CHCstories: P2P at Poligon
Ever since we started our creative adventure we were trying to use every opportunity to visit spaces in Europe that inspire us, meet those who made their ideas a reality and then share their stories. This time, we actually got to spend a few days in a selected creative hub thanks to the peer2peer program of the Creative FLIP project. This allowed us to see beyond the surface, experience day-to-day life in the hub and learn tips & tricks but also identify challenges when it comes to managing it.
Creative FLIP (Finance, Learning, Innovation and Patenting) is a pilot project co-funded by the EU, led by the Goethe Institut, whose main objective is to support healthy and sustainable ecosystems for Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs) with respect to these four key policy areas. Through different activities the project aims to improve the finance and patenting ecosystem in order to strengthen CCIs’ capacities for growth and development through improved access to finance and value recognition, as well as their capacities to capture value from IP. In order to achieve the cross-sectorial benefits for the CCIs, the project will strengthen support structures for the CCIs through organizing mutual learning opportunities between creative hubs themselves as well as between them and formal and informal education institutions. By supporting mobility of creative hub leaders and community members to other hubs, the peer-to-peer exchange programme enables learning and exchange of best practices, as well as international collaboration and co-creation. European Creative Hubs Network is the implementing partner for the P2P exchange within the Creative FLIP and us as members had the opportunity to apply and were selected for the first round of exchanges.
Why did we choose Poligon?
It is true that we could have gone anywhere in Europe to learn, but for us, in this phase of building a hub it was very important that the hosting hub shares the same values as we do and that in addition their managers understand well the context in which we operate. Poligon‘s founders also started without a space, and created not only a first coworking in Ljubljana, but also a learning space becoming a reference when it comes to cultural and creative industries development.
„Poligon is an autonomous platform for non-profit and for-profit project development with an agenda to empower the self-employed. It unites communities in Slovenia, which operate in the field of creative economies, social entrepreneurship and culture. These communities have developed as a response to the economic downturn and increasing precariousness of young professionals.“
Poligon was a response to a need, lack of support to creative industries, faced with economic and social challenges. It opened in 2014, after more than two years of building a community and it managed to stay autonomous but influential with the ability to advocate contributing to the systematic changes at the policy level for the benefit of independent workers in Slovenia. Our mentor during this exchange was one of Poligon’s co-founders and managers Luka Piškorič who works internationally as an expert on development of creative industries and creative hubs.
4 days and a full schedule:
Prior to the exchange we agreed on the workplan which was very flexible for us to shape together with the hosts and make the most of our time in Ljubljana.
The first day was dedicated to learning all about Poligon, visiting and exploring the space. This creative center is located in the former Tobačna Ljubljana tobacco factory that closed 15 years ago. In 1871, the K. & K. Haupt Tabak Fabrik Laibach, founded by the Central Directorate of Tobacco Factories in Vienna, began manufacturing cigars in the premises of the old sugar refinery on the Ljubljanica River. When the company moved to the new premises in the following year, the tobacco factory in Ljubljana became the third largest of 30 factories in the Austrian part of the monarchy. In May 2004 the manufacturing operations of Tobačna Ljubljana closed. Today their core business is sales and marketing for cigarettes and other tobacco products. The huge complex of the former factory is currently being used mostly for creative purposes while one part is occupied by the University of Ljubljana and the public administration, although its future remains uncertain. It is interesting that the tobacco factory was employing the highest number of women at the time and was socially responsible which can be very much related to the main mission of Poligon nowadays – to empower younger generations. Its presence contributed to the revitalization of the whole area and attracted other creative initiatives.
