Callout for Expressions of Interest from artists makers for national touring exhibition

Deadline: 18/10/2018  |  Published: 26/09/2018  |  City: Birmingham UK  |  Region: West Midlands  |  Country: United Kingdom  |  Craftspace

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Craft and the Commons (working title). A Craftspace nationally touring exhibition launching at Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham in September 2020. The purpose of this initial expression of interest is to map the amount and nature of creative practice taking place around the theme of the commons and commons-thinking. There will be a specific call out for proposals in Spring 2019.

The exhibition – why the commons?

 “The commons means: Things we share/ Places we share/ Systems we share/ Ideas we share/ Culture we share” - Peter Barnes, On the Commons co-founder.

Being based in Birmingham UK we are witnessing the increasing privatisation of publicly owned space/assets. We are experiencing the erosion of local common resources (e.g. parks and libraries) and this is also reflected nationally at a macro level. Some of the countercultural movements that have emerged in recent decades have begun to challenge corporate forms of enclosure; open source ethos and social charters to reclaim the commons, the sharing and peer to peer economies.

In ‘Mapping the New Commons’ Charlotte Hess suggests that divergent disciplines, political interests, and geographical regions are increasingly finding the term 'commons' crucial in addressing issues of social dilemmas, degradation, and sustainability of a wide variety of shared resources.

Historian Peter Linebaugh has popularised the term ‘commoning’ which in modern times is about activating the power of social cooperation to get things done. Commons Animateur Julie Ristau describes how “the act of commoning draws on a network of relationships made under the expectation that we will each take care of one another and with a shared understanding that some things belong to all of us - which is the essence of the commons itself. The practice of commoning demonstrates a shift in thinking from the prevailing ethic of “you’re on your own” to “we’re in this together.” Commoning is also a way to tap into the hidden chamber within our imaginations, which harbors vivid images of different ways to live.”

Craft can join the campaign to make a powerful commentary on what society stands to gain from acting to protect and reclaim our global commons.

Through existing work, new commissions and the lens of craft, making and materials - makers can become commons ‘animateurs’ to highlight the issues, contribute their thought leadership and participate in a call to action.

The exhibition seeks to:

  • Explore craft as a form of commons (knowledge, materials, practice, heritage) 
  • Produce thought provoking, engaging and interactive content (physical and digital) that inspires audiences and citizens.
  • Ask what ideas of community and sense of collectivity can and are reclaim/ing the commons.
  • Reflect on the re-emergence of social charters and identify who are today’s commoners and what are their aspirations.
  • Highlight the acts of ‘commoning’ that are shaping community futures and the world they want to live in.
  • Include or commission 10-15 artists including 2 international through the following mechanisms:

    * Up to three collaborative site specific and socially engaged residencies - work arising from, in response to, co-created with community engagement will feature in the exhibition.
    * Commissioned work made through pairings with commons activists (in collaboration with or response to) – enables artists who are interested in engaging with the themes but whose work is not already focused on the ideas of common.
    * Loan of existing artworks which already relate to commons thinking.
    * A proposed research and development methodology.

Craftspace seeks to create a discursive and collaborative forum to explore the territory in order to research and develop the themes in the exhibition and its content. We would like the exhibition to be informed by a range of cross disciplinary perspectives (e.g. culture, geography, social sciences, history of ideas, philosophy). To this end, we have partnered Nottingham Trent University to bid for an Arts and Humanities Research Council research network. If successful the network will bring together craft practitioners, researchers / academics and campaigners / activists to participate in a series of workshops. 

Purpose of this callout 

The purpose of this initial expression of interest is to map the amount and nature of creative practice taking place around the theme of the commons and commons-thinking. This will feed into the AHRC bid and also the research, development and structuring/scoping the commissions process. There will be a specific call out for proposals in Spring 2019. 

Reference information about the commons: 

Types of commons. Useful intro, plus good short video introduction to knowledge commons:   

Commons Thinking by Justin Kenrick – chapter from the Handbook of Sustainability Literacy, ed. Arran Stibbe (2009) Freely accessible online:  

Article by Leila Dawney: Commoning and the production of common worlds, p33-35 of the issue available at:   

Article by Max Haiven: Creativity and the Commons:   

Article by Amy Twigger Holroyd: Why it’s important to be open:   

About Craftspace 

Craftspace is a craft development organisation based in Birmingham. It is a curator, creative producer and researcher devising commissioning opportunities and projects which actively demonstrate the progressive role of makers and craft in civil society. Our programme is underpinned by socially engaged, participatory, collaborative and co-created approaches to engaging communities through the arts. Building cultural, social and human capital is a key driver of our work. 

Thank you for your time and interest.


Contact the curator
Who is eligible for this opportunity?
Professional practising artist makers or designers who:
Have a critical approach to materials and making
Use a research-led process
Have an interest in social practice
Can potentially work collaboratively and are open to co-creative ways of working.
When is the deadline?
19th October (this is to tie in with a funding bid for a research network). Although we will still be interested in expressions of interest beyond the deadline. We will be doing a further call out for specific proposals in 2019.
Are there payments to artists?
We aim to be commissioning 10-12 artists (two of these will be international and the rest UK based).
Commissions and residencies will be have fees attached.
If we are successful with the research network bid, this will pay expenses for artists to attend 2/3 workshops.
How do you decide on proposals?
At this stage we are mapping the field to find out what is out there and inform the way we might structure commissions. This is why the information required is brief. We won't be making any decisions at this point but will invite all who express interest to submit proposals at a later stage.

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