With the refurbishment of an old ceramics factory, Makvärket is a cultural and environmental collective under construction. Different from other communities I have visited, there are no permanent inhabitants here and they follow a much more radical vision for organizing in an alternative way. At Makvärket they are developing space for the creation of alternatives to the global capitalist problems through art, ecology and different social systems. Ten years after the start of the collective they have renovated parts of the abandoned factory using ecological materials and craftsmanship, and have established an exemplary non-hierarchical organisational structure and decision-making method. The collective houses spaces for art, craftsmanship and social events: there are wood and metal workshops, a circus hall, a bike repair place, an atelier and a big restaurant with kitchen. In the future they have plans for also a music studio and living spaces for a commune. They share knowledge and take decisions as non-hierarchically and transparently as possible and have restorative cycles in place for dealing with conflict. I talked with two members of the collective, Toke and Carlos, to get a better understanding of how they are realizing their radical vision at Makvärket.
Renovating the old factory along ecological values
When I arrive, Toke is working in one of their wood workshops and has some time to explain a bit about the renovation of the factory to me. The factory is owned by an association which is closely connected to Danish ecological building company EVD and Makvärket collective rents the space. When the association got the factory in 2008, the buildings had been in a bad state. Many roofs were fallen down, none of the walls were insulated and there was a lot of rainwater and wet places on the ground floors. So the first focus was to make the space liveable again. The collective gets some of their income by selling their home-made juice and through membership donations. But most of the renovation work has been made possible by big fundraisers. For example, they made a roof between two of the factory buildings to allow for a dry hallway. For this project, the state doubled the money they got together with a fundraiser. The construction was realized with the help of a wander gestalte who made beautiful artisanal wood structures in the hallway.
Most walls have been insulated using various types of ecological insulation which they display for educational purposes. They have used for example paper pulp, hemp fibre and other natural fibres. The indoor walls have been plastered with various types of clay plastering using natural colours. In other places they have made mosaics. They heat some of the rooms with beautifully built rocket stoves; a type of wood burning stove which is made for very efficient, high temperature burning and where the exhaust leads through a clay bench which gets really nice and warm. The big circus hall is heated with a mass oven. In other spaces they have small electrical heaters using heat pumps. They have one electrical shower and a solar shower. Some of the toilets are compost toilets in which pee and poop are separated. All waste is also separated and partly composted at Makvärket. They have a big give-away store for clothing and stuff they don’t need anymore. A part of the food they get from ‘dumpster diving’, which means they use good food that is wasted by stores or restaurants. Another part of the food is grown on their lands using permaculture principles, a project they which to extend in the future.
Working along radically different social values
While we are walking through the many different spaces and buildings, Carlos explains to me a bit about the values and ethic strived for in Makvärket. The collective has three main values which are about ‘doing it together’: allowing space for creative social solutions in the sense of moving away from individualism which has the overhand in society today. Another value is equality which they strive after both in their organisational structure as well as decision making process. All decisions are taken with consensus. See the image below for an explanation of how their process of decision-making takes place. The organisational structure is twofold. There is a collective of members with a long-term relationship to the project. They meet monthly for a Plenum in which they decide on more long-term issues. Within this collective there are several working groups who get authority to decide on issues within their area. There is for example a garden group and accounting group. For the daily decisions there is a ‘factory group’. This consists of all the volunteers and members present during that week. They have a weekly meeting to decide on activities needed to be done, based on decisions made by the Plenum. They also meet every morning to divide tasks and check in with each other.
At Makvärket they are trying to co-create a restorative system for dealing with conflicts, which are inevitable in places where people interact. They want to establish the space not only for dealing with conflicts, but learning from them, creating awareness and allowing mutual understanding. The system they have in place is feedback-informed and dynamic, in their own words creating conditions for justice for all. How it works in practice is through meetings, called circles, with the people involved in the conflict and a facilitator. After someone initiates the process (for whatever reason), pre-circles are organized in which the issue is analysed by hearing what has happened from all parties involved. Then a circle is organized to solve the conflict. Here the first steps are to listen to each other and understand one another, then to take responsibility for what has happened and finally come with a plan of actions. The circle can decide if they feel there is the need for post-circles to reflect after some time on the solution for the conflict and possibly amend it a little.
Besides the long-term renovation plans and social vision, there is a lot going on in Makvärket on a daily basis. They invite circus groups for performances, host parties, have much studio space and workshops for temporary artists to come and work and they host a monthly diner table in their restaurant. Many volunteers come from all over the world to contribute to the project.
Because of the unique organisation, Makvärket offers space for creativity and alternatives that do not regularly have a space in the capitalist system. Although the structure has meant that during the ten years of the initiatives only small parts of the factory have been fully renovated and much work is still to be done, it is a very inspirational initiative. They have managed to create space to experiment with social structures, which will also be needed besides the sustainable solutions for energy and food. On top of this, they enable people with different professions to work in the shared workshops and studios. It would be interesting to study more in-depth how successful their non-hierarchical, transparent organisational structure works in practice and is experienced by the participants.
Read more about Makvärket, apply as a volunteer or donate something here: https://makvaerket.wordpress.com