Poligon is using the space on the first floor of one of the buildings consisting of a living room area in which everyone can come to work, to chat and socialize; the silent coworking area; two meeting spaces; several private offices rented to small businesses; a maker space; a gallery space, small kitchen and a relax area. A special edition is the famous Yugoslavian “kiosk” cleverly reconverted to a space for private calls. In addition, the living room area comes with the self-service bar, which is super convenient and praised by the coworkers who appreciate having a coffee or beer at hand. In the past few years they had more than 650 members from around 36 countries. The community is very diverse, multidisciplinary and it changes often. Community lunch two times a month is a moment when they all get together for an informal gathering which strengthens their relationships and sometimes initiates collaborations. Poligon also participates in Erasmus for Entrepreneurs program as mentors which also allows them to have extra work force. In terms of events and educational programs, at Poligon, everyone can find something for themselves – from exhibitions, to talks, workshops and conferences, dealing with topics relevant for the community, responding to their needs and introducing new concepts. In this way they allow different local organizations to use their spaces bringing knowledge into the community and at the same time, giving skilled community members opportunity to be hired as collaborators when needed. The main source of income is the space rental and selling services – from communication to production of events.
In the following days, we also discovered a few other creative initiatives in the city – we visited a very unique printing studio Tiporenesansa whose owner is collecting old machines, objects and documents in order to preserve the traditional letterpress printing technique and make it accessible to a wider audience through workshops and innovative projects. Another space was a gallery in the former fish market, Dobra Vaga – an exhibition and project space that is also a sales gallery with open studios for artists promoting the younger generation of artists having less chances to exhibit. Especially interesting is their Zine Vitrine focused on contemporary zine production.
To understand better the needs of coworkers and their impressions of the space in Poligon, we prepared a few questions and conducted four interviews with community members of different profiles: occasional users, full members and future potential members. All of them emphasized the atmosphere as one of the most important features of Poligon, saying that it feels like “being at home but with other people”, and we would fully agree. The spirit of not being obsessed with making everything perfect, rather making it comfortable for people to spend their time there is crucial to achieve the feeling of belonging to an environment, an ecosystem, where the opportunities for collaboration appear organically. All four interviewees agreed that having a diverse community from different professional backgrounds but also different countries is important as it brings new points of view and experiences into the community. It was interesting to observe that some of the users do not attend the events at Poligon, some of them occasionally, but on the other hand the events attract wider audience that is not actually using the space. Being consistent with organizing public events is important for the outreach making the center more visible and attractive also to non-freelancers or students.
Eva Perčič, another core member and one of the founders of Poligon, presented us their educational program for freelancers, essential for growth and development of the self-employed. We would love to see some of these programs in Split in future, as independent workers are facing similar challenges like those in Slovenia while the learning opportunities in our context are scarce. After discussing Poligon’s development process and sustainability model with Luka, we used some time to talk about our future plans, the existing and potential community and the potential spaces, temporary or long-term. We have mapped some opportunities at the local and the national level while our plans for a pilot project next year in Split proved to be the right way to go (we’ll tell you something about that in another post) 🙂
The last day of our exchange was the public event, “Open Doors Day” of Poligon. Everyone was allowed to come, test the space and work for free. We gladly took the role of the hosts using the acquired knowledge in the previous days, welcoming newcomers, showing them around, explaining the house rules, terms and conditions of using the space. This moment was important to us as we were able to experience hub management from the first hand getting to know the questions and needs of those potentially interested in becoming members. That same evening, we participated in the opening of the exhibition “Visual Tales” co-organized by Poligon and Oloop Design which was a great way to end the peer2peer experience.
The four days of becoming a part of Poligon contributed a lot to us as participants but our organization as a whole will also benefit from the learnings. It was important that not only a hub manager but also a community member participates in such an exchange seeing how it all works from a different perspective. In the upcoming days we will organize a debrief and a planning session with other Culture Hub Croatia team members to agree on our future strategy. We say “strategy” but as in Poligon, we perceive it as an organic, natural development of our efforts to build and strengthen the community and make it a carrier of our project. We will further look at Europe and aim at bringing the knowledge back in our local context, encouraging participation and co-creation, remaining open and allowing everyone to join.
We would like to thank the Creative FLIP project and the European Creative Hubs Network for this opportunity and especially to the entire team at Poligon for their time, hospitality and openness. As the first follow-up after the peer2peer scheme, we will be back in Ljubljana very soon – this November for the Creative Forum organised by the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Union for the Mediterranean and GIZ taking place in Poligon.