“Cultural Agencies” is a project with a duration of two years that seeks to develop contemporary models of cultural collaborations and institutional practices. While current planning for Istanbul’s European Capital of Culture 2010 celebrations is focusing on the historic city centre, “Cultural Agencies” breaks out of this “cultural bubble” and shifts focus on narratives of Istanbulites inhabiting the largely ignored periphery. Here, traditional types of European and Turkish cultural institutions –museums, galleries, libraries, theatres or community centres– that accumulate in the city centre are absent. Hidden to the gaze of an outsider, the apparent void has been occupied by a multitude of new forms of “agency”, informal, semi-formal, familial, kinship based, communal, religious, political. While lack of funding and support is undoubtedly omnipresent, the absence of a formal state infrastructure has been compensated for through the combined spirit of free agency, self-help and improvisation, or as an expression of simply surviving and coping with. 

“Cultural Agencies” project attempts to forge a trustbased relationship with selected local communities, conduct field surveys with the help of architects, planners, artists, activists, students and local residents which will lead to the participatory mapping of existing forms of agency. An archive of institutional practice will be constructed which also provides access to different urban narratives. Following a spirit of partnership the granting of access by the communities will, in turn, be met by an offer: To jointly develop ideas and visions of how to consolidate specific forms of agency, to imagine and implement prototypes, as well as to plug into the existing infrastructure of one of the major, globally acting cultural institutions Garanti Galeri and Platform Garanti in Istanbul’s centre. “Cultural Agencies” is not producing landmark projects of the kind produced in the city centre for 2010. Instead, a multitude of small interventions, new links and forms of mutual access is emerging, forging a stronger identification of residents with their physical and cultural environment, and inspiring their participation in much needed change. 

Beyond these concrete results, the project will enrich the broader, cross-disciplinary discourse on how to intervene in an ambiguous civic sphere, which blurs the boundaries between public and private, stable and instable, physical and virtual, local and global, the site-specific and the abstract and utopian. “Cultural Agencies” will demonstrate the field of possibilities for architects, artists, curators, activists, community leaders and residents to discover this sphere as a space of yet unknown collaborative possibilities.