Art

The power of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences

Claire Malaika Tunnacliffe clairetunnacliffe@yahoo.frJuly 2016

Abstract. Urban street art is a powerful tool in reflecting the experience of the urban, provoking an engagement of urbanites with their environment, and in re-socialising public spaces. En- counters with urban street art within the everyday create social interstices, opening up ways of seeing and feeling the world differently; allowing for a creative feedback loop between artist, individual spectator and society. Through the lens of environ- mentally engaged urban street art, this working paper explores how this artistic and social movement reconnects the natural and social worlds within an increasingly urban existence. By disconnecting from the world around us, we have forgotten the natural and social entanglements that make up the fabric of the urban context, and in doing so we continue to create irreparable damages to the environment. With environmentally engaged urban street art disrupting the mainstream experience of the urban, the spectator is provided with an alternative vision of the world at play within the everyday setting. As a result, it is proposed that at the crossroads between urban street art and everyday life, the spectator evolves from a passive to an active participant in the contemporary make up of urban cities. By awakening new understandings and raising consciousness, environmentally engaged urban street art provokes a re-engagement of urbanites with the environment, acting as a catalyst for transformative social change.

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‘Art in capital’: Shaping distinctiveness in a culture-led urban regeneration project in Red Town, Shanghai

JunWang

Culture permeates even the most imposing industrial building. Driven by global city making, city leaders see culture as a key to bolstering a new economy and to dealing with decayed urban sites. However, regional practices of creating creative strategies differ, as actors are not “dancing puppets” but actively pursue their vested interests. The Red Town project in Shanghai is one example that represents the shift from sporadic artistic action to organized construction and management of spaces for the creative industry. This paper probes the development process of Red Town in order to uncover the power relationships of a variety of actors in the urban regime. The pursuit of distinctiveness through selectively authentic conservation and branding of artists’ offbeat taste, in return, offers benefits to several key players involved, such as developers and government agents. However, when the link between artists and archaic industrial buildings is legitimized, the resulting space becomes commercialized and, to an extent, discriminatory. In this case, the architectural edifice celebrates economic growth, while at the same time, it spurs the rise of unexpected social consequences.

 

Introduction

“Art in capital” is a small art gallery in Red Town,1 which is depicted as a creative community formed after the renovation of an abandoned steel factory. Old bricks and mortar are preserved, as well as all other marks of age like rusted nails and non-functional electric wires. The new environment, with its air-conditioning system made in Germany and its heating system made in France, now guarantee a 4A class interior space as evaluated in the office market. In this creative community, sculptures are displayed at communal areas, through which the so-called creative professionals rub elbows a stone’s throw away from their respective offices.

It did not take long for Shanghai, one of China’s economic powerhouses, to embrace cultural consumption. The city is filled with passion for art of all types and descriptions, evident in consumers undeterred by the rocketing prices of art works in recent auctions.2 Art consumption has undoubtedly become a trendy way for many Shanghaiese to assert their distinct taste and identity. However, many art critics worry that this craze for art has allowed consumerism to dominate market behavior and to further lure art supplies.3The same concern pervades the rehabilitation of archaic industrial buildings for the consumption of artistically produced space. The story starts when a cultural group (artists, architects, etc.) moves to usually abandoned and dilapidated industrial plants in the inner city, converting these into workshops and studios. After rehabilitation, these warehouses and production plants magically convert decayed urban area to magnets, which attract artists to move in, one after another, and they also became popular destinations for visitors, many of whom are young adults attracted by that kind of life ‘on the edge.’ The magic effect of the chemistry between artists and deteriorated industrial sites has triggered the interest of many others, including the Shanghai Municipal Government, which was searching for means to push forward economic restructuring under a condition of land shortage in the city. The combination of artists and non-functional industrial sites gave the government a lot of inspiration. At that time, creative industry—the new favorite of many entrepreneurial governments after Florida’s promotion (Florida, 2000)—caught the attention of Shanghai officials who immediately opened their aims to embrace the new economy. Conservationists endeavoring to conserve industrial heritage through rehabilitation gave the action of reuse another fancy cloth of heritage conservation. Packaged in one, the Creative Industrial Agglomeration Area was introduced to encourage the development of creative industrial zones based on recycling of decayed factories in the inner city (Li et al., 2001SHMG, 2001). This lucrative market attracts a different breed of actors, such as real estate developers, government agents, or a coalition of the two. Soon, the piecemeal action was pushed into a city-wide movement. At the end of 2008, 76 sites had been labeled as Creative Industrial Agglomeration Areas (SCIC, 2008). The development at a scale previously unseen caught the attention of the central government, which launched a publicity campaign stressing that urban development occurs “when the creative industry dances with industrial heritage,” and calls for “learning from Shanghai” through its core newspaper (Lou, 2006).

