This week: Our faithful correspondent Patricia Maloney sat down with former US Congressman Pat Williams and his son Griff Willams at Gallery 16 in San Francisco earlier this month to discuss the turbulence of the Culture Wars during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Patricia finally learned how legislating works in a conversation that ran the gamut from explaining Piss Christ to conservative parents and why Poker Jim Butte is the best place to catch some Shakespeare to how the NEA is vital to cultural production in rural communities and why now might be the moment to demand the return of federal grants for individual artists.
Rep. Pat Williams, who served Montana as its U.S. Congressman for nine terms, from 1979-1997, was Chairman of the House Committee that oversaw fiscal authorization for the NEA. He was one of the most vocal champions for Federal Arts Funding and has been credited for saving the NEA at a time when it was threatened with extermination by the religious Right. When the National Endowment for the Arts came under attack for subsidizing what some legislators considered sexually explicit art, Williams led the fight to save the agency. “As long as the federal government can support the arts without interfering with their content, government can indeed play a meaningful part in trying to encourage the arts,” Williams told The New York Times. “The genius of the NEA has been that the peer- review panels, made up of local folks, chose art and artists by using criteria based upon quality and excellence, never touching subject matter.”
“He was a tireless and fearless supporter of the arts,” reports John Frohnmayer, who served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts during that tumultuous era. “He risked his political career in doing so.” Frohnmayer recalls that Williams “called out the congressional critics of the Endowment for their duplicity and moral posturing.”
Recently, while trolling the facebook site for Works Progress, an artist-led public design studion in Minneapolis, I came across a thread on Colin Kloecker’s page (who co-runs the studio with Shanai Matteson) compiling a list of must-reads on the subject of Creative Place-making. What I gathered from the thread and then from talking more with Colin is that we share an interest in how new funding opportunities, that are becoming available under the rubric of “creative place-making” (most significantly through granting organizations like ArtPlace), are affecting and intersecting with socially-engaged practices. Most recently this conversation came up in Chicago when Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation along with the University of Chicago and the Bruner Loeb Forum held a conference called The Art of Place-making.
Artplace was there in attendance, my highlights were the presentations by Kennedy Smith and Walter Hood, presenting on the importance of small business development and creative urban design respectively (arguably the two poles of Theaster’s initiatives.) There were tours of the various properties and lots of conversations about what is unfolding at Dorchester Projects, Stony Island Arts Bank, the Washington Park Arts Incubator, and all the rest in development. One of the moments that stood out for me came in a meeting leading up to the actual conference where Theaster convened community members, local organizations, and neighbors at Dorchester Projects to talk about what was going to happen at the forum and getting feedback on a smaller-scale. I ended up in a break-out group on the Washington Park Arts Incubator and the community-building initiatives now in formation. I don’t pretend to fully understand the complexity of that project, in that neighborhood, with that set of partners, and while I am really excited about what’s happening there, I am also struck by the enormous responsibility being placed on an artist residency program sited in a neighborhood with a historically decimated economic infrastructure. A lot of people spoke about needing educational programs or job training, or of the difficulty in explaining to the neighborhood why they should embrace this place. And I thought, this is a really complex, long-standing socio-economic context to wade into and a lot is being put on artists to have a significant impact in the shaping of that conversation. Perhaps that’s just naive, but I also think it bears repeating. These issues are really, really complicated, the struggle against gentrification is a hard battle and the issues of good versus bad economic development are very deep and hard to parse out. And it is kind of a bizarre world in which artists are put forward to lead the way, while being asked to speak about economic development and community impact. Perhaps that’s where they should be, I’m not sure.
So with that in mind, while cribbing Colin’s list and adding some of my own, I thought it would be interesting to compile a list that reflects the dialogue as it is in this very moment. With the 10th anniversary of Richard Florida’s book “The Creative Class”, the much-criticized and massively influential book on urban development that ties arts funding to innovation culture and business development, rather than inherent social good, we’re primed to revisit the failures and the successes that are now the received wisdom as to the state of arts funding.
Creative Place-making from the government:
The original white paper from the NEA
In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.
