American Film Institute Wk 13 Ch 6 7 & 8 Understanding the Arts Discussion


Read CSW chapters 6,7, and 8 and post a 100-150 word response, including your takeaways, insights, and two questions you had regarding the topic, to the Canvas discussion board. Then, provide a thoughtful response to two other classmates’ responses, offering feedback on their thoughts and/or answering their question(s).

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Chapte r 6
Art and Cultural Participation at the
Heart of Community Life
Maria Rosario Jackson
A COMMUNITY’S ART—its creative and cultural expression
in the form of music, dance, theater, visual arts, and crafts—embodies its
essence and is crucial to its well-being. Through making art—amateur and
professional, formal and informal1—communities preserve, invent, and assert
their identities; transmit heritage; and comment on their existence. Art and
cultural participation contribute to community conditions in education, economic development, civic engagement, and to stewardship of place (Jackson
et al. 2003; Jackson and Herranz 2002).
Based on years of research, we know that murals, altars, choirs, music bands,
ethnic dance troupes, embroidery and quilting groups, drumming circles, theater troupes, parades, and festivals are all examples of what people describe as
cultural assets in communities around the United States.These are artistic and
creative outlets that are a crucial aspect of quality of life. They are valued for
the intrinsic properties of art and contribute to the community’s well-being.
They are found in a variety of places, including formal cultural presentation
venues such as museums and theaters, small and midsize organizations where
artists gather to make art and produce events, and in community cultural centers. But they also occur with great frequency, formally and informally, in
places and through organizations that are not primarily concerned with the
arts, such as schools, churches, parks, community centers, social service organizations, social clubs and benevolent societies, and sometimes businesses and
commercial retail establishments. Moreover, arts and non-arts entities often
have to work together to make cultural participation possible (Jackson and
Herranz 2002).
Although arts and cultural participation at the community level are at the
heart of community life, many policy makers, urban planners, and arts administrators have not acknowledged the arts as an essential part of a community’s
Art and Cultural Participation
core, to the detriment of communities. The range of opportunities for cultural
participation needed for a healthy community eludes many of these players.
Instead, large cultural institutions concerned primarily with presenting formal
professional arts, often with ties to the nonprofit and public sectors, have dominated with their ideas of what constitutes the arts world and the cultural sector.
Activity at all artistic skill levels, often in smaller arts and cultural organizations
as well as through other public, private, and commercial arts outlets, exists at the
periphery of recognition, even though in reality it is at the center of real life in
In the arts administration and cultural policy field, informal arts practices
were formally recognized as an important aspect of the cultural sector during
an American Assembly meeting in 1997 focused on the arts and their public
purpose.2 During that meeting, the importance of ethnographic research that
could capture informal, amateur, community-based, and unincorporated arts,
in addition to quantitative or statistical research on other aspects of the sector,
was emphasized. Since that time, research on this kind of informal or unincorporated activity has continued, although work is still needed to position
this aspect of the cultural sector in a way that does justice to the significance
of its role in society.
This chapter sets out to challenge the dominant model that relegates community arts and culture to the sidelines; it offers an alternative set of values that
has implications for how arts administrators, urban planners, and policy makers
should pursue their work in planning, urban design, funding, and cultural programming.With better research about communities and charged with defining
and engaging with the creative economy3 and the ideology of the creative city,4
they have an opportunity to reassess their assumptions and approaches.
The material presented here is based on years of research completed
by the Urban Institute on the arts and artists in community life.5 Research
has included participant observation of arts-related activities and events in
neighborhoods all over the United States as well as hundreds of interviews and
scores of focus group discussions with artists, arts administrators, urban planners, community development professionals, policy makers, and community
residents. It has also included general population surveys on cultural participation and attitudes toward artists.
Problematic Value s Unde rlying Prevale nt
Practice s
What impedes a more adequate approach toward arts and culture in communities? The following values underlie prevalent practices among many
urban planners, policy makers, and arts administrators to the detriment of
communities and the cultural sector as a whole. These values are interrelated
and are implicit in how arts resources are allocated and how cities, communities,
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and facilities are designed and developed.They are also implicit in how artists’
work is or is not validated.
First, audience or consumer participation at professional arts events is
considered more important than any other kind of cultural participation (such
as amateur participation in art making).This is evident in several areas of practice. For example, in many places where we have conducted research, public
resources for the arts are allocated so that the lion’s share (often on a noncompetitive basis) goes to large presenting institutions such as downtown
museums and theaters where audience participation is the primary form of
participation encouraged.This often happens through yearly line-item designations for particular institutions in city budgets or through the creation of
special funding districts. Often, financial support for organizations that promote other kinds of participation such as arts instruction, amateur practice,
and opportunities for community-based collective art making is more tenuous
and competitive.6
On a related note, cultural participation is often interpreted only as audience participation, to the exclusion of other forms of engagement. This bias
was evident in our interviews with arts administrators about the kinds of data
they kept about their organizations. Consistently, respondents said they kept
data on participation, but it was almost always data about audiences, even
when the agency-sponsored programs promoted other kinds of arts engagement. Similarly, when we asked arts funders about the data they gathered
about grantees, with few exceptions, audience counts were the only type of
participation data tracked.
The emphasis on audience participation is also evident in the design of
many cultural districts. In these places, replete with galleries, theaters, and other
arts outlets, the public is assumed to participate primarily as audience and consumer.Very few cultural districts include opportunities for the public to participate in making art or in witnessing some aspect of the creative process.
Second, the art product or good is more important than, and separate
from, the creative process or the artist. In our survey research on public attitudes toward artists, this finding was one of the most striking and troublesome.
The survey revealed that people value what artists make particularly when
these goods can be mass-produced and marketed. But the public has little
regard for being an artist as a profession and by extension the creative process
(Jackson et al. 2003).
In many cultural districts, the focus is on the dissemination or distribution
of the artistic good to the exclusion of any focus on the creative process.
Focusing on the artistic good as a commodity is very much aligned with cultural districts as a part of economic development strategies. However, emphasis
only on the artistic good as an economic generator gets in the way of considering other possible benefits produced by the artist and the importance of the
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creative process itself. For example, the presence of artists involved in the creative process tends to be a magnet for other creative people. The concentration of creative people can have a significant impact on the character of a
community, turning it into a destination or enclave known for its artistic buzz,
not just for the availability of art products for sale.
The importance placed on the artistic product or good in the marketplace
also relates to a general misinterpretation of amateur practice as necessarily
being qualitatively inferior to professional practice—not suitable for the marketplace and therefore not as important. Our research indicates that amateur
practice is essential to a healthy arts ecology. Moreover, the association of amateur practice with inferior quality is problematic, because within amateur
practice there is a wide range of skill levels.
Third, art for art’s sake is more legitimate and valuable than art that also
has other purposes. We found that the notion of “art for art’s sake” versus “utilitarian arts of social purpose” is based on a false dichotomy.This is an ideology
that appears to be losing steam, but it is still prevalent enough to warrant mentioning. Students in universities and arts schools are steered toward conventional career paths to the exclusion of other paths that blend the arts and social
purpose. Conventional career paths also appear to be better rewarded within
the formal arts world, where validation comes from art critics and juried selection for presentation in prestigious national and international venues. While
many artists pursue work that blends art and social purpose at the community
level, the training and validation systems necessary for this type of work are
lacking (Jackson et al. 2003). For example, an artist may be involved in work
that has both artistic and community development value. However, it is likely
that in the arts world, the community development value of the work will be
overlooked. Similarly, in the community development field, the artistic value
of the work may not be fully appreciated. There are very few mechanisms that
can validate the work across the spectrum.
Fourth, the cultural sector tends to operate apart from other policy areas
and focuses primarily on the nonprofit and public art as opposed to the commercial arts. Generally, public arts agencies and arts funders operate in isolation from other programmatic and policy areas. As a result, for this and other
reasons, they are often politically vulnerable. Some arts administrators and
funders seek to integrate their programs into the larger agendas, but this is
often difficult, particularly if the arts programming is not obviously relevant to
larger policy priorities. For example, many administrators of local arts agencies
attempt to persuade people in community development and education policy
realms of the value of the arts within these areas. Such arguments are not compelling, however, if the arts administrator cannot communicate the value of
the arts to these players in terms that they understand and with research and
data to back up the claims.
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We also found little evidence of training for artists to engage with possible stakeholders or markets outside the conventional nonprofit cultural area.
In interviews with artists who have pursued careers that require this kind of
engagement, such as artists working in public arts or with schools, community
development organizations, and other kinds of agencies, artists told us that
they learned by trial and error on their own or with help from a mentor who
had pursued a similar path, and that learning the skills to work across sectors
often involved a baptism by fire. There are very few examples of art schools or
university arts programs that provide students with the opportunity to explore
career options blending the arts and other fields such as community development, education, or social work. California Institute of the Arts in the Los
Angeles area, California State University at San Francisco, and Columbia
College in Chicago are examples of academic institutions that have offered
such opportunities. Also, in arts administration programs the norm has been
to train students to work in traditional institutions within the cultural sector,
with little attention to the intersection of arts administration with other professional fields. There are exceptions, however. For example, students enrolled
in the New York University Steinhardt School arts administration program
have the opportunity to take elective course work at other NYU schools and
departments, including public policy and urban planning at the Wagner
Graduate School of Public Service.
