What would be a "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for DC's cultural ecosystem
Tomorrow the city is releasing its first Cultural Plan. (In the past, there was the independent Downtown Arts Plan produced in the 1990s, and a cultural plan for the U Street area c. 2004.)
Thursday, April 4th 2019
6pm - 7:30pm
2020 Shannon Place SE
I commented voluminously on the original draft, which overall didn't impress me.
I haven't seen the new document (after comments were due at the end of February the website for the cultural plan hadn't been updated til sometime yesterday). While it did identify some important issues, the recommendations were pretty weak, with little sense of urgency.
Hopefully the final plan is better. The updated website says there are:
28 policy and 8 investment recommendationsVision plans to accomplish quantum change: Transformational Projects Action Planning. Separately, over time, I've developed an approach to master or comprehensive planning that I now call transformational projects action planning. As part of master plans, I propose setting up a key set of big projects to focus on, projects with multiplicative and scalar benefits.
These are the most recent expressions:
-- "(Big Hairy) Projects Action Plan(s) as an element of Comprehensive/Master Plans," 2017
-- "Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning," 2017
-- "Downtown Edmonton cultural facilities development as an example of "Transformational Projects Action Planning" 2018
-- "Minneapolis Super Bowl: Urban Revitalization and Transformational Projects Action Planning," 2018
The basic idea is that a master plan should include a set of big, hairy audacious projects (like "big hairy audacious goals") to spur revitalization and community improvement in a substantive way.
TPAPs should be implemented at multiple scales:
(1) city/county wide as part of a master plan;
(2) within functional elements of a master plan such as transportation, housing, or economic development; and
(3) within a specific project (e.g., how do we make this particular library or transit station or park or neighborhood "great"?).
DC has relied on federal institutions to provide its culture. My basic point about DC's cultural ecosystem is that it is severely underdeveloped, because for most of the city's history, it's relied on federal museums and nationally-focused cultural institutions to "do its culture for it."
This is a problem because those institutions mostly present arts produced "somewhere else" and they focus on presentation as opposed to "production now."
How to build a local arts ecosystem: focus on creating a network or system rather than one-off and temporary endeavors. I wrote about this in 2015 in "Building the arts and culture ecosystem in DC: Part One, sustained efforts vs. one-off or short term initiatives":
Creating an integrated ecosystem of arts and cultural organizations. The paper reads well enough six years later, but I realize that I neglected to make clear a basic point that is unmentioned, which undergirds this argument (and virtually everything else I write).
That is the necessity of a networked system, in this case comprised of arts and cultural organizations, supporting the development and maintenance of the local cultural sector.
I take thinking in terms of systems and structures and processes for granted, but maybe it is too subtle for others to see.
Temporary efforts don't contribute to the long term. So much of what happens in DC's local arts scene is ephemeral and isn't well focused on building a stronger and greater whole.
One example is Artomatic. I think Artomatic--[deleted]--is really cool. It's a big extravanganza featuring hundreds of artists, performances, and talks in a "temporary space," and lasts for about six weeks.
But based on my focus on structural and social change and empowered civic participation, and adding to that the more academic perspectives of the Growth Machine (sociology) and Urban Regime (political science) theories about how cities work politically, I argue in favor of a focus on "sustained efforts" aiming to achieve significant outcomes.
Applied to arts and culture the aim should be creating an integrated framework of cultural institutions (aping the idea of the integrated public realm framework that I write about frequently in a variety of contexts).
Therefore my criticism is that the city's cultural sector isn't well developed, isn't focused on the long term and sustainability, and the focus on events--like Artomatic or "Art all Night" or "temporariums"--rather than on institutions and organizations, while neat, doesn't contribute substantively to the creation of a healthy arts ecosystem.
Element of the This is Clapham cultural map produced by Jenni Sparks.
Thinking about the forthcoming Cultural Plan, I decided to put forward a list of transformational projects that would combine to build a sustainable and hopefully thriving local cultural ecosystem separate from but complementing and extending the federal/national cultural ecosystem.
The basic idea is that the cultural ecosystem needs anchoring institutions as laid out in "Reprinting with a slight update, 'Arts, culture districts and revitalization'," first published in 2009.
