G.- My name is Giorgos.
E.- My name is Eirini.
G.- And we work for a company called urbandig-project. It’s a project called UrbanDig Project of a company called Ohi Pezoume Performing Arts
E.- In this period we are working in the centre of Athens, in Omonia and we want to do a urban dig in Omonia, so we are working on creating some workshops and fine ways for the community engagement as we are going to talk more about that.
+ Why do you work with communities?
G.- Why? Working with communities is an inspiration to us. Our final goal is to create site specific performance in different places of the city, but we used to do this through collective archive of our own, but we decided that is equally, even more inspiring, to have the archive as just an excuse for meeting people and for stirring the waters that are quiet in some communities making improbable bridges between different stakeholders of local communities, so we decided to create a parallel project to our artistic project which is a community mapping project through collective activities.
E.- And that helped also us to realise the dynamics a certain area through the community involvement and also the possibility, the potential dynamic that can be developed in the area and that we can all together built, so what can come in the future is closer to the art.
G.- And for us when we work with community then is like we really embed the process into the city. So we are not just visiting as artists the city we are embedding the process and so this means that all the treasures of the community, that are discovered and that are beneath the visible become a new reality, not only for us – that we are artists and we are living on parallel realities-, but also to many people who are with us. So the city becomes a stage, for all, not only for us.
E.- But makes actually, makes awareness to us and to everybody of where we live and of what is our dynamic that we are creating by doing our everyday life and from this awareness we are more interested in our cities. So it’s actually interacting the city of this this engagement with the community and through this interaction taking back our awareness, all of us.
G.- We need a system that is different than the one that we have now and we need all the tools that can stare things and interact existing processes and create new processes. So our community work, because it has so much of artistic process in it, it definitely works as an interaction and its something that we feel is needed first for us to the extent that we have some responsibility for our kids.
+ One question, you were saying that you want talk with the stakeholders of the community, of the neighbourhood, and then also to link the community or to engage the community for a project. How do you do that, how do you start talking with the stakeholders and the community, which are the ways?
G.- We don’t talk, one thing that we don’t have in our company, that is not a good thing is that we have very little conversations and very little tables where we all sit and brainstorm, this usually does not happen in our projects, we always act, so we always create activities and through this activities we build the capacity of the participants to then build their own activities, so it’s a lot on action and is not very much on talk. But we make sure that we invite in these activities, first as participants and slowly as collaborators and then as facilitators, very different stakeholders and very different agents, so people coming from local residence, to company owners, to company workers, to students of all different universities and schools in the area, to artists, to researches and we try to create and suggest activities that each activity is very related to one of the stakeholders. For example. for activities that would very much interest to students, we don’t only invite students, we invite other people as well and then we make a full array of activities, we bombard and this is a slowly process that propagates.
+ How do you consolidate, I mean, which will be for you the main roles in this process, you said you invite different people and also you are playing a role for you in these communities processes, in this project that you are doing with different neighbourhoods etc, which would be the main roles that you need to be there, that without them you cannot continue with the project?
G.- For us the main roles? The process is first to engage. Second to build the capacity through the engagement. Third to support through the mapping of the results, because all our activities are about collecting the local wealth, cultural wealth, it can be history, it can be oral history, it can be sensory mapping, it can be dreams and aspirations, it can be anything that we can take as information. This is the goal of each of dig, but is done in very fun way, and everybody can participate. After each participation comes the trying to build capacity in order for them to create their own groups, so that’s a different role, where you facilitate those who you see that can become the leaders, and then during and after our project we make sure that anybody who comes to us, – it can be the press, it can be the foundation that wants information, it can be the foundation that wants artistic work, that wants educational work from us -, if it is related to the neighbourhood we make sure that we involve the groups already formed so as to educate them to also curate the metadata, so it’s not only about helping them create activities to gather data, and information and map their local wealth, but its very much about creating links with various stakeholders that we have access to either through the project, or through other projects, in order for them to produce with these voluntary mapping that they have done to produce curatorial things and narratives about their neighbourhood in arts, in education, in tourism, so this is our goal, to create as many links and improbable bridges with stakeholders who are in sectors that have development in them, various development, because our goal is not at all historic or to collect data. We think that data is nothing. Data is just the thing for us to get inspired for our performance and for them to gain the capacity to create productive collaborations in culture, education, tourism and place making. […]
+ So for you, taking into account all the process that you are talking about, which would be the milestone of the process? For example, you were saying that for the municipality the main important things is, or what they understand, is just the action, when the drama happens, when the action happens, but you know that the process is longer before and after, so which would be for you in an ideal project the milestone?