Toward a New Paradigm
Arts administrators, policy makers, and planners need to move toward a
mode of work that more adequately addresses the range of arts and cultural
offerings present in and necessary for healthy communities. In fact, there is
evidence that a paradigmatic shift is afoot. This shift embodies a different set
of values than those spelled out above. The new paradigm promotes the creative process, amateur practice, democratization of defining what arts matter
and why, and the integration of arts with other policy areas and across public,
nonprofit, and commercial sectors.
First, the public has a role to play in defining what is important with
regard to arts and cultural participation. A lesson learned early on in our
research was that the word “art” is loaded and can interfere with capturing the
creative and artistic expressions that people are actually involved in and care
about. In focus group discussions, we learned that many people associate the
word “art” with official cultural institutions and outside validation. So, for
many respondents, if something was not presented in an arts venue such as a
large museum, theater, or concert hall, or if someone with credentials did not
decree it to be art, it would not register as art.We found that respondents had
to be invited to think about creative and cultural expression—things that had
aesthetic value—and then decide for themselves whether they would call the
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item in question art or not. Once liberated, respondents recognized a wide
range of arts and cultural assets in their communities. They talked about participating as audiences and consumers, but also as creators, teachers, students,
supporters, and critics, and they argued about whether or not something
should be considered art. Respondents also discussed why these different types
of arts activity were valuable to them. The point of our inquiry was not to
arrive at some ultimate consensus of what art is, but rather to register what
people thought was important and why.
In the urban planning realm, as part of the Arts and Culture Indicators
Project (ACIP)—an effort to integrate arts and culture into quality of life
measurement systems—we have found that in order for arts and culture to be
included as a policy priority, they have to be defined in a way that reflects the
public’s values and their reality.7 In Boston, one of the pilot sites in our indicators work, the Boston Community Building Network launched a community
vetting process to identify priorities in arts and culture in different Boston
neighborhoods. This led to the inclusion of a “cultural life and the arts” section
in its quality-of-life measurement system and also to some innovative datacollection practices to capture cultural assets.8 Note that in this initiative, major
cultural organizations are considered, but they are part of a larger picture that
includes many types of participation and expressions of the city’s ethnic diversity, such as small ethnic-specific arts organizations and ethnic-specific business
establishments that are an important part of a community’s cultural life, as well
as festivals and community celebrations. The Public Health–Seattle and King
County indicators initiative, another pilot in our arts and culture indicators
work, also has integrated arts and culture using a more inclusive definition.9
Inclusion of arts and culture in quality-of-life measurement systems makes it
more likely that the arts and culture will be included in policy discussions outside the cultural sector. For example, in Seattle and King County, arts and cultural participation is part of the discourse about what makes a healthy
community. In the Central Valley region of California, the Great Valley Center
(another ACIP pilot) has integrated arts and culture into its indicator system,
and the information is helping to shape transportation development plans for a
cultural corridor along Interstate Highway 99.
Second, a healthy community includes a continuum of opportunities for
active and passive10 cultural participation at different skill levels, with the
involvement of many stakeholders. People value and need a wide range of
opportunities for cultural participation—to make artworks, teach, learn, judge
and support the arts; to participate as audience and consumer, amateur, professional, teacher, critic, trustee, volunteer, committee member, and so forth. The
wide range of opportunities for cultural engagement takes many forms and
requires the involvement of different types of stakeholders, supporters, and
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Informal arts are an important avenue for broad-based public participation. For example, in Chicago, a study of informal arts in the region documented drumming circles, which take place around the city at regular times,
often in parks (Wali, Severson, and Longoni 2002). People of all skill levels
participate. Lead organizers secure the space and provide extra instruments in
case people who do not have an instrument want to join in. There is no fee for
participating and the activity is not formally affiliated with any particular
organization or institution. In Oakland, California, informal embroidery circles
in the Mien community (of Southeast Asia) surfaced as an important cultural
asset in one neighborhood. These were gatherings that regularly occurred in a
local community center and sometimes in other spaces. The circles provided
an opportunity for participants to perfect their craft and teach the tradition to
the new generation. But the circles also allowed participants to exchange
experiences and information about adapting to the United States. Informal
practices such as these rely on the leadership of artists or tradition bearers as
well as the availability of space (often public space).
Midsize and small arts organizations also play an important role in making
possible a range of opportunities for engagement. For example, in Houston,
since the 1980s the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, a nonprofit arts
organization, has organized a public art event, which features an art car parade.11
The event includes entries from professional artists and others, including individuals, schools, and community and professional organizations. The event is
popular because everybody is encouraged to be creative and participate, and
observers have noted that the quality of entries increases year after year. The
event also is popular because it appears to be unique to Houston—part of the
city’s identity. It is sponsored, in part, with local public money for the arts. In
Port Gibson, Mississippi, at Mississippi Cultural Crossroads, a nonprofit organization, women gather to quilt.12 They participate to perfect their technique
and teach the craft to others. But they also produce quilts as a means of earning
income. Mississippi Cultural Crossroads has also been involved in producing
community plays to tell the history of the region, utilizing local talent—amateur
and professional. Organizations of this kind often collaborate with social service
agencies, community development corporations, and others to plan arts events
and offer arts-based services, such as dance as part of youth development programs or poetry as part of literacy programs.
Community-based organizations and social clubs (sometimes in collaboration with formal arts organizations and informal arts groups) play an important role in creating opportunities for cultural participation. In the Los Angeles
area, hometown associations composed of immigrants from the state of
Veracruz in Mexico are involved in organizing fandangos to dance and play
son jarocho—typical music from the Veracruz area. The events, jam sessions of
sorts, take place in various places, including parks and commercial malls.
Art and Cultural Participation
People participate for the music and for fellowship, but also to demonstrate
pride in the Veracruz region and to keep the traditions alive. These events are
sponsored primarily by the hometown associations, the artists involved, and
local businesses that cater to populations from Veracruz living in Los Angeles.
In New Orleans, the Mardi Gras Indians mask and perform or compete annually during Mardi Gras and St. Joseph’s Day—showing off intricate handmade
costumes that take all year to make. The Mardi Gras Indian tribes, as they are
known, are often connected to social and benevolent societies. Some tribes
also have ties to local bars and restaurants. Their work is an aesthetic assertion
and one of community pride and respect for tradition.13
Community-based festivals are a particularly important form of informal
arts engagement. Festivals usually include multiple artistic disciplines and most
often are easily accessible, inexpensive, or free. To understand the value of these
festivals to their participants, one needs to look at the extensive preparation for
the event. Preparation typically includes many opportunities for people at different skill levels to make art collectively or individually. Often, professional
artists or senior tradition bearers take leadership roles as featured artists, instructors, and event and community organizers. Numerous entities from different
parts of the community (not just the arts) are also typically involved in sponsoring the preparation for the event and the event itself. The Día de los Muertos
(Day of the Dead) celebration in East Los Angeles is organized by Self-Help
Graphics, a midsize nonprofit arts organization;14 the Tamejavi Festival in
Fresno, California, is organized by the Pan Valley Institute of the American
Friends Service Committee;15 and the Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture in
San Pedro, California, is organized by Fil-Am Arts, the Association for the
Advancement of Filipino American Arts.16 All three festivals require collaboration with other community-based organizations and involve months of preparation prior to the event. Preparation for the Día de los Muertos celebration
includes free community workshops to make altars, murals, and traditional
Mexican artifacts associated with the celebration, such as sugar skulls and paper
flowers. Preparation for the Tamejavi Festival includes a series of cultural
exchanges and dialogues occurring throughout the year during which members from various ethnic communities in the California Central Valley participate. These communities include recent Hmong, Indigenous Oaxacans (from
Mexico), Pakistani, and African immigrants, as well as Native American and
African American communities. All these festivals seek to showcase a range of
contemporary and traditional art forms. The festivals are also important opportunities to address community issues and concerns.
In addition to presenting professional arts and promoting audience participation, large cultural institutions, the so-called majors, also have a role to play in
advancing amateur practice and opportunities for collective engagement. The
Active Arts initiative at the Los Angeles Music Center is designed to profile and
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validate amateur or nonprofessional arts activities: dancing, music making,
singing, and storytelling.17 Through this programming, amateur art activities
are featured in the Music Center’s central plaza and other Music Center
spaces.This expands the public’s connections to the performing arts via exposure to amateur practice and opportunities to engage in it. Such programming
also helps to identify the venue as an active civic cultural space. The programs
are created in collaboration with clubs of amateur or nonprofessional artists
who advise on program planning, assist in staffing events, and promote the
events and the ideas behind them.
Another example of a major institution playing an innovative role in
advancing a broader concept of cultural participation is Louisiana Art Works,
a project of the Arts Council of New Orleans. Based in New Orleans, this
project was designed to serve the dual role of educating the public about the
creative process and serving as an active artists’ complex. The facility includes
affordable individual studios for artists and four state-of-the-art shared studios
for work in ceramics, glass, metal, and printmaking.Visitors can participate by
observing the creative process in the studios—catwalks and viewing windows
for the public are part of the design of the facility—and artists are expected to
discuss their work with the public. Visitors can also make art in the facilities
and view finished work.They can participate as supporters or patrons through
the purchase of artworks. The facility is intended to serve residents of the
region and tap into the tourism economy. Since Hurricane Katrina, the final
phase of construction has been delayed.
