Photo taken from Blivande Facebook page.
Recently, one of our co-founders had the opportunity to visit Blivande, quite a unique space in Stockholm. It is inspiring for us not only in terms of the creative re-use of abandoned buildings, but also for the approach primarily focused on the community. It emerged organically from the community itself to become a place enabling its users to strive, to shape it and make the most of it, to evolve and contribute back to the ecosystem, as Hugi Asgeirsson, its director, refers to this special mixture of artists, makers and creatives. The latest addition to the place is a public square, a meeting space for participatory grassroot initiatives made using old containers. It is all about growing through collaborations and joint efforts with the aim to become an independent sustainable venue.
What makes this ecosystem and how it all works? We bring you here the article written by Hugi:
Growing a sustainable ecosystem
Blivande was dreamt up about 18 months ago. In November last year, we got the keys to a beautiful 1000 square meter house in the harbor. Our rent is lower than market rates for the area, but far from cheap, at roughly 10,000 EUR. Including utilities, insurance, and maintenance costs, our expenses are around 12,500 EUR per month.
Blivande was never a very straight forward proposal, and it has taken some time for us and our community to start understanding our model. Increasingly over the last few months, I have started referring to Blivande as an ecosystem, made up of many overlapping circles. Blivande is the name of the ecosystem as a whole, and also the name of the house, as well as the not-for-profit company that runs it. This post is an attempt at mapping out this growing ecosystem.
Studio Tau is our workshop for artists and makers. We chose to call it an art space rather than a maker space because that’s what we wanted to create room for and attract. This focus comes from a need within the community which creates participatory art events like The Borderland. We had noticed that it was hard for the creative and open-ended processes of artists to fit in engineer-type maker spaces. We also wanted makers, but we made a bet on that there were plenty of makers and doers in our community that would love to be in a creative space with artists. This seems to have been a good bet. We have 17 members of Tau, including our very own @MariaEuler, @jonasjohansson i Simon who are perfect examples of artists overlapping with the maker ethos, and members like metalwork specialist @elch who also works on community art projects, plumber Theodor who is building a tiny house art-sauna and recent members Albin and Louisa and their van Wanda. Last but not least, a temple structure made out of 1,000 meters of wooden beams has been designed and prefabricated at Tau by our magnificent futuristic robot architect @annielocke and team. It now stands in Denmark as a permanent installation. I’m proud to also have been a part of that project.
Tau is supposed to be largely run by its members, who are also supposed to eventually make the decisions on what investments to make. This already works like a charm for certain parts of the space. @jonasjohansson has built an electronics lab, and I have simply set up company accounts with several suppliers and given him the right to go shopping on our behalf without having to ask me for permission unless it’s a major investment. We then get invoices from the suppliers. We’ve tried to buy as much as possible by invoice and set up accounts all across town to minimize the paperwork.
Our initial model for Tau was to only have flexible memberships (at 80 EUR per month) where people would have boxes that they packed their stuff into when they went home for the day. Our exception was two artists in residence (Simon and @MariaEuler) who would get private rooms. Eligibility for the artist in residence program is based largely on a gut feeling that someone would contribute to Blivande and its culture. We look for artists who love collaborating and who are not afraid to experiment with their process to co-create with others. After some trial and error, we’ve seen how much better it is to give more talented artists access to permanent space. Many professional artists need to have their process uninterrupted for long periods, and packing up at the end of the day just isn’t viable. People with fixed desks also spend more time in the house. We are now moving towards creating up to 8 permanent desks in Tau for 250 EUR per month, essentially extending our artist in residence program. To be eligible, you should be a good fit for the culture and an artist or maker who will use the space for its intended purpose – as opposed to for example a programmer who does some occasional soldering on the side.
We could start Tau because of a 100,000 EUR grant from Kulturbryggan, which we are using to invest in tools and custom containers at Frihamnstorget, which I’ll get to in a moment. We are also able to use some of this cash as a buffer to cover our rent while we build up our income streams. Over the first three years, I estimate that we will spend around 70,000 EUR on tools, machines, and containers for Tau.
