This year's theme: Art, Place & Dislocation in the 21st Century
The 2013 Creative Time Summit sets its sights on the fact that culture, for good or bad, is an active ingredient in the construction and shaping of the contemporary city. Tapping into widespread debate on this issue, the 2013 Summit provides a global platform for consideration of the trials, tribulations, artistic practices, campaigns, theories, and practicalities that accompany this phenomenon. As the active role of culture in the city gains traction not only with artists but also with architects, city planners, philanthropists, and developers—from eye-popping monumental sculpture, to arts districts, to battles over eviction and squatting—this year’s Summit provides a timely opportunity to debate and consider a variety of artistic approaches to this contemporary condition.
The discussion is not only active among artists—for many of whom the question of where and how to live is critical—but also among foundations, politicians, city planners, architects, activists and academics worldwide. While theorists including Manuel Castells, David Harvey, and Saskia Sassen have long foretold the shift cities would experience in transitioning to the information economy, the language more commonly adopted to describe these urban transformations derives from that of urban analyst Richard Florida, who is perhaps most famous for coining the term “the creative class.” Florida’s livable creative city boosterism has gained widespread attention from city planners and mayors eager to attract business and growth. Under the influence of his writings, among others, many cities have begun to take art and culture more seriously, viewing it as a catalyst for economic development and a magnet for capital.
With the momentum of these ideas, the correlation between place and cultural production has found its way into arts foundations with terms like “placemaking” being used to describe culture’s current and potential role in the expanding metropolis. A new set of terms, including “creative class” and “creative economies,” is also being introduced as government, private sector, and foundation interests increasingly incorporate the idea of culture-as-urban-catalyst into their way of thinking about the contemporary city. With this kind of attention from so many sectors, the role of culture in the city demands the attention of the arts communities that are invested in the connection between social justice and art.
For many artists and activists the shift toward the information economy in cities has been accompanied by the heavily debated and very familiar phenomenon described as gentrification. With its overtones of displacement, racial exclusion, and class inequity, the term signals a glaring downside to the influence of culture on urban neighborhoods. In her 1999 book Evictions, art historian and critic Rosalyn Deutsche obliquely refers to artists as “the shock troops of gentrification.” The point was prescient as she referred to numerous once-bohemian enclaves that have since been radically transformed by urban renewal and growth. This process of rapid growth is now a familiar part of cities across the globe, from Istanbul to Los Angeles, from Buenos Aires to Moscow. It is a process that incurs tremendous debate, frustration, and theorizing, and has touched the lives of countless people worldwide.
Perhaps most troubling is the racial impact of these new uneven developments as a familiar pattern reveals itself. Gentrification follows on the heels of other major shifts in cities where economics, culture, and space have found familiar divisive fault lines. A white flight in reverse, the move into the city comes with its own racial and class implications.
Despite all of this, the fact that the arts play a role in the creation of new civic relationships and participation remains important. With a lens now focused on the role that culture can have in the city, the arts community must wrestle not only with the complexities of urban development but also with a myriad of fascinating implications as the arts reach a different level of engagement with a heterotopic public. How can equity be achieved in an economic and political environment of vast inequity? What are new forms of civic participation and engagement that artists are integrating into the built environment? What instructive models are being deployed by today’s city planners and mayors? How can foundations and governments support a kind of cultural production that makes cities economically sustainable for all of their inhabitants? How does culture contend with impact of the environmental crisis on the city, as we recently experienced in New York following Superstorm Sandy?
Every city has a different story to tell, and there is much to be gleaned from the frustrations felt and battles endured in radically different contexts. Taken together, these narratives point to something profound for the consideration of culture: art is an integral part of the viability of contemporary cities, and its implications are as complex as the cities themselves.