At the end of June 2023, Make Works Scotland visited Munich for a reciprocal visit in our Cultural Bridge funded Bespoke project in partnership with Kulturzentrum LUISE. Here we share more about our exchange visits and initial reflections on our learning, including the importance of international perspective, which will be further explored in subsequent blogs considering the integration of women in local production and making, diversity, participatory sustainability and growing creativity.

Bespoke emerged from a shared interest in engaging and developing communities of purpose-driven creative producers, artists and communities in our respective countries. Through international exchange, we hoped to uncover the potential for communities rooted in local craftsmanship, arts, making, sustainability and grassroots networks to make a difference locally and globally.

The structure of our exploratory project was simply to exchange, observe, discuss and learn. This has been enriched by our shared thirst for knowledge, desire to engage, curiosity and generosity of all involved. The Cultural Bridge funding, importantly, has also provided time to digest, to reflect and engage deeper.

Alongside the fantastic Clara at LUISE, in Munich we have the invaluable support of Dr Thomas Smith, a Postdoctoral Fellow at LMU’s Department of Geography, artist Doro Seror and anthropologist Ana Sofía González Sandoval. In Scotland, we have the experienced insight of Dan Brown, Curator of Research at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop (ESW) and Director / Curator Janine Matheson at Sierra Metro, formerly Director of Creative Edinburgh and GCAN.

Images: Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, photographer Helen Voce and Kalopsia Collective, photographer Janine Matheson

Make Works Scotland hosted our German partners in Glasgow and Edinburgh (with a little bit of Fife!) at the end of April 2023. Our packed itinerary included manufacturers and facilities listed on Make Works Scotland (Flux Laser & CNC Studio, Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, Edinburgh Tool Library, Kalopsia Collective), independent studios (Christopher McEvoy and Vevar, Still Life Workshop, Deirdre Nelson also a Director of Repair Café Glasgow), creative hubs (Agile City at Civic House, Sierra Metro, Tinderbox Lab, Custom Lane, Local Heroes, The Skinny), and community arts organisations (Rumpus Room, Kinning Park Complex, WHALE Arts).

Images: Edinburgh Tool Library, photographer Janine Matheson and Studio at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, photographer Helen Voce

Our reciprocal visit to Munich drew parallels in terms of the values and passion of the people we met and how they were motivated to work in and for their communities, optimising their resources, utilising and sharing their skills and providing spaces for creativity to flourish. Morning visits were to the Münchner Werkzeugbibliothek, Bellevue Couture and the Künstlerhaus lithography studio. Over lunch at Import Export we valued honest conversation with members of the City of Munich Department of Arts & Culture and Rat & Tat Kulturbüro, followed by an in depth exploration of the Kreativquartier, expertly led by studio tenant Doro; visiting Treibgut and Treibstoff, Atelierhaus, Werkbox3, Zona Libre and the studios of Wunderkammaa and Raquel Ro. 

Images: Müncher Werkzeugbibliothek, photographer Dr Thomas Smith and Racquel Ro at Künstlerhaus lithography studio, photographer Helen Voce

In our cities and urban environs, we see and experience (directly and indirectly) the impact creativity and creatives can have on homogenous neighbourhoods as they inhabit often forgotten or overlooked spaces – whether wall, path, building or green space – and engage communities in arts and culture. Munich’s Kreativquartier is a great example of this at scale (five hectares). Creatives, in the broadest sense of the word, have realised the potential of disused municipal buildings (former ammunition stores, barracks and municipality services) for studios to create artwork at scale, spaces to produce and show performance / dance / music and gather, as well as green spaces to grow produce. Their production of arts and engagement of audiences is on top of making limited resources stretch further, of making the case for creativity and navigating the constant rumbling threat of displacement by their municipal landlord from the creative homes many have established over decades. This narrative is common to partners from both countries, indeed familiar and expected, but nonetheless frustrating!

Images: Bellevue Couture label, photographer Helen Voce, Boris Maximowitz outside Triebgut, photographer Helen Voce and Doro Seror at Kreativquartier map, photographer Helen Voce

On our visit to Munich, our German partners’ observation of Scotland from their visit of ‘Everything is so shiny and resolved’ rang in our ears. Janine and I, who’d led the Scotland visit, don’t experience the arts and creativity in Scotland like that, rather a state of fluidity in which individuals and organisations have to be agile, responsive, informed and resilient. Having questioned whether we were biased to mature or well-funded individuals, organisations and projects, with more time, our Munich itinerary to hand and Dan Brown’s research into the evolution of arts production in Scotland, Janine and I’s introspection was abated. And, it was further lessened during our visit to Munich, when we met people such as Irene Fastner at Atelierhaus (who had very kindly displayed paintings done on her residency at Hospitalfield, Arbroath) and Raquel Ro, whose passion, drive and belief echoed our contemporaries in Scotland including Rachel Walker at Rumpus Room and weaver Christopher McEvoy at Vevar.

