Featured People: #RDgrantee Silvia Nanclares

Throughout our Featured People, we are very happy to share highlights on the works of former Idea Camp participants, showing the depth and breadth of our grantees’ networks. In this feature, we talk to Silvia Nanclares, who participated to the Idea Camp in 2015 and received an R&D grant to work on her idea Caring IN the city

Silvia Nanclares at the Idea Camp 2015. Photo by Julio Albarrán.

Silvia Nanclares at the Idea Camp 2015. Photo by Julio Albarrán.

What brought you to formulating your project “Caring IN the city”?

We decided to formulate the Caring IN the city project because, as a part feminist collective, the issue of the Caring City - the city which is able to put lives and not only productivity in the centre of its policies and cultural scenarios, is one of our main priorities. Just like the neighbours of the Arganzuela district, we were faced with the reality and by the desire to improve the live standards of our neighbourhood.

From this starting point, we formulated Caring IN the city like a cross-project that combines participatory research and collective artistic production. It is the extended version (designed with the idea of becoming European) of an ongoing project: La Tribu de Arganzuela (The Tribe of Arganzuela), which has been granted with funds from the call Una ciudad muchos mundos launched by Intermediae-Matadero (a Madrid City Hall’s cultural institution).

During these initial phase two questions acted as triggers: How are children being brought up in the neighbourhood of Arganzuela? How can we improve this situation?

You have now developed your project for more than half a year, did your plans change in this period?

Caring IN the city arose as a process of creation and research in which the caregivers and families were the protagonists. Their experiences would be the starting point and, through artistic practice, we wanted to imagine other possible and more desirable ways of bringing up children.

We believe these initial objectives have been more than fulfilled, although throughout the entire process the project has changed and we have had to adapt our premises to the reality of the participants. For example, after the firsts encounters, we realised that we had an adult-centered starting point. The activities that we proposed were too long and it was difficult for families to attend. In addition, initially we had conceived the presence of children in the sessions in a separate space with a caregiver, while the adults worked and debated. The participants did see these limitations and asked us to incorporate the children in the sessions. We then proposed dynamics where children were the protagonists. We learned to make room for new things to happen, to adapt the dynamics on the go, and assume certain level of chaos and improvisation, inevitable when adults and children are together. But above all, we discovered that the participation of children, with their boundless imagination and willingness to experiment, enriched greatly the workshops.

Another limitation we found was the homogeneity and lack of diversity of the group that attended the workshops. Overall, participants were middle class heterosexual couples, college educated, with liberal professions, etc. While there has been a fairly balanced participation between women and men, we wish we had been more diverse families: LGBT families, single parents, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles... We also wished that people from different, social classes or ages had participated.

Although one of our initial goals was precisely to avoid this homogeneity and try to form a socially diverse group, we recognise that we have failed to involve other social sectors. We believe this is due to several reasons: the Cultural Centre where the sessions are held, Matadero Madrid, and the language and aesthetics we use, somehow predetermine the type of audience. Aware of this, we tried to open the project, holding sessions outside Matadero, in the Peñuelas square, or going to Miguel de Unamuno public school to present the project and do a workshop.

We have also had to change our plan for the second half of the year: we planned to visit Finland, Barcelona and Sevilla during the summer, but we had to postpone the trips to the Fall because most of the projects we wanted to visit closed during summer. We have also decided to change Sevilla for Pontevedra. The city that has a ground-breaking project that has pedestrianised the city center, reduced the traffic and adopted Tonucci’s The city of children project.

Are you still in contact with other participants of the Idea Camp? With whom, and why?

Apart from some Spanish ones (with which we were in contact in some others contexts, such as Juan López-Aranguren, from Autobarrios), we have been in contact with two of the R&D grantees who have been very inspiring for us.

