Posts with tag San Francisco

Business or Humanities?

One of the success stories of Stanford University, with it’s premises in Silicon Valley outside San Francisco (US), is, it’s said, to be its close relation to the businesses in Silicon Valley. It’s a symbiotic relationship. They nurture each other and many success business stories have started at Stanford; Google, Facebook, Instagram, Apple, Hewlett-Packard.

Leland Stanford, a Republican governor in the late 1800s and who made a fortune from Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads, and his wife decided to found a University in their late son’s name. Stanford University opened its doors in 1891 and the device was that the University should not become an ivory tower, but ”qualify students for personal success, and direct usefulness in life”.  From the start, the close relationship to private funding, corporate research funds, and venture capital for start-ups, first for innovations in radio and broadcast media to todays digital technology, has been a base for the University.

The story can be read in The New Yorker (April 30, 2012) and gives an interesting light on the success story behind business ideas developed at Stanford and the philosophy behind it. But also the dangers of such a focus on success and making money.

The campus life and the atmosphere at Stanford is described as open to ideas, easy going, ”people are willing to try things”, risk-taking, access to venture and risk capital, creative. But there are also questions raised if Stanford has the right balance between commerce and learning, between getting skills to make it and intellectual discovery for its own sake? Is corporate money stearing research priorities?

David Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, who has also taught for many years at Stanford, express his worries that students uncritically incorporate the possibilities of Silicon Valley, but it’s a lack of students devoted to the liberal arts and the idea of pure learning. The one and simple question stearing choices is: What will I get out of it?

The philosophy now promoted at Stanford is the ”interdisciplinary education” and getting students to become ”T-shaped”, that is they have depth in a particular field of study and breadth across multiple disciplines. Social skills are put forward and an effort is to put together students with different majors (engineering, business, medicine, science, design) to together solve real or abstract problems.

David Kelley, the founder of design firm IDEO, is also director of Institute fo Design at Stanford (d.school), and is driven by the mission to lift empathy in his students. He wants the students to learn to see the human side of the challenges posed in class and that way provoke creativity.

Still, fewer students get into liberal arts and humanities and many become, as said by a senior Miles Unterreiner, ”slaves to the dictates of a hoped-for future”. Students become instrumental and only get majors in subjects that lead to jobs, something also supported by Universities.

It’s an interesting development. Reading Steve Jobs story and listening to many of his talks, he puts two processes next to each other as crucial for his success: The development of technology and the liberal arts.

The post is based on the article in The New Yorker (April 30, 2012) ”Annals of higher education. Get rich U.There are no walls between Stanford and Silicon Valley. Should there be?” by Ken Auletta. The photo is from a TED talk on the web.

Read more from posts on IDEO, San Francisco, and the Arts from our visit in 2008 here and posts on other interesting US visits here. Read also here the report from Svenskt Näringsliv which last year promoted less money to humanity education in Sweden, a very criticized report.

 

25 juni, 2012

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Life Lessons: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs giving a speech at Stanford University on June 12, 2005, on his life lessons. Three stories from his life; the story of connecting the dots, love and loss, and about death.

Have a look at Steve Jobs speech here.

7 oktober, 2011

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Community Art Lab

On a café in San Francisco close to Union Square, in a rest between meetings with cultural organisations and Artists, the Artist Jörgen Svensson together with a few of us from Nätverkstan started a discussion on how Artistic competence could be an asset for city development. It was June 2008 and the European Commission were assigning the coming year as the year of creativity and innovation. The question intriguing us was: What boosts creativity? And how can an Artist’s competence be used in real life challenges, not only as an Artistic project, but as an asset for city developers? The project Community Art Lab took form.

The idea is simple: Put together people with different competencies to create a creative process which will enable new perspectives and ideas to form. This will become a resource for city development and innovative ideas. In this project we want to have local authorities, Artists, Art University and other expertise working together. The process is led by an Artist, and starts by the city authorities presenting a real challenge they are dealing with. All participants in the process are equally important for creativity to take form; the working method is to work in a genuine and long-term cooperation in a group of the different competencies, and through the process created catalyze ideas and find alternative solutions to challenges.

