Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Gotta have arts

The current issue of the Washington City Paper has two excellent articles on local arts issues.

The first, "How Not to Screw up the Howard Theatre: The restored historic music house could end up a big success—if it follows these steps," discusses the soon-to-reopen Howard Theatre, and how to make it be successful as opposed to a failure, which is the status of the city-owned Lincoln Theatre down the street. The piece lists six points for success:

1. Book competitively.

2. Haul in a professional management group.

3. Construct a flexible space. [I would have phrased this differently, "construct a flexible space to support multiple and simultaneous revenue streams"]

4. Serve food and alcohol. Gobs of it.

5. Shut out the city. [don't run it like a government agency]

6. Build a PR machine. [again, I'd have termed this differently, the piece focuses on the value of "PR" instead it should focus on being professionally marketed, which is related in turn to points (1), (2), and (5) -- it should be run as an arts space, not as a government agency]

The second piece is "The Trouble With Local: Efforts like Listen Local First want to extend the buy-local ethos to culture. But helping artists is a little more complicated." It makes the point that the issue of "supporting local arts and artists" isn't about being parochial and supporting "local" artists because they are local, but in providing the right kinds of support and infrastructure so that local artists can be successful locally. From the article:

But in consuming culture, I’ve never felt “local” to be an inherent plus. Not exactly. What matters, or ought to matter, is whether something is interesting, forward-thinking, vibrant—and mostly importantly, good. ...

Think Local First and similar campaigns around the country rely on two assumptions: that you can convince consumers they should take pride in shopping local, and that stores selling locally made goods can channel consumer goodwill into more business. ...

But asking listeners to directly care about a wide swath of music whose only common denominator is geography is the wrong paradigm for Listen Local First’s efforts—or any booster’s. You can’t ask people to take a blanket stance of support for something whose worth is subjective. Instead, you can ask them to support the kind of conditions—say, space for artists to work, fair booking practices—that make D.C. a place where artists want to live, something everyone should want. Artists in D.C. need a hand, not a nonjudgemental megaphone. Make artists want to live here, and you’ll find locals who’ll listen.

This is my sense about "local first" movements generally. I have no problem with supporting locally owned businesses over chains. Providing the right kinds of conditions to support local business and excellence by local businesses is another issue entirely. But I won't reflexively support poorly run businesses just because they are locally owned.

-- Listen Local First
-- Seattle City of Music: A vision for the future of music in Seattle (plan)
-- blog entry, "Planning your community's night time attractions in terms of music"

The Post has a piece in the Weekend section on the reopening of the Howard Theatre, and the New Yorker Magazine has a piece, "Can the Kennedy Center find new life?," (subscription required) about why the Kennedy Center isn't all that great.
Howard Theater
Flickr photo by Travlr of the Howard Theatre, pre-restoration.

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