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.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?

Hewitt & Jordan - The Economic Function.jpgArtistic disciplines need to drive the planning process for their disciplines.  In "Art, culture districts, and revitalization" I recommend that artistic disciplines create their own plans--that especially they shouldn't rely on real estate interests to do it for them-- focused on developing and maintaining the social, organizational, and physical infrastructure necessary to support artistic production and artistic consumption simultaneously ("The song remains the same: DC's continued failures in cultural planning as evidenced by failures with Bohemian Caverns, Howard Theatre, Union Arts, Takoma Theatre...").

By contrast, most plans without realizing it focus on arts as consumption, museums mostly, and not on "supporting artists."

Culture plans need to be expansive.  In "Lies, damn lies and statistics: parks edition" and "A follow up point about 'local' library planning and 'access to knowledge'" I suggest that parks and library plans include guidance on all such installations within a community, whether or not they are controlled by the local government, to ensure that local citizen interest is represented and that the community is prepared to act if circumstances warrant, such as if state budget cutbacks lead to the closure of a state park that is locally sited.

(For example, when state parks in Santa Barbara, California faced closure due to state budget problems, a local historical society stepped in to manage the parks and keep them open.  Without organizations and plans in place, it's very hard to be able to respond to such crises.)

The Corcoran Gallery of Art debacle.  In response to my writings on the economic and vision failure of the Corcoran Gallery of Art ("Corcoran dissolution;" "damned if you do, damned if you don't: art facility relocation decision"), the city Attorney General's office followed and became a party to the matter to represent the citizen interest, and it did, despite the lack of support for such action by the Washington Post.

The Corcoran Gallery was in an unenviable position, as it competed against national museums that get a great deal of federal funding--the National Gallery of Art and various units of the Smithsonian Institution.

It didn't help that they weren't able to figure out their position in the cultural marketplace, and even though they were independent of the federal government, they could still be harmed by it, as they were by the debacle over their display of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs in 1989 ("Crowd at Corcoran Protests Mapplethorpe Cancellation" from the New York Times), and then by their plans to go "Bilbao" with an expansion based on a Frank Gehry building, which was opposed in some quarters because of the design's discordance with Washington's predominate classical architectural style, but they couldn't pull it off anyway ("Corcoran Director Quits; Trustees Shelve Gehry Plans" from the Washington Post).  Such contributed to their drift and problems.

But last fall, I realized I failed to make the right "end game" recommendation at the time:

1.  That the city take over the Corcoran Gallery of Art and reposition it as the "local fine arts museum" for the City of Washington, DC (as opposed to the national art museums already present in the city run by the Smithsonian Institutions and the National Gallery Art).

2.  That the city take over the Corcoran School of Art and Design and have it managed by the new Corcoran/City of Washington Fine Arts Museum and the University of the District of Columbia, comparable to how the former Antioch College School of Law located in DC eventually became part of UDC.

Without there being such a recommendation out there, it was fulsome to expect the AG's Office to be creative and innovative.  Instead, they were content to go with the flow, which ended up with GWU taking over the property and the school, and the National Gallery of Art getting the art collection, as well as divvying up the art with local and other institutions.  GWU also benefited by getting some ancillary properties that it was able to resell for its own financial benefit.

Granted there would be many obstacles in the way of the city taking on the financial responsibility for a local museum, and for adding to the expense of running UDC, but for the long term the city's cultural ecosystem would have been considerably strengthened and extended.

DC doesn't have a cultural plan.  Allegedly it will be creating one, but I don't imagine it will address the kinds of issues covered in these writings.  Problems with the Corcoran show a gap in cultural master planning.

School of Visual Arts billboard in New York City.

Art and design colleges as an element of the local arts ecosystem.  Many cities have independent art schools offering undergraduate and graduate level degrees, and there is a lot to be said in how independent art schools anchor and extend a community's cultural ecosystem.

Cooper-Union, School of Visual Arts, Fashion Institute of Technology, and Pratt Institute in New York City, Otis College of Art and Design and California School of the Arts in Los Angeles, Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Savannah College of Art and Design,the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia are some of the schools that come to mind, but there are many others, including schools with a very distinct identity that happen to be part of larger institutions such as Parsons School of Design at the New School in New York City.

Those are nonprofit examples, there is also a strong for-profit arts college sector (not without controversy, e.g., "SHOWDOWN NEARS FOR ACADEMY OF ART'S BATTLE WITH CITY PLANNERS," SF Chronicle.  And SCAD's real estate dealings have been criticized as well.

Cooper-Union has been in the news because of how it has mismanaged its endowment and facilities programs, and how this has forced it to start to charge tuition when it before it had been free ("The Cooper Union Tragedy," The New Yorker").

There are many examples of art school involved urban revitalization initiatives such as MICA and the Penn Station/Station North Arts District area in Baltimore ("MICA president Fred Lazarus to retire at end of 2014 academic year," Baltimore Sun) and SCAD in Savannah ("Savannah's surging downtown defies downturn," Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

And many art school programs in "community arts" ("Arts, Neighborhoods, and Social Practices: Towards an Integrated Epistemology of Community Arts," Journal of Planning Research and Education); "Engaged civic/planning efforts"), community extension, and "social practice."

Image: Otis Freeway Studies Billboard Project.

But I haven't seen much research on the impact of local arts colleges, especially independent arts colleges, on the local arts ecosystem.  By contrast, there is more research on the economic impact of disciplines like fashion (Fashion Institute of Technology Economic Impact Study) or digital media, which have greater economic currency.

In that vein I am familiar with one study, of the Arabianranta district in Helsinki (Erwin van Tuijl , Luis Carvalho & Jeroen van Haaren (2013): Developing creative quarters in cities: policy lessons from ‘Art and Design City’ Arabianranta, Helsinki, Urban Research & Practice.)  But it is more focused on the design professions than say, painters and sculptors.

