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