The project start with a five day Lab in the city with the partners involved. The starting point is the presentation by city authorities and where the invited group are seen as an asset to find alternative solutions and action plans. An intense five working days in a Lab-form starts. The process continues over time, between three to six months. A process leader leads the Lab and is a guide and mentor in the continuing work. The Lab-form is flexible and new competence and expertise can be added as the work proceeds.  Read more of the project in the outline: community-art-laboratory_090603.

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To read more of the study trip to San Francisco, look under Category with the same name. A quick look can be done on ”Thought on the road” and ”Public art and entrepreneurship” . The democracy project the South Bank Process in Göteborg, can be found on ”Transformation: from Warehouse to Cultural Center” and ”Democracy projects”. Read also about the Encatc Working Group ”Creative Entrepreneurship and Education”. Also read about the Artistic group Berlin, working with process as a method, and also the project Art and Politics in Västra Götaland.

4 juni, 2009

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Long Live Localism!

The Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) is a trade organization dedicated to supporting, nurturing and promoting independent retail bookselling in California. With over 500 members, including nearly 300 booksellers, the NCIBA has been an experienced provider of services for over two decades.

Hut Landon, Executive Director, walks us through the domains of – among others – George Lucas (passing by the Yoda-fountain) to their office in San Francisco. The association is led by a 15-person Bord of Directors, and their main task is to increase the sales for independent bookshops in northern California.

The competition from Internet selling has led to the fact that independent bookshops must be much more proactive in their way of marketing themselves. Localism has become a watchword; people must become aware of the importance of supporting their community stores, if they want a  lively and prosperous neighbourhood. To explain this to the customers, Landon and his staff has made the poster ”Eight great reasons to shop at locally-owned businesses” (http://www.nciba.com/dls/8-great-reasons.pdf), which is now available to all NCIBA-members.

Apart from this, the association also arranges the NCIBA Trade how, produces the Holiday Showcase (yearly catalogue which features new titles), sets together workshops with topics of concern to the members and prints a weekly regional bestseller list.

Landon makes it clear that NCIBA does not regard the big chains, like Borders and Barnes & Noble, as competition. Independent booksellers have something that the big stores may lack: great book-knowledge, devotion and close relations with their customers. Amazon though, constitutes a big threat. The future will tell if David will stand a chance against Goliath, in Californa as well as in Sweden.

Books Inc. in Van Ness St. Sheryl Cotleur, Buying Director, BookPassage Hut Landon, Executive Director, NCIBA Street of San Francisco City Lights Golden Gate Bridge Lilla Gilbrech Weinberger, Readers' Books, Sonoma Wall Painting in Castro Another one + flying books From Natverkstan - Marie & Karin

Written by Karin Lundgren and Marie Johansson, Managers at Natverkstan.

11 maj, 2009

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Independent Bookselling – Will it Survive?

Michael Tucker, president of Independent Booksellers, Books Inc., really believes that there is a future even for the smaller, independent bookstores. That is if they are willing and capable of adjusting to the fast changing conditions of today.

The reason for going to San Francisco, when Svensk Bokhandel decided to arrange a trip for Swedish booksellers, is that this area has met up the challenge from the Internet bookshopping. Books Inc., with 10 stores and more that 200 employees, serves as a shining example that independent bookselling can not only survive, but also prosper – even if they ”must dance among the elephants”. However, the elephants set the rules and the best you can do is being as flexible and innovative as possible.

Kitty Clark, manager at Books Inc., Vann Ness Ave., lets us in on her recipe for creating a successful bookstore: Focus on customer service – by engaged and trusted employees – make sure that the interior and selection appeal to your clientele, arrange author events, book clubs, book launch parties, seminars led by writers etc etc.