The first one has been Ylva Rancken-Lutz. When she told us about her research and her experience we found out we had many things in common and decided that Caring IN the city should make a stop in Finland. Ylva is an an urban sociologist and activist. She has worked in a family center and has had different research projects on parenting, so we thought we’d interview her to tell us about these experiences so interesting for our project. She has been a great cicerone to the Finnish reality!

The other one is the project The Ageless City: Intergenerational Spaces for Culturally Diverse Neighbourhoods in Europe, carried by Ana Gonçalves, which has many points in commons with ours. The starting point and the idea of the city as a lived place and the public spaces as places to reclaim, has been a great way to start knowing each other works.

Would your plan have developed as it did without participating in the Idea Camp?

That’s difficult to imagine, since Caring In the city finally made sense and got structured during the days we stayed in Botkyrka, during the Idea Camp. Idea Makers and Idea feeders helped us to land several questions, such as the diversity issue… And of course we got internacional! The idea of starting the research comparing Southern and Northern Europe would have not been possible without the conversations that took place those days.

What do you think your research and project-in-progress say about our times? And maybe more specifically about your home country?

Spain has a weak Welfare State that has deteriorated in the past few years due to the crisis. The cuts on social services (day-care centres, education, health services, etc.) has provoked a reproductive crisis, forcing families (and specially women) to take over most of the care-work. Madrid has undergone a major transformation over the past two decades. Its integration into the global economy in the hands of a real estate boom has led to rapid economic growth, massive urban development, housing construction and major infrastructure development.

In this context, raising children is a very complicated chore, forced to move between precarious jobs and long hours, scarce public services and a city designed for cars. Many families are faced with two alternatives: the outsourcing of care (mostly to other women) or dedication to them exclusively by one of the parents (again, mostly women).

Is it possible, in this context, to create spaces, narratives and communities to make parenting in common? Caring IN the city is a cross-project that combines participatory research and collective artistic production that gives it a try.

Do you think arts and culture can help you in changing the problems you are trying to solve? How?

Developing a learning experience and building a community have been two of the consequences of creating a critic space where art has been used as a tool to imagine (in this case, the city) or to express ourselves. We have experienced with radio techniques, graphic and plastic arts to express our findings. The shared, situated research has taken shape in a collective podcast radio production.

For sure, sharing quality time and being in a space where creative dynamics are proposed is a fantastic way to strengthen neighbourhood networks and to create opportunities for dialogue which can enable political discussion. The collective creative production also helps to recover the living memory of the streets, spaces, infrastructure and the city inhabitants.

You have been in Finland recently, what are the biggest surprises you see there?

One of Finland’s main achievement is that they regard children as subjects of rights. They have the right to be taken care of, and the state has to guarantee that his or her parents will be able to do so.

Welfare and benefits have to be universal. All the population has to be able to benefit from them. If you create services or allowances for the poor only, you stigmatise this population. Moreover, you have to create a body of public workers that decide whether or not someone deserves to receive the benefits, and people have to prove that they really need them. That way, welfare is not universal, but conditional.

We find it also very interesting that, for those services that require some kind of payment (for example, day-care centres), the fare depends on the earnings of the family, i.e. doesn’t cost the same for everybody since it depends on income.

But not everything is fantastic in Finland. Our idealised vision fell apart when we learned that the parental leave is taken by women 95% of the times. Women end up assuming most of the care work that entails bringing up a child… just like in Southern Europe.

What did they tell you about your project?

In general, they told us how interesting the comparative research between Southern and Northern Europe seems, specially in the specific and sensitive issue: creation and maintenance of all kinds families. They were quite astonished about the differences between the Spanish and Finnish family policies… Ouch! That was pretty depressing for us.

Nevertheless, they felt attracted by the construction of community and bonds that our project proposes. The lack of strong networks in the modern communities is, unfortunately, a sign of the contemporary European cities.

Thank you Silvia!

You can also listen to Silvia in this 1-min video filmed at the Idea Camp in Botkyrka, Sweden, where she presents Caring IN the City: