Page 1









Order of planning


Steps of looking for a location

7 8 9





What is “community”?






20 22

What will make the whole thing attractive? 24



Legal affairs


Business plan – the pillars of self-sustainability








Social responsibility – raising awareness 39

Incubation, catalyst activities







This handbook is the work of the members of Művelődési Szint (Müszi), a community space in Budapest, Hungary which opened in 2012.1 Based on our experiences and research into other viable models, we decided to make a practical guide for those who are thinking of opening an independent community space. By independent community space, we mean an institution which is a grassroots initiative, independent from state and municipality funding, while being inclusive of disparate local groups and individuals to harmoniously share a common space with positive social interactions and the freedom to create unimpeded. We aimed to create a unique space which attempts to address local issues and community needs while possessing the ability to evolve and change course according to the needs and perceptions of its members. Dream big! In order to make it happen, the most important ingredients are ambition and enthusiasm. If you have these, the whole thing should happen naturally. Along our journey we learned many things – hopefully sharing these might help you avoid certain missteps. We want to encourage you, because with some courage and persistence you can create something extraordinary for yourselves and others. With this book, we don’t intend to give you a recipe to follow, but rather share our practical experiences and way of thinking to help you on your path. We tell our story in a certain sequence, however in your case some issues may come up in a different sequence or situation. If a part doesn’t apply to you, or you know enough about it – just skip it! 1 You can read more about us in the X. chapter.



It all starts when a few people – let’s call them the initial core – decide what exactly they want to do and create a framework. Try to explicitly state your vision and goals. Discuss thoroughly how you imagine your own community space. ••Ask yourselves these questions: ••What do we want to do? ••What kind of needs are we planning to address? ••Who is our target audience? ••How do we imagine sustainability?

ORDER OF PLANNING It is not impossible to start off without plans and you might have to do so due to unforeseen circumstances or external pressures. However, if you have the time and the opportunity, consider the following phases of planning. ••Sharpen your vision – what is the philosophy of your initiative? ••Map the urgent, direct tasks. ••Set long-term goals – where do you want to be in a few years’ time?



While planning, start looking for a suitable location. The place will be the heart of your enterprise and guide many of your future decisions. You have to be flexible as the real estate market is usually quite unpredictable.

STEPS OF LOOKING FOR A LOCATION: ••Look around the desired area, there may be some unused spaces. ••Ask your acquaintances if they know of any suitable spaces. ••Embrace the possibilities of social media. ••Don’t forget to ask people who live in the area. ••If necessary, seek the help of real estate agents. One of the key issues will be your relations with your neighbours. Start by assessing the people and establishments who live and work nearby! Keep in mind that it will be disturbing for them if you make noise. It is necessary 9

to connect with them in a conscientious and regular manner. If you manage to create and maintain a good relationship with your neighbours, it can yield fruitful collaborations. If you don’t have the money to purchase the desired venue and you decide to rent, our advice is to choose a private property. This way you can avoid the unpredictability that might go with a municipal property and remain free of the ever shifting political winds. The aim is to be independent!

It is advisable to involve the owner at an early stage to establish a good relationship and to clarify that your cause is a noble one: nurturing culture and community. A friendly relationship is also important to secure a longterm rental agreement and ensure a smooth collaboration. In the beginning, if the owner is willing, you can make deals that may be to your mutual advantage. For example, you can renovate the space in exchange for a couple of months’ rental fee.


Prepare well for the negotiations! You have to know where you can make a compromise and what points you want to stick to. Make detailed notes of the discussions. This is not only useful for you, it will also be helpful for both parties to remember earlier oral agreements during a complicated negotiation process. It is ok to step back from negotiations and ask for some time to think.



Start exploring who can take on certain roles and responsibilities in shaping and opening the space. If you are too few, look for more like-minded, motivated, and eager people who share your vision. The goal is to establish the core of the group and its initial structure. ••You will need someone to manage the group, coordinate, communicate, and distribute the tasks that you collectively decide on. ••It is important to have someone (might be the same person or not) who can manage volunteers, assess their skills, and keep them motivated. ••The physical development of the space needs a leader too (cleaning up, getting and organising materials, construction). ••As soon as you decide on what you want to do, you should appoint someone to be in charge of staying legal and complying with all municipal rules. Shape your own way of internal communication. Choose an efficient forum (e.g. mailing list or facebook group) that will be regularly followed by all of you. It is advisable to organise weekly meetings where you discuss plans and distribute tasks. Start every day by going through all the todos of the day and end it by checking what you managed to fulfill. If something gets delayed for the next day, communicate it among yourselves. The following should be clarified: ••What are the main duties? ••Who is in charge of these? ••How are you going to make decisions? 13

The answers will provide the framework for your common goal. From the beginning, consciously prepare for the future, good organisation and well defined relations will determine the efficiency and ultimately the success of the project.

