From a study project to cultural start up. Building a local cultural project in Aarhus as an international.

The long story about Aarhus Makers.

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My name is Juan, I’m the co-founder of Aarhus Makers and I thought it would be a good idea to explain why are we here today.

We’re launching what we envision as a cultural platform to support Aarhus based Artists, Designers and Artisans to achieve their dreams of building a sustainable business by doing what they do best and feel most passionate about: creating culture.

So allow me to describe what we believe in:

Our Vision:

“To shape a cultural movement in Aarhus that connects creativity and community”

Our Mission:

“To expose the people of Aarhus to locally made art, craft and design through unmissable experiences.”

Who I am.

I’ll try to give you some background about who I am and where I come from. I’ll try to keep it as short as possible but I think it is important to describe my background as a way to describe why Aarhus Makers came about.

I was born in Spain in 1980.

I’m not a millennial, neither a baby boomer, I’m part of a generation that was born with the rise of personal computers but still played with tapes, records, walk-mans and what not. If you want to label this, I’ve been told my generation label is Xennials.

I come from a (broken) working class family from a working class environment in Madrid, Spain.

My parents got divorced when I was 6.

Right after, my mother decided to leave my father and her two children behind and start a new life. I didn’t talk to her for 16 years, in our re encounter we met regularly for a couple of weeks, she told me her reasons and explained why she never reached out. I found her explanations superficial and disappointing, detached from my own reality. I never talked to her again.

 Madrid skyline view. 2015. Juanjo Photography..

Madrid skyline view. 2015. Juanjo Photography..

I was raised by my grandparents (from my father’s side) and my father, although I would argue he didn’t raise me. Rather, I learned what not to do, how not to behave and what not to become thanks to him.

After the divorce my father started a downward spiral self-destruction process that lasted 10 years, until he passed away alone in his own living room. He was unhappy, sad and brutal with his two children.

My grandpa was a very bitter person that had worked since he was 7 years old. He lived the civil war and the post-war period in Madrid. He came from a background of misery and sadness. He never finished primary school and learned basic maths, reading and writing primarily thanks to a friend of his while he was working in a printing company carrying things up and down as an apprentice.

My grandma was the only source of true love and care at the core of my family. She was also the person that made art, cinema and literature available - bringing me to museums, galleries and emotional movies that my grandpa wouldn’t like to see. She was extremely religious (Catholic) and was disappointed when I told her I didn’t have any faith when I was 11.

Ironically, I was enrolled in Catholic schools my whole life.

When I was 23 I got an opportunity to leave Spain with a job offer. The first time I ever took a plane was to move to Dublin, Ireland.

It was an exhilarating, yet terrifying experience to leave Spain behind. I left a country that at the time primarily had produced for me almost exclusively bad memories, traumatic experiences and no prospects of a better future.

At the time I didn’t speak English, I didn’t have a career, I was still traumatized by many of the things I had experienced in my childhood and I just wanted a fresh start, a new beginning.

When I moved, I started to develop a new passion for photography and art, that I still cherish, practice and keep close to my heart today.

 One of my favorite places in Dublin. A hidden gem.

One of my favorite places in Dublin. A hidden gem.

I lived 9 wonderful years in Dublin, from 2004 and 2010 and then from 2013 to 2016. I worked extremely hard to make a career of my own, without a specific goal of just learning and finding a career path.

I learned to get things done, to deliver quality work in a limited period of time and to work in multinational environments with people with different belief systems, backgrounds and cultures. I learned how to get out of my comfort zone and keep the introvert in me hidden in a box.

In between those 9 years in Ireland, I lived in Lisbon, Portugal for another 3 years. Lisbon is one of the most fantastic cities in Europe, where food, people, weather and a charming yet decadent city with hundreds of years of history gave me the opportunity to further develop my photography. Here I was also able to increase my appetite for Art history, Contemporary art and general Western and Iberian history.

In 2016 I moved to Aarhus, my 4th city of residence after Madrid, Lisbon and Dublin. I moved to Denmark knowing the city and following Anne, the love of my life.

The first time I visited the city I visited ARoS, since then I’ve visited dozens of times.

When I moved to Denmark I decided to quit my previous job and come back to school living of my savings. I did so as I wanted to develop an Art related business of some sort, so for a year and a half I studied a Bachelor in Innovation & Entrepreneurship while I started to be more and more influenced by the Danish aesthetics, art and quality of design that this country and city have developed.

Since I left Spain in 2004 and I moved to Denmark I’ve traveled to 15 different countries and lived in 4.

For each visit my perspective about humanity was enriched.

In my travels I experienced new food, new people, new cultures and new art, an unbelievable amount of it.

The more museums, galleries, collectives and art related organisations I visited, the more art and design was exposed to, the more I realised that humanity can and must use art as a way to address what makes humans different from one another, but also, to address what unites us.

Creativity for the sake of creativity among people, for people and by people became an internal mantra.

Aarhus Makers. From a study project to start up.

Building a local cultural project in Aarhus as an international.

Camouflage

In June 2017 and after a fantastic year studying a Bachelor’s Degree in Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the Business Academy Aarhus, my friend, class mate and co-worker Dan and I started to develop what you know today as Aarhus Makers.

As I mentioned in my introduction I have a passion for arts in general and more specifically a true love for photography, a discipline that I have been practicing since 2004, when I moved to Ireland.

As a photographer I always wanted to be sustainable with a photography related business. Building a business of these characteristics on your own is a constant struggle that requires you to be a website owner, a blogger, a producer, a sales manager, an accountant, a marketer and wear 10 other hats in a regular basis.

In addition, all the activities required to make a successful business will eventually dilute a passion for creating quality {insert art discipline} work, that was my personal pain.

That was what I wanted to resolve.

At that time I had just finished a thorough research report around Platform Cooperatives, a new movement started in the United States circa 2014, but with strong roots in the traditional Cooperative organisational model that originated in Europe in the late 19th century. But I’m sure you are thinking, what on earth is a platform cooperative? Here is a brief definition:

“A platform cooperative is an employee-owned and operated business that typically runs its operations through a website or mobile app. The platform business model is based on exchange of goods and services between interdependent individuals or groups.” Source.

I got excited about the idea of implementing a new social business model in Denmark with a layer of technology but that could add a higher degree of participation from the people joining it. After all, Denmark is a fertile country to the long tradition of Cooperatives (andelsforeninger og -selskaber) so it seemed to be a good idea to build a venture with the same cooperative values and include the 21st century technological innovations.

I told Dan about the idea, at the time and as part of our studies we had two options: We could do our internship in a private company or we could start up our own company. I’m glad to say that we took the latter option and kicked off a long, laborious and exciting journey that is starting to show positive results a year later.

We started to map the city of Aarhus and as part of a photography project (Humans of Aarhus) I was running - and still progressing today - I got to meet Ole Jorgensen, who was working as Project Leader in Godsbanen at the time. During our interview one of the questions I asked about Godsbanen was in regards to the digitalisation of services, it soon became clear there were synergies between our concept (Aarhus Makers) and some of the projects Godsbanen wanted to develop. I mentioned this to him and I asked if I could come back two weeks later to pitch my idea. He agreed to that.

Our original product/prototype was to create a webshop to market artists, designers and artisans to the local community of Aarhus under the platform coop principles described earlier. We pitched the idea to Flemming Dybbol and Ole and they loved the community driven project we were trying to build. On behalf of Godsbanen they offered us to support the project and our activities through meeting spaces, social exposure in their networks and spaces to run event at Godsbanen facilities. Here is the sequence of events.

 Event at Godsbanen in October 2017.

Event at Godsbanen in October 2017.

  • In August 2017 we held our first informational event, around 20 people attended the meeting.

  • In August 2017 we got offered to present our project at the Platform Cooperative conference in New York, in November 2017. At the time we barely had an idea and a landing page.

  • In August and September we started to raise awareness and receive requests from local makers to know more about our project. We rapidly formed a community of 20 people.

  • In October 2017 we held our second informational meeting at Godsbanen. 70 people attended, our legs were trembling, we received a lot of feedback about the project.

  • In November 2017 we presented Aarhus Makers in New York, as a result of the conference we got involved more with the community of people driving this movement and Dan engaged with people heavily involved in the development of Blockchain technologies applied to marketplaces but not only.

  • In late November 2017 our team started to grow, Kate, Emma and Timi joined Aarhus Makers and we decided to run offline events to raise awareness about our makers and start monetising some of the work already done.

  • In February 2018 we held our first event, a pop up store at BART. Around 250-300 people visited the event.

  • April 2018. We held a 3rd informational meeting at BART were we talked about our (short) journey as a cultural start up to an audience of 20 people.

  • In April 2018 we held our first event at Godsbanen, we showcased not only craft but Art in two different areas for a whole day. Around 500 people passed by during the day.

  • In May 2018 we hosted an event to showcase social enterprises at BART, around 30 people attended the event.

  • In July 2018 we held our first event ever in Institut for X, the summer weather helped, we partnered with Pracownia Food Think Tank and Smaek, in order to bring new recipes, cocktails and craft to that side of the city. Around 200 people participated in the event.

  • In August 2018 we partnered with Mad & Marked to run a section of their festival, approximately 2000 people visited the event during the day.

  • The 21st September we partnered with Koopeartionen and hosted a talk around the future of work and workers, the event was sold out and around 70 people attended the event.

  • The first of October 2018 we launched our website.

Today we have built a network of partners and actors in the community of Aarhus that want to meet new local makers and create for the sake of creativity.

 Dan and I at The People’s Disruption, Platform Coops for Global Challenges minutes before we presented Aarhus Makers to an audience of Academics.

Dan and I at The People’s Disruption, Platform Coops for Global Challenges minutes before we presented Aarhus Makers to an audience of Academics.

We have 2 upcoming events that will be hosted in November and December, we have met with incredible people and amazing individuals along this journey and we expect 2019 to be an even more gratifying and rewarding experience, for the makers, for the people of Aarhus and for the cultural scene.

There is many people to thank here so I hope I don’t forget anyone.

Dan: for being there since the very beginning.

Timi, Emma, Kate, Jakub: For joining Aarhus Makers out of passion and love for what we do and for the countless amount of hours you have put into Aarhus Makers. You are incredible.

Jonas Iversen: For being a friend and a partner when we were just starting.

Flemming and Ole: For listening to us when we just had a small idea and idea.

To our Makers: For believing in this project.

To Erlend, Martin, Adrian, Dennis, David, Sarah, Mads, Lars for advising us about how to improve our positioning, our network and our overall project.

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If you are a maker or an actor in the Cultural Scene in Aarhus, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or if you prefer send us a quick message if you have any projects in mind. I’ll be happy to meet up for a coffee.