and austerity at the regional level the lack of alternative left opposition to austerity and neoliberal policies at the European level remains.

Europe in Crisis and in Transition

Europe is in crisis. It is a crisis of identity. Earlier this year the Eurogroup of finance ministers threatened the Greek people with economic collapse. They refused to negotiate with Syriza on debt and forced the Greek people to accept further austerity. This mockery of democracy and national sovereignty revealed the emptiness of any rhetoric of European solidarity and the true allegiance of Europe’s political elite.
In their action and inaction, again and again politicians tell us that these faceless ‘markets’ are our masters now. They invoke ‘markets’ as if calling on some mystical force, they tell us to ‘tighten our belts’ that we must offer sacrifice to inspire ‘confidence’ in the hope that we might receive blessings in the form of improved credit ratings. You know that you are dealing with ideology when it’s logics (free markets = free people) are blindly assumed as norms. The markets cannot fail. This belief that there are no market failures, only human failures, and that the only solution to human failures are market solutions is the dead end of the Neo-Liberal imaginary.
It was neo-liberal ideology of deregulation that led to the economic crisis but for Europe’s political elite to accept responsibility for their role in the crisis would mean admitting they were wrong. Those in power cannot accept they were wrong for to do so could be perceived as a sign of weakness. So they reject this interpretation of events and work twice as hard to convince themselves and their peers that they were right all along by forcing more and more of their neoliberal fantasies on the rest of us.
Debt, debt and more debt. In this Debt-tatorship, Democracy is only tolerated as long as it doesn’t interfere with hegemony of the markets. When ideology failed to produce results, as it has, the so called ‘centrist’ parties sought to distract people from the economy by blaming social ills on those least able to defend themselves. Politicians talk tough and play a dangerous game of divide and rule. Pitching struggling unemployed and working class people against minorities, migrants and refugees, ruling parties pandered to the sentiments of far right nationalists in turn giving legitimacy to their hateful narrative. The far right thrive on fear and uncertainty and depend on this to secure their path to power. As long as traditional establishment parties stay in power and continue to serve up more of the same zombie ideology Europeans will continue to live with uncertainty.

It seems that there is little today that inspires confidence in European democracy. Given the scale of the crisis it is understandable that many feel a deep cynicism about the capacity of government to contribute anything more than tokenistic gestures of support for greater democratic participation, social justice or care for the environment. The lack of political imagination on the part of the establishment has contributed to a weakening of democracy. However, flawed as it may be, if representative democracy is rejected by social movements the seats of power will continue to be occupied by the forces of tedium. There is one simple solution to a democratic deficit and that is more democracy, not less.

I admit I too have been cynical but I have probably paid too much attention to mainstream news media. If there is anything that the past year tells us it is that for better or worse political culture can change. We may not hear about it in the national and international news but at local, municipal and regional levels things are changing, citizens are organising and taking action, building inspiring alternatives, putting radical participatory democracy into practice and making politics and economy work for their communities. There are many examples but I share here just a few that I have found personally inspiring in 2015.

Participatory Democracy

To our collective detriment the electoral cycle keeps politicians minds focused on short term gains and quick wins. One size fits all government schemes almost inevitably run into conflicts. To overcome this it makes sense that the people most affected by decisions should have a say in the decision making process. Participatory Democracy aims to give citizens a greater say in decision making, it recognises the importance of the principle subsidiarity that nothing should be done by a large organization that can be done as well or better by a smaller and simpler organization. Putting legal mechanisms and structures in place that bridge this knowledge gap between citizens and government enables and empowers citizens to take a more active role in civic life. These efforts foster a culture of participation where citizens feel they have an impact and see the results in their communities. This is why participatory democracy is so important.
One of the most well known mechanisms is participatory budgeting and it is being adopted in many places from small rural municipalities to major cities.  In 2014 the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo committed 5% of the city’s budget an estimated €426 million over 5 years to participatory budgeting. This is the largest amount that any government has committed to participatory budgeting in history. Citizens initiatives that received support include community gardens, coworking space, composting and recycling initiatives, and more.

How can active citizenship be enabled and supported?

‘The Bologna Regulation for the Urban Commons’ is an inspiring document. It’s full title is the “Regulation on Collaboration between Citizens and the City for the Care and Regeneration of the Urban Commons”. Re-imagining the city as a Commons the document outlines how the city of Bologna provides a platform that enables and supports active citizenship, citizen driven social innovation and vibrant creative cultural life.
What is it that citizens need for an active civic life? First of all the regulation provides a framework enabling local government, civic and cultural institutions and citizens to collaborate and work together. Through these partnerships structural support is provided to citizens initiatives this includes access to work spaces, covering the costs of insurance, technical and administrative support, training and more. Neighbourhoods and citizens develop proposals for community and cultural initiatives or respond to tenders from local government to co-govern and co-manage community assets, such as public spaces and amenities. Citizens are not solely consumers of public services, when they participate in the decision making and management they inform the provision of those services in way that responds much more effectively to local needs. In this vision Citizens are co-creators. The Civic space is a Commons.