VOLUNTEERS Try to involve volunteers in the construction and development of the space. Volunteers will be motivated if they feel that their work is valuable and they are contributing to a common goal. Don’t forget to emphasise that initially everyone will work on a voluntary basis. At a later stage of managing the space, some tasks may turn into paid jobs. This will happen gradually, as activities start making money, you could eventually create paying jobs for former volunteers. How to recruit volunteers? ••Spread the word wherever you can. ••Post open calls online and offline. ••Enlist the help of like-minded local communities. ••Organise public events to raise awareness and to recruit more volunteers. Create detailed to-do lists! Discuss with the applicants what tasks they are willing to take on. It is a good idea to start with simple tasks, even in the case of skilled applicants, to test how committed and resourceful they are. You may 14

give more complex tasks to those who worked out well. Don’t forget that even the most simple task has to be explained in the clearest way possible: who has to do it, how, and when. Volunteer work must be organised and coordinated, it is important to appoint a suitable person for that. Don’t forget assessment and feedback of the volunteers. If someone was good, be generous with compliments. If someone hindered others’ work, that must be communicated too (if that doesn’t help, he or she should be removed from the group). Share some meals, take some breaks to talk as much as possible. It is important to maintain the motivation of all participants!

WHAT IS “COMMUNITY”? A community is defined by a common goal with which all of its members identify. It works well if the members are motivated and satisfied. Everyone should get a chance to add to the project, take part in its implementation, and be appreciated for doing so. It is important to clear up any internal tensions and frictions to take care of the group’s emotional life. Always create the opportunity for the members of the group to express their needs and feelings. Share what you have! Everyone should add what he/she has, whether it is time, work, money, or a piece of advice. While community funding is still developing in Hungary, we have seen some extraordinary success stories come about through the power of active participation.


The community will be comprised of several layers: 1. The core members kick off the project and take responsibilities (e.g. founders, director) 2. Professional staff (e.g. programme organisers, managers) 3. Those who take part in operational work (e.g. cleaners, maintenance) 4. The regular users of the space (e.g. tenants, resident artists) 5. Those who use the space occasionally (e.g. participants of programmes, artists) 6. The community of visitors


These layers can gradually change along with the community and its needs. The growth and development of your organisation will always bring new challenges. It is essential to take care of the inner layers: realise when the team members are under-motivated, overworked or unhappy, and cure the problems. It is important to define and communicate the roles, tasks, and responsibilities of everyone involved in the project and with time these may be refined again and again. Transparently and clearly communicate the conditions of using the space for each of the different layers of the community, otherwise be prepared for conflicts, emergencies, and other trouble!



Recycle as much as you can! Gather used stuff that can be used as raw material. Let people around you know that you are accepting donations, used tools and furniture – everything from carpets to cups, toys, paint, etc. List your basic needs towards creating the space. The design should be inspired by the character of the venue and the materials that you already have. Use architectural plans of the venue to brainstorm about various possibilities of transforming the space. Start with mapping the skills of the members! People will come with different knowledge and expertise. If there is a field of skills that the group is lacking, try to find someone to cover that. Accessible, mobile, and multifunctional solutions are preferable. Mobility is important because you will have to move things within the space and possibly even move it to an-


other venue eventually. Anything can happen in the future. It is always better if you can carry your equipment with you, not just your ideas. With creative solutions you can define the atmosphere of the space and influence the identity of its community. You can make mobile screens from used furniture and fabric. Clothes, blankets, and pillows can be used as sound insulation – the possibilities of recycling are endless. Ensure that everyone working in the project has proper working conditions. During construction, follow safety regulations and laws – don’t forget to do the research into these beforehand. If your aim is to create comfy and safe space for your community, you must follow work safety regulations.


FUNCTIONS Think through the possibilities that your space has to offer. List the needs of your community. Try to involve some income-making functions that will promote self-sustainability with time. As a source of inspiration, here is a list of possible functions: ••public community spaces (e.g. cinema, theatre, sports venue, exhibition hall, workshop, conference room, meeting room) ••manufacturers’ workshops ••offices ••rehearsal rooms ••artist studios ••co-working office ••catering ••sleeping accommodations ••kids’ corner ••shop (of upcycled or other goodies) ••information centre ••community kitchen