G.- First of all – because you mentioned municipality – I believe that the municipality specifically, of all Athens. We are very lucky that they understand the whole thing, this is why we have two very good collaborations with them, so we are lucky with Athens, but in general I think what is the hardest, I will come to you answer, but what is the hardest with funding is that things that we are talking about capacity building and bottom up processes and things we insist on production of outputs for education, tourism and culture foundations usually don’t want to put the stamp on the product, because they don’t trust the quality of it, because is bottom up, and because is dynamic and because now we have this group of people in the community, next year is another group of people. So they will not pay for up that is sustained by a group of people that they can’t really control. And this is understandable, because they have to have a quality assurance, but for us, we come from a different point of view that is more related to capacity building process itself, we think that this is a service to be funded, the capacity building process. And then is for the community to utilise our links and find its own receivers and make production and development out of the process, am I making sense? So a milestone for me, the first one, is to create activities that have all the common goal but they are very extravagant and fun and they have artistic elements so as to always interact the city. Is very important, nothing that is not interacting the city, because is boring. And that it can be addressing various education and age and groups as well as stakeholders from all culture, education and tourism and trade, local and non local. They will be our networks, later. They become first engage as participants, some of them slowly through our puss they become partners, slowly some of them become leaders of voluntary research groups. And then our next process for us is to support them in technical things, like in mapping their material, in organising their arcade and also to support them in being able to curate their results of their processes and to also continue with their groups. We have partners that we work very closely with that are very much engage in participatory leadership. So we work with them in order to help these groups to continue existing, if they like. And then we create our performance, we help as much as possible with some outcomes that might have array from partnership […]. Perhaps we can find funding for them too, if possible, but then after the performance we make clear that the curtain has fallen, so now is for them with our distance, and of course we deliver the arcade of our entire outcome to all the people who remain in the process, is for them to use as a capital.
E.- I would like to say here that the performance can also remain to the community like a protocol, because of the experiences of the performance that it actually is part of community work. They realise their dynamic, and they realise how they have a force that really interacts the city and makes strong links and connection with different agents, so through the experience of the performance they are inspired to go on and I think that from our last experience in Dourgouti Neighbourhood that the residences they took part in a lot of activities, but they were coming but they had doubts about the reasons why they were doing all that and if theses activities are really sustainable and at the end of the performance, when they experience the performance, they realised that all these work and collaboration is transforming in something that really dig dynamics and can give new ways of seeing the city and their neighbourhood.
+ I have two questions, one is: because you said: all is volunteer, is necessary that is volunteer, who should be paid in these process?
G.- In this process, at the beginning are paid those who initiate the process so it’s our group and our partners, close partners, that we make the project. But, again, our role in milestones is to create a web of activities, engage people in them, then facilitate these people to become curators of new activities. And then facilitate them with technical support, and also with network support, and sometimes with funding to produce a metadata of their archive. In a nutshell this is it. In all this there is a core group that is getting paid for this. Well, that we will like that is getting paid for this, because some times what you consider paid, and I consider paid, is not linked at all. So we might received 1.000€ for a whole year of work. So that’s not exactly paid. But what we said is that it’s voluntary up to that point of creating an archive, all the people who are involved in creating the archive. Because it means that they want to create wealth, what is the wealth? The archive. And their connections, and their ideas and whatever they come up with. Then we help them as much as possible to get paid for metadata of their archive, for producing, for tools, for culture, tourism and education. But this is something that of course they should get paid for, but is very clear for us that we give a service to them; in fact, we give a service to the municipality, not to them. Because for us to be able as a municipality to be in dialogue with these groups or with these people is very important assets and all municipalities should pay us to do it. Is very clear for me, but that’s me. And one other thing to say for sure is that I personally don’t believe in groups. I much more believe in networks, because I live in 2016. So, it is very clear that these voluntary processes, we are not there to make sure that the group exists; we are there to offer things continuously so that the network responds. And then things should happen on their own. There is not such thing as a membership in what we do. Because I think this is dead. Except for those who are in high power and they like groups.
