Otelo – Open Spaces for Creativity and Experimentation in Rural Areas

Since 2010, in more than 30 villages and cities in rural areas around Austria a new kind of place has  gained ground – the “Open Technology Laboratory” or “Otelo”. These “Otelos” live by the idea, to offer people an open room for creative and technical activities. An idea based on a protected room for development and experimental use where those experiments can be jointly carried out. An idea, which opens up and connects technical applications as well as media, social innovations and art.

The reasons for Otelo founders Martin Hollinetz and Wolfgang Mader (amongst other co-founders) to get started with this idea in 2010 were obvious to them. “We saw that in bigger cities spaces such as Fab-Labs or Innovation Hubs were starting up. In rural areas these models weren’t economically viable, due to a variety of reasons such as demographics, the lacking critical mass of people open for such experiments or the strong traditional structures. However, we saw the need for such open spaces was still there.” – explains Martin Hollinetz. Also, they were inspired by the “New Work” movement of the Austro-American philosopher Fithjof Bergmann which focuses on conditions which allow everyone to realize their full creative potential.

So they came up with a simple but effective model. “The base rules are that the municipality is required to cover the cost for rent, internet, power and heating. The model is coplemented by a team of ideally five motivated members who host this space, so diverse groups can easily find room for their initiatives, but it stays open and welcoming for new groups and interested citizens as well. The premise is that you can use the open space without the pressure to produce any deliverables.” – says Wolfgang Mader, one of the co-founders of Otelo.

This simple setting should provide the conditions to support people of all ages in the region to develop, pursue and realize their ideas. Simultaneously, it should be a meeting place for exchanging experiences and sharing inspiration.

Countless projects in the areas of regional development, art, media or technology have been initiated in these Otelos so far. Many people have been inspired to follow their passion and to share it with other people. Even companies have been founded, such as the 3D-printing company “Evotech”, the founder of which started out in the Otelo in Vöcklabruck, a small city in Upper Austria.

Acceptance of the different Otelo branches has risen considerably in the past years, also by more conservative target groups (men’s circles and of course Repair Cafés) and attendance figures are rising. Otelo locations can be seen as a “neutral” area between the systems, where people/institutions, which normally do not interact, can exchange ideas and jointly work together.

So what is the biggest lesson learnt for Wolfgang Mader? “In the almost ten years this network is operating it has shown that people can be trusted – they do something meaningful with open spaces. As my colleague Martin Hollinetz puts it, there should be a right to open spaces for everyone to foster more creativity and self-initiative. The main prerequisite is that there are people who host these open spaces to support and enable others to fill the rooms with something they are passionate about.” – adds Wolfgang.

Another substantial condition to inspire more youth to start their own projects is, due to Wolfgang, a culture of accepting mistakes as necessary and helpful for development. “There’s a lot of talk about introducing a positive approach to mistakes – but very little is really changed. Such a change in culture would support experimenting and trying things out. Many people – especially young ones – don’t dare to try things out because they fear to fail and be stigmatized for it. In truth, however, it is much more as the saying goes – if you don’t make mistakes, you are clearly doing something wrong!” – concludes Wolfgang.

For more information, please visit the Otelo’s official web site.

Photo credits: https://otelo.or.at/

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