By communication, we do not only mean the internal communication already mentioned, but also all kinds of relationships with the wide world. Decide on a name if you haven’t yet. It is a plus if it refers to your activities and your philosophy. Create the channels through which people can get in touch with you if they want to. The project should have an email account that can pool inquiries and from where you can represent the space. You can make a homepage, a facebook account (person, page or group), or any other online forum where you post information about yourselves, ranging from your philosophy to events, from open calls to photos. You can also start a blog so that people can follow your progress. In short: use the community building potential of the internet! All these interfaces should be used in a coherent way to reflect a brand, and this brand should imply what you stand for. Your logo, the colours and images you use will make an impression on the viewer, so try to transmit the right message. Also think offline! Spread the word, make your project a subject of gossip, and start it yourselves: tell everyone about the place to be and what you are doing. Contact the local media, maybe they will be interested in telling your story so that more people will find out about the project. Of course if your idea is to stay behind closed doors as a private club, keep it a secret! 23

The opening should be communicated in a campaign which you can later relate to in a regular way (e.g. yearly). Organise artistic and guerilla events, try to attract attention in any way you can!


WHAT WILL MAKE THE WHOLE THING ATTRACTIVE? The community space may be: ••a meeting spot of like-minded groups (e.g. arts, social issues) ••a melting pot of versatile groups and individuals ••socially and/or culturally open ••an incubator house2 and co-working office ••a comfy space, a meeting spot with good vibes ••in a good location with easy access ••a forum that actively identifies the community’s needs and responds to them ••an independent venture that is funded by all of its members

2 see more about incubation in the IX. chapter



LEGAL AFFAIRS Find out whether it is necessary to get permission from the residents’ association to start your activities. In the case of a residential building this might be the case. Before the official opening, you will need to get permissions from the authorities for each kind of function you are planning to offer. Leave plenty of time to prepare these. The number and type of permissions needed will be determined by the structure of your organisation and your activities. As a first step, try to ask people who have already been through this process. The local municipality will probably require formal plans before giving you permissions in the following fields (this is the case in Hungary, at least): ••fire safety: e.g. providing emergency routes and visible signs ••electrical safety: making sure that your power sources are safe ••work safety: this is about a safe and healthy working environment ••evacuation management: the space will be inspected to determine the maximum capacity of people your venue can house, etc. ••permissions for vending/catering activities If you are renting the space, the text of the contract should include specific details of the agreement, including the conditions of


restoring the place at the conclusion of your occupancy. Especially important are the permissions, renovation restrictions, and ongoing responsibilities. The text should be reviewed by a real estate lawyer, hopefully they will be able to identify issues that may not be readily apparent to help you avoid future problems. Depending on your concept, decide whether it is necessary for you to have an officially registered organisation (Ltd, Association, etc.). You can also start without one, and register in the future. Two important questions you have to ask yourselves regarding this are: ••Are we planning any for profit or nonprofit activities? ••Are we going to apply for funding open for NGOs? If your decision is to function as a company or an NGO, consult a lawyer. The registration and administration will require some funds – it also means that you are taking on additional legal and financial responsibilities, but it will also open up new opportunities (e.g. the ability to apply for grants).


BUSINESS PLAN – THE PILLARS OF SELFSUSTAINABILITY Self-sustainability and independent operation will require funds – which may be raised through your community’s operations. It is recommended to secure the venture by having several sources of income. These can change over time as needs grow and change. The key is to focus on sustainability – don’t spend more than you have! It is important to plan well in advance on what funding you are going to use to support the place and the community. For financial planning it is helpful to use the general business plan format which will show the balance of expected income and expenditures. The next question is: what level of income will you have to raise on a daily/ weekly/monthly basis to secure sustainability. A realistic estimate of cash-flow will show you the amounts you will have to pay (from salaries to bills and taxes) and how these affect your liquidity when offset with your sources of income. Be reasonable when you plan the income and expenditures. Hopefully you will be able to use a portion of any surplus funds for further development of the space.


Some examples of income-generating activities: Renting spaces: ••Event rooms ••Studio or office rental ••Co-working office units ••Accommodation Catering: ••Café ••Bar ••Snack bar / restaurant ••Catering services for events Community funding: ••Donations (cash / goods / services) ••Online crowdfunding ••Creating your own currency (selling vouchers) Other sources: ••Income from events (ticket income / donations from audience) ••Funding from local, national, or international partners ••Corporate sponsors ••Grants It may be a good option to ask community members to pay a contribution for the operational expenses – this will be a small amount that should be communicated beforehand. Make it clear to everyone (including the members of the community and the visitors of the events) that the place you are running 30

is self-sustaining so “every penny counts”. A symbolic contribution will also allow people to feel responsible for the place and will have the added effect of community development. Another option is to require mandatory contributions from everyone and use the money for programmes that need and deserve support. There are alternative methods which can benefit your community without money changing hands. A favour bank is a group where the members do favours to help each other and account for these in the group’s internal “currency”. Ideally, the group is comprised of people who work or live close to each other so that they can actually return the favours. There are also barter systems which can involve any combination of goods and labour, e.g. fixing a washing machine in return of a pair of new shoes. Time banking is another system of mutual help, where the members make lists of their skills and expertise they can offer for others’ benefit. Everyone’s help is equally valued - one hour of work is worth one credit. Each member can offer and accept help to earn and spend credit, which is documented in a common (mostly online) database. If everyone is actively spending the credits, the system will be running and making its members feel valued and needed.