Two other things that I want to say about the link of the community and artistic. But from the community side – because then you can talk more perhaps about the artistic – I have to say that we have found that as an artist you are an ambassador or trust. People open the door to you, because when they ask you: why are you doing all this? You don’t respond with very big words about saving the world, and you just say: I want to do a performance. So it’s more likely that they will collaborate like this than hearing how you want to create a better world.
And the other thing I want to say is that to be able to take people with you in imagining and investing what is beneath the visible in the city is an artistic action anyway for me. They are not artist but is an artistic action, so this helps me as an artist a lot in getting perseverance in what I do, so when I see other people getting enthusiastic about the ghost of their city, about hidden stories, about hidden things that people don’t say… all this for me is very moving because I realise that people are in need of what is invisible and needs to come to serve us somehow. So this digging is a lot of what culture gives and access to the invisible, to the untold to what cannot be said in other ways. I get very little money. I am a father of two children, I have many worries about survival, and I still do this, because it gives me one reason for continuing being an artist, because I see the hunger of people to express, to dig out and express what’s beneath the visible. For me personally is the greatest inspiration, beyond all theories and things like that. This is what I want to say about the reasons I am doing it.
E.- Yes, I would say on this that for me is a little bit like creating or building a new idea of let’s say philosophy about life. Is more like a home on the move, so that means that wherever we are going we are digging the invisible and the city. It’s like creating a new home in a real and metaphoric way. A real way because we spend many hours and it requires our presence there, 100%. And I am saying that it is home on the move because it’s always in a transit, always changing areas and creating new ecosystems where you can really can dig the invisible and keep on moving, and not just finding and staying there. So this is like a way of thinking, of rethink how you can stay in a home, and actually that what we like in Omonia, because it’s a centre, that really has a very social history, but also it the centre of the transition, is a very transited area, of different people coming from different parts of Greece, from abroad, immigrants, refugees… I mean every day, people that really go, doesn’t stay in the Omonia square, so it’s like an empty environment, an empty square but is full of life that is in transit. So, I agree with what Giorgios said but I will also say I am very interested in digging and finding and building a home on the move.
+ I have two more questions: one is, how do you evaluate this processes, how do you show people that these processes are working? Because usually people, funders, etc. ask for numbers. But I think we all the people that work in these field, we know is not about numbers, is about the quality, is about the engagement, is about the process, so… how do you evaluate or show the achievements of your projects?
G.- In terms of community engagement we have solid numbers, because we have this process of data keeping we call UrbanDig skill. At every moment we record what is the interest of each person who is coming to any of our activities. So at the end we produce a map, a people map not a group one. So if you said that you are an architect but you might end up doing some plumbing, we know that you have done plumbing because you like to do plumbing and to help with plumbing. So through this process we create this map of interests that people have that it’s beyond what they present themselves to be. But we have also used this as a tool to also invite people to do specific things. So we have a data keeping for this that is very precise, which produces a lot of numbers showing all interests.
Is not a business card, your business card is “architect” but you do seven more things including dancing and singing. So this is one way to show how people are liberated of the small size of their business cards when they are in these processes. Another way is to record their business cards, where people are coming from, because this shows you the variety of stakeholders involved in each group, and if they are local or not. So the business card of those who come becomes also an indication of how cross-field we are.
The other way of data keeping is creating indices: the number of activities and the location of these activities. How many public space? How many spaces that need visibility and we help them attract more people?
We keep a good record, because all these are tools, for us is a way to convince the community to continue. […] We rank participation of people depending on how many activities did you come to, if you came to one activity; if you came to ten activities and you did one thing. But if you came to ten activities and did ten things you are the next prime minister, you know, for us it is very important.
So we record this, because it’s an indication that we are doing well and you liked our activities. “How many have you created, how many have you become a leader or facilitator of?”
In terms of other impact, after we record where we are, the location. “How many publications are done about this location, independent of us?” Because this happens a lot, people write about our communities, not about us, which is good, this is what we want. Or how many activities had happened, after us? How many institutions? We don’t claim that they happened because of us, but it’s an indication…
+ Yes, before and after. Another thing, which will be the challenge, the next challenge, the future challenge, for you, in these kind of processes?