And from ArtPlace on “Vibrancy Indicators”
ArtPlace is a collaboration of 13 leading national and regional foundations and six of the nation’s largest banks. ArtPlace is investing in art and culture at the heart of a portfolio of integrated strategies that can drive vibrancy and diversity so powerful that it transforms communities. To date, ArtPlace has awarded 80 grants to 76 organizations in 46 communities across the U.S. for a total of $26.9 million.
And then the analysis:
Dead End on Shakin’ Street in which Thomas Frank explains how Creative Place-making pits Cincinnati versus Rockford versus Kansas City versus Akron in the vibrancy test. It is perhaps unfair to pit funds for city tourism over what should go towards universal health care coverage, but it might as well be put in perspective. A very trenchant and important critique here.
This guy has some beef with Frank, writing from Asheville, NC. I think he misunderstands Frank’s larger point which to me is about pointing out the disinvestment in the public sector on a wide scale, not that universal health care is being specifically defunded via the millions spent on vibrancy initiatives. He also writes for what looks like a marketing firm called Placemakers. They “cultivate livability.”
The Fall of the Creative Class, a first person story of why following Richard Florida’s plan to the letter in deciding where you live might not be a good idea by Frank Bures. Madison-bashing and a totally baffling set of unrealistic expectations aside, this has some good analysis. Also as a side note, the part in here where an overweight woman who he imagines as never leaving her apartment stands in as a symbol of his existential angst is totally problematic. Fat people are not signs of the world coming to an end.
Richard Florida responds to Bures directly here in his “What Critics Get Wrong About the Creative Class and Economic Development” which is basically a rehash of the correlation versus causation debate and then Bures responds back here. And more from Richard Florida in More Losers Than Winners in America’s New Economic Geography.
Ian David Moss from Fractured Atlas and Create Equity blog (which is really good) has some great analysis in Creative Place-making has an Outcomes Problem. This will truly take you deep into art administration nerd-dom but his critique of ArtPlace and its vibrancy indicators is coherent and worth reading. And there are links at the bottom of his post that will lead you to more Florida backlash.
Roberto Bedoya on Creative Placemaking and the politics of belonging and dis-belonging writes about creative place-making strategies of community engagement not adequately meeting the challenges of spatial justice and how “place-making” has to contend with the very real histories of displacement, colonization and indigenous struggles. As Bedoya writes, “Creative Placemaking activities’ relationship to civic identity must investigate who has and who doesn’t have civil rights.”
And here’s a hilariously raw assessment of Richard Florida’s consulting group “The Creative Class Group” implementing a program to train “community catalysts” in Charlotte, North Carolina; Duluth, Minnesota/Superior, Wisconsin; and Tallahassee, Florida, conducted by Knight Creative Communities Initiative (KCCI) that Frank Bures talks about here. And a similar aggregate of the arguments with Can Creative Placemaking Be Proven? The (New) State of the Arguments.
Enjoy the rabbit hole!
Photo by Eric Rogers
Here’s the latest, linky roundup of (good) shit that comes our way….please to enjoy:
*Wanna visit MOMA for free for a year? How to make your own MOMA artist pass.
*Or on second thought, maybe you should buy a real museum membership instead: President’s Proposed 2012 Budget Cuts NEA, NEH Funding by 13%.
*ARC Gallery in Chicago has a call out for entries to its upcoming “Sequential Art: Comics and Beyond” exhibition. This is an “open walls” exhibition, meaning all entries will be accepted. You literally have nothing to lose.
*Missed the Jose Munoz lecture at SAIC last week? Art21 has a nice, concise summary of Professor Munoz’ talk.
*Worthy of advance plugging: AA Bronson speaks at Gallery 400 next week as part of UIC’s Voices Lecture Series. Tuesday, February 22nd at 5:00pm.
*You think quilting isn’t ‘real’ art? You are so wrong, buddy. Check this out: Haptic Labs’ Custom City Map Quilts; and Jimmy McBride’s Stellar Quilts. I would love to go to bed under any of those beauties, although I’d be afraid one of my dogs would puke on it. Sigh.
*Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits at the Du Sable Museum of African American History, through March 6th.