In the field of urban planning, the Arts and Culture Indicators Project is
promoting the importance of cultural participation in communities through
its concept of cultural vitality. Cultural vitality is evidence of a community’s
capacity to create disseminate and validate arts and culture as part of everyday
life (Jackson, Kabwasa-Green, and Herranz 2006). Implicit in this definition is
a broad range of ways in which people engage in cultural activity. The project
seeks to make available data that correspond with the measurement of
opportunities for cultural engagement, the incidence of cultural participation
in various forms, and the support system that makes cultural engagement
possible. The adoption of the cultural vitality concept and corresponding measures by people involved with quality-of-life indicator initiatives is a huge step
toward a more inclusive approach to arts and culture in communities.
Third, art can be valued for its intrinsic aesthetic properties and at the
same time for the roles it plays that are relevant to community dynamics and
conditions. Moreover, artists have a role as community leaders. Survey research
conducted through the Urban Institute’s evaluation of the Community
Partnerships for Cultural Participation Initiative indicates that people are
motivated to participate in arts and cultural activity for many different reasons—
to socialize, to support the organizations sponsoring the event, to experience
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quality art, to learn about another culture or period in history, to celebrate cultural heritage, and for religious worship (Walker and Scott-Melnyk 2002). Also,
as previously mentioned, people feel cultural participation affects communities
positively—creating social capital18 and increasing civic engagement, community pride, and stewardship of place, as well as enhancing economic development, education, and assisting other community needs.
In many of the community-based festivals we examined, participation in
making items such as life-size puppets, banners, and murals for the culminating event is one set of outcomes; personal artistic skill building another; creation of social capital yet another; and increased stewardship of place among
the participants another still. As well, the items created can also have impacts
independent of the creative process and beyond the culminating event for
which they were created. For example, in East Los Angeles, artists and community members collaborated to create murals for the Día de los Muertos
procession. The murals, which featured images about community concerns
such as education, safety, and violence, have had a life beyond the festival itself.
They have been used for community meetings as well as protests and marches
to educate and bolster community-organizing efforts.
To grasp the full impact of the arts on community, one must also examine
the role of artists and tradition bearers within a community context. These
players often emerge as important community leaders—organizing events,
encouraging community members to become involved in the creative process,
and guiding them through that process. They also give the community a voice
through the work that the artist produces. As noted, this type of arts practice
often goes under-recognized and not fully understood within the arts world
or within the community itself. Moreover, training that encourages this type of
practice is scarce, although some exemplar programs do promote and train
artists with leadership roles in mind (Jackson et al. 2003).
Despite these testimonies, research on impacts of the arts is scarce, and
more qualitative and quantitative research is needed. We need to assess how
artistic activity, artistic involvement, artistic products, and the creative process
impact communities. As more and more research on the impacts of the arts on
community life is produced, planners, policy makers, and arts administrators
will be better informed and effective in their work.19
Fourth, the cultural sector includes nonprofit, public, and commercial arts.
Moreover, it must reach out to other policy areas. We found that savvy arts
administrators must be able to identify resources and allies in each area of the
arts and across policy areas to maximize opportunities for cultural engagement.
While this is not a prevalent practice among many arts administrators, it is
increasingly the practice among some, such as staff at the Chicago Department
of Cultural Affairs, which works closely with many city agencies, including the
parks district and the school district, and has good relations with the local
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business sector. There is also some evidence of this approach in Providence,
Rhode Island, where a newly recently created Department of Art, Culture and
Tourism has as part of its charge the interaction and promotion of arts interests
to other city departments. In Providence, and in New England as a whole, the
idea of a regional creative economy and a study pointing to the contributions of
the creative sector has opened some doors for arts to become more integral to
policy discussions; savvy arts administrators, artists, and funders are taking advantage of this (Mt. Auburn Associates 2000). For example, artists concerned with
developing affordable spaces for living and working have pointed to the study to
support their claims that artists are an important part of the economy.
The ability to navigate different sectors and policy areas requires a particular skill set. This includes being aware of priorities in other policy areas and
the ability to communicate with people outside of the arts about how arts
programming is relevant to their work—in housing, economic development,
education, and criminal justice, among other areas. Additionally, working across
sectors calls for navigating sector-specific requirements and conventions—that
is, knowing the bureaucratic processes associated with the public and nonprofit sectors as well as the ways in which people operate within the business
sector. Again, it appears that training for artists and arts administrators generally does not emphasize this approach. Moreover, receptiveness to the arts
from other fields can be limited, although this may be changing as interest in
the creative economy and the notion of the creative city grows.
If, as a society, we are to realize our creative potential and utilize that creativity to improve our communities, a paradigmatic shift towards a more
inclusive concept of arts and culture and a more adequate grasp of the role
cultural participation plays in community life is imperative and urgent.While
most prevalent practices among arts administrators, funders, and planners
ignore a huge part of American cultural life and, in some ways, discourage the
very activity that makes a community culturally vital and whole, there is good
news: the tide is turning. In many places, creativity is on the map as a priority,
artists are getting more attention within the arts funding community, some
arts administrators and policy makers are beginning to promote active participation in the creative process, arts and culture are beginning to register in
quality-of-life measurement systems as community priorities, and data collection about arts and culture is improving. These efforts need to be strengthened
and expanded to create more vibrant communities.
Note s
1. Informal arts include regular and periodic artistic practices that are often part of
everyday life and occur without the intention of official presentation to the public.
Art and Cultural Participation
An example of this is drumming circles in parks or quilting sessions in community
centers or in people’s homes.!arts_and_
In recent years, scholars and policy makers have turned their attention to the idea of
the “creative economy,” which emphasizes a shift in focus to an economy based on
creativity and ideas as the principal commodity. See Florida 2002. The parameters of
the creative economy are not fixed, and different sectors, such as the arts sector, currently are assessing how they fit within this concept.
The creative city ideology is concerned with drawing on the creativity of residents
to address urban problems and prospects. See Landry 2000.
Material presented here is based primarily on the Urban Institute’s Arts and Culture
Indicators Project (1996–present), an effort to better understand and measure arts and
culture in communities and integrate related indicators into quality-of-life measurement systems. Other Urban Institute–based research studies contributing to this
include the Evaluation of the Community Partnerships for Cultural Participation
Initiative (1997–2001), an examination of partnerships among arts and cultural
organizations to broaden, deepen, and diversify cultural participation; Participation
Project: Artists, Communities and Cultural Citizenship (1998–1999), a study of arts
participation in East Los Angeles community festivals; Investing in Creativity: A
Study of the Support Structure for U.S. Artists (2000–2003); Assessment of the
Marketplace Empowerment Program for Artists (2003–present), an examination of
various professional development programs for visual artists; and the Cultural
Dimensions of Transnational Communities (2004–present), a study of the arts and
cultural practices of communities living simultaneously in the United States and in
another country, and the systems that support those practices.
It should be noted that some large presenting organizations are increasingly concerned with offering the public expanded and alternative opportunities to engage
in the arts through arts education and similar programs. However, this is often with
the intention of increasing audience participation.
Historically, United States–based quality-of-life indicator initiatives have generally
not included arts and culture as a priority for measurement. Arts and culture,
defined narrowly, have been typically viewed as not on par with other community
priorities such as housing, education and employment. Moreover, the cultural sector has had little data to offer as indicators. In part, through ACIP, this is beginning
to change. ACIP’s more inclusive definition of arts and culture resonates with the
public and registers as a policy priority.Also,ACIP has been working to provide better data about arts and culture in communities.
Passive participation refers to engagement in which the participant does not have to
actively engage in a creative process. Audience participation or buying artistic goods
are often forms of passive engagement.!kudzu/crossroa.html.
For a sample of a grassroots museum treatment of the topic, see
A more detailed examination of Día de los Muertos as a forum for community arts
and community building appears in Jackson 2003. The Web site for Self-Help
Graphics is
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18. The term “social capital” refers to the social networks and relationships that enable
people to act collectively.
19. Examples of social science–based research that is advancing our knowledge about
arts and culture in communities includes the work of Monnie Peters and Joni
Cherbo on unincorporated arts,Alaka Wali on informal arts in Chicago, Mark Stern
and Susan Seifert on Philadelphia neighborhoods, and Pia Moriarty in California’s
Silicon Valley. Also see William Cleveland (2000) on artists at work in community
institutions, as well as publications from the Animating Democracy Initiative,
available through Americans for the Arts. For other writing about impacts of
community arts see essays collected by the Community Arts Network at http://www.
Se lecte d Re fe re nce s
Cleveland, William. 2000. Other Places: Artists at Work in America’s Community and Social
Institutions. Boston: University of Massachusetts Arts Extension Service.
Florida, Richard. 2002. The Rise of the Creative Class. New York: Basic Books.
Jackson, Maria Rosario. 2003.“Arts and Cultural Participation through a Neighborhood
Lens.” In The Arts in a New Millennium: Research and the Arts Sector, ed. David Pankratz
and Valerie B. Morris.Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Jackson, Maria Rosario, and Joaquin Herranz. 2002. Culture Counts in Communities: A
Framework for Measurement.Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
Jackson, Maria Rosario, and Florence Kabwasa-Green. 2006. Artists Space Development:
Making the Case and Assessing Impacts. New York: Leveraging Investments in Creativity.
Jackson, Maria Rosario, Florence Kabwasa-Green, and Joaquin Herranz. 2006. Cultural
Vitality in Communities: Interpretation and Indicators.Washington DC: Urban Institute.