Municipal Movements

Few could have predicted that a housing activist could become the Mayor of Barcelona and yet this is what Ada Calou and Barcelona en Comun have done. Barcelona En Comun are deeply committed to radical democracy this is most evident in their non-traditional party structure which includes a federation of neighbourhood assemblies. It was through participation in these assemblies that activist won the respect and confidence of citizens and it was this popular support that enabled them to win the election. During their short time in government Barcelona en Comun have made big changes in the provision of social housing and introduced protections for residents threatened with eviction by the banks. They also introduced legislation that makes unused properties in the city available to citizens initiatives. Their achievements expand the horizons of the political imaginary and open the possibility for a transformative participatory politics in Catalunya. A politics that places the welfare of all citizens above narrow interests that serve only private profit and rent seeking. Barcelona En Comun are are joined across Spain by parties such as Podemos that share a vision for a new kind of politics. With national elections these parties aim to transform politics in Spain for the better.

It is vital to recognise and show solidarity with all those that dare to challenge the cynicism of our times. Each of these examples offers a different approach, but all represent important steps towards a more inclusive politics and offer a glimpse of what democracy in Europe can be. In learning and sharing in each others experience we can translate inspiration into action wherever we live.

Further Reading –

The challenges of building alternatives that scale


Alternative currencies should be considered an essential part of every communities tool kit for discovering and declaring a greater degree of economic sovereignty over their lives but are localised alternative currencies enough to challenge the power of a financial system that is global in its reach? Can the lessons learned in these communities be taken from the local to the global?

When we use local alternative currencies we place our trust in the community, as well as supporting the local economy personal relationships are reinforced through the use of the currency and it is these relationships of trust that essentially ground and back the value of the currency. Issues arise when alternative currency systems scale. The more people that use the currency the more difficult it is to maintain the kind of face to face relationships that secure trust in local communities. The state offers a solution to this issue of scale by providing currencies that are guaranteed through legal means. Trust moves from the community to the state.

You might ask doesn’t money issued by the state also support exchange that can foster trust and relationship building in the community? Well yes it does to a degree but this is secondary to the function of the currency as an instrument of speculation that puts communities in a vulnerable position to the dictates of financial powers who control the levers of the money supply. There are cases where local government issue complementary currencies and there are movements for positive money to take control of money creation away from private banks, but in the absence of enlightened politicians and effective change at the level of the state what more can we do?

Love it or hate it Bitcoin has had a huge impact in terms of challenging conventions and introducing a generation to new thinking about money. It’s important to distinguish between Bitcoin as a currency and Bitcoin as a technology. The Bitcoin technology as it has been implemented as a currency has a number of problems that will be addressed later. For now I will focus on Bitcoin as a technology to highlight two of its key innovations.

Bitcoin is the first successful implementation of a peer-to-peer currency. As software it is a purely technical currency solution and it enables people to make direct transfers without the need for a trusted third party such as a bank to manage the transaction. In this sense Bitcoin can be considered as a kind of trust-less system. Instead of placing trust in financial institutions or the state, trust is placed in the technical implementation of the algorithm—an open source code that is available for rigorous scrutiny and testing by the bitcoin user community to insure that it operates in a secure and transparent fashion.

The blockchain is a central component of bitcoin. It is essentially a distributed database that acts as an accounting system to publicly record all exchanges using Bitcoin. As the blockchain is distributed across the computer network of bitcoin users, the accounting system can’t be interfered with or corrupted by any one powerful user. In this way the Blockchain offers a reliable and secure technology for transactions. As Bitcoin is software this means anyone, anywhere on the planet with a computer or smartphone can use it. Clearly bitcoin has shown it has the capacity to scale globally and since information is borderless it represents a very real and public challenge to traditional finance and the state as it’s very difficult if not impossible to regulate.