While I updated that piece earlier this year by adding an arts-focused real estate development entity to buy, develop, and hold cultural property, I didn't also add the mention of the need for anchoring events as a complement to anchor institutions ("Events and programming in a systematic manner" and "Events as drivers of activity for commercial districts: Holiday edition," 2018).
The typology of types of arts-related spaces and facilities comes from the Creative City Network of Canada publication Cultural Infrastructure: An Integral Component of Canadian Communities:
1. Multi-use hubs
3. Multi-sector convergence projects
4. Artist live-work complexes
5. Creative production habitats
6. Integrated community projects.
and necessary elements of arts districts (although now I think more about broader ranged "creative quarters") from John Montgomery's paper "Cultural Quarters as Mechanisms for Urban Regeneration. Part 1: Conceptualising Cultural Quarters":
Characteristics of cultural quarters (from Montgomery  -- slightly revised and reordered)
1. Cultural venues at a variety of scales, including small and medium.
2. Availability of workspaces for artists and low-cost cultural producers.
3. Small-firm economic development in the cultural sectors.
4. Managed workspaces for office and studio users.
5. Location of arts development agencies and companies.
6. Arts and media training and education.
7. Art in the environment.
8. Community arts development initiatives.
9. Stable arts funding.
10. Identity, image development, branding and marketing support
11. Complementary day-time uses.
12. Complementary evening uses.
Although, even coming with a list of cultural initiatives using the TPAP concept, it's probably too late.
The opportunity to do this kind of development is best realized when land and buildings are comparatively cheap. DC's land and buildings are expensive, even in 2009 when I wrote the foundational piece.
It's that much harder to accomplish in 2019, when land and building costs are even higher.
But it did work in challenging real estate environments in Toronto and Edmonton, so maybe I should be hopeful.
1. The city needs a local fine arts museum to anchor a local arts ecosystem focused on arts production as opposed to arts presentation.
There was a major lost opportunity for the city to take over the Corcoran Gallery of Art to serve in this role, instead that institution was dissolved (see the discussion within "Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?," 2016 and "When BTMFBA isn't enough: keeping civic assets public through cy pres review," 2016).
2. The city needs a local history museum but probably functioning at the regional scale ("Cultural resources planning in DC: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," 2007).
It happens that the failure of the City Museum in 2003 was one of the threads that spurred my interest in cultural planning.
(There should also be a transportation and tourism history museum at Union Station. I made recommendations about this in the DC State Rail Plan (blog entry). Passaic County, New Jersey has an element in their transportation plan acknowledging the opportunity with transportation infrastructure as an element of cultural heritage interpretation and tourism.)
3. Create a top notch (independent) arts and design college, comparable to Parsons School of Design in New York City, Otis in Los Angeles, CalArts in Pasadena, the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Central St. Martins in London, Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, etc. ("Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?," 2016 ).
What I would recommend is that GWU, which amalgamated the Corcoran College of Art and Design, transfer the school to the University of the District of Columbia, which should then expand and extend the program, especially in design.
Academic programs to add include social practice and an arts-focused planning degree.
4. The city needs to support the development of discipline-specific anchors. There are myriads of examples like the School 33 Art Center and Baltimore Clayworks programs in Baltimore, the Writing Center in Bethesda, Podcast Garage in Boston, the Washington Glass School which was displaced from DC to Prince George's County, the Sculpture Center in New York City, Symphony Space in New York City, BRIC House in Brooklyn, Creative Alliance in Baltimore, FACT | Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool, artetc.
5. And the creation of a large multi-faceted arts center that goes beyond specific disciplines. Models include LaFriche in Marseille, GoggleWorks in Reading, Pennsylvania, City of the Book in Aix-en-Province, Cablefactory in Helsinki, the Bergamot Arts Center in Santa Monica, Chicago Cultural Center, Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, Bluecoat Centre for the Creative Arts in Liverpool, etc.
