Convergence Festival and Collaborative Ways

Collaborative Ways Participatory Arts Project and Convergence, Galway’s Sustainable Living Festival

Collaborative Ways’ was established in 2015 as part of a participatory arts project between members of Third Space Arts Collective and local environmental group, Transition Galway, to engage the public with contemporary arts practices, in the form of a creative platform for collective conversations about transformative culture and the ecosystems of world we live in today.

Recognising the need for an urgent and deep cultural shift and move towards a more equitable and sustainable way of life, Third Space Curator Martina Finn, local artists Kevin Flanaghan and Tom Stewart and members of a local environmental group Transition Galway, Kieran Cunnane and Caoimhin O Maollaigh, developed an interdisciplinary arts and sustainable community forum,  to host a number of community cultural conversations and to explore and act on the potentials of the cooperative and solidarity economy in making the transition to a post capitalist and low carbon Galway.

The aim was to identify possible solutions and practical first steps in embracing the transition to a more sustainable culture and way of life, address the issues of Climate Change, by beginning the process of bringing people together to collectively re-imagine and cocreating the next steps to a more sustainable carbon neutral future for Galway.

The Collaborative Ways project aimed to bring together Galway’s environmental and creative communities, activists, artists, cooperative-oriented groups and local support organisations, to make connections, present alternatives to the current system and identify possibilities for creative collaborations and collective action in Galway City and County.

Researching the many excellent national and international living examples of how large groups of people can progressively and effectively bring change to our ways of life and identifying Ireland’s rich history of  cooperative movements, for example agricultural cooperatives and the Irish League of Credit Unions, the group attended a number of events, including those by national environmental cooperative, Cultivate on Cooperatives and the Commons in the Cloughjordan Eco Village .

A co-operative is identified as an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise and are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

Combining this rich history within both the arts and community sectors, with the contemporary need for environmental sustainability, presented the Collaborative Ways initiative with an opportunity to research and build on the possibilities in this area for Galway; aiming to prepare for the challenges of climate change and creating a more sustainable local culture and resilient Galway.

In engaging the local community in how to reignite and bring this ethos and work to Galway, the Collaborative Ways group held a number of public cultural events throughout 2015 and invited a number of local  and national artists, cultural practitioners, cooperatives and community groups working collectively to create systems that actually reflect shared values and aspirations – that all life is intimately interconnected – and working towards building vibrant and resilient communities whilst honouring the rights of Nature.

Some of these events included the inaugural Collaborative Ways Forward meeting held in Galway City Museum Kitchen cafe July 2015, hosting our first public meeting on Open Cooperatives, Collectivity and the Commons.

IMG_4210Speakers at the meeting included Lucy Elvis Co Chair of 126 Artist-Run Gallery, Artist Kevin Flanagan of the P2P Foundation; Davie Phillip from Cloughjordan Ecovillage, Director Convergence, Sustainable Living Festival and who manages the Community Resilience Programme at Cultivate Living and Learning; members of the Limerick Community Grocery Bill Kelly and Deirdre Mac Mahon; Kieran Cunnane of Transition Galway; John Lonnegan, member of the Renewable Energy Co-Operative from County Tipperary and Pauline Leonard of the Western Development Commission.


As a follow-up from the successful inaugural Collaborative Ways Forward event, another community gathering was arranged, in the form of a Potlatch Picnic in Woodquay Park on July 25th, where people were invited to share in a meal and conversation, exploring Cooperatives and the local Solidarity Economy and cohosted with artist, Kevin Flaghan

In August, members of Third Space and Collaborative Ways Forward were invited to participate in ‘The Art of Commoning’ Summer School, a shared inquiry for a 3-day gathering, hosted by P2P Foundation, Cultivate and The Art of Hosting in the Eco-Village Cloughjordan.

Recognising the many roads that lead to the commons: the collaborative economy, open culture, technology and knowledge sharing, shared meaning-making, protecting biodiversity, seed saving, our natural resources, and more… the Summer School was grounded in the actual practice of collaboration and finding synergies.

“As “commoners” we practice engaging with others to create impact that lasts longer and is more sustainable than anything we can accomplish on our own. Together we maintain and govern the infrastructures that benefit the public as a whole and beyond…

The core of our inquiry centres on the following questions:

• What becomes possible when we harness our collective capacity in service of the commons?”