G.- We really like what we do, we really like that we have some sort of community that shares common standards, because this will help us be a tool, for us to prove to stakeholders the quality of what we do. So if you can find a way to do a protocol that sums the network behind it, so that the network of groups shares some common values and processes and outcomes and whatever.
This can be a stronger force for us to convince that what we do has some kind of standards… that we don’t go below.
Because all this to many sounds Mambo Jambo, so it’s very important that this is why we are coming naked to you now. We don’t usually do this. We are tired, very tired of internationals coming and trying to learn from Greece, because this is what had happened in the last two years, I have had an amazing number of meetings where people come and gather different… Come to learn from Greek crisis. I had said stop.
But what I need is exactly this, a way to, not standardise, but to make a network that defends some standards of work, of quality, in terms of process. This for us is a very big step and also we would like very much to continue this conversation and be part of the technical aspect of it in terms of creating KPI, a standard of quality, in terms of the community aspect. Because we used to make KPI, and we would like to share. If we manage, as a community between us all, to create a language that convinces stakeholders for collaborations, for us is very important. Greece is far away from the rest of Europe, is not easy to for us to be at every sight specific festival and at every community/ city idea thing. So we need to find tools that can make us go global, which is what we really want. […]
+ Another thing, and this is really the last one, sustainability of the processes. I mean is a challenge for all of us, do you have any idea; any way or how do you face this situation? Economical sustainability.
G.- We have other jobs, all of us. What we do is not sustainable economically now at all. We all have other jobs.
+ And once you leave the community has a way to sustain the project or they also have to do it voluntarily?
G.- The community?
E.- The community sustainability
G.- Well, for example we left a year and a half ago and one group continues to exist and one new one is formed, both voluntary. Sustainability is not only about money. What Eirini said before about the performance, some people get very inspired by the performance and that is a sustainability tool, to make people move. Its true! But as I said it’s part of our process before we leave to give as much of a network, and as much of capacity to create products to all communities (tourist, educational, artistic) of their wealth, and then we support them in anything they ask. Now they ask something from us in one of the old projects and we will be there, we will not charge, we will not make any sort of agreement, we will just be there. […]
E.- There are also some publications through university students, where they analyse and they make the methodology of the criteria and this goes back to the community. Its very close about what you were saying before about protocol, because through the work of the university students they have a feedback and a code of how they have been working and how they should continue working if they want to keep on their dynamic activity.
G.- One other thing about sustainability to make sure to all of them that they are a network and not a group, so what I mean is that, for example today I had a discussion with a PhD student who is doing her PhD in one of the communities we worked, she was a very active member of the. Of course she was volunteering, but it was her PhD, she decided that her PhD becomes that and now is going for a PhD utilising all this volunteering work. Also she got paid through a project that we created linking this community with Onassis Cultural Foundation. So she also got some money, but she is a bit worried that the group of oral history doesn’t go that well, but I say, what do you mean, you, who are a member of this group, for your PhD you just created ten more interviews, the group of oral history is going great. We don’t need to hit a card and said that we are members, we only need to share, to give to other people what we do in our own, and to know who to give. So when she puts this in the archive of oral history group, she has done so much work for the community, but she has done it for her PhD. […] But I think that to be creative and to be collaborative now needs a new language, much more about network […]. The value of data is only for the big data and the big companies, is only for Google and some very rich guys who do mysterious things. Data for me is not useful at all… is just the link; it’s a tool. It’s a tool for people to share.
+ I don’t know if you have anything else to say?
E.- To what Girogios said about the PhD, I would like to say that the interest is that it’s different kind of PhD from different cross sector. Like… for the same neighbourhood, or for the same community, so it’s also a networking of PhD that actually gives the whole idea of the area and I think this is also important, not to be only from oral history, or from socio analysis, but to find this. And we were lucky about that, in our last project, because actually there were three… four, four students from different universities that they were doing PhD (that I remember) from different sectors.
+ The role, right? They are playing a key role and also they are adding complexity to the processes.
+ Anything else?
+ Is everything all right?
G.- Yes. We will be very interested to see what this becomes.