On Site Projects

community, ecology and cultural activism

If the city were a commons

An alternative arts development programme

Dundee Live and Scottish Dance Theatre, 2011.

Dundee Live, with Scottish Dance Theatre, 2011

If the City were a Commons was an alternative arts development programme exploring Dundee as a cultural commons. We asked, what would Dundee look like, taste like, sound like, feel like, and smell like if the city were a commons? And how would artists and other individuals and collectives live their lives, hone their skills and develop social and ecological practices for a sustainable future?

Through a series of fortnightly gatherings, artists talks, workshops, field trips, residencies, and reading groups, If the City were a Commons offered the provocation that the city was a commons.

Exploring the relationship between arts education and urban development the programme provided a year-long peer-education programme to share, renew and develop individual and collective art practices in response to Dundee.

Our final response to the initial provocation was a week-long festival called Dundee Commons Festival.

The following information acts as an archival trace of the initial programme.

On Site Projects, If the City were a Commons, Dundee Commoners, 2015

Some of the regular Dundee Commons folk out and about exploring the Dundee Commons, 2014

WHEN: Commencing on 30th September 2014 and from thereon fortnightly between 7-10pm.

WHERE: Roseangle Arts Cafe, 132 Perth Road, DD1 4JW.

NOTE: The venue and regularity of meetings are subject to change. Please see below for updates and programme details.

Programme (developed in conversation with participants):


July 21st: In response to a number of issues arising from the Dundee Commons Festival – but specifically Kate Clayton’s proposal for Silvery Tay Haired Women – we’ll be discussing the ethics of corporate sponsorship and product placement in relation to the arts. We’ll also be considering tagging as a form of counter-branding. For background viewing see 1, 2. We’ll also take a trip to see the hoardings that run from Magdalen Playpark towards Dundee Science Centre.

July 7th: Tonight we’ll be exploring commons travel, community gardens and labyrinths. We’ll meet at Roseangle Cafe Arts before heading out to Ninewells Community Garden – on bike, bus and in Karen and Donald Spy’s Commons Camper Van. We’ll have a tour of Ninewells Community Garden led Sarah Griffiths. And we’ll then visit the Maggie Centre’s labyrinth to reflect on the final day of Dundee Commons Festival.

June 23rd: Tonight we’ll be working with Roundabout Collective to explore dance as a commons and to hear more about their proposal for the Dundee Commons Festival.

June 9th: Making the most of the lighter evenings we’ll be meeting at Roseangle Arts Cafe before stepping out into Magdalen Green – Dundee’s historic commons. This week we’ll be discussing two texts in the common air: an interview with Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides and a chapter from Lucy Lippard’s Lure of the Local. (For copies of the latter please email JB.) If you’re running late you’ll find us on Magdalen Green or in the bandstand.

May 26th: Today we’ll be developing the festival programme through the practice of walking and mapping. We’ll join Tina Scopa on her proposed festival walk. We’ll then join Joanna Foster in a visual mapping of the programme to date. To reflect on these activities Robert Smithson’s Theory of Non-Sites is recommended reading.

May 12th: The deadline for Commons proposals are due this week! We’ll be thinking about JB’s concept of Commons Curation and we’ll be discussing a text by Maria Lind. (If you’re not on the mailing list and you’d like a copy of the text please send JB an email.) We’ll also be discussing the recent election and watching Welfare Cuts: Impact and Action in Our Community – a video commissioned by one of our Commons partners.

April 28th: This week we’ll be discussing the Dundee Commons Festival, establishing dates and hearing suggestions for the programme.

April 14th: Reading week

March 31st: In this workshop Caroline Gausden (a PhD researcher at Gray’s School of Art) will consider feminist responses to the commons. We’ll be looking at two projects initiated by artists within the field of social practice. The Sick Sick Sick Readers project initiated by Glasgow based Emma Balkind and Laura Edbrook. And the online Women’s Audio Archive initiated by Marysia Lewandowska which approaches the concept of a commons through the question of missing and repressed histories. By exploring these projects the workshop will approach other narratives of missing histories that can feed into new imaginings of the commons.

17th March: Off site reading week and proposal development. A useful starting point might be Daphne Dragona’s Artists as Commoners in the Years of Indebtedness.

3rd March: This week we’ll be hearing about three age-related proposals for the Dundee Commons Festival – from Kate Clayton, Neil Crutchley and Owen Daily. We’ll watch Andy Wightman’s Conquest, Colonialism and the Commons and join Jeannette Ginslov in some movement research to help develop her own Dundee Commons Festival proposal.

17th February: This week Joanna Foster will lead a workshop entitled, ‘Opening Up the City through Story and Song’. This will, in Joanna’s words, ‘provide a gathering and harvesting to help us think collectively about stories in the city and the way we journey through story and song’. Please bring a story or song to share. A story can be anything – an experience of your own that relates to Dundee, a story or song you know about Dundee, or perhaps your own vision for the city.

3rd February: In part one we’ll be reading and discussing two texts, Klein’s Reclaim the Commons and Sennett’s Open City. In part two we’ll be discussing out proposals for the Dundee Commons Festival.

20th January: ‘If the City were a Commons I would …’ A post-holiday catch-up and planning session for 2015 plus a community screening of ‘The Great Tay Road Bridge Mystery’ – a documentary exploring the historical background to Dundee’s ongoing waterfront development.


9th December: Reflecting on discussions to date, this week we’ll be co-devising the 2015 programme. This session will be framed by three questions: how big is here? how long is now? who is here now? (Download David Hayley’s article for a discussion of these ‘ennobling questions’.)

CHANGE OF SCHEDULE – SATURDAY 6th December 11am – 4pm: Karen Spy, Jonathan Baxter, Gerry O’Brien, and Tom Wallace will explore the related themes of ‘home’ and ‘education’ as they relate to the commons and contemporary art practices. We’ll be meeting at ‘The College of Self-Disruption’, 12 Gourley Yard, Dundee.

11th November: Gemma Lawrence will introduce her work with Creative Carbon Scotland and explore the relationship between participatory art practices and sustainable development. Gemma’s talk will be followed by a workshop exploring participatory decision-making and asset mapping.

28th October: This week Ellie Harrison will introduce her art practice, discuss how it developed in response to climate change, and how this relates to her understanding of the commons. We’ll then visit GENERATORprojects where Holly Keasey will give a talk about their latest exhibition, VIEW. Holly will also ask us to consider whether Generator provides an artists’ commons in the city. (The after-talk sauna is optional. If you’re shy please bring swimwear!)

14th October: One week in and we’re delighted that Tara Chaloner, Lesley Kamel, Duncan McLaren, James Murphy, and Gerry O’Brien will be introducing examples of artworks, philosophical concepts and community organising that shed light on the commons theme: expect PowerPoint artworks, Common Weal conversations, gossip about philosophers, insights relating to Paul Noble’s Hobson Newtown, and the line: ‘Petals, on a wet, black bough.’

30th September: Introduction to the programme and to one another – introduced by Jonathan Baxter.

If the City were a Commons is supported by The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and The Foyle Foundation as part of The Art of Living Dangerously, a year-long programme offered by Fleet Collective. If you’d like to learn more about that programme please contact Fleet Collective directly.












































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