Barcelona’s Free Culture Forum Builds Community the Spanish Way


Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Free Culture Forum in Barcelona, Spain on behalf of the Open Knowledge Foundation with an invitation from some of the amazing folk at Wikimedia Catalan and Creative Commons Spain.

While the format of Forum itself was inspiring, with free admission for all attendants and a diverse set of participation-heavy panels on free culture, open web and open data by organisations such as La Quadrature du Net and pioneers of Open Web and Free Software movements like John Perry Barlow and Richard Stallman, what I found most interesting was the collaborative branch of the Forum called Building Digital Commons (#dimmons on Twitter) and its lively discussions about how to best empower local communities in both virtual and physical spaces.

The Building Digital Commons meetings were organised specifically to facilitate contact and discussion between community representatives working on building digital commons and advocating free culture and knowledge across Europe. This contingent of passionate folk, largely from Wikimedia, Creative Commons and open knowledge organisations like Platoniq, had all engaged quite deeply and personally with Spain’s 15M movements through their hackspaces, media labs, universities and other local collaborations – and the Commons meetings allowed us to learn from each other’s experiences both as individuals and members of collectives focused on similar methodologies of openness and transparency.

It was also exciting to hear the other participants’ first-hand accounts of why Spain’s citizen movements are becoming so powerful, and as a group we often found ourselves staying up late at night together after Catalan feasts in candle-lit restaurants on Barcelona side streets, avidly exchanging notes on how to provoke social change and inclusivity in our work.

Perhaps it is best to conclude this post with the words of the Forum’s organisers:

Learning from the lessons of #occupyeverywhere and Spain’s revolutionary 15M protests, “we can no longer put off re-thinking the economic structures that have been producing, financing and funding culture up until now. Many of the old models have become anachronistic and detrimental to civil society. [We need to] promote innovative strategies to defend and extend the sphere in which human creativity and knowledge can prosper freely and sustainably.”

After being a part of the Free Culture Forum, I can assert without hesitation that the Spanish and Catalan people are moving forward strongly to achieve these strategies of collaboration together using an approach to this task which is both inclusive and international. It was very inspiring for me to see as a community organiser for the OKF, and I thank each of the amazing Spanish and Catalan community-builders whom I met last week for allowing us to become a part of that process.