Jackson, Maria Rosario, Florence Kabwasa-Green, Daniel Swenson, Joaquin Herranz,
Kadija Ferryman, Caron Atlas, Eric Wallner, and Carole Rosenstein. 2003. Investing in
Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for U.S. Artists. Washington, D.C.: Urban
Landry, Charles. 2000. The Creative City:A Toolkit for Urban Innovators. London: Earthscan
Publications, Ltd.
Mt. Auburn Associates. 2000. The Creative Economy Initiative: The Role of the Arts and
Culture in New England’s Economic Competitiveness. Boston: New England Council.
Peters, Monnie, and Joni Maya Cherbo. Summer 1998. “The Missing Sector: the
Unicorporated Arts.” Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 28, no. 2.
Putnam, Robert D. 2000. Bowling Alone:The Collapse and Revival of American Community.
New York: Simon and Schuster.
Wali,Alaka, Rebecca Severson, and Mario Longoni. 2002. Informal Arts: Finding Cohesion,
Capacity and other Social Benefits in Unexpected Places. Chicago: Center for Arts Policy,
Columbia College.
Walker, Chris, and Stephanie Scott-Melnyk. 2002. Reggae to Rachmaninoff: How and Why
People Participate in Arts and Culture.Washington DC: Urban Institute.
Chapte r 7
The Arts and Artist in Urban
Ruth Ann Stewart
THE ARTS HAVE HELPED to define and shape urban life in
significant ways throughout America’s history. This chapter explores the vital
role played by the arts and cultural sector in the rise and fall and, in the last
two decades, rise again of the great American city.
City culture was of little consequence during the colonial period and drew
its artistic inspiration almost entirely from European modes. With the establishment of the American Republic, cities quickly became a destination for creative, newly minted Americans seeking opportunity, inspiration, and community
with like-minded individuals. Historian Neil Harris observes that the very
urbanism that drew artists and others of adventurous mien rendered the city
suspect in a young country defined by agrarian and nativistic principles (1990).
While America would eventually become a country of many cities, the idea
took root early on in the American psyche that cities were undesirable, even
dangerous places populated by unruly immigrants of the darker hues—first the
Irish, Jews, and Italians, later African Americans, Bangladeshis, Hispanics, and
other national groups (Higham 1955). Cities were seen as an unwarranted burden for state taxpayers and sites of both decadent displays of wealth and
unhealthy, potentially explosive population density. No less reprehensible was
the high concentration of bohemians and immigrant-inspired popular arts and
cultures that flourished in all manner of rakish forms rejected as counter to the
spirit of independence and the American way of life.
Eme rge nce of the Mode rn City
The image of the city as dangerous and undesirable or as a place of endless
opportunities for work, success, creative advancement, and excitement would
shift back and forth over time in direct proportion to private and government
investment in the urban lifestyle. Even though a majority of Americans would
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continue to favor rural or smaller town living, by the late nineteenth century
American cities were major draws for millions of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, immigrant workers from every region of the country and the world, and
artists and entertainers whose combined efforts spawned booming commercial
centers from New York to St. Louis to coastal California.
With the accumulation of great urban-based industrial and mercantile
fortunes, a highly profitable war against agrarian slave interests, and the emergence of new technologies, city dwellers began to assume a pride of place.
Technology spurred the development of world-changing new industries, skyscrapers of dizzying heights, and modern advances in every sector from transportation to street lighting to the typewriter and department store that created
a new class of independent working women. One of the pivotal events that
would give form to America’s urban ambitions and a point of pride for the
entire nation was the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which transformed
a neglected South Side Chicago lakefront park into a Beaux-Arts vision of the
new American city. Named the White City, this safe, clean, graft-free, conveniently serviced, and aesthetically pleasing confection of grand international
exhibition halls, gondolier-filled waterways, and stately promenades stood in
sharp contrast to the realities of nineteenth-century urban life.1
The elegant assemblage (along with moneymaking sideshows that
included the wheel ride George Ferris invented for the fair, belly dancers, and
animal acts) would launch an American architectural movement known as the
City Beautiful. This movement reflected the classical design principles advocated by Daniel Burnham, the fair’s chief architect, and would influence the
look of cultural institutions and civic buildings for much of the twentieth
century (Larson 2003).
Urban Competition and the Ascendancy of the American Arts
Emboldened by their increasing prosperity, wealthy industrialists and
merchants began to cast off their feelings of cultural inferiority to Old World
culture. Between 1870 and the onset of World War I, wealthy civic leaders
plunged into the arts and culture, sponsoring the creation of a blizzard of concert halls, museums, libraries, botanic gardens, and zoos in their cities large and
small throughout the nation, laying the foundation for a uniquely American
system of philanthropy and private support for the arts. Government and men
(and a few exceptional women) of means and position formed public/private
partnerships, striking a bargain for delivery of the arts to the general public
that was distinctively American in both form and intent. While the federal
government was the major financial backer of the Columbian Exposition
(awarded by Congress to Chicago only after a fierce contest between competing cities), city government constituted the public half of the municipal cultural bargain.
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The formula took different forms in different localities, but the general
pattern was one in which the city provided the land and assumed responsibility for construction, ongoing facility maintenance, and security, while private
donors made possible the professional functions and an endowment to ensure
financial stability going forward. In exchange for this largesse (admission was
minimal or free), local government officials largely deferred to the private side
in matters of management and thus mission, privileging these enterprises with
an elitist status that still persists.While these institutions were of unquestionable
public benefit, they also served as highly visible demonstrations of the wealth,
power, and success of their benefactors, who competed with their wealthy
counterparts in rival cities for the title of great American city. This cycle of
culture-based municipal competition that by 1880s had gained momentum
nationwide would repeat itself almost to the decade a century later.
Prospering cities also attracted artists drawn by the availability of jobs and
training in the new art schools and conservatories; suppliers, galleries, agents,
publishers, and impresarios to facilitate the production, presentation, and sale
of their work; inexpensive live/work spaces; and a swelling population with
leisure time and disposable income to spend on the arts. In a country of immigrants, the modern American city offered a diversity of ethnic and popular
expression—from light musical comedies known as vaudevilles to Yiddish theater to exhibitions of plaster casts of Greek statues in the same space with
mastodon bones—unrivaled anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, the BeauxArts temples were busily sorting out the high arts (classical) from the low arts
(popular) and the nonprofit fine arts from the commercial for-profit arts, a
process that would establish a rigid hierarchy that persisted well into the
second half of the twentieth century (Levine 1986).
Government and the Arts
By the turn of the twentieth century, cities struggling with the ills of
unbridled population and industrial growth began to recognize the need for
beautification and building standards and procedures. New York City, pressed
by the Municipal Art Society, which had been formed by a private group in
1893, created one of the nation’s first official art commissions. City government, with frequent private financial and advocacy support, engaged artists,
designers, engineers, and architects to enhance public spaces and facilities. In
1916, New York enacted the nation’s first residential zoning ordinance, separating residential and industrial activities and leading the way to the design
and construction of the great Art Deco skyscrapers of the 1920s (Municipal
Art Society). A commission on fine arts was created by President William
Howard Taft to regulate and revitalize the official architecture of the nation’s
capital city. Fifteen years later the principle of good design established by the
commission was extended to include federal buildings in cities, small towns,
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and rural areas throughout the nation, which would in turn become models
for construction undertaken by local government.
With the wholesale collapse of the American economy in 1929 and the
onset of that period of history known as the Great Depression, a massive federal jobs program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt played a pivotal
role in the lives of urban artists and the cities in which they worked. From
1935 to 1943, the Works Projects Administration (WPA) put writers and visual
and performing artists to work as one of various categories of unemployed
workers who benefited from the program. Under the WPA, artists of all races
enlivened the quality of city life with murals and sculpture in post offices, hospitals, and schools, taught classes for adults and children, compiled local histories, and created pioneering theatrical and musical performances.
While the visible effects of WPA were far more lasting in the bridges and
dams (many enhanced with outstanding artistic details) built outside urban
centers, numerous inner-city auditoriums and exhibition halls were also built
under WPA and many remained in use as primary performance and arts education centers well into the 1980s and 1990s (Bustard 1997). More to the
point, the WPA artist, theater, music, and writers programs were central to lifting the public’s spirits and sustaining some measure of the city’s traditional
artistic vitality through hard times, while at the same time ensuring the ability
of individual artists to remain engaged and employed in their profession. It
might be noted that WPA also set a precedent for federal support of the arts
that influenced the shape and scope of the urban cultural landscape for much
of the latter half of the twentieth century.
The Arts in the Decline of Cities
Some urban scholars believe that the Great Depression was a tipping point
that reversed the forward development of cities from which they will never
fully recover (Beauregard 2003). This decline appears to have been further
exacerbated by federal policies intended by Congress to stimulate the postwar
economy that instead promoted (rather, reasserted) the American predisposition to celebrate suburban life at the expense of cities.This anti-city movement
resulted in the substitution of the historic centrality of cities in the realization
of the American dream for suburbia, or what historian Kenneth Jackson
famously termed the crabgrass frontier (1985).
At the close of World War II, the federal government promised the returning soldiers educational and housing opportunities unprecedented in American
history. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, known as the GI Bill,
eventually provided for the enrollment in colleges and training programs of 7.8
million veterans. At its peak in 1947, 49 percent of all college admissions were
veterans. The bill was a particular boon to art schools and conservatories, which
saw the size of their enrollment grow by unprecedented numbers. The GI Bill
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also guaranteed 2.4 million home mortgage loans thus setting the stage for the
massive exodus of cities by white middle class America.
