We Make Places work from the philosophy that people, no matter where they live, or their background, know what they want, what they like and what they don’t like; they just need to be given the tools to express themselves.   The Maverick City took place in Liverpool on June 23rd this year and our speakers explored common themes:

  • the importance of sharing (stories, experiences, ideas)
  • the rise of democratisation- the democratisation of communication and doing and how this can create new understandings, of place, of community and of ourselves; and
  • the importance of delight in our public spaces..

Read about our speakers here

Our work focuses on supporting communities to make decisions about and take control of spaces and places in their neighbourhoods and to empower them to make positive change and as we are working with various communities who are exploring projects at the moment we invited speakers with experience of the relevant issues of Curating in Public Space, Using Collective Making, Models of Co-Housing.

Nobody can deny that these are interesting times that we live in; it certainly feels like we are living in a moment in history! And although it seems like society is becoming increasingly divided, there is a parallel movement happening, one of increased collaboration and working together – The Maverick City celebrates this and provides inspiration and exemplars to its participants and audience.

As with last years event we thought the best way to provide an overview of The Maverick City was to let invite one of our speakers and someone who participated to provide their reflections on it:

The Maverick City Symposium 2017 by Chiara Organtini

This year’s symposium was focused on community-led projects from cities around the world and framed in 3 main themes as art in public spaces, making and housing.

I had the privilege to be part of the symposium in conversation with other Artists and Activists from Chicago, Rio, The Netherlands and  local practitioners and community members.

As a Symposium promises, the conversation was not at all frontal and self referential but speakers were connected one another and in dialogue with the audience also thanks to the moderation of Toria Buzza, Chair of We Make Places, who, with sharp intelligence and irony, knitting together all the speeches perfectly. This Symposium was really a place for shared visions and deep human connections between the speakers and audience.

I shared the morning panel on art in public space with Carron Little and Tiago Cosmo, creative minds coming form different worlds but sharing the focus on arts as an engaging encounter for all.

Carron is an artist and performer from Chicago, that uses poetry as the starting point for her visual, text based or perforative investigation linked to people and cities and often located in public spaces: in Liverpool for instance she is developing with We Make Places a site specific version of her Spare Rib Revisited project, a collection of individual poems based on interviews she will conduct with woman from Liverpool aged 20-100 that will form part of a major performance piece in 2018, a poetic way to let this multiple voices express themselves showing what is hidden under the surface by the official narrative of the city.

Carron also shared examples of her work as a currator of Out of Site in Chicago, focused on arts in public spaces, questioning the performativity and the act of sight with engaging work, open experimentation that pushes people out of their confort zone, breaking the yellow lines of the audience/artists relationship.

Tiago Cosmo is also an artist, he is a violinist from Rio, a gentle but passionate art activist who founded Camerata Laranjeiras together with Karolin Broosch, a violinist from Hamburg and Kaja Pettersen a Norwegian cellist based in Rio. Camerata Laranjeiras is an orchestra of young people from the entire city whose aim is to make music accessible to everyone: on the one hand this project allows youngsters to get closer to classic and contemporary music so as to give them a perspective, on the other hand the orchestra invades the city promoting music everywhere and letting a diverse group of people appropriate areas of Rio socially far away from them. What struck me the most in Tiago’s talk was the description of the hard situation in Rio, a situation of violence, poverty and conflicts that he manages to heal through music and offer chances to others that he has had through playing; this surprising answer to violence, this care for the beauty is what he and Carron cultivated for the upcoming days together as a deep lessons seed in my mind,

The afternoon started with Kate Stewart and Steve Threlfall, designer, architect of places and connections who is also co-founder of We Make Places and Friends of the Flyover.  Their speeches focused on the process of making, it’s neurological and intellectual impact and the projects that We Make Places create around this practice.

Kate’s speech was inspiring, sharp and multilayered, able to combine scientific references  that articulated perfectly the empowering value of making with storytelling based on invidivuals and experiences: she led us into a journey sharing her own motivation and passion for investigating the topic, the process that making requires (decision taking, composition of materials, feedback evaluation and restart, creating a flow of creation). Among these stories I was deeply touched by experience of a guy who has learnt to cope more effectively with his anxiety issues and panic attacks through making workshops with We Make Places. He returned this gift by making wooden bird houses for the organization, and this story created a strong image for me that embody this idea of making setting people and their imaginations free.

While Kate created an inspiring overall framework to consider the role of making, Steve followed talking about his current residency at Media Lab Prada, Madrid as a collaboration between We Make Places’ project Urban Workbench and Todo Por La Praxis dedicated to the interaction of CNC machine, human creativity and the community value of making.

Finally the day closed with the story of Chris Coats, carpenter, craftsman, former clown and squatter currently founder of Lancaster Co-Housing, and Jurren Mentink, student in urban design but living in Humanitas Retirement Home in Deventer in the Netherlands This final session was dedicated to alternative ways of living and the possibility of creating different concepts of families and communities: both stories showed the possibility of living beyond the structure and rules of society making the merging of opposites, an act that can also save lives.

