MediaLab Prado is, more than a facility, it is a unique relational space, now threatened. Physically located in Madrid, in Plaza de las Letras, next to Paseo del Prado, in the building of the former Serrería Belga it depends on Madrid’s City Council. Since its creation in 2000, it has been a citizen laboratory for interdisciplinary production and research for culture, art, science and technology with a collaborative approach through open laboratories, working groups, calls and learning communities.
femProcomuns hasn’t collaborated directly with MediaLab (some of our members have) but we feel that we are nodes of the same network and we want to especially highlight its Laboratory of the commons, which began its activity in 2007 and has been the seed of thought, projects and actions that have gone beyond those who have been able to be part of it. To understand it (and thus understand a little of what MediaLab Prado can hold) we borrow part of a text written by Antonio Lafuente in 2008 referring to it:
“In short, a laboratory serves to make visible hidden (or blurred) aspects of reality, as well as to bring together scattered fragments of the environment, which explains why many anthropologists or sociologists claim that in practice a laboratory creates reality. And so it is not surprising that reality can be seen as a laboratory or that the laboratory can be seen as a place of production and reproduction of reality. Or, in short, that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish where the laboratory begins and ends, or what its boundaries are. So much so that to speak of a laboratory without walls does not imply betting on something non-existent or ultimate, but rather recognizing the difficulty of drawing the dividing line between the inside and the outside of what (there) happens.
“The commons is then created and recreated, connected and reconnected: it is born from the interaction between those concerned who miss something that is being denied to them and that they took for granted, inherited or inalienable. The commons is a state of emergency (unpredictable and urgent), it arises from the empowerment of those affected who claim threatened or destroyed rights. The commons redeems the public from its condition of subjects/consumers and fragments society into communities resistant to reality. There is no commons without community: making it visible is the work of the laboratory.”
MediaLab Prado is now at risk. There is uncertainty about what Madrid’s City Council will do with it. On the one hand this alerts us and leads us to reflect on the need to build relational, productive and reproductive spaces of the commons that have autonomy from the public administration (and of course from the market). The threat has led to mobilisations by those who have participated in some activity or have been supported or influenced by MediaLab Prado are using the hashtag #SaveTheLab to share their stories on social media, claiming that we are and entire network who are and make the lab. The movement is promoted by the website WeAreTheLab.org which invites everyone to sign a manifesto in its defence. More than 5000 people have already signed it and we reproduce it below.
Building Medialab Together
Since its opening more than a decade ago, a large number of people and groups have been an active part of Medialab Prado (MLP). MLP is a public centre for cultural, social and civic innovation that depends from the Madrid City Council’s Department of Culture. It is an unusual and innovative cultural centre focused on encouraging and facilitating experimentation and participation in line with its position as a public institution open to citizens.
Its programmes and activities promote collaboration between all kinds of agents: neighbours, civil society, companies, research centres and universities, as well as other institutions. All these agents form a large community that has been involved in MLP in occasional or ongoing projects, making it a place where many people come to propose ideas, develop projects collectively, and interact with each other.
All this has made of MLP a pioneering centre, with an important international recognition, thanks to its commitment to free culture, the social uses of technologies, collaborative practices, work with communities and citizen innovation.
The departure of Marcos García as director of MLP, and the lack of any communication regarding what his departure might mean for the continuity of the centre, have generated deep concern in the community. We fear that the very future of such a carefully constructed project as MLP is at stake. Therefore, before any further developments affect the centre in a structural way, we call on the Madrid City Council:
- to communicate publicly and transparently its plans for the immediate future of MLP, starting with the administrative procedure for the designation of a new management and the destination of its current headquarters, in compliance with the criteria for best practice set by the City Council itself;
- to warrant the continuity of MLP’s project and that the lines of work and the values of cultural innovation and citizen participation that have so far proven to be successful, and which have been replicated, adapted and recognised by other institutions around the world, will be maintained;
- to take advantage of the current moment of change to open a process of dialogue with the MLP community, seeking their involvement in the future of the institution.
If you also feel part of the MLP community, if you agree with the defence of this public space, support it by signing this manifesto.