The out-migration was further facilitated by the Federal-Aid Highway Act
of 1956, which opened the way for an extensive interstate highway system that
greatly accelerated the pace of suburbanization that had already been underway
since the advent of public transportation. Business and industry soon followed.
Deprived of good jobs, the middle-class tax base, and tax and investment capital from business, inner cities were left to support an increasing concentration
of low-income, immigrant, and minority populations barred from the suburban
dream—including many who had served in the war and were entitled to full
GI Bill benefits—by discriminatory economic and racial policies.
Urban Renewal and the Great Urban Giveaway
By the early 1960s the state of American inner cities had declined to the
point where local decision makers were dependent on federal intervention as
their best hope for relief. Urban planning became synonymous with slum
clearance, and population dislocation as federally funded urban renewal programs, armed with the more permissive power of eminent domain allowed by
Title I of the Housing Act of 1949, rolled over entire neighborhoods in the
belief that cities could lure back the middle class and business by making them
more like the automobile-centric suburbs.Without exception, neighborhoods
designated for the bulldozer were home to African Americans, Latinos, and
poor and working-class whites. Highways were cut through the heart of protesting neighborhoods, disrupting historic patterns of community and destroying
structures and institutions that today would be preservation treasures. The
giveaway continued downtown as city officials driven by competition with
other municipalities made tax-incentive deals with real estate developers and
corporations to lure their investment or retain their headquarters in the center city in the hope of creating jobs where vacant buildings lined main thoroughfares and streets stood empty both on weekends and after five o’clock.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s many cities became hollowed-out
vestiges—doughnuts surrounded by vast suburbs—with the very highways
meant to stimulate the return to the city in practice facilitating the daily commuter exit (Caro 1974).
Urban decline was a mixed blessing for the arts. Individual artists and small
arts presenters and producers flourished in the cheap and expansive spaces abandoned by the manufacturing sector, New York’s SoHo being a famous example.
The story was less favorable for the older, established cultural institutions,
which found both their audience and their volunteer base significantly diminished.With city government deprived of the tax base essential to the provision
of adequate city services and the inner city increasingly perceived as darker,
dirtier, and unsafe, suburbanites were unwilling to venture into downtowns,
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where most of the temples of culture had been located with great fanfare by
their nineteenth-century benefactors. Both the public and the private side of
institutional partnerships wavered as declining tax revenue caused cutbacks in
public funding for cultural institutions and donors moved their philanthropic
loyalties to more congenial localities.
The Lincoln Center Story
Brutalist concrete architecture, vest-pocket parks, and sports facilities
became the signature symbol of inner-city revitalization strategies, and Robert
Moses, the czar of New York’s slum clearance program, the model of the master urban planner. While more focused on highways, parks, and swimming
pools, Moses took advantage of the interest of influential New Yorkers in culture and education to engineer the construction, beginning in 1957, of
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and a multitude of attendant arts and
educational institutions, including the Juilliard School of Music, High School
of Performing Arts, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and a
downtown campus for Fordham University.
The first and, for a long time, only major cultural compound was unquestionably a great gift to the world of the arts. Nevertheless, Lincoln Center was
Moses’s cover for eliminating what he deemed a blighted West Side Manhattan
neighborhood in order to open up the area to high-end residential and commercial development. So much for the intended purpose of urban renewal,
namely to replace tenements with decent affordable housing; in fact, using Title
I federal slum clearance money, the building of Lincoln Center displaced seven
thousand low-income residents and eight hundred businesses (Caro 1974),
erasing forever the neighborhood setting for the film version of Leonard
Bernstein’s West Side Story.
The Rise of the Urban Arts
Lincoln Center aside, the traditional high-arts institutions suffered cutbacks
in hours, services, and staff, while smaller, more agile urban arts organizations
found fertile ground as a result of the civil rights and antiwar social reordering
of the1960s and early 1970s. Experimental visual and performing arts productions and presentations flourished, reflecting the changing demographics and
concerns of a new generation of inner-city creative workers and their loyal audiences. A vigorous urban arts movement emerged, fueled in large part by two
federal programs reminiscent of WPA in their impact, namely the Expansion
Arts program of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)—the remarkable
new federal arts support agency established in 1965—and the Comprehensive
Employment and Training Act of 1973 (CETA). The Expansion Arts Program
was introduced in 1971 as a means of funneling NEA funding to minority and
under-served inner-city professionally directed community-based arts activities.
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It signaled a more democratic, multicultural, less elitist approach to the arts by
the largely high art discipline–based Endowment that even the cultural temples
to some degree embraced through special outreach programming.
The CETA program provided strategic federal funding for emerging
minority and community-based arts organizations that many agree advanced
an entire generation of women and minority artists early in their careers
(Riojas 2006). The act provided funding in the form of federal block grants
that were given to cities and states for job training for economically disadvantaged, unemployed, and underemployed adults and youths. Because urban
artists are chronically unemployed the program was especially critical in
enabling them to find work in film, dance, libraries, and theaters that without
this federal infusion would not have existed. Similar to the WPA, CETA also
gave city officials the opportunity to provide some relief for their citizens from
the grimness of city life.
The concept of outreach entered the urban cultural vocabulary. An explosion in community-based audiences opened up new opportunities for young
talent generally and first time opportunities for black, Latino, and Asian artists
whose revolutionary and innovative work built new audiences even among
suburban commuters intrigued enough to stay in the city after five or even
return on weekends for exhibitions and performances. While city planners
focused their revitalization efforts on big-ticket, unionized job-producing
construction items such as sports arenas, riverwalks, and festival malls, the
nonprofit arts were playing an important “soft” revitalization role that in retrospect could be viewed as a rehearsal for the future.
Reinvention of the City
The 1980 presidential election marked the onset of a conservative political agenda in the United States that witnessed the elevation of antiurban sentiments to a new high. With the almost immediate neutering of the federal
Department of Housing and Urban Development and the handing off
(termed devolution) of major social programs to the state level by the new
administration, city officials and urban planners quickly got the message that
they could no longer look to Washington for help in solving local problems.
Dramatic shifts in the closing decades of the twentieth century at all levels
of government called for new ways of thinking about urban development policy. Just as journalist and urban critic Jane Jacobs had predicted, the bulldozer
renaissance had proven socially and physically destructive to the fabric of
urban life and largely unsuccessful in reversing the downward slide of the post
industrial city regardless of size or location (J. Jacobs 1961).
Amid a growing outcry from disenchanted citizens, historic preservationists, policy analysts, and urban growth planners, a new generation of state and
local elected officials sought correctives for the failure of urban renewal. It was
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also clear that an alternative had to be found to development strategies based
on budget-busting tax incentives pitched to a rapidly vanishing manufacturing sector.
Municipalities began to incorporate a new set of metrics for judging urban
progress as it became clear that demographic, technological, and economic
changes promised cities new opportunities to reposition themselves economically while at the same time improving the quality of life for their citizens. As
early as 1982, cultural economist James Shanahan (1982) advised planners that
the success of any new strategy would by measured by a city’s ability to:
Draw people back to the center for work and leisure time uses.
Attract vacationers, conventioneers, and business trippers to the city.
Generate new residential living in the downtown and adjacent areas.
Increase office jobs by attracting the growing service industries,
including finance, insurance, health, education, tourism and recreation, culture, and entertainment.
Increasingly convinced by data emerging from the academy and think
tanks, and eventually an influential but highly debated book by economist
Richard Florida (2002), late twentieth century policy makers took on a new
set of revitalization strategies. These strategies looked at the transformations
being wrought in the American economy by globalization, trade, and technological innovations that are dependent on service industries that cluster in
cities and place a premium on high-end skills and education (Katz 2006; Katz
2007). In his analysis, Florida claims that there is what he terms a creative class
that makes up 30 percent of the U.S. labor force. He suggests that workers
trained in the creative professions—particularly the arts, media, architecture,
and design—are among the most sought after by industry in the digital age
(2002). Although not all workforce researchers agree with Florida’s argument,
findings in the field suggest that city planners would be wise to gear
revitalization strategies to attracting workers having cutting-edge, creative skills
with the expectation that businesses eager to tap into this talent pool would
soon follow.
The Arts as Urban Asset
Under the old urban planning approach, public officials focused on selling their distressed municipalities to potential investors, whether large-scale
private investment firms or football franchises, by offering a variety of tax and
infrastructure incentives better than the next best competitor city. Often such
initiatives resulted in dubious public policy that entailed long-term public
debt, especially in the case of tax-supported stadium expansions or construction
(Herrick 2006a). By the 1980s under the new paradigm public officials shifted
from an emphasis on the discounting and selling of their city to the repackaging
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and marketing of their city’s distinctive assets. Cities began to promote their
arts—real and invented—as a major quality-of-life asset in the belief that a
vital artistic sector would increase their competitive edge in attracting visitors,
residents, and the creative worker. Business in turn would be attracted by the
opportunity to capitalize on this critical mass of consumers and highly skilled
That the arts can play an important role, even a linchpin role, in a municipal redevelopment strategy is an idea that has gained sufficient traction to
warrant a measure of confidence in the arts as a key element of revitalization
policy. However, it is essential to keep in mind that the nonprofit arts in and
of themselves cannot and should not be positioned as engines of urban revitalization. First, with few exceptions, nonprofits employ relatively small numbers of staff at modest salary levels, and their work as a rule is supplemented by
as many if not more volunteers than paid staff. Second, in large measure
monies paid by nonprofits for talent and the purchase of goods and services
leave the city where they were generated. Los Angeles, Chicago, and New
York, cities with large commercial and nonprofit arts sectors, are the possible
exceptions. Third, the nonprofit arts are by their nature subsidized enterprises
no matter how much revenue is earned through income-generating activities
(tickets, recordings, sales shops, restaurants, space rentals), government grants
(NEA, state and local arts councils, and line item appropriations), corporate
underwriting, private philanthropy (foundations, individual), or endowment
investments. Fourth, their status as determined by the Internal Revenue Service
as 501(c)(3) organizations exempts them from city property taxes, which are
the primary source of funding for essential municipal services, including police,
parks, and education.
