artwork by Idil Bozkurt, member of The System Change HIVE.

Creating a new collaborative culture in The System Change Hive: imagining the future as a collective exercise of care.

Molly Astley
Mar 26 · 6 min read

The ecological and social crises we face require collective, creative action.

As we come together in all of our human diversity, how can we ensure that our collaborative projects foster a culture of care, and transform the unhelpful feelings of competition, pressure or blame that often emerge in capitalist work-spaces?

To weave a working culture with the virtues of tolerance, solidarity and mindfulness; respect, honesty and self-care,
seems an important way to support the new story about our relationship with each other and the earth, that must emerge.

In The System Change HIVE we have an opportunity to experiment with embodying these values of care as we work together to cocreate an exhibition. We are an interdisciplinary collective of artists, researchers and activists, each of us with a different learning personality, and unique, valuable approaches to the complex questions we are responding to.

In our second session, Andrew Stirling outlined the difference between ‘controlled transition’ and ‘caring transformations.’

We understood that when thinking about the planet or society as a living being, intricate and changing, that the models of control, limitations and targets applied by authorities are often inappropriate and also unsuccessful. Here, The ESRC STEPS Centre (partner of The Hive) speaks about the difference between emancipatory (caring) transformations, and repressive (controlling) ones, as pathways to sustainability.

Perhaps the same applies to collaborative work-spaces: the creative process is animate, unruly, and positively nurtured by values of care (although control has a necessary place too).

Under the right conditions of care, new and positive transformations occur, individually and collectively.

When we feel cared for, heard and useful, we act and grow in constructive and confident ways, and are likely to return acts of care to others.

It seems that an integral part of working in a healthy collaborative environment is being attuned to and accepting of the individual rhythms of those involved, in a way that supports and allows our humanness.

Artwork and haikus by Cliff Crawford (@cliffart), member of The System Change HIVE, in response to the idea of caring collaboration.

Possible visions and values of the HIVE


: spacious enough for us to carve out our own roles, aligned with our particular skills and wishes, whilst also working synergistically with others. We all like to feel useful, and we should feel free to make this known. We need not feel stuck in designated positions, or afraid to suggest new ideas.

Individuality / Tolerance

: a space that embraces all of our different ways to process ideas and to work, underpinned by the understanding that physical output does not always equate to mental energy.

A space that acknowledges and engages with diverse ways of learning and forms of knowledge , not only cognitive, such as physical, intuitive, empathic, visual & sonic.


: a space to cultivate interpersonal trust — counteracting the dominant culture of suspicion.

Trust in each other’s abilities and commitment, trust that everyone is doing the best they can with the best intentions and respect for one another, regardless of topical disagreements. In a culture of trust, fear of failure and mistakes become less of an obstruction.

Honest, open communication.

This comes with the confidence that we will be listened to, that our opinions and questions are valued, no matter our background or identity.
Speaking without violent language enables healthy dialogue, where we are not afraid to venture into the landscape of disagreement.



We are responding to difficult questions in the HIVE and an important part of supporting collaboration is practising compassion.

This might look like outreaching to someone we haven’t heard from in a while and asking if there’s anything we can do together for the project: when we fall behind with work there’s sometimes a feeling of shame that makes us less likely to ask for help.

Boundaries / Self-Care

The ability to say ‘no.’ The absolute permission to make personal time, emotional or health constraints known.

A still from Annie Elliot’s (an artist in the HIVE) video-poem, ‘If I could be a Willow Tree,’ written as an act of self-care.


: a project in which time or financial pressures do not affect our ability to work mindfully, at a pace that is healthy for our bodies and minds.

Knowledge / Practise / Wisdom

We have experienced creative mentors in the HIVE, tending to the space by bringing wisdom from their trainings in a wide range of practises, including: Non Violent Communication:
and Horizontal working practices:

This knowledge is necessary to support our sessions more deeply.

We sit in a circle, a form that allows everyone to be seen and heard. Each person is given space to check in and out. In this space, feelings are invited, communication is honoured and listening is expected.

It seems that the task of holding a container safe enough for embodied, felt engagement, spacious enough for the fluidity of the creative process, and bounded enough to stay on brief, is an ongoing and delicate balance between time-keeping and radical permissiveness — oscillating between wide and narrow attention.

‘Watering the good seeds’

We might feel to give each other encouragement and positive feedback when it’s due — to water each others good seeds, to use zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s metaphor. This is what I understand as Transformational Care.

“Selective watering is the process of watering the good seeds and giving the healthy and positive elements in our consciousness a chance to manifest.

We are the gardeners who identify, water, and cultivate the best seeds in ourselves and in others.

When we succeed in touching our positive seeds once, we will know how to touch them again and again, and they will strengthen.”

A collaborative creative culture founded on values of care could create community, catalyse emancipatory transformation and enhance solidarity with the cause, as giving our physical work output a new quality.

The HIVE is not only working to present creative visions of ‘fairer systems that safeguard life-support systems, and prioritise well-being and justice,’ but is itself a vehicle for embodying such system change.

If our artwork becomes the manifestation of the powerful experience of healthy creative collaboration, we might hope to give exhibition viewers a sense of what a future system could feel like, in which both interdependence and individuality are cherished, and work has a new meaning, as society defines itself by values of care, rather than fear.


What do we need to feel taken care of?

What can we do to take care of each other in collective art and activist projects?

As artists, how can we take care of our audience?

In the spirit of collaboration, this is an open document: please contact me if you would like to add to or challenge any of these ideas. Your contribution is welcome.

System Change Hive

Naomi Klein speaks of the importance of social movements ‘dreaming in public’. The HIVE exists to support creative practice and informed dreaming as a different kind of resistance and the power of art and imagination to make alternative systems tangible.

Molly Astley

Written by

is an artist, writer & musician. English lit. graduate with backgrounds in movement therapy, alt. ed. & environmentalism.

System Change Hive

Naomi Klein speaks of the importance of social movements ‘dreaming in public’. The HIVE exists to support creative practice and informed dreaming as a different kind of resistance and the power of art and imagination to make alternative systems tangible.

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