Opening will not necessarily mean that the creation of the place has finished. You will definitely face new types of challenges. You should aim to maintain the positive results you already achieved while at the same time provide opportunities for continued development. You will have to adapt to a different way of operation. The step-by-step opening process that we followed gives you a chance to start your activities gradually, one at a time, while you keep working on the conditions necessary to achieve your next goal. You can open a part of the space for the public and continue construction in another part still “under cover”. You can develop your space as you attract new communities. This gradual development is influenced by what turns out to be successful. If you start on a small scale you can use any additional funds for further development. One of the most important tasks is organising regular operations. After opening, unlike the often one time tasks involved in preparation, you will have to create a regular operational system. You have to decide who will do what, when, how, and in what capacity. There should be always someone on the spot “on duty”, who is competent and has the necessary information and authority to make decisions if needed. If you are operating as a registered organisation, you will have some legal and administrative obligations. Do not neglect these! You can be inspected any time, and if something is wrong, there will likely be an unpleasant penalty. 33


It is not enough merely to open your doors, you should also plan well in advance what kind of services and programmes you will offer in the coming months. The aim of your programmes should be attracting and building the community. The concept behind your events is important, but it is equally important to make them financially viable.

You can also operate as an institution that provides space for events organised by others, freeing yourselves from the necessity of organising individual events. However, you need to create a system of curating and managing the programmes as well as determining whether you will co-host all or some of the events and apart from the space, what other support you might offer. Of course, you can organise events yourselves and mix the two approaches. It is important to clarify the conditions for each event as well as define roles, such as who is responsible for promotion, financing, and cleaning up. It is always better to have a written agreement, even if informal, to avoid future problems. Do your best when managing events that you host! 35

As a source of inspiration, here is a list of possible types of programmes: ••LIVE PERFORMANCES (e.g. theatre, dance, performance art) ••LITERARY EVENTS (e.g. readings, book signings, slam poetry) ••VISUAL ARTS (e.g. exhibitions, film screenings, drawing classes and other workshops, opening and finissage events, other exhibition-related events) ••MUSIC PROGRAMMES (e.g. concerts, parties, DJ performances) ••COMMUNITY, CULTURE, PUBLIC LIFE PROGRAMMES (e.g. animal-friendly events, discussions, family events, swap and flea markets, walks, sports, lectures, travelogues) ••SOCIALLY ORIENTED PROGRAMMES (e.g. fundraising events, conferences, building social networks) ••WORKSHOPS, MEETUPS ••MULTIDISCIPLINARY EVENTS (e.g. thematic days, festivals) ••GASTRONOMICAL HAPPENINGS (e.g. community breakfasts, cooking classes)




SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY – RAISING AWARENESS We believe in the importance of social responsibility because there are numerous disadvantaged social groups that are neglected and not a part of public discourse. It is important and necessary to change the status quo for the sake of the development of our local and global environment. Social responsibility is not a luxury. It carries the promise of real qualitative change for a civil existence for future generations. In order to cultivate change, research the social situation of your local environment, more specifically your direct surroundings, identify the needs of social groups who are present and disenfranchised. If you are sensitive towards social problems, you can help search and find solutions, taking an active role in improving lives.


Find a few topics / groups that are the closest to you, and choose one or two to involve in your daily activities: ••collect donations and make sure they reach the right people ••support charity events by organising or hosting them ••contact local groups and NGOs and try to collaborate with them ••if needed, involve social workers and solicit their advice ••organise discussions, group activities, roundtables, conferences on the chosen topics. If you don’t want to organise these activities yourselves, involve those who are already active in the field. Remember to actively involve those groups that you are trying to help.