In a recent presentation in association with an exhibit at the Katzen, I learned that in the 1970s and early 1980s, the local side of the DC arts scene was supported in part by an art school program affiliated with the Phillips Gallery, although the program later moved to American University.

But there is something to be said for programs based in the core of a city as opposed to being located on its periphery, like AU--for example in how I suggested that Morgan State University missed out by not relocating its architecture school to Baltimore's Station North district ("Morgan State University should move their architecture and planning school to Downtown/Station North Arts District").

Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts.  The Stranger reports in "Cornish May Lose Its Leaders. It Needs More Effective Ones" about organizational, community, institutional, and leadership chaos at the city's local independent arts college.

It's a situation not dissimilar from that of the Corcoran Gallery, which of course impacted the Corcoran School of Art and Design. Turmoil is not good.

Had the school been absorbed by UDC, the programs could have been expanded and offered a lower cost education compared to GWU--GWU is the most expensive university in the US.

Cornish has comparable locational advantages to the Corcoran--Cornish is located in South Lake Union, the business district where Amazon is located along with an explosion of new residential and commercial development, and in the core of the city and region, just as the Corcoran was located in the heart of DC, but perhaps constrained and bracketed by the federal government and GWU.  Cornish has extensive programs in digital media, and Seattle is one of the premier areas of the country to be active in that field.

Second, crises tend to be terrible times for planning.  Small colleges are in a particularly vulnerable time now, given various changes in the economy, the cost of education, financial aid, etc. ("At Small Colleges, Harsh Lessons About Cash Flow," New York Times).

While Rahm Emanuel is famous for making the point that crises are also opportunities, planning by its nature is long term focused, and in crisis only some people are able to rise to the occasion.

Sometimes it does happen, such as with Sweet Briar College, but most often it does not such as with the Corcoran or Cooper-Union.

Higher education institutions are regulated by states, not localities, except in terms of zoning and development matters. Arts planners need to step in to ensure continued health of these institutions at the city-county scale.  It's not enough to wait for the Attorney General to step in when an institution is on the brink of failure.

Recommendation: Community Cultural Master Plans should include a Higher Education Element when appropriate.  The situation at Cornish, a school with plenty of advantages given Seattle's explosive growth and its place in digital media, suggests to us that a more systematic approach is needed to keep an eye on the arts higher education programs based within cities.

In line with previous recommendations for other planning sub-areas, community cultural master plans should incorporate elements on higher education institutions when such institutions are present within their communities.

Independent arts and design colleges may be increasingly vulnerable economically especially with disciplines that are less business focused (e.g., painting vs. graphic design or digital media) and should be actively monitored as part of community cultural planning processes when such institutions are present locally.

Off hand, colleges like SCAD, MICA  RISD, Otis, and the University of the Arts could be set as a reference group of peer colleges, to generate economic, leadership, and programmatic insights that can be mined by other arts and design colleges seeking greater success and economic stability.

While not relevant to "the arts"per se  the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University is a particularly wonderful example of a city-embedded college ("Nohad Toulan: The University in the City," PSU Metroscape Magazine) that is a useful model for city-based independent art schools.

Note too that design is a distinctly different discipline within the visual and performing arts, more focused on the exchange value of arts.  Nonetheless, the business-to-business arts and design district that developed in the Arabianranta district in Helsinki is an example of a university design school anchoring a revitalization effort from an arts as production standpoint.

And separately I argue that cities should consider including a design element in the master plans (e.g., "Design as a city branding strategy: transit edition").

Culture districts shifting to knowledge clusters.  In writings for a project on Baltimore, I suggested that Baltimore City and the city's higher education institutions need to consider that shift more directly and purposefully.

When extant, art and design colleges should be considered a fundamental components of such initiatives.

From the article:

From creative clusters to "creative economies" and knowledge quarters/knowledge precincts. The basic precepts for the development of cultural districts as a revitalization strategy were laid down beginning in the 1980s, starting with various projects in the UK.   Researcher-consultants such as John Montgomery, Simon Roodhouse, Charles Landry and others have written extensively about "the creative city," and culture district development, planning and management.

As more places took on culture-based regeneration projects, the field further developed and advanced and began to define culture more broadly and integrate additional disciplines into wider scale "creative economy" initiatives which tend to be focused on what are called "knowledge quarter" initiatives, as opposed to arts districts and traditional consumption.  Perhaps knowledge quarter initiatives should be considered "next generation" culture district initiatives.

The Knowledge Quarter in Liverpool, which includes higher education institutions, government research facilities, private research ventures, medical and health care institutions, and research parks is one example.

Helsinki's Arabianranta district, which is centered around the design oriented University of Art and Design (now part of Aalto University) and how business-oriented design and information technolog initiatives developed demonstrates another way that culture districts anchored by arts and design colleges can broaden their reach.   

The URBACT publication, Creating knowledge hotspots in the city: A handbook | Practical guidelines for developing campuses, science quarters, creative districts and other knowledge hotspots, provides guidance for considering the development of broader knowledge development focused initiatives.

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At 10:19 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The Post has an article about how GWU has riffed half of the Corcoran faculty because of a fall in enrollment.

This fall in enrollment was preordained because by being consolidated into GWU, the school's tuition and fees are set by GWU and they are higher for new students. "Legacy" students were promised no rise in costs until after 2015.

Apparently there have been many problems with the integration.

... above this entry suggests that it would have been better for the School of Art and Design not to have been integrated into GWU, but UDC, although there are other issues with UDC.

At 12:25 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I guess another element within a cultural plan should be media and arts, as opposed to marketing and promotion.


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