Crossing a wide range of realms and sectors, exploring a diversity of examples, together the audience and speakers at The Maverick City symposium narrated a collaborative discourse: we spoke about utopia, we ‘hack’ spaces to activate futures, we all work to promote change through creative actions or encounters. We probably use different languages and tools to do so, but our paths converge in the attempt to help people envision alternatives, break the line of the given and subvert the voids we created in cities and people with creation, change, riot, with joy reclaiming different ways of living and thinking. In this perspective all disruptive thinking is indeed a way to make a way to break feedback loop behavior, make choices and find new ways of DIY or even more Doing It Together.

Chiara Organtini is an art worker active in project management and creative processes facilitation currently based in Terni, Italy. With her organisation Indisciplinarte she is engaged in the organisation of Terni international performing arts festival and in the curation of CAOS centro arti opificio siri, a multidisciplinary arts center and creative hub born from the renovation of an industrial space. Her mission is to activate and enable uncanny connections pursuing a vision of arts as generator of change

 The Maverick City Symposium 2017 – by Evija Taurene

The Maverick City symposium speakers 2017

One of the main reasons for my visit to Liverpool in July was to participate in The Maverick City Symposium – a gathering of brave city makers and change makers from a wide range of cities and countries.

The Symposium involved people working in the UK and also far away in different continents – the US, the Netherlands, Brazil, Latvia and Italy. The event was opened and facilitated by Toria, who is the chair of “We Make Places”. Her wise words could easily characterise the whole event:

“Isn’t it interesting how in this world of very divided society, there is a parallel movement of working together and tirelessly on a very small scale, which is actually creating all the change?”

As the event was a symposium rather than a conference, we all found ourselves in the middle of stories and conversations, which disrupted the traditional conference format and created a space and time for new ideas to spark.

Chiara Organtini shared her story of CAOS art centre located in a former factory building. She shared with us her firm belief in co-creating spaces with the local citizens and stakeholders, which has led to unimaginable and wonderful results.

Tiago Cosmo, a violinist and the co-founder of Camerata Laranjeiras (a string orchestra in Rio de Janeiro) shared his passion for music. He believes that music is so powerful that it can break down barriers – between rich and poor, between groups of society, and even between countries. He said: “Music can change people. And if you can change people, you can change the world!”.

Coming far away from Chicago, artist and curator Carron Little told us about her relationship with culture and cities. She challenged us with a question: “Is the council REALLY looking for a safe/boring/consumerism city?”. Carron also brought our attention to the fact that we are actually building our cities around the official narratives, however artists are the ones taking a lot of personal and political risks just to be a part of the city. This thought had never crossed my mind, but now I see every artistic action as an act of true bravery.

Kate Stewart, the CEO and co-founder of We Make Places, shared with us several stories of how the simple act of Making things can transform lives. Kate separated the act of making into three equally important parts:  planning -> anticipation -> self-forgetting movement. ‘Making’ is also something “We Make Places” (as the name of the organisation already reveals) has tested in their work with local communities and volunteers. Kate invited us all to be makers in our everyday life back home, and this is certainly something I have taken home.

Steve Threlfall, a Designer who is also a co-founder of “We Make Places” and Friends of the Flyover, and had just returned from a residency program Madrid, introduced us to their newest project Urban Workbench, which is bringing practical maker skills to communities and individuals.  He again emphasized the approach of understanding cities and contexts through activities and ‘doing’, rather than simply talking and planning. His speech evoked a discussion on how we actually teach the younger generations to analyse risks and claim spaces.

Jurriën Mentink, a young urban designer and innovator from the Netherlands, who has found his passion in the area of Elderly Healthcare, spoke a lot about the way different generations can interact and co-live, without judgments and with ‘play’ in mind. In the last four years, he has spent living in the Humanitas retirement home, his life and perspective as an urban designer has changed a lot, but he has also changed the life of many of his elderly neighbours. Game nights and casual pranks is nothing unusual when Jurriën is around.

The last but not the least of our maverick speakers was Chris Coates. Chris is a person with such an interesting life story that his current occupation is hard to put in any words. He comes from Lancaster, UK, and he is one of the people behind the Lancaster CoHousing project – a co-living community sharing not only a common neighbourhood, outdoor space and dining area, but also values and lifestyle. Chris’s story certainly found a way to my heart and mind, and gave an invaluable affirmation that co-living is not only possible, but very needed for the modern society.

All in all, the main day of the Symposium was really packed with valuable insights and ideas, conversations and discussions. Each speaker had come with his/her own story and no one spared personal insights – that is something to be grateful for.

However, the Symposium did not finish with a group dinner and ‘bye-bye’, we still had a full day ahead of us to be spent together in action. So, we all (speakers and some of the audience) took Kate’s invitation to became real makers with a day of community building the following day.

To my mind, “We Make Places” is the perfect organisation for Liverpool and one that every city needs. They have the power to positively shape the city and its communities, creating a more liveable, playful and integrated city for its people. And through hard, but inspired and passionate work they are reaching results no public administration could. I believe that all municipalities and both larger and smaller cities actually face quite similar issues – the lack of participatory culture and initiative among the citizens, the lack of quality public spaces in the city, open dialogue between the public and the administration etc. etc. Challenges like these can and should be solved by local change actors, if there are opportunities for these people to devote their skills and knowledge, and at the same time – to be appropriately appreciated. 

Evija Taurene is an urban planner and activist with a passion for creative cities, urban regeneration, citizen engagement, & digital economy. She currently works as a project manager and citizen engagement officer in Cēsis municipality administration, in Latvia.