–Madeleine Dahl, RAC Intern
When I first started at Recession Art, I decided to familiarize myself with its location: the Lower East Side. While I perused through the many galleries, bars, and cafes that litter the area, I repeatedly met interesting characters that had a lot to say about the Lower East Side and its neighbor, the East Village, and the changes it has experienced since the late 60′s. My curiosity about the history of this area and its residents grew. Today, I thought I would do some primary research on the role of the arts in creating innovative cultural hubs within dynamic cities and their relationship to gentrification.
The first article I selected to read is by Elizabeth Currid and is entitled “How Art and Culture Happen in New York: Implications for Urban Economic Development.” In this article Currid interrogates the relationship between artists and urban development: Do artists gravitate to interesting hubs or do they produce them? In what ways can this determine the functionality and financial sustainability of a specific area? And if this area becomes “too creative” will artists and cultural producers lose their homes, studios, and venues to increasing real estate costs, usually caused by an influx of non-artists and non-cultural producers? In answering these questions, Currid interviewed 80 cultural producers (artists, musicians, fashion designers, etc.) and cultural gatekeepers (gallery owners, venue managers, and fashion house representatives). In this series of interviews, Currid recognized a distinct pattern of behavior.
It became evident that cultural producers and cultural gatekeepers develop reciprocal relationships in order to support and sustain each other. This can result in receiving job offers, collaborating on projects together, and creating a larger and supportive social network. Furthermore, one member can advocate to another (a gallery owner recommending an artist to another gallery, etc.). These relationships seemed to occur most frequently at industry events (openings, release parties, etc.) and in various “scene” places (local bars, entertainment venues). While Currid’s observations do seem obvious, it is their relation to the economic development and reputation-builidng of a specific area in a dynamic city such as New York that made me continue my preliminary research. The absence of neighborhood building and issues of gentrification in Currid’s detailed work lead me to a recent article by Ian David Moss entitled “Creative Placemaking Has an Outcomes Problem.”
In this article, Moss outlines the critical necessity of examining the development of creative hubs as a means of preserving their integrity and nurturing their sustainability. Essentially, Hobbs argues that without understanding how these hubs naturally exist effectively, policy making and philanthropy to support them is hobbled and can actually be detrimental. His main points are these:
1. Gauging the effectiveness of grants, proposals, and projects in creative places allows for understanding what needs to be done and also what is (in)effective.
2. Insisting on a working knowledge of the chronology of developments in an area allows for an impactful critical assessment of the area’s origins, development patterns, and future goals.
3. The arts can provide prosperity and growth in an area. They can be a catalyst for innovative developments and connecting communities together in an area. But it is important to recognize when they are fueling a small economy and infrastructural developments or are just “the icing on the cake.”
4. It is critical to assess the impact of policy on local-dwellers and their ambitions for their neighborhood/area. The gentrification process eventually leads to disempowering original space-owners or dwellers “with wealthier ones.”
In these two articles I found a basic starting point for eventually diving into these very issues in a deeper level. In the Lower East Side and the East Village, I have heard multiple stories pertaining to these issues. I am curious to continue exploring them and finding the artists and organizations that seek to create sustainable creative places without the threat of being eventually priced out and creating detrimental effects for the original residents.