In September a public outdoor ‘Coop Culure’ event was held in Woodquay as part of Culture Night in Galway City  during which we worked with artist Seoidin O’Sullivan’s art work ‘Seating System’  as part of the Third Space participatory arts programme, ‘to develop creative activity and opportunity in a public context, enabling citizens to participate in and become co-creators of their cultures and communities, whilst addressing current social, environmental and economic challenges’.

Coop Culture Night2015The aim of ‘Coop Cultures’ was ‘to actively explore and celebrate the intersection of the arts and cultural ecologies of the city in a creative space of public assembly and exchange, fostering a belief that through creative and critical engagement and opportunity people are inspired and enabled to become active co-creators of their culture and society’.

Utilising artist Seoidin O’Sullivan’s ‘Seating System’ to act as a central public platform and interactive site for this performative and d­­iscursive event and ‘create a space for commoning, creating a space of empowerment and possibility’, we aimed to bring together both arts and non arts groups, and to manifest and test the site in its potential for participation and engagement.

Seoidin O’Sullivan – Lumen

We were then invited to initiate Galway’s Sustainable Living Festival as part of the  nationwide Convergence in October 2015, organised by Cultivate and hosted in Galway by Third Space and Collaborative Ways, offering the opportunity to develop a number of community and cultural conversations,  inviting local networks, artists and collaborators to meet, in identifying the next steps needed in embracing the local transition to a more cooperative carbon neutral and renewable energy future, while also placing our conversations within the wider national and international context of developments in this area.

Local Inspiration in this area, came from the work of the Aran Islands Community Cooperative/ Comharchuman Fuinnimh Oileáin Árann Teo, who are half way through an ambitious ten year plan to make the Arann Islands  carbon neutral by the year 2022 and partners in  furthering a sustainable vision for Galway. This work was highlighted in an Irish Times Article in July 30th 2015, following a visit to the Islands by Minister Alex White, which outlined how ‘a combination of insulation, electric vehicles, heat pumps and wind generation could make the islands entirely “energy independent” by 2022. Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) chief executive Brian Motherway highlighted… ‘where already improved insulation and efficient heating systems have cut energy bills by about €250,000 annually’ and which ‘could provide a national and international template for self-sufficiency, Minister Alex White acknowledged, during his visit there in July, where he paid tribute to the “leadership and inspiration” provided by the islanders themselves.

Irish Times – Aran Islands could be carbon neutral by 2022

The first Galway Cooperative Convergence event ‘Transformative Power and Community Energy’ taking place on 20th October, hosted Dara Molly from the Aran Islands Cooperative, inviting him to speak and share with the local Galway audience on the inspiring work and aspirations of the Aran community and the future of the Aran Island Cooperatives, and its influence elsewhere as a Project identified by Minister Alex White as a model for the rest of the Country to emulate.  Dara Molloy spoke of the importance of  both inner and outer transformation and of Community and a sense of place, and the long tradition of renewable and sustainable energy on the islands and of their community’s aspiration to become self-sufficient in meeting the local and global challenges of  living on local sources of renewable energy. Given that fuel costs on the islands are the most expensive in country, ensuring security of supply and local ownership is ‘empowering ourselves in every sense of the word’

Museum guestsEimhim Shortt spoke of the development of the The Birr Community Growery 2020 project, an initiative based on principles of local self sufficiency, collaboration, cooperation and building local and national partnership. He highlighted the importance and success of this initiative in their area growing from an initial ¼ acre plot, to 10 acres in just a few years, due to the overwhelming positive response and success in securing local engagement along with funding from The Plunkett Foundation and others.

The Birr Community Growery provides a model of a food commons, community self sufficiency and community energy in a world where Eimhin highlighted ‘the lack of affordable healthy food means people are priced out of health’. He believes that there is no future in cost competition on international markets, but instead the way forward lies in agroecological approaches, especially those integrating Iocal approaches. He closed by referring to the traditional Brehon duty of care for the land.