-- Design Handbook for Cultural Centres, Trans-Europe Halles
-- Managing Independent Cultural Centres: A Reference Manual, Trans-Europe Halles
For profit real estate driven initiatives include the new Shed at Hudson Yards in New York ("New York Chased the Olympics. It Go the Shed Instead" and "How the Shed Can Live Up to Its Hype: Focus on the Artists," New York Times), and less valorized efforts by the Daniels Corporation in Toronto ("A massive arts complex is now open on Toronto's waterfront," NOW Toronto).
6. City libraries should be reconceptualized as library-culture centers ("Update: Neighborhood libraries as nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets," revised 2019).
The foremost examples are discussed in the cited piece but include Montreal, where many of the branch libraries have cultural centers, special media collections and facilities, and Salt Lake City, where the central library includes space for a local NPR station, the writing support program of the community college, exhibit spaces, an art gallery, a public auditorium for presentations and film screenings, etc.
7. School facilities should also be reconceptualized in part to support broader cultural functions, and elementary schools should adopt specific arts foci and languages.
When I was involved in H Street Main Street, one of my committee members made the point that if H Street were to become an arts district, why should that be limited to H Street, how could this be extended beyond the corridor and into the community? My response to that challenge was twofold:
(1) to recommend that certain city-owned properties that were unused to be converted to arts spaces like the Washington Glass School (today one of those buildings is still empty, 16 years later, and the other two were converted to housing);
(2) add an arts and international language focus to each of the area's elementary schools, and include an artists in residence program as part of the initiative (JO Wilson School already had a focus on French language teaching), programming, ideally involvement with relevant embassies and international cultural institutions based in the city, etc.
This extends that concept in a systematic way, to a community's entire set of elementary schools.
8. Create an art gallery complex. The Belgo Building in Montreal ("Inside The Belgo Building, a Hidden Hotspot for Contemporary Art in Downtown Montreal," Untapped Cities) and the Bergamot Arts Center in Santa Monica are the foremost examples. For various reasons, it's hard to make a go of galleries, so provide a facility to do it.
9. Support the development and maintenance of arts-based retail ("Cultural plans should have an element on culture-related retail," 2018).
Cultural Infrastructure and Planning
10. Create an arts-focused community development corporation to buy, hold, and develop cultural facilities and spaces at the city-wide scale, modeled after the Playhouse Square Development Corporation and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust ("The Howard and Lincoln Theatres: run them like the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust/Playhouse Square Cleveland model," 2012 ) and the Paris-based SEMAEST ("BTMFBA: the best way to ward off artist or retail displacement is to buy the building," 2016).
-- "Dateline Los Angeles: BTMFBA & Transformational Projects Action Planning & arts-related community development corporations as an implementation mechanism to own property" 2018
-- "BTMFBA revisited: nonprofits and facilities planning and acquisition," 2016
11. It should probably also be the same CDC to buy, hold, and develop artist housing, because the city is small enough that it might not be able to cost effectively sustain a separate organization. Jubilee Housing of Baltimore is a model for such a program.
12. The city should formalize and make public capital financing planning processes for cultural facilities. The Kresge Foundation process is one model. Currently the system is ad hoc.
13. The city should create a program that provides regular operating support to arts organizations. Models include New York City and Denver. The DC Commission on Arts and Humanities does do some of this already, but ironically on the eve of the introduction of the Cultural Plan, the Mayor has proposed changes that won't necessarily improve outcomes ("D.C.'s Arts Commission Faces Major Changes in Council Shift, Mayor's Budget," Washington City Paper).
Economics of Uniqueness: Investing in Historic City Cores and Cultural Heritage Assets for Sustainable Development, World Bank
14. The city should acknowledge the built environment as a key element of the city's identity, in particular historic architecture and urban design. This is Item #3 in "40th anniversary of the local historic preservation law in DC as an opportunity for assessment," 2019:
Treat the entire city as a "heritage area" from the standpoint of the design management of the built environment, using the concept of the cultural landscape, so that all buildings would have some basic design review and demolition protections, regardless of whether or not they are listed either individually or as part of an existing historic district.15. There should be specific cultural master plan elements specific to artistic disciplines. And the Parks and Recreation Master Plan should be expanded and released ("Lies, damn lies, and statistics: parks edition," 2016).
