After the creative City PART THREE
Jonathan Vickery's groundbreaking study of the shift to a NEW Creative City
The Creative City idea, increasingly pervasive in Europe after the Millennium year 2000, offered a dimension of reflexive thinking to city government and the cultural sphere alike. Culture could be re-framed as an economic ‘sector’, and re-cast as an economic actor. It enabled a cognitive shift, pushing beyond the dichotomy of fine art versus applied art, aesthetics versus commerce.
It opened new alliances between the art institution, media and design, just at the time the microchip revolution was creating new market and new public spaces alike. Contemporary Culture was re-defined among other things as a source of problem-solving capabilities, to be harnessed for economic growth. Where after the rise of the ‘Asian tigers’ in the late 1970s-early 1980s, economic growth was increasingly ‘global’, the highly internationalist and multi-cultural world of contemporary art and culture no longer seemed foreign to national interests. Of course, even modern and contemporary art always played some role in the nation state’s project of patrimonial image consolidation, but after 1980 a radical reassessment of ‘national interests’ figured in the political agenda of every Western European country.
There was a time when culture was not a "sector"
In Europe before 1980, culture was not a ‘sector’ so much as a series of historical or educational institutions, public exhibition spaces and an art market. European cultural products – works of art -- had always been international, even if they were always heavily framed within the institutional project of nation state aggrandizement. An interaction between major European cities was internal to art movements, classical and modern – between Paris and Rome, Rome and Vienna, between Moscow and Paris, between London and New York, and so on. Moreover, early Twentieth Century modernism developed through international business entrepreneurs, dealers and small start up galleries (think of Kahnweiler, Flechtheim or Edith Halpert). Nonetheless, after the Second World War the cultural sphere became quickly institutionalized and enrolled in the project of national reconstruction. While after 1980s, the cultural sphere began to re-internationalise, the processes of institutionalization and disciplinary professionalization that consolidated in the post-war era continued, and still continues to the present. While the old scholarly curator and art connsoisseur museum director has declined, professionalization and specialization have taken new forms. Their continuity is of course facilitated by the rise of global neo-liberalism, where individual self-interest and career trajectories are one of the central means by which economic advancement is generated.
Spheres and Territorialisation of Culture
In the cultural sphere, institutional professionalization and specialization can be seen even in the more transient and ‘radical’ contemporary art world. Its professionals move so easily between activist art groups and mega-event biennale’s for the new global cultural tourist. In the cultural sphere itself, professionalization and specialization generates a geo-politics of intellectual territorialisation – at once increasingly clever and parochial. Of course, professionals naturally stick to their own sphere of influence, becoming ever more delimited by congealing professional sub-cultures and the self-referential discourses that sustain them. Such a cultural sector is something the Creative City challenges, and also inadvertently challenges the phenomenon of ‘enclosed interests’ – the (ironic) way in which public culture, fully institutionalized, becomes driven by the private interests of its professionals.
Is there really a "cultural economy"?
Even though the term ‘cultural economy’ is now a common one, explaining how culture works as ‘an economy’ is something few cultural professionals might actually be able to do. The relation between money, power, space, and the mechanisms of cultural production, are not easy to discern. In the last two decades in the UK, for example, local authority (i.e. city government) expenditure on culture has exceeded that of the national Government funding agencies (from Arts Council England downwards). City authorities are often the prime spenders on culture (though of course, this spending is often integral to a lot of other services, and thus difficult to quantify). However, this simple economic fact raises an important point on the relation between the city and culture – their intrinsic relation – and the lack of attention to ‘the city’ in national cultural policy. The ʻart worldʼ and its national sponsors are once-removed from ‘the city’ as a cultural project. The economic life of the city and the intellectual discourse of culture are kept safely apart – however much cultural actors benefit from the city’s facilities, locations and social life. Yet, as Landry noted, the city is the place that generates contemporary art as it is the place that generates contemporeneity itself (after Baudelaire). It is not just its host. The characteristics of urbanity – critical mass, hypertemporality, interaction, cultural conflict and endless hybridity – are crucial to creating the social milieu that is the incubator of new art movements and their modes of production.
