In 1966, British architect Cedric Price published his “Potteries Thinkbelt Project,” a visionary plan for a mobile university in the declining industrial region around Staffordshire in North England. He wanted to transform the local railroad network in order to create seminar rooms on rails, libraries in train stations and laboratories in locomotives for commuters.
As part of the activities of the International Production House Alliance, Japanese theatre producer Akira Takayama, who has been an associated artist at Mousonturm since 2014, is currently developing the perennial artistic research project “European Thinkbelt,” which is based on Cedric Price’s influential concept. Takayama adapts Price’s ideas of a transient university to today’s Europe, traversed by refugees from other parts of the world, who have either been turned away, or have been requested to learn local or national standards, stereotypes and other codes of conduct in the course of their necessary “integration.”
Yet it is rather the other way around: the locals could learn something new and unusual from the newcomers. In March 2017, therefore, Takayama called into being the “McDonald’s Radio University,” where refugees gave clandestine lectures via small transmitter microphones in several McDonald’s restaurants in Frankfurt. For his “theatre that hides away” (Hans-Thies Lehmann), Takayama identified the franchise with its maximum recognition value as a worldwide and hyper-diverse meeting point and emergency shelter, in which anyone can stay for hours, even overnight if necessary, with free Wi-Fi. Accordingly, Takayama’s “European Thinkbelt” will one day ideally be played out at each and every McDonald’s franchise along the Balkan route: The artist has mapped them in minute detail for his exhibition, which accompanies the project and relates it to “Potteries Thinkbelt.” His analysis: “Theatres and museums speak more and more in favor of refugees, while McDonald’s already provides a space in which many cultures and ethnicities live together.”
Together with his Frankfurt-based professors – with whom he has worked for many years now, but who, due to their status as refugees, are not paid adequately – Takayama has begun to develop new business models and start-up business ideas for “Claiming Common Space.” Since January, he has periodically held so-called “McDonald’s Radio University Business Lunches” with experts and interested people in different locations around the city. In order to solve the problem of economic discrimination, he even plans to introduce a new currency (“McCash”), which shall gain validity first at Mousonturm, and then at more and more institutions, companies, and stores in Frankfurt and the world (and, ultimately, even at McDonald’s). For this currency, he will develop unique, innovative, and emotional rather than monetary payment criteria, which could be based on civic relevance and on values of solidarity and community.