Otherwise, so many buildings and neighborhoods are unprotected now, and likelihood of protection is slim, e.g., our 1929 bungalow is quite intact, but there is no chance our neighborhood would ever become a historic district, or that a typical building of its type (e.g., bungalow, Craftsman style rowhouse, Italianate frame or rowhouse, Queen Anne rowhouse, etc.) would be able to be designated individually as opposed to being a contributing structure in a neighborhood historic district, except in exceptional circumstances.
Locally, Maryland has a system of state heritage areas, although they have limited additional protections concerning designation and protection and are more focused on tourism development.
For example, on music:
-- "Leveraging music for cultural and economic development: part one, opera," 2017
-- "Leveraging music as cultural heritage for economic development: part two, popular music," 2017
-- "Under threat: Austin's music industry as an element of the city's cultural ecosystem and economy," 2016
-- "Culture planning and radio: local music, local content vs. delivery nodes for a national network," 2019
16. With sub-plans for neighborhoods/sub-districts of the city. The Ward Heritage Guides produced by the DC Historic Preservation Office are a good model.
17. There should be an arts fundraising organization comparable to the Cincinnati ArtsWave organization, or wide-scale property tax funding programs like the Allegheny County Regional Assets District or the Denver area Scientific and Cultural Facilities District ("Funding arts and culture: ArtsWave, Cincinnati," 2018).
And more of the city's tourism tax revenue stream (taxes on restaurant meals, hotel stays, rental cars) should be directed to the support of cultural activities, including sub-city efforts (see item #21).
18. The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities should be reorganized and charged to act as the city's primary cultural planning and implementation agency, modeled after the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, and the Brooklyn Resource and Information Center (BRIC).
Those organizations own and manage facilities, provide funding to organizations, and sponsor anchor events such as the Celebrate Brooklyn Festival, Artscape and the Baltimore Book Festival, etc. (They don't own every cultural facility, they own some.)
The Mayor has proposed creating a Department of Arts and Humanities in the place of the DCCAH, but it isn't clear that the proposal would be an improvement ("D.C.'s Arts Commission Faces Major Changes in Council Shift, Mayor's Budget," Washington City Paper).
19. Address the night time as a daypart and design product for cultural planning purposes ("Night time as a daypart and a design product," 2017; "The Vision Thing and DC's Night Mayor appointment," 2018).
20. There should be a capacity building programming initiative for arts organizations, artists, and community organizations. (It should be easier for people to learn all the stuff I've learned over the years...)
21. Provide marketing, organization, and financial assistance to district focused sub-city cultural development efforts. Districts like Anacostia ("How to build an arts district," Washington City Paper), Capitol Hill, Downtown, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown have a variety of cultural organizations and programming, but with the exception of the Dupont-Kalorama Museums Consortium, there are limited efforts to coordinate activities. Support and convening assistance from the city's cultural agency and Destination DC should be directed to such activities.
This could include support for the development of "neighborhood" arts and design districts, using the model of Indianapolis, which has a program for designating local arts districts ("'Create Indy' initiative gives money to cultural districts, artists," Indianapolis Star; "East 10th Street pursues status as arts district; some neighbors brace for change," Indianapolis Business Journal).
-- Resources for Aspiring Arts Districts, Indiana Arts Commission
Separately, neighborhood-scale arts districts in Baltimore (Station North, Highlandtown, Westside), the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative in Pittsburgh, and the Gordon Square Arts District in Cleveland impress me.
Events and programming
This list isn't meant to be exhaustive, but these particular items are important. + film festivals, design festivals, author festivals (the big one in DC is "national," produced by the Library of Congress), etc. Move away from Art all Night or reorganize it ("This Friday: DC's Art All Night Event | Once again, too much of a good thing," 2018)
22. Create an annual city-wide "Doors Open" event for DC's local cultural institutions.
"Doors Open" events were pioneered in Europe, and are when a community's culture organizations band together to provide a coordinated schedule of events, usually over a weekend, where people get free access to various cultural sites and events, many of which are not normally open to the public.