During our tour to four of Tuckers’s stores we could see exactly what she ment; they were all Books Inc. shops, but completely different. Neither orientation, nor design, looked the same in any of the places. It’s all about fitting into the context. Tucker also stressed the importence of events. Even if you have the most amazing store, you can not be sure that the books alone will stand the competition from the Internet commerce. You need something that makes you special, something the digital world lack. Above all, that’s eye to eye contact and interaction.

Can these advice be applicated to the Swedish independent book stores? Surely, the conditions are in many ways quite different, but here’s defenitely every reason to be inspired by the Book Inc., and the San Francicso way of finding ways to reinvent the traditional book shop.

Written by KarinLundgren and Marie Johansson, Managers at Natverkstan.

10 maj, 2009

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Web, technique and alternative thinking

Two days after the visit in the Apple store in Colorado to get help with a broken computer-battery, we got an e-mail in the inbox asking if we were happy with the service we got. A link to a website was provided, which in a few seconds directed us to a fill-in form on the web, where we easily could write down our opinion and send it back. As a customer you felt they were very interested in your opinion, in our case even though we never bought anything. We got the battery for free.

When Barack Obama, the Democratic Presidential Candidate, set together his campaign organization, it’s said he wanted it to be different than traditional ones. He wanted the organization to be ”buttoned up like a business” combined with a voter-friendly grass-root attitude. A look at the website of Barack Obama shows that you can contact him, or the campaign organization, through e-mail, Facebook, Linkedin, Myspace, Flickr, BlackPlanet, Twister and other web networks. One of the factors behind the success of Obama’s campaign so far, is said to be his openness to critique and direct feedback from people on the street, from participants on convents to colleagues at his office. The tool for public use is an interactive and informative website where access to the candidate never appears to be far away. You get the feeling he is actually interested in your opinion.

Three components seem to be essential in an innovative approach, no matter if you run a cultural organisation, a business or build a campaign organization for President. Three entities that combined have the potential of creating new things: The latest in technical solutions and the World Wide Web; An open and low-hierarchical top-bottom organizational structure; and a creative working atmosphere.

At Pixar Animation Studios, the high profile technical solutions and constant pushing of new mathematical solutions for animated moves on the screen, combined with a continuously challenged creativity and open atmosphere, is said to be the key factors for success. At Namac, a small art and media organisation in San Francisco, the new website is built according to the newest ideas of interactivity. This is hoped to better involve members between meetings and to get direct feedback on their activities.

The working atmosphere and low levels between top and bottom is put forward by businesses like IDEO and Pixar Animation Studios. A working atmosphere of being casual, but deadly serious about quality and getting the work done is something many refer to as a typical Silicon Valley attitude. And you find it in many of the most innovative companies in US today. Apple started in Silicon Valley, the idea of Google was formed at Stanford University in the same area and the Design firm IDEO was founded there. It’s not suprising that Barack Obama showed such an interest in Google and in November 2007 decided to unveil his innovation agenda at one of their offices. The Campaign organization that he runs is most certainly inspired by the Silicon Valley attitude. It’s said to be open for initiatives, relatively casual, and deadly serious about quality and getting the work done on deadline.

Read about Barack Obama’s Campaign Organization in Rolling Stone, issue July 10-24, 2008.
Read about our study visits to Pixar Animation Studios, IDEO and Namac on this website.
Apple at Wikipedia and Google at Wikipedia.

12 juli, 2008

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Pixar Animation Studios

For the movie Finding Nemo, 43.536 storyboards were presented during the three year period it took to make the film. The full movie was screened five times for an invited audience until the result was satisfying for the team. At Pixar Animation Studios they are constantly creatively challenged. The storyboarding process is all about building an idea, pitch it for the creative team, get critique and re-do it. img_6138.jpgWhen screening the films, the interaction is direct. Critique is not about being polite, but say what you think. Details are important. An idea is finished when they feel a hundred percent sure that the result is exactly what they want. Intuition is a driving force. In the book The art of Wall-E Andrew Stanton, director and writer , describes the process: ”If you challenge yourself with each artistic endeavor, always aiming beyond your comfort zone, you invariably become a student of your own work…”. On the team directors, artists, sculptors, actors, writers, designers, editors and animators work in collaboration: drawings are done by several people and a story is very much a product built with team-work.“The atmosphere at Pixar is casual. But deadly serious when it comes to quality”.