The project in Red Town is one typical case that represents the turning from the first stage to the second stage, namely, from artists’ sporadic activities to organized construction and management of office space for creative industry. The outputs reflect negotiations among different actors who actively participate in this process for invested interests. Since Red Town, other projects desperately resort to heritage conservation to promise a unique experience, through a conscious and deliberate manipulation of history. Priority was given to the cautious preservation of aged buildings’ fabrics, particularly their erosion and decay, often in the name of authentic conservation.

At its planning stage, Red Town was publicized as an attempt to encourage the development of art and culture, as well as to set up a model of rehabilitation of industrial heritage. As the project processed, however, pressure was exerted for economic benefit that is measured in revenues. This paper attempts to probe into the development process of Red Town and to uncover the links to power relationships of a variety of actors in the urban regimes. I argue that Red Town is a project that prioritized the authenticity of heritage conservation, a space made vibrant by culture, seemingly detached from mundane living, and tailored for artists’ use. In reality, however, authentic heritage conservation was applied only to a select portion, specifically the building’s fabric. Meanwhile, the spatial features of industrial legacies, which might best represent the ethos of muscular industrialization, were crudely altered to maximize up-market office stocks.

Data are obtained from interviews and site-visits within a span of 2 years, as well as government documents, magazines published by the Red Town Company, newspaper articles, and reports. During the past 2 years, we have interviewed 22 individuals, including officials from different departments, developers, conservationists, artists and tenants in Red Town. After a literature review, the spontaneous stage is described to introduce how the idea of combining industrial heritage and creative industry emerges, and then the following section focuses on the renovation and management of Red Town, while discursive remarks are made at the end.

Debates: creative class, social divide, and power relationship in the urban regime

The concept of “creative class” was introduced by Florida (2000), who specifies them to be imperative group for cities and regions that expect to succeed in this economy increasingly driven by creativity. In its core, Florida’s thesis is to establish an environment that is attractive to the new ‘creative class.’ The idea has gained prominence among many entrepreneurial mayors who attempt to accelerate economic growth and project their cities to a higher tier in the global city hierarchy.

Culture-led urban regeneration is one kind of means deployed by many locales in their practices to develop a new economy and also to deal with decayed urban areas (Evans, 2003Evans, 2005). One strand of studies promotes that establishment of unique hybrid identity through cultural and heritage boosts distinctiveness and then advancement along the ladder of economy and power. Recalling the word “to imagineer” coined by the Walt Disney Studio to describe its way of “combining imagination with engineering to create the reality of dreams,” the thesis of urban imagineering is introduced at its core as a political act turning to the question of what and how to build at the local level in a more strategic manner than does Disney (Paul, 2004Paul, 2005).

Others argue that the promotion of a particular set of values through themed built environment and spectacles reflects the social divide and unequal relationships (Atkinson and Easthope, 2009). The aestheticization of archaic buildings in the picturesque style of heritage conservation is often claimed to be a new type of space tailored for a cultural community. The conscious manipulation of image for a given place may respond to the large-scale social transformation from a Fordist to a Post-Fordist society, namely, the birth of the new middle class which seeks out the stylization and aestheticization of life (Paul, 2004). Meanwhile, neglecting the uncreative class is sanitized and social inequity is legitimized. As Bourdieu points out, “art and culture consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences” (Bourdieu and Johnson, 1993, p. 2).

Researchers in the conservation field are more concerned with the commodification and exploitation of culture and history, frequently conducted in a distorted manner for maximum economic benefits in name of authenticity. As a response to the resorting to heritage and tradition, Alsayyad (2001) approaches the problem from a perspective of a conscious and deliberate manipulation of culture, wherein the built environment is designed to promise a unique cultural experience. Many culture-led urban regeneration projects might merely “begin with poetry and end[s] with real estate” (Klunzman, 2004; cited by Evans, 2005, p. 959). Disney was not the “first to pioneer the idea of replicating places of the ‘other’ for people to experience.” However, it “was the first to recognize the permanent, continuing commercial potential of such installation” (Alsayyad, 2001, p. 9).

