Guimarães 2012 – so what did we learn?

On behalf of Watershed I have been Creative Producer on Open City, a programme of activity in the current European Capital of Culture, Guimarães, Portugal. As the project comes to a close I wanted to try to capture the impact for Watershed of  the various commissions and installations.

Open City Guimarães 2012 has been at the same time diverse, dispersed and dynamic. Through our involvement with the European Capital of Culture we have had the opportunity to be part of a significant international event – so what have we learned?

We learned that technology both generates and enables transparency, and that transparency creates both a challenge and an opportunity for participation.

We learned that from the outliers of open source or Occupy, to the signifiers of social media, there is an increasingly held belief that a different approach, an open inclusive approach, provides a viable alternative to failing models.

And we learned that this open philosophy can be applied in many ways, strategic to practical, culture to government.

BUT we also learned that the challenge to hierarchies and embedded process will make widespread adoption of radical change slow, despite an international community of exemplars, and that in implementation everyone needs access.

We learned that difficult concepts need simplifying, and preferably demonstrating, openness implies widespread understanding.

We learned that technology can alienate unless you hide the wires and concentrate on the human effects and impacts. Complexity needs communication.

And we learned that passionate and interested people can catalyse a similar response once you make the connection and articulate a vision.

Over the course of the Guimarães 2012 Open City project we have commissioned a series of great thought leadership from a wide variety of contributors across a broad spectrum of subject matter – united by a common theme of expert analysis and clarity on the opportunity of Openness as a conceptual framework. Through films, theatre pieces and artist led workshops we have sought to animate these ideas, and crucially involve a local audience.

Taken together these contributions form a coherent and comprehensive exploration of the opportunity of openness in city development from conceptual framework to design philosophy, geography to governance. As well as residing on the watershed.co.uk/opencity site as a resource, the content will shortly be published as a digital document.

Two final learning points:

Understanding and working across differing professional and institutional cultures requires a fine balance between acceptance and challenge.

And that if you are in Tio Julio’s it is probably too late….

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