January 13, 2013 - Social Kitchen - Questions to the world from small social and cultural center in far east Asia
January 13, 2013

Questions to the world from small social and cultural center in far east Asia

Courtesy Social Kitchen.

Questions to the world from small social and cultural center in far east Asia

Social Kitchen

699 Sokokuji monzen-cho
Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto Japan, 602-0898

info [​at​] hanareproject.net
www.hanareproject.net

What are the possibilities for small cultural and arts centers to exist in today’s world? Is there a way for them to exist without entering into the never-ending economic game of competition or selling them as social entrepreneurial enterprises? 

Social Kitchen, 21st-century Social & Cultural Center, based in Kyoto, run by a group called “hanare,” has a community café and bookstore, a space that can be used for lectures/workshops, debates, study groups, bazaars, exhibitions, meetings and parties, and a shared office. It was founded in 2010, after five years of successfully organizing a weekly café called kissahanare in the home of one of its members.

Our vision has been to serve as a public place in a traditional sense, where people with diverse backgrounds gather, express themselves in creative ways, discuss emergent social issues, learn, and practice the ideas and skills that can transform our society in more just, fair ways. 

As we enter 2013, we are struggling to keep our doors open. Yet we hope that our struggles offer the opportunity to think about our common challenges and to build solidarity among like-minded institutions across the world.

What is Social Kitchen?

- A site for convivial living
Social Kitchen is a café where people can relax, enjoy delicious and healthy food, and buy fresh vegetables from our organic farmers. Our kitchen, which makes everyone happy, is the heart of our project. Our upcoming project, “Sunday Brunch” directs small-scale funding for cultural, artistic, and socially charged projects to use community meals as a device for bringing people together. More info

* Sunday Brunch is based on a project called Sunday Soup started in Chicago by InCUBATE

- A site for artistic and cultural events 
Many cultural and artistic events take place at Social Kitchen. We particularly support young artists and their experimentation through the project OYE! (One Year of Exploration), carried out over the course of a year and led by an individual or group, selected from artists, researchers, farmers, and activists. More info

- A site for Urban Education
Social Kitchen is also a site for urban education through its Kitchen University series. Education here means both traditional liberal arts, as in the Picasom series (Publicness in Contemporary Art and Social Movements), as well as other workshops aiming to build skills for self-sustaining life, including farming, food preservation, and electricity production sessions.

- A site for long-term projects
In addition to many one-day events, Social Kitchen also supports long-term projects closely connected to everyday life. In the wake of the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster, loose collective of citizens gathered to form the first Working Group. Participating members in each Working Group propose and discuss ideas and put needed actions into practice over a one-year period. Working Groups 1 and 2: Earthquake and Nuclear Power Plant have carried out activities with internal refugees and volunteered for the restaurants in the disaster area, among other things, while attempting to integrate related concerns into daily life. These activities led to Working Group 1′s excellent exhibition on the Kyoto mayoral election, conveying critical issues including the nuclear energy to voters and set up opportunities to discuss how citizens are involved in the making of the city, and the meaning of democracy itself. More info

- A site for becoming better citizens
Social Kitchen hosts many gatherings that encourage thinking critically and questioning Japanese society and politics and the current economic system. Those who run Social Kitchen and those who use it together engage in practices to become more critical citizens. This aspect is vital, given that Japanese society is becoming ever more conservative, and “anti-everything” (immigrant, neighboring countries, women’s rights, poor people etc.). It is important to note that our current government firmly supports restarting other nuclear power plants even as the Fukushima catastrophe continues “in progress” and is nowhere near a resolution, and while still no one knows what harm the catastrophe will eventually cause.

- A site for neighbors
Neighborhood associations use Social Kitchen to discuss local topics and to socialize. School kids utilize Social Kitchen too, by using our restroom and drinking water, and sometimes playing games.

Social Kitchen Organizational Forms

Participants? Users? Citizens?
Rather than having a small number of curators/organizers plan projects, Social Kitchen encourages people with great ideas to plan and realize the projects themselves. We aim to eliminate the standard hierarchy between organizers and participants.

Financial Independence
Freedom of expression is hardly existed in official institutions in Japan. In order to provide a space where freedom of expression is protected, and to support activities with the potential to transform society regardless of their “financial value,” Social Kitchen finances itself primarily through its independent profitable activities (café, farmer’s market, and catering; design and translation jobs; space rental; giving talks at cultural institutions), relying on a grant from the Ministry of Environment for only 15% of our income last year. 

Workers’ collective and non-profit
Social Kitchen operates as a workers’ cooperative. A workers’ cooperative is based on the idea that all workers are also owners; everything from daily affairs to finances, work environment, and the future direction of the organization is discussed and decided by the workers. Social Kitchen has three full-time and and three part-time staff members. While workers engage decision-making processes, non-profit board members are also involved in shaping these decisions. 

After two years, where we are now
While there are many great projects being created at Social Kitchen, as our financial situation worsens, it has become indispensable to think about how we can survive. Yet, thinking about our survival gives us an opportunity to think about the fact that the visions we have for life, art and culture, free public space, new ways of working, new types of organization, and an economy based on fair exchange have little power in today’s society.

Yes, we want to continue Social Kitchen, and need to sort out how to improve our financial situation. But besides entering much-hated grant competitions, what can we do? Instead of becoming a part of the cycle of “upgrading” constantly, and of selling our uniqueness (eg: human networking, creative skills, and even social consciousness!) what are the possibilities? Why should art and culture always be defeated by logics of the economy? What would it look like to create our own logics of economy? 

We would be happy to continue this conversation and get advice from you. So if you are interested, please email us at info [​at​] hanareproject.net.

Sincerely yours,
Social Kitchen 
(Sakiko Sugawa, Shingo Yamasaki, Megumi Shishikura, Michiko Yoshimura, Yufuko Takahashi)

Questions to the world from small social and cultural center in far east Asia
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