Update on construction, organization, finances

I started working on the Foundry in March 2018, driven by a desire to detach from certain institutional confines and increase self-reliability, but also by the conviction that the systems that govern the world are structurally unable to solve some of the problems the world faces (climate change, growing inequality) and that there is a need for spaces that exist outside the confines of market and university. My hope is that the criticality that is increasingly relegated to the margins of the artistic and academic establishment is nurtured in these spaces that exist in a position of relative exteriority – spaces that Foucault might have called heterotopia.

In the beginning, the circumstances at the Foundry were far from hospitable. It was cold and wet, we had no hot water or electricity, and if you wanted to use the toilet, you had to dig a hole. But much has changed since then, and now we have a fully equipped restaurant kitchen, six bathrooms, a garden for herbs and vegetables, and by late October we should have eleven finished bedrooms. Much remains to be done: walls need to be pointed; a lot of the wood needs to be treated; there’s some areas that have not been made inhabitable yet; at some point, we want to make a large theater / cinema space in the worst part of the big house (on a floor that currently has a five degree inclination); and we could use some more furniture. But the work of the circa 100 people that have visited and helped out since 2018 has transformed what was once an aristocratic manorhouse into a form of what Kristin Ross might call communal luxury.

In August 2019, we had our first event: a one week workshop called Thinking Figuratively. This was a test run of sorts: the call was not widely circulated and there were few participants, but the discussions were lively, and next year we might do another round. Other events that are being planned for next year are a workshop on artificial intelligence and one on collaboration in contemporary classical music (both were originally planned for this year), and I myself am trying to set up a research project on the history of iron in the region (ironworks were contentious sites for their often unsustainable exploitation of firewood; the question “to whom does the forest belong?” was already being posed in the 18th century, indicating a point where green politics and class struggle intersect long before Marx was born and the concept of ecology was invented). None of these events are fixed yet, and we are open to other suggestions; people can also propose events here.

Until now, the project has been funded by a felicitous bitcoin investment, but that money is quickly running out, and now that the space is comfortable to live in, we need to think of other ways to make the Foundry financially sustainable. We have avoided structural funding as it might jeopardize our independence and increase the bureaucratic workload: nobody likes to be evaluated. But we also hope that a project like this can do without a fixed budget, as the operating costs are relatively low: we have no staff, the car costs maybe 150 euros a month (insurance, repairs, fines), electricity around 100 euros, gas for heating 50 euros, insurance, taxes, repairs… around 500 euros a month should cut it. If we take 10 euros per night for accommodation, we can cover our expenses with only two paying guests, which seems a realistic aim. Of course, there are further renovations we could start working on if we get more guests (or volunteers), and as I would like to be able to keep working on the project without getting another job, at some point I might need a subsistence salary, possibly in the form of rent. But if the space is used, modest accommodation fees should be able to cover our expenses.

So next year we will start charging accommodation fees. The question is what those fees will include, as this year the organization of expenses for food turned out to be unexpectedly difficult: there were lengthy discussions over how many euros per day people should chip in if we share groceries, and about what groceries should be included (do alcohol, meat and chocolate go in the shared budget if some don’t drink or eat meat?). To avoid these discussions in the future, I see two options: 1. people take care of their own food and can group together if they wish; 2. we take a flat fee (of maybe 15 euros) for accommodation and food that includes everything (even chocolate and cheap wine). I prefer the second option, but in the end this should probably be a communal decision.

There are some other ideas about funding the project: we could rent out the space for yoga retreats, music festivals, etc; we could take donations; we could set up a membership system (which has some legal advantages as well). And, while we have not pursued structural funding, people who organize something at the Foundry can apply for grants to support their project; I myself am trying to get funding for the iron investigation. If it works out we might set up a small iron workshop in 2020.

Later this year, we aim to set up an association, so that the Foundry becomes a legal entity with a bank account. How this entity will be governed is not clear yet, but the main aim is to manage the site in a more decentralized manner without losing track of the project’s initial aims. If someone want to be more actively engaged in this process, feel free to get in touch. Of course, in the end the project is not shaped by legal structures or lofty ideas, but by the work that is being done on the ground, whether this is the work of organizing, of gardening, or of construction. I would like to thank everyone who helped out until now for their support.

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