Eric Pearson, Post Production Manager, meet us in the lobby. Two things strikes you when stepping in through the doors at Pixar. The lobby is a very large open space at the center of the building. It’s planned as the meetingplace for both visitors and the employees. img_6094.jpgIt’s a place where you eat lunch, meet over a cup of coffee in the lounge sofas or just run into each other as you move around between the film theatre, the second floor, coffee and drinks, and the reception. The second thing is how quickly they put up exhibitions of the work behind the films. Wall-E, the newest film, just opened at the film theatres in US. Walking at Pixar, everything is already exposed in the exhibition: example of storyboards, sculptors, products, sketches and small stories of how the film was built.

In New York Times’ Sunday Book Review there is a review of the new book telling the story of Pixar The Pixar touch. The Making of a Company. Writer Michael Hirschorn, argues in the article, that what is striking about Pixar’s history is that the whole thing with computer animation in the beginning seemed provisional. The entrepreneurs starting it kept on working, even though no-one believed in it, driven by an intuitive feeling that this was what they wanted to do. They were, as Hirschorn puts it, “entrepreneurs seeing clarity where others saw only fog”.

Also look at New York Times’ critic A.O. Scott, where he is reviewing Pixar’s movies.img_6099.jpgimg_6110.jpgimg_6129.jpg

2 juli, 2008

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Artists in USA

In a very recent report, Artists in Workforce, done by National Endowment for the Arts in USA, you find facts and figures of artist’s situation in USA between 1990 and 2005.

Among many other things you find that designers are the single largest group of artists figure1small.jpgin USA today, followed by performing artists such as actors, dancers, musicians, and announcers. Writers have been the fastest growing artist occupation between 1990 and 2005, growing twice the rate of the total labour force.

You also find that compared to other workers, artists are less likely to have full-year, full-time jobs. Instead artists are 3,5 times more likely than other workers to be self-employed and figures indicate that the level of self-employment is increasing. 40 percent of musicians are employed by nonprofit organizations; artists, dancers, producers and writers are around 10 percent or more in non-profit sector. This can be compared with the labour force as a whole, where more than two-thirds work in the for-profit sector.

California and New York have by far the largest numbers of artists, and topped the list for actors, producers and directors. Looking into the specific group of actors, you find that this group is around 2 percent of all artists. Almost half of all actors live in California, mostly Los Angeles. Twelve percent of actors are employed by not-for-profit organizations, around 40 percent are self-employed and 47 percent work for private for-profit employers. Only around 15 percent work full time for the entire year.

Graphics are from Artists in the Workforce (Research Report #48), courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts.

24 juni, 2008

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IDEO – innovation and design

”You do what works”, says John Stoddard at IDEO, one of many success stories placed in Silicon Valley. john-s_ideo.jpgideo_cirklar.jpgThe Design Firm started in 1991 and has since grown with several offices around US and in London. On the question if it has been important to have the office in Silicon Valley, John Stoddard says without hesitation ”definitely”. It has to do with things like the close relation to Stanford University, he tells us, and the casual clothing that is custom and the casual way of behaving. Anyone can speak to anyone, top and bottom doesn’t matter. The philosophy of starting small and experiment. High risks and a lot to gain if you make it. And the attitude that you arrange your work as you want and what is convenient. As long as you hold your deadline and budget.