To give a sense of the scale of the Bitcoin economy according to the current market value, as of June 2015, is over 3 Billion Dollars—that’s more than 2 Billion Pound Sterling (down from a peak of almost 13 Billion in 2014.) This brings us to the big flaw in how Bitcoin has been implemented as a currency as it is clearly not immune to speculative bubbles. The currency has proved to be highly volatile and, while it has overcome many of the trappings of conventional fiat money, it also reproduces the speculative culture typical of capitalist currencies. Some have also argued that the distribution of Bitcoin—with over 30% of the currency being held in as few as 100 wallets—not only mirrors the extremes of inequality that we see in fiat currencies but is in fact much worse. Recent efforts to estimate the Gini coefficient, a statistical measure of inequality based on income distribution, placed Bitcoin at 0.88—comparable to the extreme inequality in countries such as North Korea.

So returning to my earlier question, could the lessons learned from the experience of local alternative currency communities be taken from the local to the global to really challenge financial power? Now consider this. What if the technology of bitcoin could be implemented in such a way so as to support the scale required while at the same time placing human relationships at its core thus bringing together the best of both worlds. This is exactly what FairCoop have set out to do.

FairCoop describe themselves as the Earth Coop for a Fair Economy ( Its name is clearly inspired by the Fair Trade movement and is an indicator of how it sees itself. FairCoin is FairCoop’s implementation of Bitcoin technology and while it is a core component, it is but one part grounded by an ecosystem of tools, services and, most importantly, a community aimed at bringing about an Integral Revolution—the construction of an alternative economy networked at the global level.

The founder of FairCoop is Enric Duran infamous in his home of Catalunya, Spain as the Robin Hood who borrowed around 500,000 Euros from the banks at the height of the bubble and donated it to social movements in the region in what he declared a public act of civil and economic disobedience. Duran is now in exile and pursued by the Spanish state for refusing to pay back the banks. His actions are a direct provocation aimed at exposing the hypocrisy inherent in a system that confers the privilege to create money on private banks to the benefit of wealthy propertied elites whose speculation has subsequently been paid for at the expense and impoverishment of ordinary working Spainish people who suffered disproportionately the results of the economic crisis.

FairCoop builds on Duran’s experience as one of the founders of the Cooperativa Integral de Catalan (CIC). The CIC represented the first steps in what Duran calls the Integral Revolution. “In Spanish, “integral” means holistic, complete. That is to say, it concerns every single facet of life, and that’s what it means to us. The CIC’s objective is to generate a self-managed free society outside law, State control, and the rules of the capitalist market.” – Enric Duran

FairCoop’s approach is not simply a technical fix, as a democratically structured and open cooperative organisation, they reintroduce the human element that puts Faircoin at the service of the common good.

Anyone can buy and sell FairCoin, it is not exclusive to the members of FairCoop. However being bought and sold on the open market exposes Faircoin to speculative traders. FairCoop recognise this and take a number of steps to bring greater stability to the currency. The most significant is that FairCoop and its supporters hold a controlling stake in the currency, perhaps 40% or more of all FairCoins. FairCoop members are encouraged to save and with a large enough group this counters the negative impacts of speculation. Instead of spending FairCoins members of FairCoop will soon have the option to use FairCredit, a mutual credit system. Both FairCredit and FairCoin can be used to buy and sell goods and services through the coops online FairMarket which aims to be a kind of ethical ebay.

FairCoop is more than simply a means by which communities can buy and sell. One of the greatest barriers to the development of ethical projects that serve the Commons and the Cooperative Economy is access to finance. Venture capital demands that start ups conform to the conventional shareholder model with control of copyrights and patents part of the deal. Finance and investing in projects that further the construction of an alternative economy are a core part of FairCoop’s mission. They have created the Commons Fund and the Global South fund specifically for for this purpose.

Alternative currencies are nothing without a community who accept and trust them. It is the human element and the power of a community committed to principles of solidarity and cooperation that FairCoop brings to FairCoin. This is the strength of FairCoop and what makes it stand out as a grand experiment pioneering and challenging thinking about how we organise and construct much needed alternatives to capitalist economy.

This article was first published in the Summer issue of STIR magazine you can order it here –

Dada Maheshvarananda on Cooperation the Commons and Life After Capitalism

Back in February of this year I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Dada Maheshvarananda who was visiting Ireland to promote his new book After Capitalism Economic Democracy in Action I took the opportunity to interview Dada to learn more about his views on Cooperativism, the Commons and the place of spirituality in movements for social change. Dada is an advocate of PROUT the Progressive Utilisation Theory an economic alternative to both capitalism and state socialism based on the principles of cooperation.

Special Thanks to Dada and to AFRI who hosted the event.

