Common Grounds

A process of commoning the main site and building in Utrecht’s Museum Quarters through different modes of sharing the space, its use values & stories.

Common Grounds explores the site and building of Casco Art Institute as an exemplary site for commoning with multiple contributions and participations by artists and any who are interested in it.  

At the core of any commoning practice is a shared resource. Land is often considered to be the most explicit or tangible example. Across the world you can find commons – expressed in different languages – that operate on the basis of collective management, cultivation, and maintenance of land. In the practice of such commons, shared experiences and stories are key to their survival. 

Residing within Abraham Dolehof, a hidden oasis in the Utrecht museum quarter, Casco has been situated and sharing a courtyard of old trees and greenery with neighbors since 2014. This is our shared resource. The location represents hybrid ownership and ways of caring for the space. The neighbors are a mix between property owners, renters, and subtenants, while the courtyard is city property and welcomes visitors to enjoy the beauty of this serene location in the busy city center. However, in agreement with the city, the neighbors advocated to keep the courtyard closed in the evening, making it a semi-private space. Afterall, one tends to relate to a space differently if they sleep there every night.  

It is in this ripe location where Casco explores questions of heritage, environment, relations, resources, and future to cultivate a tangible, living commons. These commons can be understood as common grounds for collective use, artistic exploration, and experiments into existing and new forms of living and working together. This inquiry can even trace back to the inaugural exhibition New Habits (2014) that premiered when Casco moved to this new location from the previous one on the Oudegracht.  

Common Grounds was initiated and developed in early 2020, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown measures. Due to the pandemic, like many other art spaces, our building has been closed to the public for most of the time. Yet, through alternative channels of work and communication, Common Grounds endured. Many stories from the past and present were told and disclosed by interested artists and Dolehof residents to help make it a common heritage. Songs and lyrics have been performed to consider values for a commons-based future, while the archives of Casco are examined and begin to be re-processed for increased accessibility. The questions around our building’s use value became evermore essential, as well as the kinds of art that will emerge or that we’d like to see in the post-Covid era, so we invited Utrecht-based artists to transform our building into their temporary studios and join our collective study.

Common Grounds continues for as long as Casco resides in this spot. In the future we’ll transform and consolidate our home into different functions: our continued exhibition space for multiple projects; a breeding ground for local artists – especially BIPOC artists with multidisciplinary practices and international backgrounds, who co-organize or take part in different projects; and musical and garden activities in the courtyard in collaboration with our neighbors during the sunny and warm seasons.

Read more below about the specific iterations of Common Grounds so far. Stroll among the associated activities to experience the artworks, events, and texts related to the project. 

Story / Heritage 

6 March – 6 July 2020

The first iteration entitled Common Grounds: Story / Heritage was presented by Casco Art Institute and FOTODOK, who have been sharing the Lange Nieuwstraat 7 address since 2014. Both institutions inhabit the building overlooking the Abraham Dolehof, a hidden oasis in the Utrecht Museum Quarter whose ground is extended below to the old canal. We share this site with other conscious and unconscious commoners of the Abraham Dolehof, including small businesses, artists in their studio, residential neighbors, a 165-year-old platanus tree and perhaps the ghosts from the time before we came here.

We ask now; who are the future commoners? Story / Heritage was an open invitation to join us at Casco and FOTODOK in experiencing the whole building and its surroundings and contribute to a story made out of many stories informed by historical research, relationships, imagination, and sense of the place. The exhibition grew with several chapters joined by various contributors and storytellers, exploring the past, present, and future of Abraham Dolehof and our building.

Image description: straight-lined graphic elements feature across the visual identity for Common Grounds: Story / Heritage at Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons. “Common Grounds” is written like parentheses. Credit: David Bennewith / colophon.info, design, 2020.

Song / Value

7 October 2020 – 28 February 2021 (extended due to the pandemic)

In an attempt to understand song in the context of the commons, the second iteration Common Grounds: Song / Value considered the transformative quality and value that song has on a sense of collectivity and belonging. The program assembled songs that speak truth to power, wherein listening and singing along can become a form of solidarity, an embodied commitment to the messages sung. It explored the social and political landscape of songs and sound, as well as conditions of reception and interaction. The program features artists, musicians, and writers and was accessed via multiple channels broadcasted from our headquarters: live concerts which highlight “singalong song;” small gatherings “backstage” to tour Casco’s archive, building, and histories; a series of lyrical letters distributed by post, and a new season of Common Air, Casco’s radio streamed on Stranded FM, featuring musical works from Casco’s archive, outcomes of research around the season’s theme, and contributions from artists and researchers in the fields of art, music, sound, and politics.

Image description: rhythmic and nebulous graphic elements feature across the visual identity for Common Grounds: Song / Value at Casco Art Institute: Working for the Commons. “Common Grounds” is written like parentheses. Credit: David Bennewith / colophon.info, design, 2020.

Temporary studio offer

8 March – 2 May 2021

After the two-part presentations of Common Grounds in 2020, we sought to continue our deep engagement with our home site in Abraham Dolehof. We connected with and welcomed Utrecht-based artists to temporarily turn our exhibition rooms into their studios or for another use with no fee involved through an open call process. In exchange, the artist tenants were expected to look closely at the findings and outcomes of Common Grounds so far, and to imagine together with us the future-use of this place in light of commoning through four collective online meetings. This meant thinking of the future of what a building could be for sharing and experiencing art in the post-Covid era, let alone what kind of art we would be desiring. The short experimental studio offer culminated in a weekend of intimate studio visits that we organized in accordance with safe distancing measures to share their process-outcomes. Visit our Instagram to view special highlights of artists.

Image description: one of Casco’s exhibition rooms, empty, with a roof window, old wooden structures and a heater.


Contributors / participants
Story / Heritage: Bart Lunenburg, Jumana Emil Abboud, Kanitha Tith, Laura Herman and Maarten Mertens

with David Bennewith, Lieke Hettinga, Kooperative für Darstellungspolitik, Christian Nyampeta, Falke Pisano & Riet Wijnen, Deborah Sielert, Siobhan Wall, Merel Zwarts, De Draaihals, Karen Ebert, Lisa Eksteen, Rien Goené, Yvette Goené, Clair Griffioen, Ienke Kastelein, Hans van Lunteren, Lisanne Ruim, Danielle and Martijn de Jong, All about my mother study group of Dutch Art Institute, Bruno Latour via Arts Collaboratory, Casco team, Community Economy Research Network (Oona Morrow and Wapke Feenstra), Economy for the Common Good, Peace Brigades International, and Taeyoon

Song / Value: Shishani, Marikit, Mira Thompson, Nathaly Tweeboom, Dear, Martha Jager and Sophie de Seriere) with Geo Wyeth, Urok Shirhan, Shabaka Hutchings, Angel Bat Dawid, Wok the Rock, Binna Choi, Nuraini Juliastuti, Serena Lee

Temporary studio offer: Annabelle Binnerts, Ana Linhares, Hache Collective, Lux Sauer, Ariadne Sergoulopoulou, M.C. Julie Yu

Staci Bu Shea with Binna Choi, program lead
Ying Que, program co-lead Song / Value
Leana Boven, program co-lead Temporary studio offer
Marianna Takou, support and producer
Luke Cohlen, communication
Rosa Paardenkooper, communication Story / Heritage
Rebecca Boswell and Niamh Hersen, research and archive interns

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