While the for-profit arts can generate tax dollars and large numbers of jobs,
and many of the most successful arts-based revitalization strategies include significant commercial cultural components, for-profit enterprises cannot be
depended on or required to operate in the public interest. Fortunately, the collaboration of for-profits with nonprofits and city government in support of a
larger public good is by now a well-tested concept. Updated from the late
nineteenth/early twentieth–century model when art was about displaying
wealth rather than generating it, arts-based public/private partnerships are
locking into place in cities and towns throughout the United States, and internationally.
Marketing the Creative City
Political scientist Elizabeth Strom (2002) identifies the convergence of
city government growth policies with the special interests of both the
Information Age businesses that cluster in downtown corporate towers and the
arts and culture sector as the primary force driving today’s cultural revitalization
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partnerships. This intersection of goals and objectives is the result of stakeholder recognition that:
1. Cities will never again be major manufacturing centers, and, lacking
the space, population, and appeal of suburban wholesaling and retailing business, municipalities must, to be able to attract and retain
investment and population, revitalize their central business districts in
order to raise their city’s profile as an interesting, safe, convenient, and
congenial place in which to live, work, and visit. Arts institutions
and artists enliven downtown by increasing street traffic, public safety,
and the area’s appeal—what economists call the multiplier effect2—to
restaurants, for profit businesses, and, given current gentrification
trends, residential living.
2. It is to their advantage for arts organizations and institutions to participate in arts-based development strategies, as such efforts give new
heft to local cultural policy and better position the arts community to
advocate for both private and public resources, expand their audience
and volunteer base, and advance the concept of the nonprofit and forprofit arts as creative industries essential to the health of local
3. Businesses, in their competition for a skilled workforce, will locate in
cities that offer the amenities (education, culture, entertainment, recreation) and tolerance of diverse lifestyles that attract and retain educated
workers—especially members of the so-called creative class—essential
in the global economy.
4. The arts provide unique opportunities for branding cities with oneof-a-kind buildings and cultural clusters that can help a city reinvent
its image as a vital, livable city and confer distinction and competitive
advantage to its marketing strategies.
Measuring the Economic Impact of the Arts
Economic impact studies were commissioned by hundreds of local arts
institutions, arts councils, and service organizations from Kentucky to Oregon
in an attempt to demonstrate to public officials the economic importance of
the jobs, wages, and taxes generated by artistic activity in their regions.
These studies are seen as both the cause and the effect of the proliferation of
arts-centered development strategies in the 1980s and 1990s. Among the earliest
and most influential of these studies was the one undertaken by the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1983.A second study ten years later
gave so much weight to the argument for the arts as a major factor in the regional
economy that New York’s newly elected mayor relocated the Department of
Cultural Affairs to the city’s Economic Development Department. In the most
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recent update of the economic impact of the arts on New York, the New York
City advocacy group Alliance for the Arts cites a figure of $21.2 billion (Alliance
for the Arts 2006).
In their heyday, impact studies were also commissioned by individual cities
and cultural institutions. Such efforts were conceived by the arts sector as a
way to quantify its role as a valid and important producer and consumer of
taxable products and services that cumulatively would be a significant contribution to the local economy. Often considered less economic analyses—seldom
posing the question “arts as compared to what?”—than public relations documents, such studies nonetheless gave the arts sector a new tool. With this tool,
advocates now have a calculated alternative to the increasingly less persuasive
art-for-art-sake strategy for advocating, as a public good, for its fair share of
government subsidy.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art claimed that its highly publicized 1996
Cézanne exhibition drew 777,810 visitors, who contributed $86.5 million to
the Philadelphia economy. A Lincoln Center economic impact study claimed
the combined effect of the center’s operations (including wages, benefits, and
purchasing) and visitor spending in 2003 generated $1.52 billion in business
activity throughout the city and state, resulting in a total of 38,600 jobs. Direct
local spending by visitors (including restaurants, lodging, and retail) was estimated to have contributed an additional $258 million to the city’s economy
that same year (Philadelphia Museum of Art 1996; Lincoln Center 2004.)
As impressive as such figures sound, cultural economists caution advocates
against making this multiplier effect their primary argument.With few exceptions, such measurements have proven imprecise, self-serving, and lacking in
rigor when applied to the arts. As noted earlier in this chapter, the nonprofit
arts are not economic engines but rather cost centers that by definition operate at a deficit that must be continually offset by public and private contributions.Arts advocates are urged to deemphasize the direct, indirect, and induced
economic activity of the arts in favor of the more qualitative values unique to
the creative process. Relieved of weighty economic expectations and appropriately embedded in a larger strategic vision, the arts can play a central role
in a city’s revitalization plan. Once so positioned the arts can generate social
capital and public goods, which can translate into development dividends that
will excite citizens and outsiders (the so-called halo effect) about the promise
of a new beginning for distressed and abandoned urban centers (Shanahan
1982; Cowan 2006).
Models of Arts-Based Revitalization Strategies
Cities have undertaken a variety of recovery solutions utilizing the arts and
culture in their determination to cast off the postindustrial image of their center city or downtowns as gritty, dangerous, and inhospitable. Each of the
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approaches discussed here would appear to be a function of the particular history, nature of the stakeholders, and perceived or invented assets claimed to
individualize the locality. According to urban politics and policy specialist
Dennis Judd, “Between 1976 and 1986, in the service of the new downtown,
250 convention centers, sports arenas, community centers, and performing arts
facilities were constructed or started, at a cost of more than $10 billion” (Judd
and Fainstein 1999).
arcades, bazaars, festival malls, and waterfronts. These were among
the first attempts to soften the sharp edges of the declining postindustrial
cityscape. Outstanding examples included Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace,
Baltimore’s Harborplace, Chicago’s Navy Pier (with its signature Ferris wheel
a dramatic reference to the 1893 Columbian Exposition), and, among the oldest, San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square. New York City’s South Street Seaport
proved far less successful, for a variety of bureaucratic reasons, through changing city administrations that enabled the retail component to ultimately trump
community interests and overwhelm the Seaport Museum, which had been
the impetus for the project in the first place. Festival malls and similar urban
amenities were primarily aimed at the tourist and convention trades and heavily subsidized by municipal financing. Such subsidies set a precedent that
would become the benchmark for the public financing of privately owned
stadiums and arenas (Metzger 2001).
public parks and arts in public places. Parks and other outdoor or pub-
lic areas were among the earliest of cultural amenities to confer distinction on
American cities, very much in the British and European mode. Early public
art tended toward the monumental, and parks were extended arboretums.
More recent instances of the arts in parks have helped support urban development goals. For sixteen days in February 2005, the Mayor’s Office, Department
of Parks, and Department of Cultural Affairs allowed installation artists
Christo and Jeanne-Claude to hang at their own expense 7,503 saffron-color
banners throughout New York City’s Central Park.The city reported that the
Gates, a stunning display of orange color against the stark winter landscape,
drew 3.25 million visitors, hotel occupancy rates went up 14 percent, and
business revenue (if one is to believe the multiplier effect) was an estimated
$254 million (Murphy 2005).
Chicago’s Millennium Park is another recent example of the arts and
parks model. A permanent 24.5-acre installation built over railroad tracks in
the downtown lakefront area, the park was the brainchild of a mayor with
strongly held views about the centrality of the arts (and flowers) to the successful marketing of his city. The park idea originated with and was led
throughout by Mayor Richard Daley in partnership with local business and
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philanthropic leaders. The city contributed $270 million, matched by $205
million in private donation for a total final cost that was triple the original
estimate. City tax revenues provide for day-to day-operations, although
income from the public parking garage underneath the park was intended to
offset these costs.
With a signature band shell designed by architect Frank Gehry, sculpture
and fountains commissioned from cutting-edge international artists, state-ofthe-art landscaping, a theater designed for small and midsize performing arts
groups (the result of a needs assessment study commissioned by a local foundation), and the predictable restaurant and ice-skating rink, Millennium Park
has emerged as a major tourist attraction, popular corporate entertainment
venue, and source of pride and enjoyment for local citizens thus seeming to
justify the large cost overruns requiring additional public funds. Local area real
estate valuations have also increased, and more upscale retailing has moved
into the area bordering the park. Chicago would also seem to be on the leading edge of an emerging trend in urban parks that like art is a new status symbol for cities (including Seattle, Minneapolis, Houston, and Atlanta) seeking
progressive images (Weinback 2007).
seasonal celebrations and convention centers. These have been tried-
and-true public/private partnership strategies for drawing out-of-towners to
localities they might not otherwise visit. Successors to the national and international fairs and expositions that were hallmark urban events of the nineteenth century, postindustrial cities from Austin, Texas, to New York City to
Seattle to Montreal have invested heavily in fairgrounds and convention centers (and sports facilities in the case of the Olympics) in an escalating municipal competition that has imposed heavily on public coffers, often with
debatable results.
Conventions, along with tourists in general, are prized as major inducers of
the so-called multiplier effect. Conventioneers, paying tax all along the way,
consume hotel rooms, restaurant food, taxi rides, florist services, commercial
entertainment including Broadway shows and gambling, retail shopping, and,
when well marketed, the nonprofit arts. By 1992 trade associations and corporations were spending more than $60 million annually in the United States on
conventions. It is no surprise that many of America’s most job- and tax-hungry
city governments sought to insure their competitive advantage in attracting this
business by constructing (in addition to providing discounts and outright subsidies) what Judd characterizes as tourist bubbles (Judd and Fainstein 1999).
Such center-city clustering of arts venues and tourist-oriented amenities (real
and contrived), sometimes designated as cultural or business improvement districts (BIDs), are closely policed and sanitized for any signs of poverty, grit, or
urban decay (Frost-Krumpf 1998). Outstanding examples of this model include
R u t h A n n S t e wa r t
San Antonio’s Riverwalk, New York’s Times Square (post–peep shows), and
Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts. Because these bubbles tend to be perceived
by locals as separate from the fabric of a city’s ordinary life, critics question the
soundness of using public resources for such purpose, given its high potential
for exacerbating racial, ethnic, and class differences.
Seasonal, short-term cultural events have proved beneficial: examples include
the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina; Aspen Music Festival in
Colorado; New Orleans’s Jazz Fest; summer music and dance at Tanglewood
in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts; the Ravenna Festival outside
Chicago; and the annual folk festival held in Lowell, Massachusetts.These events
provide seasonal employment, tax revenue, physical improvements, and, in ethnically and racially diverse communities like Lowell, a source of social cohesion
and local pride. However, they have limited impact as economic revitalization
strategies. Much of the employment connected with such events pays low
wages, lacks fringe benefits, and is short-lived and dead-end; salaries paid to
artists for the most part leave the area at season’s end.
adaptive reuse of existing buildings. Structures emptied of workers and
residents by postwar deindustrialization, suburbanization, and decline of railway travel spawned the conversion of central downtown train stations, department stores, office buildings, mills, and factories to new cultural, retail, and
residential uses. Largely a function of the rise of the historic preservation
movement and Main Street initiative advanced by the National Trust for
Historic Preservation (formerly a federal agency), adaptive reuse had entered
the urban-planning tool kit by the late 1960s. Artists early on recognized the
advantages of large abandoned work space originally zoned for manufacturing
and retail. Landlords eager for tenants kept rents low in exchange for the artists’
sweat equity, which gradually rehabilitated these barely serviced lofts, as well
as the new life creative activity brought to the neighborhood.
For example, a group of for-profit entrepreneurs partnered with Artsplace,
a Canadian nonprofit arts service organization, to convert a defunct Toronto
distillery complex into a mixed-use development for work, presentation, and
retail for both visual and performing artists that has also become a major tourist
destination. In the economically depressed city of North Adams, Massachusetts,
a vacant nineteenth-century factory complex became the home in 1992 of the
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) through guidance from the Guggenheim Museum and private fund raising efforts spurred
by the promise of a major funding match from the state of Massachusetts
(Zukin 1995). An increasingly popular artistic venue, it remains to be seen how
much of a change agent it will be for the local economy beyond the seasonal
and the museum itself. Lowell, Massachusetts, with the help of its congressman,
persuaded the federal government to fund the conversion of long-abandoned
The Arts in Urban Revitalization
textile buildings into a national historic site operated by the National Parks
Service to preserve and document the origins of the American Industrial
Revolution.A case of rescue and successful marketing of a unique local cultural
asset, Lowell’s National Historical Park is today a major tourist destination and
the linchpin of the city’s postindustrial recovery strategy. In 2006, an abandoned
21,000-square-foot warehouse was redesigned as the temporary home of
Detroit’s new contemporary art museum, with the announced intension of
helping to revitalize the downtown core, a considerable burden for the arts in
this especially distressed city (Ouroussoff 2006a).
By the 1980s, artists found themselves increasingly challenged by young
professionals—characterized by author David Brooks as bobos (bourgeois
bohemians)—and empty nesters drawn to cities by a growing appreciation for
urbane architecture and loft living and nostalgic for urban alternatives to suburbia (Brooks 2000). City officials seized upon this trend incorporating it into
their marketing strategies first as historic preservation and then as the cool or
hip new big thing, inspired by television shows such as Seinfeld, Friends, and
Sex in the City. Fortunately for urban planning strategies, the convergence of
these trends came just as a strong national economy and low interest rates
spawned a post–9/11 economic recovery and an unprecedented run-up of the
real estate market. Municipalities rushed to rezone districts from manufacturing to residential, giving rise to gentrification and the so-called SoHo syndrome, pricing artists out of the very neighborhoods their presence had made
trendy (Gratz and Mintz 1998).
Displacement of artists would at first appear counterproductive to a city’s
arts-based revitalization policy. However, the return of abandoned or underassessed property to tax rolls, creation of an interesting housing stock
that attracts and retains the middle and creative classes, and surging real estate
transaction fees are irresistible tax revenue sources that without government regulatory policies or citizen group actions inevitably trump the arts.
cultural districts and live/work projects. These artist-centered devel-
opment models (also termed “artist villages”) are frequently among the most
prominent features of arts-based revitalization initiatives. Cultural districts are
given in-depth treatment in chapter 8 of this book and only briefly mentioned
here because of the impact on individual artists who have in many cases pioneered inner-city living only to be driven out by gentrification. Despite the
proliferation of arts-based revitalization efforts, individual artists feel at risk
even as they are encouraged by the new status being accorded to the arts in
their cities. Cultural districts have proven to be a successful counterbalance to
unregulated gentrification.They also provide the space and place for art making done outside of institutions to be operated like small businesses.The concept of artists as small businesses comes out of the new thinking about the
R u t h A n n S t e wa r t
arts—nonprofit and for profit—as creative industries that, like other types of
businesses, have the capacity to export or sell their goods and services outside
the local area and bring back new money to enrich the local economy
(Keegan and Kleiman 2005).
Artists are making the case that if they are to survive and flourish in the
city their needs for affordable and appropriate live/work space, beneficial zoning laws, tax incentives, health benefits, access to suppliers, distributors, markets, and audiences must be recognized as core elements of revitalization
efforts. The perception is that the cultural institutional agenda, especially for
the new raft of celebrity museums and performing arts centers, takes precedence over that of individual artists. Many urban policy analysts believe that
recognition of the vital role played by artists and the importance of having
their subsistence and production needs embedded in a city’s cultural planning
process from the beginning would restore balance to the process (Williams
et al. 1993). While limited in its capacity to address these types of basic concerns, good faith cultural districting (such as that in Pawtucket, Rhode Island)
has proven a promising place to begin.
Equally promising is the movement for development of dedicated artist
live/work space through the innovative efforts of a number of nonprofit organizations. Chief among those working at the national level is Artspace Projects.
Founded as an advocacy organization in Minneapolis in 1979, Artspace has
evolved into the leading American nonprofit real estate developer for the arts
and has been instrumental in the development of more than thirty loft and
studio buildings in cities as diverse as New York, Duluth, Reno, Fort Lauderdale,
Minot (North Dakota), Seattle, and Monterey (California).3 Artscape credits
its work with having major revitalizing implications, noting that “other neighborhood development typically follows within three years of the completion
of an artists’ live/work project.This development in turn helps generate other
cultural activity and creates a general increase in visitors to the area.” Such
conversions help a city’s preservation of historic building stock and its return to
active use (Artspace).
LINC (Leveraging Investments in Creativity) is a national nonprofit
organization created in 2002; unlike the Minneapolis grassroots origins of
Artspace, it resulted from a foundation-supported research study carried out
by the Urban Institute.4 This study, Investing in Creativity, was funded by a
ten-year, $20 million grant from the Ford Foundation and other private foundations to address the creative, survival, and advocacy needs of artists in all disciplines (M. R. Jackson et al. 2006). As one of its first major programs, LINC
established and supported local collaborative efforts to develop affordable and
appropriate space in a variety of locations. Boston’s Artistlink is one such effort;
its mission is to provide “individual artists, developers, and municipalities with
targeted information and technical assistance” and advocate for artist-centered
The Arts in Urban Revitalization
programs at the state level. Artistlink demonstrates the growing organizational
sophistication that artists must assume to accomplish larger cultural policy
objectives beyond the studio.Artistlink succeeded as an arts-based revitalization
strategy by bringing together in common purpose a complex public and private stakeholder group that included the state arts council, several private
foundations, the city’s redevelopment agency, a nonprofit economic development organization, and the Mayor’s Office for Arts,Tourism and Special Events
museums and performing arts centers. In the last two decades these
institutions have assumed a centrality in the life of cities not unlike the grand
cathedrals of Europe in earlier times (Kotkin 2006). Beginning in the 1980s,
the proliferation of new facilities and modification of existing ones became the
most visible manifestation of the boom in arts and culture as an instrument of
economic revitalization. Between 1985 and 2002, seventy-one major facilities
were constructed or expanded in American cities, including Albuquerque, New
Mexico; Austin,Texas;Wichita, Kansas; Anchorage, Alaska; New York City; and
Orlando, Florida (Strom 2002). Five years later, the New York Times reported
that forty-six art, science, historical, and religious museums were in the process
of expanding, relocating, or constructing new buildings. In the autumn of 2006
alone, five U.S. and Canadian performing arts centers were opened at a total
cost of nearly $1 billion (Pogrebin 2007;Wakin 2006).
Critics agree that the high-profile cultural construction movement took a
dramatic turn as the result of two pivotal fin de siècle events: the opening in
1997 of the Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain,
and the international architectural competition held for the reconstruction of
New York’s World Trade Center site after the 9/11 attack. Thereafter, highprofile architects found themselves members of an international pantheon of
signature architects (also referred to as “starchitects” and “celebrity architects”)
whose work was eagerly sought by an increasing number of postindustrial
cities in the hope of duplicating what had come to be called the Bilbao effect.
Bilbao is a former steelmaking and shipbuilding city located in the heart
of the Basque region of northern Spain. A classic example of postindustrial
decline, the city of one million had a 25 percent unemployment rate by the
time of the opening of a museum designed by American architect Frank
Gehry that enjoyed instant renown. The planning by the Basque provincial
government for an arts-based makeover of the city’s image and economy
began in 1980 with a major shift (devolution) in Spain’s cultural policy from
national to provincial control.A decade later, Basque officials signed an agreement for loan collections and technical assistance with New York’s Guggenheim
Museum, drafted architect Cesar Pelli to design a master city plan, and hired
Frank Gehry. The rest is history. Basque authorities claimed 1.36 million visitors
R u t h A n n S t e wa r t
in the first year—85 to 90 percent of whom came from outside the Basque
region—and an estimated addition to the local economy of $500 million
within the first three years (Plaza 2006).
The Bilbao Effect: Architecture as Revitalization Strategy
Seemingly overnight, municipal officials and civic boosters throughout
the Western world (countries in Asia and the Middle East would soon follow)5
developed ambitious plans for iconic cultural spaces, with the optimistic
expectation that these facilities would translate into high-profile recognition
by the media, tourism, the international arts community, corporate sponsors,
wealthy donors, and citizens who would embrace the large investment of their
tax dollars in this arts-based strategy as a source of local pride. How these
expectations are being met, and at what cost, has varied greatly.
For example, Newark, New Jersey, the third oldest city in the United States,
is a textbook case of postindustrial urban decline and continues to struggle
with the blight and crime that have marred its image since the racial unrest of
1967. Thirty years later, a coalition of state, city, education, foundation, and business leaders variously constituted under three New Jersey governors saw the
realization of a vision that promoted culture as the leading edge of a pragmatic
new strategy for Newark’s revitalization. Funded at a cost of $187 million
(more than half provided by state, county, and city sources), the New Jersey
Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) is a model of the arts-based initiative conceived and positioned to advance a larger strategic plan.Architecturally modest
by comparison with more fashionable celebrity-designed centers, NJPAC’s glass
and red brick building achieves a spatial and social integration with the city
that, along with its deliberate multicultural and community-oriented programming policy, has inspired pride and loyalty in area residents.
By 2007, a New York Times reporter could observe that “many people peg
the city’s nascent resurgence to the inauguration of the New Jersey Performing
Arts Center in 1997.” A modest but blossoming condominium market, arts
suppliers and galleries putting down roots as part of a growing arts community,
the opening of more upscale restaurants and bars, and the first annual Newark
Arts and Music Festival held in June 2007 were cited as signs of change
directly traceable to the halo effect created by NJPAC ten years out. NJPAC is
also credited with the increase in the city’s population by 10,000 since 2002.
Civic leaders are encouraged that many of these new residents are representative
of Florida’s much vaulted demographic—young, hip, white professionals—who
are now seeing Newark as a livable, affordable alternative to New York City
(A. Jacobs 2007).
In Milwaukee,Wisconsin, celebrity architect Santiago Calatrava is described
by critics as having “created an urban landmark in the guise of an addition for
the Milwaukee Art Museum” (Dejong 2005). The soaring, winglike movable
The Arts in Urban Revitalization
sun screen that tops the lakeside Quadracci Pavilion increased the museum’s
gallery space by 30 percent. However, the 345 percent cost overrun increased
the original $35 million estimate to a final cost of $120 million by the time it
was completed in 2001. Although a public bond issue would be necessary to
retire the construction debt, a debt that was consuming 20 percent of the
museum’s annual budget, museum trustees and city officials considered the
money well spent on their architect’s constantly expanding vision.
Museum attendance the first year after completion was 500,000, up from
160,000 the previous year. A schematic form of the Calatrava design features
prominently in the campaign that markets the Milwaukee renaissance to
tourists, conventions, young professionals, and potential business interests.
Rather than a failed brewery town, the city now projects itself as a national
and international cultural destination and burgeoning center for creative class
industries, a 24/7 youth culture, higher education, and a lively musician and
artist scene. Milwaukee’s choice of a Bilbao-like model puts dramatic architecture and engineering at the center of the city’s development strategy. Claims
for the positive impact of the museum addition are supported by the perceptible increase in local pride, the national and international name recognition
of this midwestern city, and the 20 percent rise in downtown residential living
since its completion (Dejong 2005). While not refuting the claims, critics
say the museum expansion fails as public space (except for the view and the
gift shop) and stands aloof from its urban context (Project for Public Spaces
Los Angeles gained a Bilbao look-alike with the 2003 opening of the Walt
Disney Concert Hall. Although supported by $120 million in corporate and
private contributions (including funds raised by the resident orchestra and a
$50 million starter gift from Mrs. Disney), the city provided the land and
major infrastructure support. Like NJPAC, Disney Hall can be viewed as the
cultural linchpin of a larger strategic Grand Avenue plan to reinvent the city’s
historically depressed downtown with new corporate towers, retail shops, bars
and restaurants, galleries and cultural destinations, hotels, and residential housing based on a master plan designed by Frank Gehry. Los Angeles presently
draws only 2.5 million tourists a year, compared to the ten to fifteen million
visitors claimed by New York and London. Forty percent of New York’s visitors frequent cultural venues, while only one in ten visitors seeks out LA’s cultural sites. As recently as 2004, the then mayor proposed abolishing the city’s
cultural affairs department as unnecessary. A new mayor has hired an arts professional as the new cultural affairs director and proposed a public/private
partnership to raise the level of local awareness about the centrality of cultural
philanthropy (historically low) and the arts and artists in LA’s latest revitalization efforts (Wyatt 2007). Despite the mayor’s efforts to embed a cultural policy component in his administration, local critics dismiss the Grand Street plan
R u t h A n n S t e wa r t
as old-fashioned and derivative. They consider it, at best, inconsistent with
LA’s vibrant multicultural and decentralized character and, at worst, artistically
elitist and racist in its potential impact on the Hispanic community. It remains
to be seen whether the city’s arts-based plan is primarily commercial (as in the
case of New York City’s South Street Seaport), or whether downtown residents, artists, and the older, less glitzy cultural institutions have any participation in the revitalization process (Ouroussoff 2007; Pristin 2007).
In a final example, a controversial expansion of the Denver Art Museum
designed by Daniel Libeskind opened to mixed reviews in 2007 (Ouroussoff
2006b).The dramatic, angulated building was funded by $62.5 in public bonds
and $28 million raised from private sources. Considered by critics to be one of
the more extreme examples of the current trend in museums as “spectacle,” the
museum is expected to be a major tourist attraction and the linchpin of the
city’s arts-based downtown revitalization plan. The museum is the newest
addition to what city officials have designated the Civic Center Cultural
Complex (including the original Beaux-Arts art museum, the central library,
and a history museum) that is being pitched as a vibrant urban corridor connecting downtown to the rapidly gentrifying Golden Triangle, a historic
neighborhood ploughed under by urban renewal and now reinvented by the
city as a cultural district. The district’s artists and small arts businesses are
increasingly sharing space with condominiums and lofts constructed by savvy
developers alert to the growing attraction of artistic, funky inner-city neighborhoods for young urbanites eager to be within walking distance of their
downtown jobs. Even the new museum is flanked by Libeskind-designed condos, yet another manifestation—one part vanity, one part business—of the
cultural dynamic driving the celebrity architecture movement (Chen 2007).
The emphasis on high-profile construction and feats of engineering for
cultural facilities has been criticized by museum professionals for overshadowing the intended purpose for these buildings and diminishing their artistic
mission, sometimes at their peril. One visit to Bilbao will be the only visit for
most people. The director of the Milwaukee Art Museum attributes the first
year’s shortfall in projected attendance, after the initial flurry of interest, to
underestimating the importance of having an exhibit in the nearly empty new
pavilion.The Bellevue Art Museum in Bellevue,Washington, closed in 1994,
three years after moving into an expansive, cutting-edge building designed by
an upscale East Coast architect. Local opinion pronounced the new museum
baffling and poorly suited to its traditional Northwest collections. The museum
reopened two years later with a new name, mission, management, and board
of trustees (Lloyd 2004). The aberrant design of the Denver museum is an
acute example of space that competes with and challenges the curatorial function. However, in personally selecting a high-profile architect known for his
difficult buildings, Denver’s mayor has made it quite clear that such i…

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