For More Information visit

Romanticism Today and some Serendipity


Another few images that have been sitting on my hard drive forever. Reflecting on Romanticism and the Environmental movement I did these collages of the work of the painter Caspar David Friedrich,  “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” from which I took the figure in the foreground and placed against the “The Sea of Ice”. I’ve forgotten now where the background with the smokestack for the second image came from unfotunately. I like that this iconic lone romantic figure can be cut out and placed against different backgrounds bringing a reflective and comtemplative mood to the environment.

cinematic icebergs


I love serendipity. I had only posted the images above to the blog before I traveled to Germany to take part in a conference. Between conferences a friend and I went to Dresden and rented a car. We decided to stay in Bad Scandau which is probably only 10 or 15 km from the Czech border. It was only when I arrived at the hotel and started looking at the tourist leaflets that I realised I was in that landscape that inspired so much of Caspar David Friedrichs paintings and so I set out on little mission to visit some of the locations. With a little help from Wikipedia I located the Kaiserkrone which is supposedly where the man in painting is standing and of course we had to try and recreate the scene. I will update this post with a few pics over the coming weeks.



Community Gardens in Belfast

Its been a long time since I posted anything here but I recently came across this set of images which I produced during my time living in Belfast around 2008/9. At the time I was interested in community gardens and having heard that there were many so called victory gardens in the city during World War 2 and after, I visited the Belfast Central Library in search of old city maps. After taking some photos of the maps I overlaid the images on top of Google Maps and proceeded to visit the locations to see what is there today and how things have changed. Some of the gardens such as those on the Ardoyne road still exist while others have long since been paved over or built upon. However there are a few that are simply empty fields and I’m curious whether those same communities would have an interest in reclaiming such spaces. A project worth revisiting perhaps?








This Floating World

‘This Floating World’ is an exhibition of drawings, photography and video works by Kevin Flanagan

Opening: The Galway Arts Centre, Thursday June 10th at 6pm
Exhibition runs: 11th June – 2nd July

Flanagan’s work is inspired by the concept of emergence as found in both natural and man made systems.
The word territory can refer to both spatial and conceptual experience, an environment or an idea. Areas of knowledge unknown to us are often referred to as uncharted territory. The work of the cartographer is similar in many ways to that of the artist. However our images and maps of the world can never be total. As representations their creation always involves a kind of abstraction and separation from reality as such they are only ever partial and incomplete, rough guides at best and no substitute for the real thing.

Artists Talk on Tuesday 22nd June at 6pm

Galway Arts Centre
47 Dominck St

+353 91 565886

And you may ask yourself what have I been doing these past 2 years in college

Yes for all of you my adoring fans the time has come I completed my Masters in Fine Art at the University of Ulster Belfast in June and Im finally getting around to uploading images from my end of year show.


This is a photographic piece shot with my friend Eve Vaughan on a day out visiting the location of the field from the film ‘The Field’ by Jim Sheridan its on the road from Leenane in north Connemara to Westport. The film raises lots of issues about the Irish peoples historical relationship to the land. In these times with all that has happend between the recession and the collapse of the property bubble I was interested in revisiting this location.

The Field by Jim Sheridan –

Eve Vaughan also has a new blog where she has posted some documentation from her recent performances in Dublin

Eve in Space

I used the show as an oppurtunity to try an experiment in sharing. I got 500 posters printed I left them on the floor in the exhibition space I put a note with a cap beside them saying ‘ posters are free – if you would like to show your support for the artist you are welcome to leave a £1 or 2 in the cap’ I was delighted that so many people liked the work, its lovely to think hundreads of my posters found their way into peoples homes I was also pleasently surprised to find so many people showing their support by putting a £1 or £2 in the cap. The money collected from the cap covered almost half my printing costs and I still have at least 200 posters left which I’ll have to give away again at some future exhibition. So a big Thank You to all of you for showing your support. Its very encouraging. So to continue with the sharing if you like the image but couldn’t make it to the exhibition I am licencing it with a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Sharealike Licence for those not familiar with Creative Commons that means you are free to share and distribute the image, and to make derivative works , use it in your own work , remix the thing ,on the basis that it is for non commercial purpose and that you attribute me as your source of inspiration :)

The second piece in the show was a video installation.



click on the images below to watch the videos




A couple of weeks before I took part in the City Supplements show at Ps2 Paragon Project Space Donegal Belfast. We had a brief to make some work in response to the changing cathedral quarter of the city.

I made a few pieces based on a series of images found on google street view. The images follow the flight of birds through the area as recorded on google street view. I also made an animated video of the street for fun. Do check out the Ps2 site there where some nice pieces in the show and there are plenty of images on the site.


Line of Flight 72dpi small

click on the image above to get a better look

click on the image below to watch the video.


ok next up are just a few images that I was playing around with

camera in mirror

large circular mirror landscape copy

diamond mirror landscape copy

click on the image below to watch a sample video