The Culture Commons Quest Office

The Culture Commons Quest Office is an interdisciplinary research team based at the University of Antwerp. It focusses on the commons in cities as a pivotal resource for a sustainable creative biotope. The main ambition of CCQO is to ground both theoretically and empirically the relationship between the common city and creative labour.

The research project is granted by the Flemish Fund for Scientific Research (FWO-Odysseus) and the European Commission.

(c) Artwork by: Thomas Hirschhorn

Overall aims and objectives of the research

The overall aim of this research is to gain insights into the social conditions for sustainable creativity for both the ‘classic’ arts and the creative industry.
In the contemporary post-Fordist economy, creativity is a key concept, along with flexibility, mobility, and ‘adaptiveness’. Both in their working environment and in their daily lives, people are challenged in terms of their authenticity and creative potential. The city is described as the most important working environment for the ‘creative worker’, a type of employee that has been showing up in increasing numbers since the emergence of so-called ‘cultural capitalism’ in the 1970s. The city is the 21st-century worker’s factory, as it were.

This study intends to make an inventory of what artists and other creative professionals contribute to the city and at the same time investigate what conditions a city and city policy can provide to ensure that these individuals will continue to respond to appeals to their creativity in the future. What are the social, economic, and political conditions to generate a sustainable creative commons in a city? This concept of the creative commons has gained prominence both in recent philosophy and in Law research. According to Hardt and Negri, guaranteeing such a commons is necessary to safeguard future creative production. These philosophers have described the commons as a category that transcends the classic contrast between public property (often guaranteed by the state) and private property.

Both public institutes and private actors contribute to the commons. Although philosophers provide a clear genesis of the concept, very little research has been done into how this concept relates to other relevant concepts such as ‘culture’ and ‘creativity’, nor is there much empirical research available into the social functioning of what could be considered as the commons. This is why theoretical and empirical research is combined in this project to answer the following questions:

  1. How can the creative commons be empirically observed and defined?
  2. Are those commons a precondition for sustainability and sustainable creativity and can it sustain a creative biotope?
  3. What specific conditions can cities generate to facilitate such commons in order to generate a sustainable creative biotope?
  4. How do artists and creative workers create and use a creative biotope for their work in the city?
  5. Which (new) business models do artist and creative workers develop to keep their creative biotope alive?

The general aim of the study is to create an empirically and theoretically founded picture of urban creative biotopes. Earlier research has already outlined such a biotope for the arts. This study will not only look at the biotope for artists but at that of the creative industries as well. Earlier pilot research has shown that a sustainable artistic practice can be guaranteed with a balance between four domains in this biotope: (1) the domestic domain, (2) the domain of the peers, (3) the market and (4) the civil domain.

The domestic domain (home, a studio) is a development-orientated space where people do their own work in isolation, in a self-reflexive way. Within the domain of peers, experiment and development are also central but take place in critical social interaction with ‘peers’ (teachers, professionals from the creative fields, et cetera). In the market domain, the selling of creative products is central. Creative workers need the market to earn a living. The civil domain, finally, is the place for public debate. In an economy of ideas, such as the creative industry, people have to continually communicate and substantiate their ideas, and test them in public.

Our hypothesis is that people who want to earn a living in creativity nowadays need to find a balance between these four domains, if they want to do so in a sustainable way.

We wish to find out whether the creative biotope as described above is applicable to the creative industry. Does this biotope need adjusting when we compare the arts with the creative industries? Can cities, their policies and business models contribute to sustainably maintaining such biotopes by guaranteeing a ‘creative commons’?

Research projects

Please read about the different individual research projects on the Research projects page.