ListeningMuseum CEO Eithne Verling was invited to speak of her current work in the development of the Galway City and County Cultural Strategy 2025, based on Culture 21 the UN Agenda 21 for Culture recommendations, highlighting the role of Culture in sustainable development in their policies and programmes. ‘Agenda21 was approved in 2004 by cities and local governments from all over the world to enshrine their commitment to human rights, cultural diversity, sustainability, participatory democracy and creating conditions for peace.’

Culture 21 – Mission

Highlighting the links between Culture and Sustainability and ongoing local community group consultations to develop this work, the strategy will move to implementing suggested Cultural Actions in early 2016. Galway is now part of the Pilot Cities program, with 11 cities engaging in a peer-to-peer learning network, with expert advice, and extensive consultation, to develop practical grounded implementations. Eithne spoke on the need to develop scalable models for commons spaces, whether of a small scale appropriate to a village to larger urban hubs. These models require processes to bring various interests together to share space and resources, to be supplemented by a mosaic of funding streams.

PostItsAlso as part of the Sustainable Living Festival in 2015 we hosted a day long event ‘Emerging Futures’ that invited specific sectors and participation from everyone in Galway committed to creating a more equitable and sustainable future and culture and invited diverse perspectives and contributions from young people, students, grassroots, arts and cultural activists, environmentalists,  SME’s, local institutions,  government and community networks and included guest speakers who shared insights and inspiration from local community and cultural projects such as the Community Workers Coop, An Meitheal Rothar, Galway City Community Network,  Third Space Galway, GMIT, Transition Galway, Leaf and Root CSF, One World Centre, G126, Artspace, LARC, artists Nuala Ni Flathuin and Bernadette Divilly  amongst others.

Addressing the question – ‘How can Galway embrace more participatory co-operative opportunities and approaches in support of the transition to a more equitable and sustainable way of life?, the ‘Emerging Futures’ event took the form of a participatory ideas workshop exploring transformative processes, civic and cultural agency and local change making processes, where members of the public were invited to join in identifying future local actions.

Arising from these events, a number of areas were identified in order to take the necessary next steps in addressing the immediate local and global challenges in embracing a cooperative and carbon neutral future.

MayorConvergence Festival 2015

Emerging Futures – Convergence 2015 event – Galway City Mayor Frank Fahy discusses the issues

Following the inspirational talk by Dara Ó Maoildhia from The Aran Community Energy co-op, which he highlighted is run by volunteers, and is committed to ensuring that there is stakeholder involvement and affiliated to Energy Co-operatives Ireland (ECI) ( which also has co-ops in Mayo, Longford, Dublin and Kerry ) a Galway Community Energy Coop is also now being planned. Energy Cooperative Ireland  Chief Executive Cormac Walsh and Mr Ó Maoildhia stress that such energy co-ops created jobs, while empowering communities to take control of their own energy use.

During our Community discussions a number of other areas were highlighted for development, aimed at addressing deficits in the lack of meeting space and opportunities for skill sharing and collective gatherings such as a Cultural Sustainable Living Centre for Galway. It was agreed we needed to develop the possibilities in these areas for Galway City and County, by locating a suitable site as a living demonstration, leadership, arts and education project and create the necessary community and institutional partnerships in order to develop a Cultural Sustainable Living and Educational Centre in Galway.


Prinzessinnengarten in Berlin, a community garden run by a committee of 10 or 12 people who offer workshops on growing and spaces for tool and bike repair. Photograph: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images

This project would work to facilitate the development of the identified collective vision for a local carbon neutral research and demonstration project for Galway incorporating community arts, sustainable educational and energy and new technology demonstration projects, exploring community renewable energy and food sovereignty, community supported agriculture self sufficiency projects and Community Resilience.

As we adopt behaviors that increase everyday ecological awareness and reduce our “carbon footprint”, it was agreed equally important as the outer is the inner transformation and how we must also foster a culture of mindful living and care for our environment and ourselves and our fellow human beings. It is acknowledged that by developing and nurturing relationships and Mindful Living conditions for co- creation and caring, we can also help people connect with and address the bigger challenges that face our environment and communities at the local, national, global levels.

In addition to the community’s sustainable, environmental and creative use of the Sustainable Centre it was suggested, could also act as a rich community and cultural learning context, providing an outlet for people of all ages and abilities, including diverse members of our communities, minority, young people, old and the marginalized and those with special needs, offering a space for ongoing community development, collaboration and co-creation.

