Art, culture districts, and revitalization
I spoke last week at the national conference of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, a conference on theatre, in a session on "Theatre and Urban Renewal." My basic point is that real estate development interests have their own interests apart from artists, and that artists and arts organizations need to be conscious of what those interests are, harvest what they can from them, but never stop representing their own interests first and foremost.
I am really sorry that I didn't come across this image before the talk.
The Economic Function, Billboard text at the corner of Corporation Street & Alma Street, Sheffield S3. 6 April - 20 April 2004. The work 'The economic function of public art is to increase the value of private property' sets out to question the function of art in the public realm within the economic regeneration of post industrial cities. The image will accompany a text in a journal by Public Art Forum to be published later this year. This work is the second part of a commission for Public Art Forum by Hewitt & Jordan.
There is some great academic writing on this issue. The sad thing is that it doesn't percolate down and get read by many people in the arts and revitalization field, although there are a number of papers published by the Social Impact of the Arts Project at Penn, some in association with The Reinvestment Fund, that discuss the issues and have a number of great citations to writings from academic journals.
-- Cultivating “Natural” Cultural Districts
-- Culture and Urban Revitalization: A Harvest Document
-- Creativity and Neighborhood Development: Strategies for Community Investment
Although there wasn't time to discuss the issues in great detail--we could have done an entire conference on the topic of "Theatre and Urban Renewal"--as a planner I did have some key points. This is the bulk of the paper (not all of it), but I spoke extemporaneously. I expect to keep expanding the paper. The intro was brief and didn't discuss the specifics of revitalization much at all. Note also that while arts and community building is important, and important to many people, it's not what I am personally interested in, and it is something different from economic revitalization.
This weekend we went to Artscape in Baltimore and the Station North Arts and Entertainment District there is a classic illustration of Montgomery's paper (below) as well as just about anything ever written by Jane Jacobs, in particular her point that vibrant cities need "a large stock of old buildings" because they have low running costs and therefore low rents and are available at low cost to support innovation and creative efforts.
For a long time, the area north of Penn Station and anchored by the Charles Theater complex was still pretty much bombed out... Now it might not show well, but it is amazing how it is starting to "fill in" between the cultural anchor of the Loads of Fun building at Howard Street and North Avenue and the Charles Theater. In between, along Charles Street and on North Avenue between Howard and Charles there are many "new" spaces that function as bar-restaurant and venues, a live music venue/bookstore, many independent and very small theater companies, of course bars and taverns.
This was part of the introduction to the paper, and the contrast between Baltimore and DC illustrates the points to a t...
But it appears that no city has developed what we might call a “theater plan.” Not New York City, where Broadway is central to the city’s identity and to tourism and where the theater industry is a key component of the region’s creative industry. Not Chicago, which is known for the most thriving theater scene between the coasts, ranging from neighborhood and repertory productions to “national” plays and musicals at Downtown theaters. The plans must be multifaceted, and address the needs of artists and cultural organizations, not just the economic or community building concerns of various constituencies. And, the plans must focus on matters concerning cultural production equally with the promotion of cultural consumption, arts-oriented tourism, etc.
Write a theater plan for your community
2. Come up with a sustainable facilities plan for your community Part of your theater plan should include a sub-plan on facilities. Communities should develop holistic facilities plans that maximize use and revenues, and reduce overall costs, especially the demand for rent, so that arts organizations can achieve a relatively sustainable cost basis.
Washington, DC and nearby Arlington County in Virginia have two very different methods for supporting arts organizations. Arlington prefers to support a wide variety of organizations, and chooses to develop government-owned or controlled space in ways that support cultural initiatives in addition to other objectives. The County provides space (at low or no cost), access to a shared costume shop, and the use of a costume library to many theater organizations. The county has developed some facilities, including the Shirlington Library, which includes the Signature Theatre Company, and the Thomas Jefferson Middle School, which contains a large auditorium supporting a resident theater company and other productions, in ways that most communities do not. Arlington calls this approach their “Arts Incubator.””
DC provides money to organizations for the acquisition or rehabilitation of facilities, but not in the context of a broader cultural plan focused on consensus priorities. In the past few years, many of the organizations that have received this support, including the Source Theater and the Lincoln Theater, have either ceased operations or have been pushed to the brink of financial solvency. In the broader cultural program, certain arts anchors have been pushed out of the city in favor of the baseball stadium, while other organizations, depending on their relationship with the Executive or Legislative Branches of Government, enjoy preferential earmarks. These grants are made without regard to a vetted set of priorities or through an open and competitive grant process.
3. Create anchoring institutions Artists, advocates, and organizations need to build their capacity to plan, organize, develop, and execute. Markusen and Johnson found that the arts best contribute to regional economic and social development when there are “dedicated centers where artists can learn, network, get and give feedback, exhibit, perform, and share space and equipment. “
In their paper on creative infrastructure, the Creative City Network of Canada outlines six types of creative space, and four of the six: multi-use hubs; incubators; multi-sector convergence projects; and production habitats; are anchors, a set of either cross-disciplinary or discipline-specific facilities and programs that support the development of art, artists, partnerships, networking, connections, and cultural production. Building the capacity of artists and organizations through these types of investment supports local economic and community building objectives, and improves the likelihood of success for all types of cultural initiatives. There are many examples of these types of facilities across North America (just not in DC) that serve as examples that you can consider for your own communities.
4. Networking-representing cultural interests at the scale of the community In addition to artistic centers and anchors—support and capacity development entities—arts organizations need to engage in some rethinking about how to work together to develop the arts community as a component of the community’s cultural infrastructure and as a force to represent artists and artist organizational interests in land use, capital investment, public finance, cultural, tourism, education, and other local policy matters.
5. Sharing Audiences Another matter to consider is whether or not organizations can share and maximize the value of audiences within your community. Years ago I applied for a job at the Warner Theater, not realizing they were owned by the big entertainment venue firm Live Nation. The Warner is one block from the National Theatre. In my cover letter, I made the point that while the theaters compete against each other at one level on any given night, at another level they share audiences amongst people willing to come Downtown to consume cultural events. (This was when going Downtown was seen as a risky adventure, when DC's reputation was somewhat unseemly.)
And that they need to do co-marketing and joint audience development. What best practice examples of arts marketing and membership can be adapted to your community, both for individual organizations as well as to build the success and identity of the theater community as a whole? Urban revitalization focuses on neighborhood improvement, usually through real estate-based strategies. Arts and culture strategies are particularly useful methods for reinvigorating otherwise ignored or abandoned places. But supporting and developing a place doesn’t always mean the support of arts, culture, artists, and the creative impulse in the manner that artists may prefer.
By focusing on building a robust network of hard and soft cultural infrastructure, anchoring institutions and networking systems, in part through the development and implementation of discipline-specific culture and facilities plans, the theater community will be better placed to represent its financial and creative interests within the framework of broader community cultural planning.