The Living Courtyards

Format Action

City Maribor, Slovenia

Courtyards in the historic town centre – The historic town center of Maribor harbors many hidden courtyards that are no longer being used. These concealed spaces bear an immense social, cultural and economical potential. We aim to activate the courtyards by encouraging owners and inhabitants to open them up for intimate cultural and social events organized for and by local artists and the interested public. These could include exhibitions, concerts, performances and lectures, but also picnics, urban breakfasts, games, and tea parties. The courtyards provide an intimate setting for social encounters, bear many interesting stories, represent the town’s social and cultural heritage, offer new spaces for small economic developments, and provide areas for quality living. By activating them, we raise awareness of their existence and importance, and they can become spaces for community building, social inclusion and citizen engagement inside the city.

This tool is based on an anthropological research project into the life in the courtyards of Maribor’s historic town center, which originate from the Middle Ages. In the past the courtyards had a fundamental economic and social function. Since the 1990s, however, they lost this original meaning due to a massive decrease and ageing of the town’s population and a loss of economic activities as a result of the shift of commercial centres to the urban periphery. The majority of courtyards got neglected and the local inhabitants lost touch with their spatial and cultural value. Nevertheless, courtyards are loci of immense potential. We aim to activate this potential in order to promote the cultural heritage of the buildings and their stories in a sustainable way, and empower communities to take an active role in the maintenance of urban space and the organization of their city. As such, we continue the historical and anthropological research into Maribor’s courtyards, and contribute to the 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!)