"Welcome to The living room is about transforming urban/public spaces into a public living rooms together with migrants, refugees and locals in different cities across Europe. In these co-created spaces these three communities share their migration stories and reflections through artistic forms"
Laura told us about the necessity of creating a space to encourage co-creation and dialogue between migrants and locals: a safe space where everyone can share their story and thoughts about migration. Relationships are very important and even more so when it comes to integration and adapting to a new environment as it is in the case of a migrant. Sometimes perceptions are mislead by what social media tells us every day. This assumption cannot be more imprecise. Let’s gather all together and share our migrantion stories! Welcome to The Living Room!
What is Migrationlab?
Migrationlab creates opportunities for migrants, refugees and locals to meet, interact and inspire each others in cities across Europe. It is a laboratory for exploring and experimenting with migration issues and documenting intercultural communication together with these communities. I wanted to create a space which is physical and virtual where we can talk about these aspects. It is a project, deeply rooted in my own experience as a Romanian woman migrant in Europe. I was born and raised in Romania, where I worked and lived in an international community. At age 26, I moved to Vienna, Austria where I lived and worked for 7 years before moving to The Hague 2 years ago. Coming from a country negatively perceived in Europe, my migration journey was filled with labeling and stereotyping most of the times. I was intrigued by how people form their perceptions, the way we communicate with each other and we relate to which other. I started to explore these issues in depth, firstly through writing. I started Migrationlab as a blog in September 2014, where I showcased some of my migration stories. After receiving very positive feedbacks from migrants and locals, I started to think about a way to bring these people together and initiate debates in a physical space. This is how the concept of the living room, a safe welcoming inviting space where we can talk about who we are and where we come from, came to life.
Welcome to The Living Room
“People felt very comfortable, the more space you give them to talk the more they trust and want to participate”
In March 2015 I launched Migrationlab and organized the first “Welcome to The Living Room” event in Vienna, Austria, while I was living in The Hague, The Netherlands. This first event was organized with the help of friends, family and local partners. It took place in Verein08, an artistic space downtown Vienna, which looks like a living room. The first storytellers were my friends, international migrants themselves, who loved the idea and wanted to contribute their stories and experiences to facilitate the dialogue and mutual understanding between different communities in Vienna, a city where half of the residents have an immigrant background. It was very powerful to witness all the energy that was created by bringing people together and giving them the opportunity to be curious about each other and express themselves on migration issues that mattered to them.
After this first event, I tried to find ways to promote the idea and to set it up in different contexts. I got selected to the Idea Camp by the European Cultural Foundation, where I worked on this concept together with other 50 Idea Makers from Europe and neighboring countries in Botkyrka, Sweden. Following my work there I also became one of the 25 Idea Camp grantees for research and development of this concept in 2016. Further on, the project got selected to participate in the Vienna Design Week. For 10 days we invited migrants, refugees, visitors and locals to join us in a series of workshops, cultural events and artistic performances on migration in a very special setting. We co-created a public living room together with these communities, local partner Dominik Nostitz, Verein08 and curator Alice Stori Lichtenstein in a former bread factory transitioning to a cultural center in Favoriten, Vienna’s largest urban district with a predominant immigrant population. We were generally trying to engage the audience in a discussion about migration, given the context in Vienna at the time: refugees arriving in the train stations or transiting Austria, demonstration pro and against refugees, great solidarity of the Viennese people towards the refugees, and local elections with the extremist party rapidly growing in the polls. Additionally, I was invited to organize a Migrationlab “Welcome to The Living Room” event during the Spotlight:Romania. A Film and Photography Festival in The Hague. And there we set up a living room in an art gallery together with our partner Eastwards.
I like the idea of having a mobile living room. It gives me the possibility to explore, not only different cities, but also different neighborhoods within the same city. In Vienna that was the case last year.
Could you share any stories with us?
It comes to my mind the story of Natalia Hecht de Eichhorn in one of the living rooms in Vienna. Inspired by her own difficulties as an Argentinean woman migrant in Austria she created the “Paper Passengers” artistic intervention in which migrant and black women in Vienna created life-sized paper doubles of themselves and migrated around the city to make their journey tangible and visible for themselves and others. Or the story of Yuval Gal, Israeli cook and his friendship with Palestinian Muawi Shehadeh. Together they run the Love and Peas restaurant in The Hague. But there were also stories on the notions of home, identity, race, stranger, guest, professional nomad and disappearance of languages. Stories about how to break down your own walls and build bridges between your culture of birth and culture of origin through the practice of hatha yoga. Stories about the impact/trauma of living in a place where you can’t have a voice or you always have to restrain your voice because you are not “one of them”. Stories about the compromises on personal level people make when choosing for migration, be it temporary or permanent. The Migrationlab living rooms always welcomes locals as storytellers. Some of the stories cover their initiatives on issues related to migration.
What are the main difficulties in developing the initiative?
One of the biggest challenges is to make this project financially sustainable, given that Migrationlab takes place in different cities and countries. Last year, I invested in the idea myself supported by family and friends, local partners and volunteers. In 2016, we are able to carry on thanks to the European Cultural Foundation Idea Camp R&D Grant, Stichting Doen and other European collaborations.
Another challenge is establishing a relationship with the municipalities. I believe that bottom up initiatives like Migrationlab are very important and much needed in today’s Europe, which finds itself in transformation. But these initiative should not operate isolated. They should be co-creators of our cities together with municipalities, business, entreprenorial, cultural sectors and other actors.
And then there are of course the perceptions of people, and the representation of migrants and refugees in the mainstream media and the political discourse, which reinforce our biases.
Future plans for the living room?
The future plans include further development in other countries and cities, Eastern Europe included, for the “Welcome to The Living Room” and other projects in the fields of arts and non-formal education, to name just a few.
The next Migrationlab “Welcome to The Living Room” events in The Netherlands will take place as it follows:
April 30 and May 7 in Amsterdam in collaboration with Rederij Lampedusa. Supported by Stichting Doen. We will organize living rooms and sail on Amsterdam waters with a refugee boat, which transported 282 people from Eritrea to Lampedusa in 2013.
July 7, Welcome to The Living Room Den Haag
October 6, Welcome to The Living Room, Rotterdam
Other collaborations are in the making in countries such as Sweden, Romania, Italy, Cyprus, Germany, Austria.