We’re learning new rules of engagement.” Here’s how cultural institutions from Bilbao and Dortmund are embarking on a new project to work with the skating community in their cities.

A conversation with colleagues from Azkuna Zentroa and Dortmunder U about Art of Skate — a collaborative project with the local skating community to re-think the urban environment. Both partners are using the Digital Identities framework to explore new participatory formats and storytelling techniques for social media.

Img src: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FL_5767388.jpg

Hello Barbara, Maite and Mechthild,
Please tell us a bit about yourselves

[B/M] Between us, we look after marketing and communications at Azkuna Zentroa, which is a multi-purpose venue in Bilbao. Our job-titles mean different things to different people, but we see our role as connecting communities — artists, audiences, residents and even sponsors — to ensure our spaces are used in innovative ways.

[M] I’m the Head of Department of Cultural Education at Dortmunder U. My focus is encouraging young people to explore the arts as well as create art. We have a fantastic exhibition space, which we use as a platform to showcase new creative competencies.

What is Art of Skate?

[B/M] It’s an opportunity for us to explore and showcase urban culture. We want to reach out to our local community of skaters to understand how we can become accessible to them. As well as discover what is the best medium to create this access — fashion, music or design?

[M] Here at the U, we want to become a meeting point for the skater community. Can our physical space become a platform — perhaps a festival? I feel there are so many ways in which we can collaborate, and this project is about understanding how we can do so.

Clearly you’re both committed to increasing access to your institutions.
What inspired you to come up with the Art of Skate?

[B/M] I feel we are on the edges of many urban tribes in Bilbao and the Art of Skate is an opportunity for us to explore one particular aspect — the skater community — in-depth. And of course, since the inception of the smARTplaces project, we have been very keen to work with our partners Dortmunder U. This joint project is a perfect opportunity to realise this ambition.

[M] I’m interested in youth culture and have always been curious about skaters. I feel they are inventing culture in real-time. Working with this community is a great opportunity to re-think how our urban environments can function. Take streets for an example, why do they only have to be a medium for cars to get from point A to point B?

Azkuna Zentroa (img src: https://www.azkunazentroa.eus)

[B/M] Yes, we agree. Working with the community will challenge us to rethink the purpose of our urban environments. Take concrete for example. It’s everywhere. But it has very different connotations for the skater community — freedom and movement — which are not the first ideas that come to most people’s minds.

[M] I think a creative collaboration with this community can result in an interesting artistic process. But we really need to learn the rules of engagement first. How do we work with the makers and creators from this community?

How are you building connections with the skating community, or as you describe it — learning the rules of engagement?

[B/M] As with most projects, we start with our existing personal and professional networks. We have access to an eclectic group of people. But we don’t want to be limited by this network. This is just a starting point for us to reach out to wider communities.

[M] Here in Dortmund we’re starting with personal connections too. I’m lucky as a colleague of mine is an avid skater. We sat down for lunch the other day and I asked many frank questions. We’re also looking into our archives for inspiration — we have films and documentaries from past projects.

[B/M] But to reiterate, this project is a learning opportunity for us. The community is around us, which is why we’re going on regular field trips — to meet people. Sometimes we feel outside our comfort zone. There is a steep learning curve. For example, the other day, we visited a local skate shop and they thought I was there to buy something for my son! But when we told them about our project, they were curious and keen to help.

The Art of Skate seems to be as much about the process as the outcome. So what are your immediate plans to get this project off the ground?

[B/M] We don’t want the Art of Skate to be a blip in our cultural programming. We hope this project is start of a long-term relationship which has many outcomes. At the moment we’re exploring different media which allows us to start collaborating with the community. We’re looking at cinema or music at the moment.

[M] The first step for us at the U is to build a network of people. The first outcome we want is to create a pop-up exhibition. It’s a small effort, but it’s a conscious way to invite this community, that is around us, inside the U for us to get to know each other.

Dortmunder U, (img src: http://www.dortmunder-u.de/en/press) Copyright: Hannes Woidich, Dortmund

Will the international nature of this collaboration
have an impact on the project?

Most definitely. Bilbao offers new spaces for the skaters in Dortmund to explore and vice versa. We want our respective institutions to become global gateways for our hyperlocal communities. This is something we’re committed to achieving through the Art of Skate.

Thank you Barbara, Maite and Mechthild.

Art of Skate is one of the 17 joint activities being undertaken as part of smARTplaces — a visionary, long-term European audience development project co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union. Both partners are using the Digital Identities framework to explore new participatory formats and storytelling techniques for social media.

I am interested in the context & values of our Digital Identities.