coculture is dedicated to empowering underrepresented artists from the global south, exiled artists, and artists in conflict zones, with a distinct emphasis on Syrian artists in Europe and the SWANA region. By establishing artistic platforms and opportunities, we aim to enhance the creative agency of these artists to enable them to showcase their artwork, reinforce their narratives, influence their communities, and integrate seamlessly into their new environments, challenging the preconceived notion of them as exotic relics and elevating them as dynamic contributors to the global cultural landscape.
All our activities and projects reflect the following beliefs:
Inclusivity: The organization values and actively promotes inclusivity, ensuring that diverse voices and perspectives are represented and valued.
Equity: It recognizes and actively addresses historical and systemic inequalities, ensuring all individuals and communities have equal access to resources and opportunities.
Creativity: The organization values and fosters creativity, pushing boundaries and encouraging innovative thinking.
Collaboration: It believes in the power of collective action and works cooperatively with artists, other cultural organizations, and the wider community to achieve shared goals.
Integrity: The organization commits to acting ethically and responsibly, maintaining transparency and accountability in all its actions.
Respect: It respects all cultures, viewpoints, and expressions, treating all individuals with dignity and respect.
Sustainability: The organization is committed to sustainable practices and promoting environmental consciousness through its work.
Empowerment: It aims to empower artists, communities, and individuals, providing opportunities for growth, expression, and realizing their potential.
Courage: It is unafraid to challenge the status quo, confront injustice, and take risks in pursuing a more equitable and inclusive world.
Global Awareness: The organization appreciates and seeks to understand the interconnections and interdependencies of the world’s cultures and societies.
Passing the learning curve and establishing the organisation
In 2015, after many Syrians had started coming to Germany at the beginning of the so-called “Refugee Crisis”, conceptual artist Khaled Barakeh felt the urge to support newly arrived artists who had lost their social and professional networks. He thought first of creating a Google poll to collect artists’ emails, generating a mailing list for new opportunities in the cultural sector. Later, he came across a funding opportunity from Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy (The Cultural Resource). That led him to develop an idea for a mobile app. With a friend’s support, he wrote a concept and budget breakdown but didn’t meet the deadline, so he decided to post it on Facebook and tag everyone he knew from the cultural sector. The concept reached the Ford Foundation’s fund manager. After several meetings and discussions, they agreed to establish a new cultural organisation in Berlin called the Syria Cultural Index, a name later given to a new project within coculture.
Forming a Verein (association) as the legal umbrella of the project, Barakeh teamed up with Benjamin Glatte as an administrational and financial consultant to support the Syria Cultural Index within the German system. Five other professionals from different nationalities, genders, and backgrounds joined them to form an assembly for the association. But launching the project was more complicated than they had imagined and took longer than expected: many obstacles were in the way!
Although the Ford Foundation sent the organisation a first instalment to start work, months passed without the money reaching its account. After a lengthy inquiry into what had happened, the organisation’s bank (XXX) explained that their corresponding bank had blocked the money because the organisation’s name included Syria and had members with Syrian backgrounds. This issue has continued to affect the organisation until this day. The team decided to change their name, reflecting who they are and what they planned to do. Out of that necessity, coculture was born.
At first, the coculture team worked out of a private flat. But as the team grew, the space became too cramped. At the end of 2018, while searching for a space to use as a base for the organization, they found a modern, minimalistic studio. It was located in the vibrant, diverse Gesundbrunnen neighbourhood of Mitte, situated within the Lobe Block – a multi-use terrace building designed by the renowned architect Arno Brandlhuber. The space was perfect, and they felt it would open the right kind of space for their target community in the city. However, they faced one major problem: the rent was too high for the coculture fund!
The management team got creative: they devised a three-part organizational structure containing coculture space, Glatte.info, and Studio Khaled Barakeh. Even though the three parts were set up to share the costs of the space and the labour pool, it took a while to figure out how to make their flexible model work inside the stiffness of German bureaucracy. And because the space needed to be open, clean, and ready for coculture’s cultural events, the other two entities couldn’t use it as an artist studio or base for a web devolvement company. As a solution, the management team created a fourth entity, 8corners, to function as the commercial side of the space, renting it out to third parties to generate support for coculture events. [this feels confusing though: didn’t you just say you needed the space always available for these events? I don’t know if going into all the details helps you here]Just as coculture found a way to overcome these bureaucratic obstacles, Covid-19 hit the world and the organisation, throwing new obstacles before their plans to open an art space and a cultural venue for the Syrian community in Berlin. Despite their financial difficulties and the pandemic restrictions, they offered Lobe Space to this community as a much-needed safe space to gather and create together.
Despite these many hurdles, a community of highly talented artists, creators, academics, and friends took shape around coculture. The space hosted numerous events that reflected on and engaged with topics relevant to coculture’s mission: art exhibitions and workshops; artist residencies; music concerts and jam sessions; film screenings; and public talks and conferences. Along the way, Lobe Space was open to the community to shape itself. Over the last years and against all odds, coculture established itself locally and internationally as a non-profit organization with good standing in Berlin. It gained the trust of other funders who offered support to our target groups through the newly founded organization.
Through its networks, coculture built partnerships with various high-profile organizations worldwide. Internally, a small but effective team believed in the organization’s vision and carried out its mission and projects with all the soul and heart they could give. They created several systems to tackle the complexities of their unique structure with maximum transparency, strategies that other NGOs could apply in the future.At a personal level, due to the global state of stress and uncertainty, some of the team faced strenuous times both professionally and psychologically. But through the love and support of the community at Lobe, coculture remained resilient and overcame many of its obstacles. It was a new experience for the whole team to establish and sustain an entire organization from scratch. Needless to say, they made mistakes along the way, which were opportunities for accountability, learning, and growth.
In the end, coculture became something much bigger, more sustainable and more valuable than initially intended: a well-functioning organizational structure, a supportive network for artists in exile, and a community. At coculture, the Syrian Culture Index (SCI) won’t only be in safe institutional hands; coculture created the base necessary for the SCI to succeed by bringing Syrian creatives together and becoming relevant actors in Berlin’s cultural landscape.