The “city of renewal” era reinforced the widespread use of cultural symbols in urban regeneration (Amin and Thrift, 2002Appadurai, 1990Beauregard, 1995Evans, 2003Hall and Robertson, 2001Zukin et al., 1998). However, regional practices of the creative strategy differ (Atkinson and Easthope, 2009Vanolo, 2008). This transformational movement has been the subject of various research works, more so in the aspect of the political-economic realm. Beauregard and Haila comment that, actors are not “simply puppets dancing to the tune of socioeconomic and political logics but rather relatively autonomous agents” (Beauregard and Haila, 1997, p. 328). Cities are governed by regimes, as put by Stone (1989). An internal coalition of socioeconomic forces pulls the strings in the urban regime. These influential actors with direct access to institutional resources hold a significant impact on urban policymaking and management, and this often results in the urban landscape’s contingent spatial transformation. The spatial outcomes of development and policy spawn continuing social and material consequences infused with the coalition’s vested interests. The powers among different agents within a governing regime vary. In this light, the transformation of urban landscapes needs to be explored from the internal structure of socioeconomic actors and their negotiations in the process.

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how is the artist or writer to function (survive and produce) in the community, outside of institutions?

Arturo Romo-Santillanoinnovative writingLos Angeles literatureSesshu fosterurban literature

You, young artist, young writer. Go anywhere you like. But know that a community was there before you—this land was not a magically unpeopled wilderness to be colonized but a place of history, secrets, struggles, heroes and issues.  What made it a community was not magic, but labor. Maybe if your labor and your work relates to them, if your aesthetic process is open to that community, your work will not be superfluous. Your work might be useful. You may not have to suddenly flee, like a tourist from the off-season. As an artist or writer anywhere, you’ll need community to survive. Your community-building not only helps you survive, it helps you produce.

all you mfa candidates, all you college students, all you awp hangers-on, all you high school students wondering what to do (which is the same thing as how to live, how to make a life of your own, how to save your own life), all you secret poets looking for support, all you striving artists who need a job, what about you? 

  1. most will sooner or later find themselves outside institutionalization.
  2. dreams tell us that the life of the mind goes on regardless. regardless of institutions or individuals, the life of the mind is a collective dreaming. the dream goes on whether anyone is making movies and documenting it, holding conferences and seminars about it or not. the mind goes on.
  3. the institutional imagination, with its schedules and regulations, with its tests and prerequisites, will be insufficient on the outside, in a broader world of completely indifferent and more democratic sidewalks, offices, transactions, atmospheres. it’s true that sometimes high school or college provides the only encouragement working class students receive for creative thinking. and unlike academia which scaffolds individual efforts and conceives of art and writing as individualistic practices, the broader world is indifferent. institutions fetishize rational discourse, operating on the level of rationalization, as if sitting around a conference table in negotiation is going to be a major life skill for you. perhaps not! an institutionalized aesthetic production process you may have formulated in academia may not work for you outside. 
  4. you must get outside, and feel all right, producing some creativity that can stand the daylight (and the smog). 
  5. you may perhaps object that “the community” lacks community; in fact, there seem to be people there who are actively hostile, perhaps violent, toward ‘art,’ ‘dreams,’ ‘poetry,’ etc. you may object, that unlike in academia or other institutions, there were rules for discourse and behavior and you didn’t feel exposed to hostility. but make no mistake, millions of people that the media and Hollywood depict as nobodies and extras in the background (people of color) or zombies or killers (working class people) they are dreaming, too— some are having visions; all of us out here live inside civilization’s weird mythologies.
  6. for all its talk (all of its attention to crossing T’s and dotting i’s), in academia and institutionalized civil forums, little dreaming occurs there. they emphasize rationalizations; their discussions take place inside bureaucratic mythologies. the creative thinking found there may be mostly recycled early 20th century concepts. 
  7. in the community (that lacks community), indeed they are dreaming. some feel hostile. there may be violence. many have been defeated; they feel they have been defeated. that doesn’t stop their dreaming, mythologizing, their visions. all of which helps you to figure out how to survive as an artist, writer, dreamer, mythologist, person of vision. stay alive. don’t get hurt. make a living. commitment to the community— that you make— while you are doing it, while you are producing, how to survive? 

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The Artistic Dividend: The Arts’ Hidden Contributions to Regional Development

Ann Markusen and David King

 

Artistic activity is often viewed as a discretionary ele- ment in a regional economy, rather like icing on a cake of industry, finance and basic services. The eco- nomic impact of the arts has generally been gauged by totaling up the amounts that patrons spend on performances and restau- rant meals, parking and shopping in districts around major the- atres, symphony halls and galleries. The occupation “artist” conjures up dual images of a few star painters, composers and photographers who land the prestigious grants and the many aspiring actors, dancers and writers waiting tables to underwrite creative time in attic rooms.

In this study, we show that this is an impoverished view of the arts and its role in the regional economy. It treats the arts as a con- sequence of, even a parasite on, a successful business economy. We show, on the contrary, that artistic activity is a major and varied contributor to economic vitality. We suggest that the productivity of and earnings in a regional economy rise as the incidence of artists within its boundaries increases, because artists’ creativity and specialized skills enhance the design, production and market- ing of products and services in other sectors. They also help firms recruit top-rate employees and generate income through direct exports of artistic work out of the region.