*Who doesn’t like browsing through online photo archives? The Field Museum Library has a veritable treasure trove available via its Flickr photostream…right now, they have hundreds of photographs up, including images from two scanning projects: Urban Landscapes of Illinois and 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. (Via Things).
*Earlier this month Edward Winkleman posted on the crisis in the arts funding landscape, which we discussed in our podcast for Art21 this month. As always Winkleman’s take on the issue, along with the ensuing comments, are well-worth reading.
Starting Memorial Day, May 31, 2010, through Labor Day, September 6, 2010 over 700 Museums will offer free admission to active military personnel and their families. This list organized by the National Endowment for the Arts & Blue Star Families (a non-partisan, non-profit organization, created by military families for military families) includes The Met, The MOMA, The Whitney, The Guggenheim, not to mention Chicago’s Art Institute & MCA. The complete museum list broken down by state can be found here.
This is a wonderful program that is both good politics, good business & good karma. I would love to see the Art Institute & MCA get together and lead the way by extending it to not only the summer but year round and for as long as America is at war. Our museums in all 50 states have a sum collection of history and culture that is unrivaled throughout the world. A treasure that every military personnel should be welcomed and encouraged to see with open arms.
Chicago is the city of tomorrow, lets have Chicago lead the way.
UPDATE: After speaking with Erin Hogan Director of Public Affairs with the Art Institute to clarify what the difference/change was in ongoing policy she explained that the established policy was active military were free but with Blue Star for the summer families of active military would be free as well. Also the website would be updated to better reflect this policy.
This is great to hear and hope it is a big success.
Bravo’s “Art Star” reality show hasn’t even hit the air waves yet, and already we’ve got another art contest on our hands. Our vote for most ridiculous news of the week comes with the Guggenheim’s announcement of Rob Pruitt’s “First Annual Art Awards,” modeled after Hollywood’s Oscars. Pruitt conceived the awards to celebrate “select individuals, exhibitions, and projects that have made a significant impact on the field of contemporary art during the past year.” Oh, and just to keep things bubbly, the star-studded list of presenters will include boyfriend-girlfriend art/fashion design couple of the moment Nate Lowman and Mary-Kate Olsen. There’s a formal dinner afterwards, and after that an after-party and, and….oh, just click on the link and read the rest for yourself (including the video of the nominee announcements). I can’t take anymore. The rest of our midweek round-up, some of which is actually meaningful (though you’ll have to be the judge of that) as follows:
*Art Institute of Chicago appoints Alison Fisher as the Harold and Margot Schiff Assistant Curator of Architecture in the Department of Architecture and Design. Her focus will be on the Art Institute’s architecture holdings from 1850 to 1945, and she will oversee the drawings, models, and archives of Frank Lloyd Wright, Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan and other American architectural masters.
*Artist Mark Bradford among those awarded 2009 MacArthur Genius Grants.
*Bill Viola changes mind, decides to meet with Pope for Vatican cultural dialogue on the relationship between faith and art.
*Franklin Sirmans appointed chief curator of contemporary art at LACMA, succeeding Lynn Zelevansky.
*Proposed Pennsylvania budget agreement extends state sales taxes to arts and cultural performances and venues but exempts movies and sports events; Philadelphia arts leaders organize in protest.
*Brandeis committee recommends keeping Art Museum open, but punts on the issue of the proposed sale of its collection.
*NEA Chair Rocco Landesman explains reasoning behind demotion of communications director Yossi Sergant.
*Paul Chan’s “Top 5 Things That Will Get You Arrested in Minneapolis” aka Top 5 Things We Should Do Together To Make Something Interesting.” (Via Eyeteeth).
*Virtual flip book: View all 160 pages of Proximity magazine in less than 20 seconds. Then go buy the real thing. It’s a good issue, as always.
*A visit to an exhibition about the history of Ikea.
*Artnet writer Grant Mandarino provides Cliff’s Notes on the new Fall art magazines.
*Chicago job posting: Projectionists and room monitors needed for upcoming College Art Association (CAA) Annual Conference in Chicago. If you’re interested, see here.