Most social and ecological innovators agree that the most fundamental criterion for all our political, social and economic reform is re-localisation. This means bringing governance & decision-making, livelihoods & businesses, food & energy production, water, waste & biodiversity management back to a locally directed and a bio-regionally sustainable level. Through these practical collective efforts, as exemplified by the Transition Town movement, we wish to build vibrant local economy and resilient communities… identifying how in Iceland, Ecuador and Costa Rica, Denmark and elsewhere, we now have living examples of how large groups of people and governments can progressively and effectively change our ways and culture to create systems that actually reflect our values and aspirations for a more equitable and sustainable future.

As part of the Cooperative Convergence Galway City Partnership also hosted a half day workshop entitled “Beyond Grants- Funding your social Enterprise” on 20th October. Its aim was to provide information and practical examples of funding streams for social enterprises of various sizes.  Many social enterprises depend on government grants for their core or indeed entire funding. This workshop explored the role of tendering for organisations and companies of all sizes and outlined the process and also the practical experiences of public procurement. There was input from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland on available supports they provide, practical experiences of a community group on European Funding and an established Social Enterprise which has multiple strands of funding.  Speakers included: Tony Corrigan Tenderscout , Tracey Hannon Clann Credo, Charlotte May- Simera Irish Research Council Scholar, Michael Smyth – Ballybane Enterprise centre , Sara Dennady Social Entrepreneurs Ireland , Alma Gallagher Clar IRD. The workshop had an attendance in excess of 60 and feedback was very positive. As a result of the feedback Galway City Partnership have designed and are currently rolling out a 8 week half day per week course entitled Start a Social Enterprise. Galway City Partnership employ a part time Social Enterprise Officer, Margaret Leahy who can be contacted at 091 773466

Post Climate March CommonsIMAGEAs a Closing event in 2015, Third Space curator Martina Finn and the Collaborative Ways team hosted a post Climate March Commons gathering in the Tulca process room again utilising the art work of Seoidin O’ Sullivan and architect, Karl O Mahony, Seating System which was a part of the festival and marked a closing event for ‘Seachange’ Tulca Festival of Visual Art 2015.

Further info:

Sponsorship for these events included funding from Galway County Council, Galway City Council, Galway City Community Network, Galway City Partnership, Community Knowledge Initiative NUIG, Cultivate, Sheridan’s Cheese, Foley’s Hop House, Mc Cambridges, High St Cafe, Petit Delice, Gourmet Tarts and member organisations Third Space, Transition Galway,

Collaborative Ways is an ongoing transdisciplinary arts, ecology and commons platform, initiative by members of Third Space, Martina Finn, Transition Galway, Kieran Cunnane and Caoimhin O Maolallaigh, An Ait Eile. Tom Stewart and the P2P Foundation member and local artist, Kevin Flanagan, to explore and act on the potentials of the cooperative and solidarity economy in Galway by bringing together Galway’s creative communities, activists, artists, cooperative- oriented groups and local support organisations, to make connections, present alternatives to the current system and identify possibilities for creative collaborations and collective action through Co-operatives and the Commons

Third Space, is an artist led research, participatory arts and discursive platform that promotes the vital role of art and culture in the creation of place and community life, through socially and politically engaged collaborative arts practices. With an objective to foster and cultivate a deeper awareness of the benefits of creative thinking in relation to all aspects of contemporary life and culture, Third Space aims to actively demonstrate the benefits and needs of the cultural practitioner to be embedded in a local development context. Through a thought provoking programme of discursive events, community projects, film screenings and workshops, Third Space, aims to offer a contrast to traditional gallery practices or ‘white cube’, by presenting community-based arts engagement in a centrally located community arts hub and resource centre.

Serving as a locus within the community, Third Space aims to develop and deliver tangible local cultural and community benefits in partnership with local communities and stakeholders and harness the potential of collaborative/ or socially engaged arts to dynamically re-activate, re-imagine and re-invigorate the city and county. Third Space Curator Martina Finn is co-founder of the Collaborative Ways Forward (CWF) Initiative.

Transition Galway is a community group, aiming to prepare for the challenges of diminishing oil and gas supplies and climate change, creating a more sustainable, resilient Galway.