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FoAM v0 - Starlab Cultural Department - (March 2000 - September 2000)

(NOTE: in need of editing and fact-checking)


  • The members were
    • Maja
    • 2 other core members
      • One of them, a scientist, moved away after bankruptcy because he needed more stability
      • Lina, which stayed until 2011
        • She was initially supposed to be here with a temporary contract to get a permit in Europe, and then start her own project
    • Employees on a project basis
    • Nik arrived just before bankruptcy

FoAM v1 - Starlab non-profit spin-off - (September 2000 - June 2001)

Structure type

  • Starlab started a non-profit spin-off for proto-FoAM

Mission / Purpose

  • The mission of this spin off was to
    • Connect Starlab’s scientific research with art & culture¨
    • Put Starlab’s research out in the world
    • Explore forms at the frontier between art & technology
  • Quickly make an organization in Belgium to receive money for the project (from Flemish government + Ars electronica) (October 2001)
  • Create a structure to work with others in the Netherlands (April 2002)


  • The members were:
    • Maja, Lina and Nik
      • They spent their 6 first months without being paid as core members
  • Maja helped design the mission of this spin-off, but they did not wanted her to be on the board

FoAM v2 - Non-profit with possible commercial spin-offs - (June 2001 - March 2010)

Structure type

  • This structure was designed by FoAM’s crew, in the post-Starlab era
  • A non-profit with possible commercial spin-offs
    • Non-profit as a playground
    • Develop services and products that could generate income
    • Feed part of the money back in the non-profit
    • The creation of spin-offs was not a core mission, but an economic feedback implementation to get revenue in case one was created
  • Creating multiple FoAM studios rather than one big FoAM
    • Other FoAM studios based their statutes on FoAM Brussels statutes, but adapting to local situation

Mission / Purpose

  • The mission of this organization was:
    • Still focused on art & technology
    • However, opening to very broad collaborations across disciplines (not only art & technology) in an open way
    • Wrapping it up, the new elements brought in in this new form of structure
      • Broader than art & technology
      • Open source


  • Formally, regarding membership
    • It started with Nik, Lina, Maja on the board + 1 belgium person in the general assembly
      • Strictly minimal legal requirement
    • But funders did not like it
      • Funding schemes pushed towards a certain kind of governance, even though it was not a legal requirement
  • Informally, regarding membership
    • Very horizontal way of working
    • Everyone involved was invited to be part of the decision-making
    • The group came together when it was needed, people not wanting to come did not
    • All kind of decisions were taken in these assemblies
      • Yearly meetings for organisational planning
      • Meetings adressing project design & planning
        • Before submitting to funders
        • After getting the project, to decide how to work together
          • Who would do what ?
          • How would money be shared ?
    • About 8-10 people were gathering around the table, up to 20 when gathering all the participants of an EU project
    • It worked well when things were working, but an implicit power structure (mostly based on legal responsibilities) was revealed as soon as difficulties were showing up
      • Maja was involved as implicit facilitor, usually also as money handler, too many hats !
  • The core members realized they were exhausted, but without understanding why until 2009
    • A lot of experiments ([?] on organizational re-design ? ) have been designed ever since

FoAM v2.1 - (2001-2005)

  • The two main focuses were around
    • Responsive environments
    • Groworld, a project related to ecological art
      • These focuses both started at the same time
    • Most of the activities were about these two main focuses, and workshops with invited people
  • No residencies at that time

FoAM v2.2 - (2006-2009)

Structure type
  • FoAM became an artlab
    • Which is a funding-driven organization
Mission / Purpose
  • After the LETHA project (presented at the Fuckup night), the focus was re-directed on environmentally/socially sustainable projects
    • For instance, luminous green
      • Which arose in 2004-2005, but became a project officially afterwards
    • The mission was redefined around a broader social/cultural/environmental sustainability vision
    • The circles were opened further
    • The mission also shifted contentwise
      • The world situation was quite optimistic at that time
        • Climate change was becoming mainstream
        • Multidisciplinarity was being praised for in Davos
        • And then, all came back as it was previously !!!
        • This led to the “resilients/what if thinking” phase, which started late 2009
  • In late 2009, FoAM became a lab for speculative culture
  • The work was distributed between
    • Projects
    • Sharing knowledge and skills
    • Both these aspects ran in parallel for a while, and then, both funding and people involved pushed FoAM’s own projects out
      • There were mostly artists wanting their own projects to be supported
      • This change was quite imperceptible, and not in the original mission
      • At some point, FoAM was just about nurturing, and not any more 50 % own work as it used to be
    • Pushed by EU, Flemish government and radical bureaucracy of funding, more and more reporting to do
      • Agencies are outsourcing their reporting work on project-managing artist-run structures
      • For instance for Grig, an EU project which lasted 3 years from 2006 to 2009
        • [? TBChecked] FoAM had to manage 5 times its operational budget

FoAM v3 - Funding-induced structural change - (2010 - 2016)

