New Zealand

Common Space

Social art practices often bring ideas and practices to land that have been floating in the pre-public imagination, in experimental and playful ways. These practices include occupations of land and space.

Letting Space has been brokering space for non-commercial activities – particularly artistic experiments in New Zealand- since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. These spaces may be parks (pictured) or single shops or whole precincts such as when the Transitional Economic Zone of Aotearoa occupied a small cluster of shops and municipal streets for a festival to discuss alternative economic relationships between communities and land.

Sometimes there are longer term outcomes – such as the better maintenance of a park, or the creation of a permanent Free Store, or when skills are accumulated to achieve a community’s permanent occupation of a site.

The municipally-funded platform Urban Dream Brokerage has negotiated with private property owners to gain access to space for little or no payment for 120 artistic and community projects.

Common Space emerges from appropriation, and continues toward the practice of good governance. There is no commons without commoning. Commoning requires the “renegotiation of relationships through which everyday affairs, production and exchange are organised and developed” (Nightingale 2019)

Common space is distinguished from public space. Public space is a product of what Stavrides calls “a certain authority…. a condition under which control is being imparted, and conditions under which forms and habits are being explored…” Common space challenges dominant enclaves through processes and practices.

To maintain common space it is vital is that one enclave or type of elite (eg a property owner) is not simply replaced with another (eg art clique). To stay common the new users of common space continue to work to keep the site open.

The recommoning of land requires conscious group process and organisation as it turns the tide against the private enclosure of common land.

Sophia Jerram portrait
Sophia Jerram
Urban Curator
Partner: Letting Space
Sophia Jerram is the co-founder and co-director of Letting Space and the Urban Dream Brokerage public art platforms. She has been brokering land and space for non-commercial use for over ten years—gaining access to sites via artistic experimentation and is completing PhD Research at the Division of Landscape and Planning, Copenhagen University.
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