Dan eloquently reflects:

‘Reflecting on the visit to Munich, what came through strongly was the shared domains of interest between the communities of practice in both Scotland and Munich. The trip itself was a vital mechanism that connected these communities and opened up pathways for sharing knowledge through joint activities and discussions. It sets up the potential to build on these relationships, to enable the participants to support and learn from each other, to develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools and ways of addressing recurring problems. The position of makers and artists in both communities are, perhaps unsurprisingly, defined by a shared set of aims and desires, whether it be to establish an artistic practice, develop a social enterprise or build a business from their particular areas of operation. Each group or individual faces many of the same challenges, whether it be in Scotland or Munich. What was perhaps most evident is the precarious nature of their position in both countries as they operate within the margins of a Neo Liberal economy, driven by an economic set of values rather than a set of cultural ones. This was particularly apparent in the Kreativquartier where the tensions between the cycles of work and the objectives of the creatives / artists we met and the vast municipal, infrastructural developments that accelerate the cultural agenda of the city are incompatible. This is also a problem faced by artistic communities in Scotland where culture is driven by tourism and economics (at least in the eyes of the Council) rather than by the organisations and practitioners that inhabit the city.’

Drawing on her experience of working internationally in the arts, Janine reflects on its importance, specifically artistic exchange:

‘The Cultural Bridge exchange has been a transformative experience, allowing space to be inspired, reflect and learn from a special group of creatives working in their own ways to stimulate change, support others and their communities. It was great to hear how the formal and informal cultural organisations and initiatives weave in and out. How creatives once involved in the grassroots scene are now part of the Arts Council Munich, bringing their understanding and experience to affect policy and where funding is invested. Where you create and work has always felt like an intimate setting to me, an extension of yourself or your creative practice, where you can be vulnerable, explorative and expansive creatively. Learning about Raquel Ro’s nourishing and gentle leadership approach at Künstlerhaus was incredibly inspiring to me as I embark on residencies at Sierra Metro. And being welcomed into studio spaces at Atelierhaus, encountering beautiful work and exploring the interconnectedness of projects and how creative networks gain momentum and come together really sparked some ideas around further exchange with people we met. There are many challenges facing both our creative communities in Scotland and Munich. We connected over issues of gentrification, redevelopment and scarcity of financial support, however I was overcome with optimism and hope for what will grow next. The tireless efforts of many grassroots initiatives, cultural spaces, makers and artists enrich our locality, our sense of place and cultural identity, its inclusiveness and welcoming power.’

Image: Mapping Workshop in progress, photographer Dr Thomas Smith

Dan and Janine’s reflections reinforce the critical need for perspective, time and connectivity via a common language of creativity. This was cemented in the Make Works Scotland workshop to map purpose-driven creative producers, artists and communities in Munich, as attendees enthusiastically shared their knowledge and experience to visually map and amass data on resources, spaces, expertise, facilities and more in the city. The next steps for this are to be explored further online, as we didn’t capture everything on the day, plus some people were unable to attend the workshop and are keen to contribute, so we believe time for reflection and perspective will be beneficial.

Image: Mapping Workshop map, photographer Dr Thomas Smith

Now headquartered at Fab Lab Barcelona, Make Works’ origins are in Scotland. The expansion of Make Works to regions beyond Scotland realising the global library of local manufacturing we recognise today, was a driver for Make Works Scotland’s interest in being a partner in the Cultural Bridge programme. We felt we could draw on our experience of supporting the establishment of the original Make Works regions with founder Fionn Duffy Scott (and the handover of Make Works HQ to our colleagues at Barcelona) to provide insight to a replicable and adaptable model (built on Creative Commons licensing) which others had successfully adopted and adapted to achieve their goals of demonstrating and valuing the capacity and scope of manufacturing and making locally.

This international connectivity, exchange and learning in the Make Works family, evolving from a resource for the Scottish creative community to make things locally to strong global communities motivated by differing agendas, often with socio-environmental purposes, continues to grow specifically in the EU funded Distributed Design and Centrinno projects. With the perspective of our colleagues in Munich, shifts in the scope manufacturing is in Scotland and the changing global dialogue of the quadruple bottom line (people, planet, profit and purpose), Make Works Scotland has renewed focus on its’ wealth of listed manufacturers that are purpose driven. The language of their missions, values and services are more familiar and common within the landscape in which they operate, including with policymakers, funders and communities; and we know there are more out there! This doesn’t mean everything is or will continue to be ‘shiny and resolved’, however it provides a sense of common ground and shared values in people and communities who are driven by purpose, place and wanting to shift our thinking and actions.

This blog post is part of a series of articles that document and explore the themes and activities that have taken place during Bespoke, a Cultural Bridge partnership between Make Works Scotland 'Paved with Gold' (Scotland) and Kulturzentrum LUISE (Germany). Find out more about the partnership. 

Related articles:

The integration of women in the local production and handicraft manufacturing sectors

Diversity matters! Learnings on how to integrate different communities into local projects