This article was originally published in 2019 to announce the launch of Year 1 of Ferment. Since then over $65K has been distributed to creators through Ferment. Ferment also does not seek public funding and operates as a stand-alone space experimenting with new ways of making culture.
Ferment: Space for Cultures to Grow
Incubators exist to help startups grow. Incubators are being increasingly leveraged globally to catalyze economic and community development. This is an admirable pursuit but raises important questions about the types of activities that are being supported and the forms that positive development takes. The moral foundations of capitalism are dominating more and more aspects of our culture. Unsurprisingly, incubators echo this, with an emphasis on economic growth, competition, and acquisition.
We will need systems and institutions focused on more than competition and growth if we hope to overcome the massive challenges we face as communities and as a species.
Culture is a collective resource upon which we all draw to make sense of the world. A society that lacks diversity in cultural narratives is a society that lacks the imagination to deal with the massive issues of our times. Incubators, even when ostensibly aimed at solving issues like climate change or inequality, are often deeply rooted in capitalist assumptions about wealth and growth.
New incubators embodying new values are necessary to build our collective resilience and to generate new ideas and approaches to move us forward.
Fermentation is a practice known in most cultures. In fact, there is evidence of beer making in a cave near Haifa, Israel from 13,000 years ago. Fermentation refers to the conversion of sugar into alcohol but is also applied to the leavening of bread (carbon dioxide from yeast activity) and in the preservation of foods through the production of lactic acid (like in pickles and cheese). Ultimately, fermentation serves five basic purposes: to provide greater diversity of flavors, aromas, and textures; to preserve food for later use; to increase the health benefits of a food or drink; to get rid of anti-nutrients, and to reduce the need for cooking and the associated need for fuel.
Ferment therefore becomes a useful metaphor for the work we are trying to do. We seek to:
- increase the diversity of stories available to us to make sense of the world.
- preserve stories and ways of knowing so that they are not lost to future generations.
- offset the trend toward algorithmic optimization of culture at the expense of the hard work and education required to develop personal taste.
- offer time and support to approaches that the market might not currently support
- accelerate projects that disrupt how we deal with massive problems affecting us and subsequent generations
Fermentation takes patience and there are few quick fixes. Also, we won’t know what we’ve got until adequate time has been given. Ours is a slow and immersive process.
Ferment is an effort to help people outside traditional and institutional spheres of cultural production do their work and contribute to our collective well-being. We are doing this through research and experimentation on emerging business models, new platforms for collaboration, and unexpected sources of income.
Ferment is an effort to understand and enact a different format for ‘incubation’. Ferment is a space for new culture to grow. We intend to create alternatives to state and corporate forms of incubation.
We are following the advice of Noam Chomsky, who calls for, “spontaneous and free experimentation with new social forms”. Furthermore, we are pursuing Chomsky’s goal of “possibilities for reconstruction of society in the interests of those who are now, to a greater or lesser extent, dispossessed”.
Ferment is composed of creators that are advancing ways of understanding and describing the world that might not find a home in institutional creativity (or incubation). This includes diasporic practices, hybridized approaches, creative work that spans disciplines and sectors, and art and design that draws on traditions that do not privilege capitalist models.
Ultimately, we hope to offer a new marketplace for solutions. Traditional approaches to incubation should not be dismissed. Our offer is a way of supporting entrepreneurial activity that is centered in different values and approaches. In farming, mono-cultures are fragile. The same argument applies to entrepreneurship and incubation.
Reach out to find out more or check out the 2019 cohort here.