The Capital and The City
In the UK from the late-1980s, a largely enclosed art world found itself with a minor role in city development policies, for the most part through urban regeneration. This could take the form of a ‘strategy’, an ʻinitiativeʼ, or just the local development plan. This role was consolidated in the 1990s, where easy available capital funding fuelled a massive surge in urban ambition within city council sponsors and their private real estate partners. The rise of public art was one manifest form of this. Private developers increasingly accepted the ‘Percent for Art’ finance scheme, as it became clear how art added an immediate and direct value to property. Urban regeneration ʻpartneredʼ with culture, and in doing so became much more than just a strategic urban planning mechanism. It became a broad philosophy of urban transformation, generating its own lexicon of cultural terms. Its aspirationalism inspired artists, urban designers, visionary architects and social entrepreneurs. It allowed for new policy-making research and became a framework within which new ideas were generated and designs were formulated. Urban regeneration was a conceptual arena for rationalizing the function, value and benefits of a whole range of economic, social and cultural activities in urban space (and the relation between them). Ideologically, urban regeneration could play a canny game, seducing the imagination of city officials and art curators alike. By capitalising on the ideological appeal of culture, regeneration schemes could at once evoke anachronistic Victorian values of heritage and patrimony in the context of the global economy, at the same time leverage new branded opportunities in rising property yields. The labouring classes were as enthusiastic as any on rising property costs – within a decade the pension-poor retired worker was sitting in a house worth eight times its original value.
Urban regeneration will decline
The change in property and land re-allocation seemed like one massive value-creation scheme where everyone benefitted. Yet economics is rarely linear in its development. As surely as a civic renaissance did indeed emerge, national urban regeneration lacked a specific fulcrum of political commitment, which in turn became apparent to the extent it was capable of masking and misrepresenting (in politically persuasive imagery) a range of socially unacceptable mechanisms for the control or disposal of public assets. (6) With the current economic decline of massive capital investment and free-flow cash, the urban regeneration as we know it will also decline (and already has, though currently we live in the ʻnetherworldʼ of contractual obligations, where funds committed five years ago are only now being spent). The public art of urban regeneration – the new sculptures, installations, performances and cultural festivals – might remain, but will emerge from an economically more demanding and culturally less optimistic commissioning framework.
Culture and poverty
Each type of public art has its own order of value, of course, and in our new era of scarcity will fare differently. Revenue-raising arts, like mega-event performance and festivals, might well expand. Otherwise, we will no doubt see a contraction of artistic activity, as well as a retraction of artistic labour back into the established silos of art institutes and contemporary museums. In a recessionary framework, the relation between culture and poverty is theoretically interesting. Currently, artists – probably one of the most economically resourceful and adaptable of social groups – are indeed trying to find a way of ʻdoing it cheaperʼ, without the patronage of capital-funded frameworks. Aside from the attraction of new technology, there has been a discernible shift to the internet and to social media as preferred cultural locations. In the city, we have pop-up art shops, installations in other provisional spaces, like bankrupt business space in city shopping centres. Many artists are of course hoping for a ʻcapital flightʼ from the spaces of retail, to an extent that echoes the post-industrial vacation of factory space in the 1970s. However, the artist doing it on the cheap is not ʻthe problematicʼ of the post-Creative City.
6. For a critical overview of this period, see Imrie, R. and Raco, M. (2003) Urban Rennaissance? New Labour, Community and Urban Policy, Bristol: The Policy Press.Paddison, R. and Miles, S. (2007) Culture-Led Urban Regeneration, London: Routledge; and Pratt, A. (2010) ‘Creative Cities: Tensions within and between social, cultural and economic development. A critical reading of the UK experience’, City Culture and Society 1: 13-20.