At IDEO creativity and innovation is in front and to create such an atmosphere, they believe in things like open spaces, constant-changing workplaces, working in teams with a variety of competencies collected in each project. Other things are a mixture of general competencies and expert knowledge and a possibility to do individual development planning. The result of a project is of course in focus, but also the work process. Innovation, Mr Stoddard tells us, is where different disciplines meet, in the crossovers of different areas. That’s where new things happen.
www.iinnovatecast.com (interview with founder David Kelley)
www.leighbureau.com (find books written by Tom Kelley of IDEO)

20 juni, 2008

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California College of the Arts

”It has to be real projects”. The cornerstone of the Social Practice Programme at California College of the Arts (CCA), is community based projects and real work. We meet Ted Purves, Director of the programme, at CCA and get a tour around the premises. The eight students at Social Practice are part of the Fine Arts department, some classes are also mixed with students from both programmes. The idea behind Social Practice is to work as an artist with social and community projects. To do this CCA cooperate with different organisations and cities. The artists have important competencies that can be used to change a city, to work with municipalities, put view on problems and work in processes, something that the Social Practice put forward. The training also puts emphasis on other skills than the artistic, like managing projects, economy and theoretical knwoledge.

”How do you teach Social Practice?” Ted Purves answers our question and mentions several things. You need to teach different models and methods and teach by doing. Students need to know different methods of how you take collective decisions. And it has to be allowed to fail.

At Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, they run a similar programme called Public Practice. This is also a project based programme and is run by the internationally known artist Suzanne Lacy. Another website we are redommended is worldchanging.com.

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18 juni, 2008

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Intersection, Ninth Street Independent Film Center and Namac

Intersection Incubator started in the 70s trying to help artists with sustainability. Today it’s more formalised and is run through the incubator. 120 projects are part of the programme, which primarily consists of fundraising, business management and promoting work. Few funders give yesenia.jpgartists direct funding, for this you need to start a non-profit organisation.

But the organisational form has laws that are difficult to overview. Most of the time an individual doesn’t have a chance to keep up with changes in regulations, which makes it difficult says Yesenia Sanchez at our meeting. Intersection is the intermediary between the artist and the funder. The solution is called Fiscal Sponsorship, which in short is taking care of the money in and out, while the artist can concentrate on being an artist. The incubator has a large network of partners that the members easily can get in touch with and use for a small fee.

It can be lawyers, bookkeeping, and marketing.Related organisations could be Fractured Atlas, Springboard for the Arts, National Network of Fiscal Sponsorship (website coming), Center for Culture Innovation and Creative Capital. At Ninth Street Independent Film Center, film festivals and organisations as The National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (Namac) are gathered in one building in central San Fransisco. The kc-price.jpgfilmer.jpgsolution was to buy the building, trying to build up the advantages of sharing resources, networking and supporting each other. The independent film sector is a large sector in San Francisco, although the field is changeing, KC Price tells us.

More and more people have their own cameras and computors, the need for spaces where this can be rented or borrowed has changed. The Do t Yourself trend has changed who is producer and customer and film makers in much larger extend work on their own. What still is a need for is meeting places.Namac is one of the organisations based in this building, a non-profit organisation with around 370 members all over USA and some in Canada with the common goal to support and work with the advocacy of independent film, video, audio and digital arts. Amanada Ault and Morgan Sully meet us in their small office. The administration is just a few people, the variety of activities that they do is amanda.jpgmorgan.jpgimpressive. Main focus is events, research, capacity building (both individual and organisational) and advocacy. Members meet mainly during the every two-year conference; on-line discussions and information is the main communication tool.

They want to, as they say, put forward ”the value of the collective intelligence of the network” and are at the moment developing a new website, which will be much more user friendly and a platform to be active from. This together with a reflective part where they do articles and studies of the field and to put forward new methods, often provocative, makes them both a practioner and service organisation.

17 juni, 2008

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Public art and entrepreneurship

At the entrence of the University in Berkeley you find a fantastic artpiece in the pavement called Column of earth and air. Free Speach Monument (1991). It’s a six inch column of land and airspace that is said not being part of any nation, state or city. No laws are applicable within the small van-kempen.jpgvan-kempen-fik.jpgspace. A ring surrounds the column and has the inscription: ”This soil and the airspace extending above it shall not be a part of any nation and shall not be subject to any entity’s jurisdiction.” The work is done by the Californian based visual artist Mark Brest van Kempen, who has done several different public art projects. Over a cup of coffee he tells us that cities in US put of 1-2 percent to art when public spaces are being redone or new spaces are built. It’s very different how this works, in some cities very well, in others not at all. In the book ”Art of Engagement. Visual politics in Californa and beyond” by Peter Selz (University of California Press) you can follow public art projects in California.

