The name Communitism appeared in a vision on the streets of Berlin. As Natassa Dourida was leaving a U-Bahn station, she was thinking about how multiple communities grow, interact and transform the city. She thought she saw these words flashing on the top of a building, like an apparition, but it was just in her imagination. Research into the meaning of the term revealed that Communitism is a political system where social action is in a golden equilibrium with conscious (senseful) business. This is one layer of the philosophy that underpins Communitism – the building and the association – today.
But the seeds of the ideas which eventually sprouted into Communitism were planted in Natassa’s mind much earlier, in Barcelona in 2006. Natassa wondered why Barcelona had managed to restore and preserve its historic buildings, while Athens had not. What did seeing this perpetual decay all around them to the minds of the Athenians and what interventions could be made to revitalise Athens’ under appreciated architectural legacy. After training as a structural engineer, Natassa went on to study a masters in the restoration of historic monuments, as she worked to develop her theories and methodologies and explore how they could be successfully applied in Athens.
The concept that became Communitism was crystallised in an application to the Robert Bosch Stiftung written in June 2016. A social cultural centre would be run by a community, housed in a historic building in Athens in danger of falling into irreparable decay. The owners of the disused buildings would give them free in exchange for the building to be maintained. The idea is based on the maintenance principle from restoration studies: if you can't repair a building now, make sure that it's maintained for the next generation so that it doesn't deteriorate further. This is a phenomenon you see around the world: the intact monuments are the ones you can see being used.
Without a building and without a community, the foundation application was rejected. But the momentum to create this space, bring this concept to life and build the necessary community was already underway, developed during a series of intense brainstorming sessions with members of the community in Metaxourgheio throughout Summer 2016.
Natassa observed three communities existing, unconsciously of themselves and one-another, in Metaxourgheio. Firstly, the creative audience: people who aren’t artists but enjoy art and feel the need to express themselves; secondly, local artists; and finally, international artists. To make a change, shift the dynamics and develop more constructive behaviours, these three communities needed to intersect, start communicating and collaborating with one-another.
Finally, a building that could house this embryonic community and sociocultural experiment was found at Paramythias 15 & Salaminos 57: a former carpentry business that had been empty for four years, with the neoclassical side of the building housing the offices and storage and the industrial side the workshop. An agreement was made for one event with no financial exchange and three weeks of frantic cleaning and preparing the building began; all carried out by volunteers, which demonstrated the strength of faith, commitment and passion around this idea.
Each of Communitism’s introductory events were designed to engage one of the three specific communities. Communitism Vol. I: Solutions May Lie In-Between The Systems We Already Know Of, was a three-day event designed for the creative audience with workshops, presentations, up-cycling, fine art, a clown theatre performance and an electronic music party that took place in April 2016. The event was a huge success and served to demonstrate the strength of community collaboration. But the building’s owners soon wanted a financial return and the collaboration fell apart in November 2016.
Communitism now had a community but no building. The social cultural centre’s current home was discovered by a happy accident: its co-owner saw a member of the team taking photos of the previous space, was fascinated by the concept and invited the team to use Kerameikou 28. The space is a former workshop and warehouse, and hosted Communitism Vol. II: Identity Issues/Does The Land Own You, Or Do You Own The Land? in April 2017. This event was designed for local artists and we put out an open call for 16 artists to host workshops at the space, further deepening the links between local artists and the creative audience. Around the same time, the Metaxourgheio Carnival team were invited to use the building for construction before the carnival, which generated a huge amount of activity in the space. We told the owner: ‘Look how much we have done in just three weeks with the carnival. Imagine how much we could do in the space if we had it permanently!?’ The owner agreed and Communitism’s home was secured.
The final introductory event, Communitism Vol. III: Europe Was Taken by a Bull, focussed on interactional artists and took place in April 2018. The concept centred around the idea that the future of Europe could be as surreal as the myth it derives from. The event comprised 17 projects facilitated by an international line-up of 27 artists, collectives, cultural producers and theoreticians, from as far afield as France, the UK and Australia. During the two months prior to the event, the building was transformed, with site-specific installations, interventions, sensory experimentation and participatory performances throughout the building and neighbourhood.
With Communitism’s home secured for the foreseeable future, the building and the association which directs its function spent the last three years undergoing a profound period of growth, evolution and renewal to arrive at the form in which they exist today. The building was gradually repaired with all of the issues causing damage slowly resolved, new functions imagined and created for each of the building’s diverse spaces and many meetings and discussions undertaken to develop a functional organisational structure for the association, firmly establish its identity and underline its core values.
Communitism is now a community open to all and the diversity of those who have managed spaces or organised events here is a testament to its power as a tool for social engineering, creative collaboration and community building. But this is only the beginning. Kerameikou 28 is just a prototype: proof that the methodology of restoring historic buildings in Athens through social-cultural activity is sound. The building is an umbrella to house this emerging movement, as a site to bring in communities and train them on the collective use of space, before expanding to other buildings around the city and expanding this network of active citizens.
This is the process we have begun. Come see it in action and you, too, can participate in directing its future.
To adapt and integrate any missing concepts:
Communitism is an open community of creative professionals. It revives abandoned or under-utilised cultural heritage buildings transitioning them into cultural commons entrusted and operated by active communities. We trust in·art as a·methodology to invite people used to acting as individuals into common practices to transcend into active citizenship. Each space becomes a community that hosts projects, people and ideas!