My head is still spinning from last week’s events. Two and a half months ago I wrote about my day in the park, trying to start conversations with people about organizing an alternative to the library which was closing. What I didn’t know then, was I would be co-organizing a 5-day festival showcasing to everyone what kind of ideas we picked up during the first 6 months of conversations.
There is a lot to tell about the festival, but my head is too tired to write it down (and I have to take a step back first too, something which writing this isn’t helping J). But I want to reflect a bit on the reason why we organized the festival the way we did it.
First why a festival? Why not take everything we learned during our conversations, turn it into a project plan and ask people to back us? Why not write a proposal and see if we could find partners which can help us launch the Reading Room? Why pop-up for 5 days, make people excited, and then close shop again? These are good questions, but part of the answers is we weren’t sure what we wanted to create. The conversations gave us first glimpses of what it could be like, but no clear indication of what it should be. So we decided that we needed to experiment. On my desktop I have this picture from a slide by Tom Hulme from IDEO, and that is exactly what we did in this case. By organizing the festival we gave ourselves the opportunity to learn what we want to create.
Secondly by organizing the festival we could directly engage a lot of people. The whole festival was only made possible by the involvement of some 70 volunteers. Some just added a small bit, some were instrumental to the success (spoiler alert: yes the festival was a big success. The space looked stunning and most elements where well visited and liked). During the day in the park we met Martin, who was into Linux and computers and who volunteered to create a whole network for us with 5 working computers and wifi. Then there was Ruud, who is an interior designer by profession and who volunteered to create a stunning space. And then there where Karin and Merel. The first designed our logo and flyers, the second our pr-plan and our website. They all added their professionals expertise to enable us to make an even better statement.
Because that is the third reason why we organized the festival. Because no matter how good Joke and I can write, we would never have been able to put into words what we created during the festival. First of all, we would never have set out for a building of such scale. For we got a building from a housing corporation for free for a month which was 300 square meters. It was a former hamam which had been empty for more than a year. The scale of the building was a bit frightening at first, but once we got used to it and started to work there, we saw all kinds of potential. Since there was no natural light in the back of the space, and it was partly closed off, we added a cinema to the original plans, showcasing films by Rotterdam filmmakers. All these little surprises added to the great programmed we put together. We organized the festival around 5 themes: learning, reading, reading to, meeting and sharing. Each theme was made tangible by organizing related activities during the day. This ranged from organizing workshops on day one (based on the principles of Trade School) to readings by poets and a meeting between reading groups on day two. Day three all kinds of activities for kids were organized and the fourth day was a day full of events set up for like-minded people to meet each other. On the final day we explored the possibilities of sharing by hosting several conversations. We closed off the week with great lentil soup from the neighbors from across and music by Jaap Hekman en Klaas Blonk (you will hear them in the video attached at the end of this post).
And next to all these activities we had fresh coffee and tea, wifi, magazines, daily newspapers (3 dutch, one Turkish, and one Chinese) and more than a 1000 books which people could just take home. So even if there was no program people came to talk, work, take a book or just drink a cup of coffee and enjoy the nice atmosphere.
Adding all this together, we now have a great argument in our hands to start conversations with all kinds of parties in the city to see how they can help us to keep this public space open. So we have been creating a community by doing the festival and together we can now make a better argument of what we want to do. And even more so, we now actually have an idea what we want to create. And finally we want to do it in this particular space if possible. For where the space first was a bit frightening, I now can see no other use for it than a Reading Room.
There is much more to reflect back on – which I will be doing over the coming weeks – and I will be sharing this with you. As things stand, we now aim to open our doors again in 1 march. In the mean time we will be making plans, talk to a lot of people and do small interventions from time to time (so people won’t forget us, but also to test out new ideas). But first I’m going to close my eyes, think back about all the exciting stuff which happened in the last week, and smile!