”There is noone asking for Jörgen Svensson when finishing Art University. Why would they? There was no product to sell. The simple reason was that I hadn’t done anything yet. Art students at University or just finishing have no market, since they usually don’t have a product to sell at that point. When Art Universities work with entrepreneurship, this needs to be taken into account” says the artist Jörgen Svensson.

17 juni, 2008

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Thought on the road

On the freeway to Palo Alto in Silicon Valley, the radio declares that two million people identify themselves as artists in the USA. 3,71% of the total working force in San Francisco are artists according to 2005 Census Data. They earn in average less than others with the equivalent years of education. The study made by The National Endowment for the Arts had also found that the medium salary for artists is 35.000 dollars a year. An article on the topic can be found in the June 13 issue of New York Times.

”Cooperation with other fields, for example the business field, has to be seen by artists as an interesting field in itself to explore. If they do, it’s not a problem with artistic integrity. If you only see it as money and economy, you will have problems. No one will just give you money. artist-on-the-road.jpgThis is how you should work with entrepreneurship. As new interesting artistic processes, which are interesting to explore.” Thoughts on the road on artistic integrity and entrepreneurship, told by the Artist Jörgen Svensson.

At Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, they have an artist-in-residence program in a unique setting. Surrounded by beautiful areas, hills to trek in and close to the ocean side, the former military buildings are now studios for artists. Several international artists have had residencies here over the years, being able to focus on their work and meet other artists from all over the world. The idea is to offer artists the opportunity to research and networking that build the understanding for the role of art in society.

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15 juni, 2008

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Seed money for culture

In many of the art institutions we visit in San Francisco, you find that the Bernard Osher Foundation has funded projects, artist-in-residence programs, exhibitions within art and culture. It can be the small independent film theatre in San Rafael, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Headlands Center for the Arts or California College of the Arts.

In Sweden you find The Foundation for the Culture of the Future, which has had the same possibility of funding initiatives all over the country. If you ask around, almost every small or large initiative within culture in Sweden have had funding at one point or more from this Foundation. It can be new project ideas or Art institutions, it can be the Municipalities or cultural organisations. The money from the Foundation has allowed them to initiative new ideas of development, changing structures or explore new areas, something the ordinary funding system usually doesn’t allow. The idea of being able to make a quick decision to give money if the Foundation finds an initiative interesting and the non-bureaucratic structure makes it open to new ideas. The access to seedmoney of this sort has been one of the key factors behind the vivid cultural scene you find in Sweden today.

13 juni, 2008

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Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

The first thing that you see in the open hall of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is a glass room for project ideas. ”Room for big ideas” is supposed to be a space where you can sit in soft sofas and talk, discuss, reflect and come up with new ideas.

The center is a large center for both visual and perming contemporary art. We are toured around the visual arts exhibition by the Interim Director of Visual Arts, Kate Eilertsen, who tells us about the artists and the mission of the exhibition: make peace, not war.

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13 juni, 2008

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Incubators

When moving to Paris at the age of nineteen, Pablo Picasso was already an accepted artist. Although a poor one. As a young upcoming artist he got in contact with a rich couple that let their living room function as a gallery where he could show his work. The gallery was an incubator for his artistic development, a place where he was let to experiment. What importance did this have on his way to become one of the twentieth centuries most important artist? At San Francisco Museum of Modern Art you find an educational part of the museum, which let you read, learn and interact with the artists and the work you see in the exhibitions. You can watch short movies made by artists, read articles and description of their work. Look at photos of art work.

The visit is part of the study trip to San Francisco, USA, done by representatives from Nätverkstan, the arts and City Museum of Göteborg in June 2008.

11 juni, 2008

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Lotta Lekvall
Director of Nätverkstan, a Cultural Organisation in Sweden. Nätverkstan provides services …

Cultural and Social Entrepreneurship

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