Co-creation and cultural participation – closely related


There is no single definition, neither of co-creation, nor of cultural participation. There is no formula, no easy recipe – the Oracle of Amsterdam conference revealed.


In the workshops of the Oracle of Amsterdam conference, experts from a broad range of fields approached co-creation and cultural participation from different angles: intellectual, spiritual and practical. During various sessions the participants took the roles of thinkers, dreamers or doers – and tried to capture the essence of both concepts, starting from their own practice, experiences and thoughts.


Co-creation requires many pre-conditions, was one of the conclusions. It is of course about “working together”. But both the practical doers and the philosophical thinkers landed in a discussion about “how”. Which led to the realisation that co-creation is actually about principles, about starting points of practically everything in the process of making a cultural presentation: taking an initiative, players/people, decision-making, division of responsibilities, ownership, and even payment. In fact, the ultimate co-creation between refugees and cultural institutions (big or small) is an equal share in all these steps.


It is easily said: equality (and not integration) in everything, in contribution, responsibility, sustainability and rewards.  But how can this be obtained? There are no definitive answers, but there was an agreement that: “It is essential for co-creation that everybody involved knows that everybody is a stakeholder”. And that  “when people talk about “we “and “them”, there is a problem”.


In the Opening Plenary, the Specially Unknown partners from Antwerp shared how they co-created four different artistic productions. “Trust and letting go” was their way to overcome most, if not all, personal, cultural and professional obstacles. The purpose and the desirable result of co-creation is to create joint ownership”. And yet, they all agreed: co-creation is more about the process, than about the result.


Workshops about cultural participation policies and practices took more or less the same road. They looked at the various ways cultural participation has been understood and implemented: as providing access to refugees to the regular programs of cultural institutions, as organizing events which highlight refugee’s own art and culture and give refugees an opportunity to meet local people, and as artistic programs co-created together with refugees as curators, directors, board members and artists.


The later was chosen as the most preferable. It has the most potential to “make up (as opposed to “break up”) societies”, because it entails equality on all levels and stages of diversity: staff, public and productions of the existing cultural institutions.


A core element of cities’ cultural participation policy should be to create conditions for co-creation with refugees. General principle to approach this is: look and focus on the issues and topics that different groups have in common. Very concrete ideas have been offered to achieve this: more cultural abridgers from the 2nd generation of refugees(to establish connections between different groups),  influencers with the refugee background in existing cultural institutions, as well as a “diversity officer” who can hold a mirror and ensure equality and diversity.


For the more artistic vision on co-creation and cultural participation, visit the page about the utopic Isola de Esperer (Island of Hope). For those interested in the outcomes of the Delphi research in 9 countries on cultural participation of refugees, this will be published on the Specially Unknown website in the beginning of October.




Links to the other articles of the 4th newsletter: