The Evolution of Arts and Cultural Districts

Arts Management

The Evolution of Arts and Cultural Districts

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For decades now the process know as gentrification is often the end result of the creation of Cultural districts created b artist willing to live in substandard conditions as they work on an promote their art. Galligan reviews the process of creating and cultivating cultural districts in an attempt to understand and revitalize the process as well as circumvent the eventual gentrification of the area that is seen resulting, “… in a loss of the very quality of life that artists bring to an area.” (Galligan 140) She cites from several authors on the subject and creates a well-rounded history and project development overview in the creation of cultural districts and compounds with the view of preserving the artistic community.

She first defines what a cultural district is suing the broad-based definition put forward by Hilary Anne Frost-Krurnpf in 1998. “Frost-Krumpf defines a cultural district as a ‘well-recognized, labeled, mixed use area of a city in which a high concentration of cultural facilities serves as the anchor of attraction?'” (Galligan 131) Frost-Krurnpf creates five different categories with which to define particular types: cultural compounds; major arts institution-focused districts; arts and entertainment-focused districts; downtown-focused districts; and cultural production-focused districts. The latter two however are exceptions to the previous definition, as they do not traditionally have an anchor in some industrial or commercial based art company and are now referred to as Second Wave Cultural districts.

…the primary focus of these districts is on individual artists and small arts businesses. The trend is to view a cultural district less as an institutional phenomenon than as an individual one, a collection of artists usually working independently or as part of a loosely affiliated network. (Galligan 131)

Primarily this involved artists moving into blighted areas for the cheap rents of very large industrial spaces that were highly adaptable to a wide range of needs the artists may have. However, most of the time after the artists moved in a began to create better living conditions and income, rents went up and forced them out as real estates values rose and property taxes increased. The wealth soon came in to take over the spaces. She cites the most famous gentrification experience as SoHo in lower Manhattan, though many other areas have seen the process occur.

Changes to this process occurred in the 1990 creating a new grass roots effort utilizing artist to breath new life into downtrodden city sections. Richard Florida’s 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, “codified the new way in which artists were being viewed start-ing in the late 1990s; it was known as the creative economy movement.” (Galligan 136) Now there are direct assessments and connection both with individual artist and large companies. Municipalities participate in not only the creation of an arts community but often purchase artwork, culture and signage from the artists within the community center as well.

While this article is certainly historically accurate there are some details missing from the mix in creating a successful art’s community and restoration of blighted city areas. There is mention of research into the dollar return on investment in the arts, but does this apply to all communities? Certainly some cities may not have the per-capita income to participate in this kind of process, while the city may buy the artwork, if the surrounding culture is not willing the process may stall.

Two Artists

The initial impetus of this author is that “Americans don’t take artist ver seriously,” (57) which he states in the first paragraph. The two artists that the title reefers to is the work of that the artist is known by and then the person him or herself. He quotes from a college roommate that “Every family wants a Picasso hanging on the wall, but no family wants one standing in the living room.” (57) Being an American that respects artists this initial introduction to this article did not set well. However, it is understandable and the author perhaps is exaggerating in order to make a point, that artist, especially in an economic downturn, are often neglected.

The Author lists three general conditions that must be present for any artist to flourish: One, “conditions must be conducive to originality” (58) in other words there must be some way for the artist to work and to have enough money and shelter to get by. Two, “they need respect for their ideas and their approach to problem solving.” (58) Again, this respect in really in the form of financial compensation provided by those who praise originality and see the broader view of the benefits. Three, “artists must be free to draw on – to synthesize – the work of contemporaries as well as creativity from the past.” (58) While the author does not further explain this line, it is inferred that copyright infringement often makes this impossible for the young artist with not money to pay royalties. Of course, should large corporation or unsympathetic governmental agencies dictate the avenues of art, most of these criteria would not be met.

The author first discusses the career of Bob Dylan, now an American legend and Icon, as an example. In the early days of his career had sold between eight and nine thousand albums on his first release, not exactly setting the world on fire even in the 1960’s. Dylan’s work was not initially well received. The legendary record producer John Hammond had been promoting Dylan, who had then become known as “Hammond’s folly.” The powers that be wanted to drop Dylan, “…the head of Columbia’s pop division, David Kapralik, decided the folksinger had to go. But Hammond, by then established as the dean of Columbia’s in-house producers, put his job on the line, and it worked.” (60) Hammond, according to the author, hits the nail on the head when he says the following:

“Too much rides on the success or failure of a record, on guessing the future of a singer or a song…Too many voices have too much to say about too many artistic decisions. And fear is making musical impulses more cautious than they should be.” (61)

This appears to thrust of the author’s opinion that many artists do not find the necessary supports unless someone, like Hammond, notices and literally puts his job on the line in order to push the artist through the gates and into the limelight of success. Hammond’s quote, form 1960, still reverberates today and in some sense has gone the other way. Shows like American Idol have circumvented some of the gatekeepers of success and given talent a chance to prove itself, or at leas that is the intention.

The author continues the debate about the lack of artistic support and then segues into another avenue of thought. Understanding that the product of the artist is one result for entertainment and enjoyment, the author goes to another value, “the unique combination of insight, imagination, and inspiration that enables artists to see problems with fresh eyes.” (64) This, he contends, will help to offer alternate solutions to problems in other areas, “The creative individuals who make art can bring special perspective to public policy.” (64) He then goes off on an apparent tangent talking about President Reagan, complimenting him as an artist (once actor) and the role that this played in his success. He then goes into a plethora of other examples of art in society, which are quite apropos, but his meaning behind it all seems to be completely abandoned and lost to the reader by the end, in an attempt to fuse art with government and business into on ambiguous mass that is somehow inter-cooperative and supporting.

Defining Cultural and Artistic Goods

Not traditionally referred to a commodities in the traditional sense, the products of artistic and cultural expression are treated here by the author as having value that is both intrinsic as well as monetary, or as the author puts it, “economic and non-economic.” (McCain 150) This is the crux of the problem in not only defining what cultural and artistic goods are, which is not completely clear here, and how to mesh both the inherent and pecuniary value of these goods. “The difficulty, then, is to construct a scheme in which one can meaningfully distinguish economic from non-economic values.” (McCain 151) In other words, to get both economists and cultural and artistic patrons to agree on the universal concept of value for these goods.

To hopefully clarify the debate the author quotes from the social philosopher Robert Nozick, who is an advocate of a free-market as well as neoclassical economics.. Nozick uses an example from art class comparing how one appraises paintings to this current dilemma, “A painting has aesthetic value, theorists have held, when it manages to integrate a diversity of material into a tight unity often in new and striking ways.” This then is translated by Nozick’s theory into monetary value along the following line, “The greater the diversity that gets unified, the greater the organic unity, and also the tighter the unity into which the diversity is brought, the greater the organic unity… Its organic unity is its value.” (McCain 151) while interesting in theory the concept in practical use is a little vague. McCain goes on to state that, “On this view, then, objects of art may have intrinsic value (as they successfully realize a novel diversity-in-unity), cultural value (as symbols of some cultural unity), and economic value (in that some individual is willing to pay for them).” (153) It seems to be a recurring motif that it comes down to the concept of value as related to the popular expression in the culture. Similar to the real estate market in different areas, the exact same hoe can go for various prices dependent on the location. And then there is provenance.

The origin or source of artistic material does changes the value of the material itself. The author uses the example of creating an exact replica, molecule by molecule, of a Rembrandt. Obviously the original would be worth more than the copy. Painting tht had once been thought to be by one, less popular artist, were determined to be by a more famous one increase in value tremendously. The painting stays the same, but the provenance changes. Then in the current age there is also the concept of intellectual property. Art, in many ways, seems to have the aura of intellectual property around it. After all, there is certainly an artistic, creative intellect behind it and it is unique to its creator, much as intellectual property rights follow the same reasoning. However, the author disagrees with this, “Even some art works such as sculptures can hardly be identified as potential intellectual property, although they can be quite ordinary property.” (McCain 151) While there can certainly be an argument here, there is still the matter of value to consider. McCain continues the debate between what is cultural and what is artistic, in one breath saying they are separate and in another saying they may contain elements of each other. He never seems to come to a conclusion either way in this reader’s opinion. He then speak of creativity and it various forms. Concluding that most artists are not creative across domains, save perhaps for Da Vinci who was creative across many domains and then creates a formula of value based on all of the foregoing. He derives the following from Caves, Thc Creative Industries:

The domain-specific knowledge and skills necessary for creative consumption of art are together known as “taste,” and are something not given but acquired. One cannot be a productive consumer of creative work without at least some knowledge of the generative rules that produced it and determine its evaluation, and that knowledge is gained in part by the experience of consuming the artistic product. (McCain 161)

Seeing the obvious Catch-22 here, the author comes to the conclusion that there is no real pragmatic formula for calculating this value, but he hopes his efforts inspire other to a broader view of value when attempting to determine the worth of cultural and artistic goods.


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