In January 2018, a group of artists and cultural workers based in Brussels—including us, Tiziana Penna and Anna Rispoli—committed to living from the same bank account. All income we receive through wages, unemployment, and other benefits is wired into this shared account. From there, we don’t withdraw the same amount we wired in, but whatever amount each one of us feels we need to live our life, including money for mortgage payments, rent, utilities, childcare, monthly savings, groceries, and clothes, but also for holidays, hobbies, going out, and all the unnecessary consumerism one is drawn to. The initiative is called the Common Wallet, and through it our group wants to develop more radical forms of solidarity, kinship, trust, as well as a thorough questioning of and experimenting with different possible relationships to money.
There are currently seven members in the Common Wallet—and three children associated with it—but this number fluctuates. Some of the members are single, some have partners. Some own an apartment, others do not. While we are all in the arts and culture or nonprofit field, we work in different disciplines, and we operate in Belgium as well as abroad. So far, each newcomer knew a member who was part of the project before joining. However, there are no specific selection criteria. Anyone who hears about the project and wants to fully engage with its principles could be part of it, regardless of their monthly income. The project aims at engaging with the unknown, and a diverse membership fosters learnings for everyone involved in the experiment. With this in mind, we are actively thinking about ways to diversify the membership in terms of elements like earnings and lifestyle.
As members, we don’t negotiate our individual lifestyles with each other. Instead, there is a collective approach to the cash flow, with everyone taking responsibility for the whole. There is no invasive curiosity around what the other members do or do not spend their money on. The aim is to move away from a culture of control and policing towards a culture of radical trust. There is only one rule: to commit to open and honest communication, even when it gets uncomfortable. Whatever goes wrong will have to be solved by the group. A few tools help us out: a weekly breakfast to make the community “real” and update each other on our experience within the project, irregular longer meetings used for in-depth conversations, a Telegram chat to discuss practical or urgent matters relating to the common account, a monthly secretary (rotating role) to keep track of the general ins and outs and to keep the rest of the group updated on possible cash flow bottlenecks, and an overview of expected income and average expenses over the month.
In this conversation, we discuss the values at the heart of the initiative, how redistribution offers members a sense of security, the importance of respecting all members’ individual needs, and more.
The aim is to move away from a culture of control and policing towards a culture of radical trust.
Anna Rispoli: With the Common Wallet being a project based on redistribution and solidarity, one of the concrete desires is to harmonize the oscillation of income and outcome typical of the arts sector. Some of us get a monthly fixed salary, others benefit from unemployment coverage when they don’t work, others are freelancers getting paid in big chunks only once in a while. So everybody wiring their monthly earnings into the same account is a way to assure a minimum and stable income for everybody.
Another purpose is to relativize the stress of precarity by commonizing it. The Common Wallet is an attempt to unlearn the individualistic relationship we have with money, a perspective that makes us feel alone in front of our own economical failures or successes. If money was a lover, we would be looking for a polyamorous relationship, in which money would be only one of the many elements setting the value of things.
Tiziana Penna: I joined the Common Wallet a year after its creation, and it took me a while to shift from the individualistic logic you describe to a polyamorous one. The commitment is simple: wire all of your monthly income into the common bank account, engage with each other from a place of radical trust, and be transparent. But what it really means to engage with simple values like those takes time to fully understand.
The different ways we react to money can be thought of as muscles. Many people often feel guilty or insecure around money, these reactions can happen on autopilot. When it comes to sharing money, or having gratitude and trust around money, this often requires a more conscious effort of muscles that are not used as frequently. When surrounded by other people doing the same exercise it becomes a transformational process in collective intelligence—
Anna: And these muscles become strong when you train them!
One of the principles that we claim is non-reciprocity—that is, not to look for a match between what you pay in and what you withdraw from the joint account. Even if you don’t put a lot of money in the account, you don’t need to compensate for it by giving something else, like time or services. That’s maybe the strongest resistance to the capitalist blackmail, where the poor end up serving the rich. In fact, we start from the principle that wealth is not necessarily meritocratic and it’s only partially linked to your commitment or your brilliant skills. We acknowledge the privileges that are based on social differences.
Sometimes, having a well-paid job in the art world is a consequence of a series of privileges, like race, gender, having studied, being able to say no to poorly paid jobs, having a supportive family, et cetera. Once this becomes clear, sharing income with people you trust is the most natural thing to do in the world.