Collective ownership, decision making and control at the service of creativity
2 September 2016
Since human creativity may be the ultimate economic resource and new technologies are here to stay, creative industries are becoming more and more important to economic well-being. The special dossier of this magazine takes a close look at this growing, innovative and young sector which includes crafts, design, fashion, film and music production, media and performing arts amongst others, as part of what are known as the “creative industries ”. Independence, common ownership, secure, quality and long term jobs, collective decision making and control, economic democracy…Musicians, actors, photographers, journalists, designers and other creative spirits from Brazil, France, Uruguay, UK, USA, India, Spain, Burkina Faso, Argentina and Italy tell us why they have chosen the cooperative path.
Worker cooperatives, social cooperatives and producers’ cooperatives have proven themselves to be appropriate models for different sectors, from traditional manufacturing to the more creative sectors. There are plenty of examples, such as the worker cooperative In situ, an architecture studio in France, the Design Action Collective, which is active in graphic and web design in the USA and is managed and owned by its 11 worker-members, the French multi-stakeholder cooperative, La maison de la Danse, a platform for dance creations and performances in Lyon (France) with a broad membership which includes artists, audience, public authorities and other partners, and the freelancers’ cooperative, Se buscan periodistas, in Spain which has been created by self-employed communication professionals in order to pool their services.
Collective decision making suits creative processes
Why are these creative minds choosing to work together? By working collaboratively, cooperatives provide a collective decision making model which is very precious for creative spirits. “Cooperatives practically illustrate that common ownership, collective decision making and economic democracy offer a real alternative. They are empowering because cooperatives are an opportunity to not just demand change, but to create it by creating a culture of mutual support, solidarity and cooperation”, says a cooperator from the UK who is a member of the Cultural Cooperatives platform.
In France, MADEINSCOP, is a network of 240 cooperatives in all sectors of the cultural and creative industries.
Cultural workers do not have to remain isolated freelancers, they can join forces with their peers, which is exactly what the photographers’ cooperatives Pate de Froi and Madeja in Buenos Aires (Argentina) have done.
The cooperative governance model is sometimes chosen by artists as a way to be independent, allowing them to express their opposition to the regulations imposed on cultural activities by the public authorities or to the pressure applied by private enterprises with a view to maximizing profits whilst at the same time ensuring access to information and culture for everyone. A group of journalists decided to create the worker cooperative Alternativas Económicas, the Spanish version of the well-known French monthly magazine, Alternatives Economiques, which is also a worker cooperative, because they thought it was the best model in terms of the way in which it allows them to work and to preserve their freedom of expression. “On the one hand, it means that we can decide what to put in the contents, rather than be told what to include, which is often the case of the large media companies owned by the big banks and is what we see happening in Spain today”, says Pere Rusiñol, one of the magazine’s worker-members.
Further examples include the Teatro Povero di Monticchiello in Italy , a social and cultural projectffdf created 50 years ago to ensure the maintenance of local traditions and access to culture for everyone and the Orchestre de chambre de Toulouse in France, which was created as an association in the 1950s and was transformed by the musicians into a worker cooperative in 2004 so that they could become the “masters of our destiny and particularly to choose our Music Director who is responsible for the entire aesthetics of the orchestra”.
Secure, quality and long term jobs
It is well known that the labour conditions of cultural workers are often complex and contradictory and are characterized by insecurity, low pay, long hours, pressure and precarious work contracts. Worker, social and producers’ cooperatives represent an innovative model that offers secure, quality and long term jobs. The Argentinian newspaper, Tiempo Argentino, was led into bankruptcy by its old owners. After four months of conflict, 125 workers set up the Por Más Tiempo cooperative: “this new initiative is the result of a long drawn-out period of fighting – we’re filled with renewed strength and full of expectations. It presents us with a solution in terms of income: after all, the most important thing is for people to keep their jobs”, says an enthusiastic Randy Stagnaro, current manager of the worker cooperative. “Behind the newspaper there aren’t businesses, political parties or governments: there are journalists, photographers, designers and other workers who’ve decided to protect the newspaper and their jobs”.
Moreover, cooperatives improve the living conditions of their workers and can help to secure a living for disadvantaged groups. Here are two examples from the craft sector: the Gafreh cooperative operates an artisanal weaving centre which employs 85 women from very modest backgrounds in Burkina Faso, whilst the Geetanjali Cooperative in India, which is involved in the manufacturing of various paper products made from recycled waste paper, has set itself the objectives to reduce and recycle waste, to provide an alternate livelihood and to teach new skills to women waste pickers who are its members. In Italy, the social cooperative Progetto QUID was founded in Verona (Italy) in 2012 by five friends who shared a passion for fashion and for social innovation. Quid employees are women from disadvantaged backgrounds who benefit from ongoing tailoring training from qualified teachers and carry out hand-made restyling to the highest standard under the careful supervision of the creative team. Another example is “Hip Hop Movimiento Revolucionario”, a cultural and educational project made up of activists as well as artistic and cultural producers. It uses hip hop as a language to bridge the gap in access to culture and information experienced by Brazilian children and young people living in the outskirts of large cities such as Sao Paulo and Guarulhos in Brazil.
All these experiences show how different needs expressed in a wide range of creative activities are being answered in the same way all around the globe: cooperatively.