The Living Courtyards

Format Action

City Maribor, Slovenia

Courtyards in the historic town centre – In order to activate the courtyards we encurage the courtyard owners and inhabitants to open them for intimate cultural events performed by local artists, artisans and the interested public. Through this, courtyards become places of culture, gathering, participants involvement, they get a new colourful appearance, liveliness and regain their social purpose.

The tool was brought to life based on an anthropologist work, researching the life in the town’s courtyards, which originate from the Middle Ages. In the past the courtyards had a fundamental economic and social function. However since the 90’s the old town centre experienced a massive decrease and ageing of population, loss of economic activities, due to the shift of commercial centres to the periphery. Those spaces lost their original meaning, consequently the inhabitants lost track of their spatial and cultural value within the town’s identity. The majority of courtyards got neglected, degraded but recognized as locuses of immense potential. Courtyards can offer interesting spatial ambients for various events and encounters, they bear many interesting stories, they represent the authentic historic heritage, they offer new spaces for small economic developments, but especially areas for quality living. They contribute to the town’s identity and cultural richness. Last but not least, they are important places for community building inside the city.

Short term: Opening of the courtyards to the wider public and activating them with cultural events, regaining social-inclusion for the inhabitants. Cultivating local art scene and promoting cultural values as well as the heritage of the courtyards. Long term: Enabling the communities of the courtyards to take an active role in organizing their own events and encouraging them to reuse and renew those spaces. Promoting the cultural heritage of buildings and their stories in a sustainable way.

The outcomes are very diverse, as the courtyards differ one to another. Some of the most important are: - rising awareness of the existence and importance of those spaces among the town’s population and visitors, - the activation of the town's population; - places for social events (picnic, urban breakfast, games, tea party,…) - production of various cultural events in the intimacy of the courtyards making the experience even more valuable (exhibitions, concerts, dancing, lectures, performances, theatre, literary events,..) - helping out with the maintenance of the degraded courtyards, - historical research of those courtyards and the life in them as part of anthropological identity of the town.


Map the courtyards of your town. Make a plan on when and how you are going to approach the locations and their ihnabitatns.


Talk to the owners and inhabitants of the courtyards. Do not send them emails, talk in person. Find out what they are interested in, what are the problems related to the courtyard, how they could contribute to the project and make their space alive through culture. If they don’t have any ideas propose your own. Propose events that would improve the communication between the inhabitants, like picnics, discussions, round-tables, etc. Also important are the rules of the hosting - make sure you respect the rules of the house (e.g. when the event should stop, where you take the electricity from,...)


Once you have defined the program with the inhabitants, calculate the approximate cost. Try to find sponsors, donors, material in kind, volunteers who are prepared to help. The cost also relates to choosing unseen local artist and artisans who would like to present themselves, but would not demand high price for performance. You could also be part of a bigger festival. Apply for grants or find international partners to ensure the EU applications.

Official / Legal LEGAL ISSUES

Get information on what you have to do to declare your event with the authorities, Be aware that some courtyards are privately owned so the rules change according to the legislation of each country/town.


Be aware that you are organising the community event. Some of the inhabitants willing to participate will not want promotion on a big scale. Therefore, make the PR in consensus with the inhabitants. Still there are many ways of communication and PR: Facebook, posters, handouts, personal invitations,... We would encourage you to find creative approaches to invite the public.


Try to involve as many inhabitants as possible to help, not only with the content but also setting the scene. Courtyards facilitate a small number of viewers so you have the chance to make the space intimate and comfortable (e.g. borrow old chairs from the inhabitants or your home, set the right light, ambiental music, decoration of the courtyard, greenery). This creates the feeling of home and allows the inhabitants and visitors to feel easeful; crating a space for social bonding. Invite the inhabitants to great the visitors and to introduce their courtyard and it's history.

Things you need TOOLS AND TIPS

  • start with 2 courtyards in the first year
  • research the history of the buildings and their inhabitants - stories connect
  • be prepared, get to know your target community and their needs
  • make sure to retain the contact with the community
  • publicly thank the host for making the event possible
  • respect the house rules
  • after a trial period try to upgrade the cooperation - inhabitants make their own cultural events
  • make sure the experience of social activation is shared with other inhabitants of the town and try to open as many doors as possible, discover new courtyards
  • have fun while doing The Living Courtyards
  • be patient and don't give up

Reviving old city courtyards through cultural elements

House ! Society (Hiša!)