The Republic of Columbusplein started as a research project as part of SOCIALDESIGNFORWICKEDPROBLEMS, a pioneering program that aimed to research the impact that designers and artists could have if working together with governments and other political/social organizations. This micronation is a new proposal for Columbusplein, a public square in Amsterdam West. Politicians and social workers from the area were looking for a different perspective on how to tackle several social issues in the neighbourhood, such as bullying among the youngest ones and the lack of a community spirit between all the neighbours. After testing the micro-nation idea for about 3 months, Amsterdam West decided to continue with the project. Therefore the Republic of Columbusplein is not an social experiment anymore but an official and recognized micronation, created with the support of the Amsterdam West Council and recognized by other micronational organizations such as the United Micronations Multi-Oceanic Archipelago (UMMOA).

In order to give shape to this micro-nation, several interventions were programmed, the first one being creating a national secret sauce for fries, the favourite local snack. For the second intervention, after a visit to the European Space Agency in Noordwijk, where the micro-nation learnt everything about the International Space Station and the European Space Program, Columbusplein’s first Space Program was created. The third intervention was the celebration of the first Columbusplein 2014 Olympics, probably the micronation’s biggest success.

More ideas such as an alternative currency featuring social workers on the banknotes or a passport to keep track of citizens’ involvement with the micro-nation are already on the table. Social workers are being invited to readapt their activities under the Republic of Columbusplein’s perspective, and a new approach based on positive potential instead of problem-solving has been shaped. Amsterdam West recognises the value of the energy and excitement that the fictional micro-nation’s concept has created in the neighbourhood, and is willing to continue this collaboration to find out if this new approach could be the right path to follow, and how to fully involve all the social organisations active in the area.

This pioneering concept of transforming a neighbourhood into a micronation can be applied to anywhere, and several communities around the world are already interested in starting a similar program to reactivate communities that have some sort of social struggle. Through these fictional narratives and scenarios, local communities might join this public art project and hopefully one day a United Micronations organization can be created, where any neighbourhood can join and share their knowledge and positive experiences towards shaping better communities all over the globe.

“My work as an artist is to imagine a different world, and create little bits of it. The micro-nation concept allowed me to do so, and allowed the kids and the workers in Columbusplein to be part of it. The micro-nation of Columbusplein is an art project for the neighbourhood, but that doesn’t turn it into just community art. Projects like this open new possibilities that might expand the future impact of artists in social issues, going beyond the pre-established white cube context and engaging with a more positive impact in our society.”

Jorge Mañes Rubio

SOCIALDESIGNFORWICKEDPROBLEMS was a project created by the New Institute, Twynstra Gudde, social designer Tabo Goudswaard and Doen Foundation. 

The micro-nation of Columbusplein was created by Jorge Mañes Rubio and Muzus with the support of Amsterdam West.

The sneakers workshop was possible thanks to Converse.

All images are by Jorge Mañes Rubio.

Click here to see the images