Using an occupational approach rather than a focus on major arts organizations and venues, we define artists broadly to include actors, directors, performance artists, dancers, choreographers, musicians, composers, authors, writers, painters, sculptors, and pho- tographers. We showcase several artistic careers that are highly entrepreneurial — where the artist is not starving, working menial jobs or waiting for the next grant, commission or role but actively seeking diverse markets and venues for their work. Many artists directly “export” their work to customers, firms and patrons else- where, enabling them to live in the region, to contract work from other individuals and to generate work for and prompt innovation among suppliers. Artistic networks, often enhanced by new spaces for working and gathering, are helping to spread entrepreneurial ideas and practices both within and outside the region.

Artists, like firms, have locational preferences and gravitate towards certain regional economies. We show that some metro- politan areas in the US host larger contingents of artists than oth- ers of similar size. We proxy the significance of the artistic divi- dend by the incidence of artists in a regional workforce. We find the pre-eminence of New York and Los Angeles as artistic poles softening as artists spread out toward selective “second tier” cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Albuquerque and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Artistic specialization is not a function of rapid growth — fast-growing Atlanta and Dallas/Ft Worth have below-average concentrations of artists, as do slower-growing Chicago, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

This “artistic dividend” is a product of long term commitments by philanthropists, patrons and the public sector to regional arts organizations, arts education and individual artists. It is enhanced by entrepreneurial activity among artists and fostered by (and contributes to) high urban quality of life. Through extensive interviews with artists in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul (MN) a region with relatively high artistic presence, we show the importance of amenities, quality of life and an active and nur- turing arts community in attracting and retaining artists. For the artists showcased, we document how they have built their careers, why they decided to live and work in the region, and the ways in which their careers have enhanced the success of other individu- als and businesses in the regional economy.

Artistic activity as a significant contributor to the regional econ- omy needs nurturing. In comparison to the very modest amounts they devote to the arts, state and local governments pour hundreds of millions of dollars into downtown revitalization, new plant attraction and even big box retail developments in the suburbs. Vis- à-vis the arts, large physical performing and visual arts spaces receive the lion’s share of public and patron support while the labor side of the equation is under-nourished. Our work suggests that artist-dedicated spaces such as older industrial buildings made into studios and new or renovated live/work spaces and occupation- dedicated gathering venues such as the Open Book in Minneapolis deserve public and patron support. Patrons and arts foundations should consider unconventional grants to arts occupational groups to help their members position themselves in larger national and international marketplaces, enhancing the export orientation of the artistic sector. Similarly, channels of connection between regional businesses and the artistic community could be enhanced to facili- tate contributions by artists to business product design, marketing and work environments. Finally, among artists themselves, we coun- sel more attention to and cooperation in entrepreneurial pursuits, including changes in attitude toward artistic careers.

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The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents

Bishop, Claire.

Claire Bishop’s short paper begins with a curious quote from Dan Graham: “All artists are alike. They dream of doing something that’s more social, more critical, and more real than art” (60). A brazen comment, this generalization gives Bishop’s discussion a provocative start. It also anticipates her assumption that all “real” art is necessarily concerned with aesthetics. This helps to explain her interest in discussing “the social turn” as Art—or, more accurately, a lack thereof. 

After briefly describing both the recent proliferation of publicly engaged art practices and their value as therapy for repairing the social bond, Bishop maps prevailing perceptions of this art as polarized. There are the “non-believers,” the aesthetes who dismiss the art as uninteresting, and there are “the believers” the zealots, the activists who, according to Bishop, “…reject aesthetic questions a s synonymous with the market and cultural hierarchy” (61). Curiously, Bishop fails to identify a third group: that is, the ambivalent believers, who, like Bishop and myself, sit between these two positions. Our group is comprised of art lovers and makers alike who wonder why we ask so little of art? Why can it not be both politically charged and aesthetically interesting at the same time?

Unfortunately, this is not a question being asked enough by critics, in part because critics aren’t asking many (if any) questions of socially engaged practices these days (Though it could well be argued this symptomatic of the death of criticism more generally). Bishop offers two complimentary explanations for this. On the one hand, there is the problem of authorial renunciation. Still rooted in a romantic notion of art, contemporary criticism is easily disorientated by the absence of a single and clearly defined author. Without this figure on which to peg their discourse, critics have instead turned to the intention of the work, specifically its so-called ethical intentions. Forgoing discussion about aesthetic quality, they instead explore the work’s therapeutic value evinced through its working processes.

READ: Bishop, Claire. “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents.”