Studio Beta is our upstairs co-working space. While Tau is a very co-created space, Beta requires more effort from the team. @hampus, @Linnea, and AlexanderZ restock the kitchen, make sure there is coffee, clean regularly and are on call if something goes wrong. We want Beta to be an environment where you can have as much order and stillness as you need in a house that is otherwise very dynamic. We currently have 12 members at Beta, which is about 1/3 of maximum capacity. All members of Beta also have full access to Tau.
Running Beta has been relatively smooth once we got going, but because of our divided focus on making the entire ecosystem work, we have not been as strong on promoting the space as we should be. Outreach for Beta is a priority for the rest of 2019 and 2020. We are looking to grow Beta at a steady pace over the next nine months, aiming for 25 members by June 2020.
An important function of Blivande is as a hub for events. We’ve been growing in popularity as a party venue, and in November we are more or less booked full with every weekend. In addition to the parties, we also have occasional daytime seminars and meetings. We are expecting income from events to be at least 3500 EUR per month on average in 2020, with the potential to be much higher if we start actively promoting the space – currently, it’s all through word of mouth and our networks. This income stream is particularly important since it will go straight towards salaries for people working in the house once memberships of Beta and Tau reach around 25 in each category. Our goal is for the events to eventually support one full-time salary for a person in the community. Currently, events are run by Hampus and Linnea with a growing team of community members.
The Node is the oldest part of the ecosystem and a separate organization. We started the Node in 2015 and a year later we started the non-profit association. It’s hard to understand Blivande without understanding the Node, as it is the continuation of that story, so for a full picture you can read the introduction i the full history. We currently have 300 active members, paying 100 SEK per month, and between 4 to 7 events every week, free of charge for all members. Without the Node, Blivande could not exist. Without Blivande, the Node would be much smaller and unprotected from the forces of the market. Through this symbiosis, Blivande wraps a protective shell around the Node, and the Node becomes the beating heart of Blivande.
The Node has 400 m2 of the house, every night from 18:00 until late from Monday to Thursday, and every other Saturday and every Sunday. These are the hours when the Node has traditionally run its activities at the old location before moving to Blivande, so it is not particularly limiting. The layout of that space is planned with both the Node and Blivande events in mind, and one of the large rooms is the Node “home-room” where they have most of the creative control. The Node pays around 3,300 EUR per month in rent to Blivande, which includes utilities, cleaning supplies and house maintenance.
We always wanted to build a container structure outside of Blivande. Because of the 100th anniversary of the harbor, we got our chance and went for it. We built a colorful container village full of art and activities as a backdrop for their celebrations, which now gets to stay for at least one year, and hopefully longer. We managed to build Frihamnstorget in a few weeks, pitch a dome, decorate the space for the 100th anniversary and manage the event for less than 10,000 EUR.
Our colorful container village allows us to:
- Build exhibition rooms for the art created at Blivande, as well as provide space for outside artists to exhibit their works in containers, on top of them, and in the square.
- Create space for a café and restaurant, especially to create an attractive public place for the summer months when the demand for indoor event spaces dips in Stockholm.
- Experiment with free public space and invite citizen initiatives to try ideas that would be difficult to get approval for in a public park or square.
- Create room in containers for more heavy machinery that we can’t or don’t want to have indoors. For example, a laser cutter which needs ventilation, a noise CNC mill or welding which is a fire hazard indoors.
- Give space to a lightweight industry zone outside the house needed by some of our members, like welder @elch and plumber Theodor.
@jakobskote designed the square and has project managed it up to now. In the future, he will focus on managing the containers in the tower, which will be a curated exhibition space and a roof terrace garden. We will now find different people to manage other parts of the square, which we envision being a highly collaborative project.
During the spring and summer next year, we expect to get some income from the square by having occasional company events, concerts, and parties.
Edgeryders is the first organization after the Node that has started developing a symbiosis with Blivande, much because I want to combine these two worlds. This year, the three Edgeryders seats at Blivande have been used interchangeably by me, @MariaEuler (working on NGI Forward), @jakobskote (working on Participio and new Babel Between Us project), @brooks working on Participio, @mattiasx working on the first NGI Forward meetup and this month by @amelia in the Research Network and @BlackForestBoi who is also involved in NGI Forward. We also ran an Edgeryders NGI Forward event earlier this year, which introduced @zelf and others to Edgeryders.
