Some rough notes after Hack The Barbican #htb2013

These are rough, not even half-baked thoughts on the Monday after the month before. Like anything not properly cooked through, munching on them quickly or unconsciously may give you a tummy-ache. Take it (and my mixed metaphors) with a pinch of salt. I reserve the right to change my mind about all of this later on etc.

It’s done, we did it and now it’s done

  • This is the really cool thing – we, a rag-tag bunch who barely knew each other a few months ago, ran a fringe-like festival, largely without pay and largely without experience of doing something on this scale before, we did it and nothing bad happened, the building didn’t collapse, the fountains weren’t running with blood. There were many times when I thought that it just wasn’t going to happen or else it was going to be really shit. It happened and it wasn’t shit.
  • I learned a lot, not just in the August “live” period (where basically I’ve talked through and smoothed the corners off a new business model for people like me) but also in the five months that I was involved in this. I learned about me, I learned about how I work with other people, I learned about how other people work. There were times when everyone said I was wrong but I was right. There were times when I said everyone else was wrong and it was me that was wrong.

It was big

  • The scale thing was important. We had people who’d been involved in self-organising events before, but we hadn’t done anything in a space this size, open 14 hours a day, every day for 26 days. We had people who’d been involved in large tightly-scheduled cultural festivals, but for a weekend or maybe a week at most.
  • But a month really felt like it skipped by in a few moments. Not forgetting that it also felt like a long time, a really long time, especially about a third of the way in.
  • There was no way that anyone could have seen everything, but I don’t think anyone went unseen. It was a long time and it was a big space, so my experience is extremely partial. Take that into account whenever you read anyone writing about this thing, they’re most likely only able to talk about a tiny fraction of the whole.
  • It’s a big space, but as far as sound is concerned it’s just one space.

I don’t live in E-whatever

  • When we did the prototype weekend in April, Nathan did an ice-breaker getting people to group around where they live in relation to the Barbican. I was the only one in the South West quadrant.
  • I live in SW18. I’ve lived there for a year now. Before I went on the road for a year, I lived in SW6. Before that, SW1 and I lived in Epsom for 15 years. I’m a south-west London person, that’s where I live, but I’ve let myself be drawn of late to the seemingly exciting things happening to the north and east of me.
  • It’s exciting, but it’s all a long way away. If I lived in a city with poorer public transport, I think I’d have focused more locally. My big takeaway from being involved in this (by trying to show up as much as possible in EC1) was “stop pretending you live in East London, go and do something like this in SW18”

About the ‘H’ word

  • If the event failed to meet expectations that I had (aside from the fact that having expectations is silly and rarely satisfying) then it’s the extent to which we tackled really “Hacking” the Barbican. We did lots of stuff that’s never been done in the public spaces before and we brought people in who rarely if ever go there, but this didn’t feel too “hacky” to me.
  • The origins of this are in the conversation we had early on when we decided to call it “Hack the Barbican” – yes, *we* decided, it wasn’t part of a brief from the Barbican, it was something we came to ourselves. I think the Barbican broadly got what they wanted – interesting stuff happening there that brought more people in than you’d normally get in August with both the hall and theatre dark.
  • I think we learned a lot and could do better next time on what hacking a space (and hacking *in* a space) means.
  • My view is that it would require a different relationship with those who manage the space though. I think the flavour of the event overall was determined by the way we related to the technical staff at the Barbican who are used to having much more say over what happens there than we were expecting to have to deal with. We met them half-way I think, we stretched them and they stretched us.
  • So in developing the idea of prototyping institution-hacks like this I would like to see what happens with two different approaches.
  • Firstly, how would you hack the Barbican (or some similar institution) without *any* formal co-operation beforehand from the institution itself? I mean, we just agree amongst ourselves that over some period of time we’re going to transform a space, look at ways of representing it online and play with the relationships people have with the institution without any permission other than that normally granted to the public – if we get permission to do new stuff it’s as a result of building relationships that weren’t there already not because we’re “part of that group”.
  • The alternative is to really get into bed with the institution. In this case, it feels a bit more like a consulting gig. If we had a really formal agreement with them, a contractual relationship where the value to the organisation was acknowledged and paid for, then what would we do? What would we lose and what would we be able to do that might be even more valuable? Bringing a hacker mentality to strategy, personal productivy and long-term problem-solving including a long-hard look at the data they couldn’t share because of commercial sensitivities, anyone up for that?

The most important point: I met and worked with some really cool and interesting people. This of course is the big win, we’ve sown the seeds of community and whether or not this event happens again, we’re all much stronger for it.

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