Structure type

  • A hierarchical structure was imposed by funding in 2010, extension of board + membership)
    • The funders requested
      • An extension of the board
      • A larger general assembly
    • This change brought extreme excitement and hope, at the idea of finaly sharing benefits AND responsibility across more people (about 20 people involved in all studios)
      • The idea was to map a circle-based flexible and hierarchical structure on the legal one, including the others studios in the structure
        • The structure intertwined the board and a core team
          • The board included a member of the core team (Maja)
          • The core team included all project leaders and a board member (Nik, for oversight)
          • Its role was overall stewardship of the organization on a daily basis ([?] including other studios ?)
        • The general assembly was made of
          • All people working in FoAM ([?] Brussels ? Working as “paid” or as “participating in projects” ?)
          • New members were involved by co-optation by the general assembly
            • [?] Did some inclusion created debate ?
            • Members could also be excluded by the general assembly
              • They had few self-exclusions from voting members
              • They also had few exclusions for inactivity
            • The inclusion of other studios was designed by involving
              • A member of Brussels in the (board [?] or general assembly ?) of each studio
              • A member of each studio in the (board [?] or general assembly ?) of Brussels’ studio
              • But soon, quorum issues appeared, because the distance made it tricky for people to come at each General Assembly
              • So the statutes were changed so that members from other studios would be non-voting
            • The main default of this structure still was that the three core board members were responsible for everything and everyone
              • General Assemblies looked like a farce
            • Reasons for this structure not working may include
              • Members not wanting to be involved in governance, but just wanting to get the benefits
                • Space access, visibility, etc
              • Most of the people involved were there because they could get something out of FoAM
                • When “reciprocity time” came, there were a lot of tensions
              • [?] If you had to iterate, would you select exclusively people wanting to get involved in governance to join aboard ?
              • Starting from a crisis start up (bankruptcy), the protocols/procedures which were designed initially were difficult to break
                • It induced good processes to flow money & energy out ([?] how ?)
                • No “giving back” to the organization was formally structured
                  • [?] How would you structure it now ?
              • Lessons learned include
                • Think it from the beginning ([?] How ? Don’t you have to fail to realize it ?)
                • Be very selective about the people you invite aboard ([?] how ?)
              • Untill 2012 [?] > very unsustainable practice
                • Money for project costs (materials + people)
                • The “core team” was being payed under minimal wage until 2012 !
                  • Rates as low as 1,5 € / hour sometimes !
              • Share responsibility and benefits of all
                • If people are on the board and general assembly, then they should be interested in governing the organization
  • Core team
    • ([?] TBChecked) This institution is designed to manage FoAM Brussels laboratory on a daily basis
    • This institution was created in 2010
      • Before 2010, this role was informal
    • Its size stayed in the 4-8 people range
    • The representation of projects was stopped in 2012-2013
    • Centralizing the core team on people running the organization
  • Board
    • This institution is designed to be in between FoAM and the external world
    • It started by including FoAM members only, and then some external advisors were added ([?] post-2010 ?)
    • Its size stayed in the range of 6-9 people
  • General assembly
    • [?] Did you propose to any project contributor to become a member ?
    • Its sized stayed in the range of 10-20 people
  • In 2010, Maja and Nik went away for 6 months sabbatical, because burn-out was showing up
    • The first version of the manual was written at that time
    • When they came back after 3 months
    • The studio looked trashed, uncared for, people were having arguments
      • Maja and Nik spent the next 3 months with more online presence
      • When coming back from the sabbatical, at the beginning of 2011, things were getting better, but FoAM’s reputation was declining
      • Many comments of people saying “you cannot let this happen”
    • This is when the Resilients project started in June 2011

Mission/Purpose & Activities

  • From late 2009 onwards, FoAM Brussels is still running 100% in the “nurturing regime” - almost no “own work”
    • FoAM had its own projects, but was still nurturing other people within the projects, and not working with other skilled people on a “shared” basis
      • Realization by the end of Resilients & PARN that most of the work was still about nurturing
        • The projects always started perfectly
          • The content was co-designed during a workshop
          • Clear responsibilities were established
          • The timing was made clear too
        • But then, it did not work as expected
          • Maja & Nik felt restricted
            • They were waiting for people to catch up
            • They were spending a lot of time explaining things
            • The partners were “the people who were there”, not the perfect purposed-design crew
              • It would have been better to work with people who really cared about the topic AND knew how to work on it
              • It felt like some of the partners did not really had something at stake in the project
              • The mistake was maybe to have picked people FoAM had pleasantly worked with in the past, but which were not appropriate for these specific projects
              • These projects were a failure regarding FoAM’s expectation, but were financially successful, EU was very happy about them
                • All partners were satisfied too
  • The audit came (for Grig) in 2012, and induced a breaking point
    • One year and half have been spent on the audit (March 2012-August 2013)
    • The first report from the auditors was asking ~600 k€ back
    • At the end of the process, they were asking “only” 300 k€ back, but after a lot of work, stress, etc
  • In 2013, the decision was made to actively split nurturing activities and own work
    • Nurturing activities were residencies
    • FoAM’s own research project was “Future Fabulators”
      • This project worked much better than the previous ones
    • It was a “shower moment” from Maja, then shared with everyone else
  • A good example of a successful feedback loop from “nurturing activities” is the “Future of Unconditional Basic Income” project
    • The nurturing activity was to train me on the methodology
    • The feedback is to get the results from the workshop

General comments

  • Overarching principles of FoAM’s organization
    • Invest in the minimum required for legal compliance
      • Regarding structure
      • Regarding funding
      • Regarding reporting
      • In order to have the smallest effort for administration needed
  • The loop regarding content can be summed up as this
    • Crowdsourcing interests and questions from the members
    • Craft a research program within the core team
    • Feed it back to the network
  • Looking back on the relationship with the other studios
    • FoAM Brussels is the Generalists’ studio
    • Other studios focus on specific aspects - usually with a five years delay
    • This organisation happened that way, not intentional


  • Do you think that a better matching between legal responsibility and decision-making power within the structure would have been better ?


  • Look at Maja’s doc sent by email
    • It is now saved in the same folder as the text you are currently reading
      • Charter (txt)
      • Organisational diagram (pdf)
      • FoAM blurbs (txt)
        • [?] Dates of each blurbs
          • There are two other online docs to be read
            • FoAM projects
            • FoAM mirror (inquiry through foam network)
  • Group questions labeled in this doc
manual/interviews/session1.txt · Last modified: 2018/01/15 05:54 by