INCUBATION, CATALYST ACTIVITIES The purpose of incubation is to take care of something that is initially too weak to survive on its own until it becomes capable of independent existence. It takes shape in building and providing an infrastructure which can support emerging independent artists, freelance creatives, and social initiatives. You can help them reach wider audiences by affirming their works and services. Long-term, sustainable, and beneficial solutions can help minority communities fighting to exist. Incubation activities will motivate other communities to collaborate with you, thereby strengthening your own community’s creative potential. Catalyst institutions should aim to collect representatives of different subcultures, art forms, or various social initiatives in one place to create a fertile ground for meaningful social interactions. Disparate creative organisations and individuals should be able to tap into and benefit from the community assets and the social network linked to it. The cross pollination of different groups will lead to greater diversity and encourage new ventures which will strengthen the immediate community and society as a whole. The catalyst will ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.



In Hungary before the change of political regime in 1989, the state and the municipalities created and funded all cultural and community centres, often using them as political tools. After the change, these largely became underfinanced, oldschool institutions with little civil activity. The optimism Hungary experienced in the 90’s was felt in the field of state financed culture as well, but by 2010 the hope faded. In the ensuing years party politics played a dominant role in organising Hungarian cultural life, just like in the socialist times. Numerous figures of progressive culture have suffered due to a dependency on state or municipal support, or a reliance on spaces owned by these structures. Changes in the political power structure often had direct effect on them, putting them in vulnerable position. As a result, there was a need for grassroots organised, independent, self-sustaining spaces for cultural activities. When we started building Mßszi in 2012 in central Budapest, on the 3rd floor of the Corvin Department Store, we wanted not only to create a space for our own creative activities, but also to react to the political-social changes in the country and the needs of local communities. We imagined a new form of institution, which would provide space to address crucial unmet needs, foster free creation, and which could be independently run by its members without the meddling of outside forces. We started off to create Mßszi as a civil initiative without any support from any state or municipal sources. We dreamed of an inclusive institution that would host programmes that anyone with a creative idea could organise, 43

where people could come unhindered to make theatre, dance, watch movies, organise exhibitions, concerts, discussions, kids’ events, where you can drop by any time to play ping-pong or foosball. We wanted to create a place where free social discourse took precedence over profits or relations to current political power. How does Müszi operate? As an organic balance between organisation and anarchy. After our first anarchistic swing, we felt that we need to change our course in order to preserve the sustainability of the space and the diversity of the artistic, social and creative groups that we host. We saw the need for some community wide rules of conduct with which we could ensure the well-being and cohesion of the community, assuring that the members respect and help each other while sharing the burden of sustaining and developing their common space. Our vision is an independent safe zone inside the city which really fulfills what we believe to be a basic human right. Müszi has its own “currency”, a system of vouchers which encourages the direct trade of goods and services within the community. In this social enterprise our profit-making activities (rental fees, income from events, catering, etc.) help fund nonprofit, social goals. Thus, a self-financed and self-organised organic internal system was developed to create the MÜSZI community which hopes to promote the idea of social responsibility outside its walls. MÜSZI is based on the concepts of accepting and respecting others and the freedom of speech. Every adult, child, animal, and plant is welcome. Alternative modes of existing 44

and thinking are considered natural, sharing thoughts and differing points of view are encouraged. We adopt abandoned objects, furniture, plants, street names, and integrate them into the space. We believe that we have created a social and physical structure which we hope can serve as a model for Hungary and many other parts of the world. Our initiative tries to reach out to the local, national, and global cultural scenes. It is not a retreat from society. It is not something we created in opposition. Rather, we intend to create a model to show that an alternate social reality is possible. While serious, this should not be a burden, but rather a celebration and an adventure. Mßszi as a space is an integral part of the urban tissue, but at the same time it is mobile – a working system of values which we can take to another location at any time.



We would like to thank all the past, present, and future staff members, volunteers and community members of Müszi. Without them, this handbook could not have been created.

COMM | UNITY | SPACE How to create a community space? Edited by: Fábián Molnár Assistant editors: Júlia Bársony, Zsuzsa Berecz, Olga Irimiás, Júlia Salamon English translation by: Olga Irimiás and Bullet Shih Cover, layout, graphic design: Péter Rónai Illustrated by: Anna Fruzsina Kovai Published by: Nyitott Ajtók Közhasznú Egyesület Created by: MÜSZI Content: Júlia Bársony, Művelődési Szint Kft. | http://muszi.org | info@muszi.org Printed in 2000 copies in Hungarian and English. Budapest, 2016 ISBN 978-963-12-4754-1 The publication was supported by the Norwegian Civil Fund.


Profile for MÜSZI


This handbook is the work of the members of Művelődési Szint (Müszi), a community space in Budapest, Hungary which opened in 2012. Based on...


This handbook is the work of the members of Művelődési Szint (Müszi), a community space in Budapest, Hungary which opened in 2012. Based on...

Profile for muszi