In the coming year, I am starting a new company which will be the de facto Edgeryders Nordic legal entity. This company will be partially owned by Blivande and the first step towards the next stage of Blivande as an ecosystem of companies. With the Edgeryders Nordic company, I will apply for Swedish innovation funding to develop SenseStack, the Edgeryders stack of collective intelligence tools. Edgeryderd Nordic also runs the art and ethnography project Babel Between Us. I also have one potential consulting project in the pipeline, as well as a research project that is more on the idea stage. Our model when doing consulting will be to employ ethnographers and do SSNA through the Edgeryders mothership company Research Network.
@hampus, @Linnea, and I are the current team running Blivande. Hampus holds the artistic vision that shapes the look and feel of the house, together with Linnea. The two of them also do most of the day to day maintenance around the house, together with our intern Alexander. Hampus is also a jack-of-all-practical-trades and can drive a forklift and generally has a knack for learning practical skills. Linnea does a lot of the extremely important work of keeping the community together and strengthening internal relationships. I’m responsible for the economy, including everything from paying the bills to keeping our three-year economic forecast spreadsheet up to date. I also do most of the long term strategy work and create and document the structures and run the IT. I’m also usually the person who ends up going to meetings and public speaking opportunities. We all do our share for outreach and member recruitment.
For the last nine months, the three of us have been pulling most of the load. This is to be expected in the first year, but as we hit our stride the weight needs to be more distributed. Luckily, there are some stellar people in the community who are stepping in to run and develop Blivande with us. Large project like Frihamnstorget that require a lot of teamwork are great to get people involved and provide space for people to claim their own projects that they can feel ownership over.
If we manage to keep the pace of member recruitment, we should be fine. It’s still a bit shaky, as it’s our first year in business, and the Edgeryders investment has certainly helped a lot! Having a space for Edgeryders in Stockholm has also really helped in raising awareness here and getting people interested in what we do.
Blue sky imagined future:
A future ecosystem of companies is what I think could be the goal for Blivande in a few years. One thing is certain: Blivande will be a not-for-profit company once we restructure next year, cementing it as a company with the purpose to serve its community. This following part is only my opinion, and it’s a direction we have plenty of time to think long and hard about:
If we reach 30 members for Tau and Beta respectively, we will start generating a surplus of about 30,000 to 60,000 EUR per year starting 2021. This could be invested in projects and ideas by people in the community who would like to launch their own companies, which Blivande would then become a shareholder in. We would only do this for companies who are planning to use the house as their home base and contribute to the community. This way, we are investing in making the ecosystem stronger and creating opportunity within the community. Eventually, if some of these companies become profitable enough to generate returns, Blivande could use the return to invest in real estate that we own. But even if none of them ever become very profitable, we are strengthening the community and creating companies that use (and pay for memberships at) Beta and Tau.
This also creates an opportunity for Blivande to benefit from more risky spectacular endeavors, by owning shares in companies that might take investment or loans. This might be useful if the community, for example, would like to buy real estate or start some solar punk sustainable tech company. Blivande as a community can participate in the adventure, community members get some seed funding and incubation, and the owners of the new endeavor can feel safe in that while they are letting go of some shares, all returns from those shares will be used to benefit the community.
Housing at Frihamnstorget is something I hope will happen eventually. Building modular container apartments for short term living could be possible. Short term, because the land isn’t even zoned for residential use yet, which prohibits us from setting up anything long term. This venture should not be undertaken by Blivande as it would add a lot of responsibility, but we could be a participant in the venture in various ways.
Experiments in urban gardening and sustainability would be fantastic. @jakobskote is already running one such experiment by building a miniature Swedish pine forest in the top container of the tower. The harbor is exceptionally windy, which might make small wind turbines on the containers possible. I’m more skeptical of solar because of the long dark winters, but it might work. Stockholm is already an exceptionally green city, so the need for urban greening is not as large as elsewhere, although the contrast of old containers and evergreen pine trees against the industrial harbor backdrop would be lovely.
If you end up reading this and want to get touch with Blivande, we have a forum hosted by Edgeryders Communities. Don’t hesitate to start a thread, it’s really the best way to reach us!