In North America, Doors Open Toronto is probably the biggest. The Toronto Star even publishes an event guide. (2011 Doors Open Toronto Guide)
But Open House New York Weekend is increasingly a big deal. Pittsburgh created one, Doors Open Pittsburgh.
In DC the Dupont-Kalorama Museums Consortium has had a district-specific Doors Open event for many years, as do the art galleries on Upper Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, but including the participation of AU's Katzen Center for the Arts and the Kreeger Museum. It's not exactly the same, but Georgetown Glow, an outdoor sculpture walk in December and January is growing into a great event.
Let's do this for the whole city.
(I meant to write about this during the government shutdown -- #DCIsOpen -- and it's still on my list.)
23. Create a biennial art fair featuring locally produced art. Big art fairs like Documenta or Art Basel focus on bringing the art of high profile artists to a particular city. In a city like Washington where the major arts institutions focus on the presentation of art produced elsewhere, I am proposing the creation of an art fair focused on art produced in the city (and region).
The model is the BRIC Biennial in Brooklyn, although because the borough is so big, each edition has focused on a sub-district of the borough. The current program focuses on South Brooklyn.
24. Create a city arts festival like Baltimore's Artscape. It runs for a weekend every July and gets more than 350,000 visitors annually. It's part art fair and part arts organizations fair, although the latter varies considerably from year to year. There is a slew of name concerts as well as big participation by MICA, which is based in the Mount Royal area, where the event is held.
25. Create a city arts and ideas festival, like the Chicago Ideas Festival, Bristol UK's Festival of Ideas, Manchester UK's FutureEverything,Illuminate Baltimore, International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, Connecticut, the Boston Innovation Festival, etc.
26. Even though they are federal institutions, figure out how to get the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Museums, and the National Archives (maybe) open later in the spring and summer seasons. The latest these museums stay open til is 7pm. The Hirshorn does do some various late night programming.
27. Create a CityPass tourism product for local culture institutions. (This relates to my as yet unwritten #DCIsOpen post.) In other cities, you can purchase a discounted pass for a set number of days that offers access to multiple institutions for one price. Sometimes, like in San Francisco, it includes use of local transit.
Because the federal institutions are free, creating such a product hasn't been seen as necessary in DC, although the bus-based tour companies offer such passes combined with their transportation offer.
There are some pass products for some DC museums that charge admission, but they are hit or miss, including the Newseum mostly, the for profit Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, and Mount Vernon Plantation in Northern Virginia, but not the Philips Collection, Hillwood, Tudor Place, Dumbarton Oaks, Kreeger Museum, GWU Museum including the Textile Museum, etc.
Like Doors Open events, this is a way to market DC's local cultural assets separately from the federal offer.
Master events calendar for Takoma Park, Maryland.
28. Create a master calendar of arts events for the course of the year and publicize it. I am big now on "master calendars." Local newspapers (Post, City Paper, Washington Blade) publish such lists on a seasonal basis, but there needs to be a master list. Smaller communities do this better than DC.
DestinationDC and city cultural institutions should collaborate on the production of a common arts calendar product, communicated in various ways.
29. Reposition and relaunch city operated cable channels as a network comparable to what NYC does with "NYC Life" which has great programming, and a locally produced equivalent of CSPAN's BookTV and "American History TV" programming on weekends.
There are tons of great presentations all the time in DC. By capturing them on film they can reach broader and bigger audiences.
While WMPT distributes the Create Channel produced by a consortium of PBS stations, no local PBS channel redistributes the PBS World Channel, which is primarily documentaries, or the PBS SoCal produced LinkTV, which is distributed on Dish TV and Direct TV.
Ideally a cultural plan could advocate for the distribution of such programming locally.
30. Create broadcast studios for tv and radio at the Central Library. WGBH-TV does this in Boston ("WGBH studio and cafe to open at Boston Public Library," Boston Globe).
Separately, I've argued that public radio stations like WPFW-FM could be co-located at the Central Library, comparable to KCPW-FM in Salt Lake City.
31. Add broadcast capabilities to cultural facilities around the city including library branches and university auditoriums. This would support programming on a "DC Life" channel comparable to NYC Life and CSPAN.
BRIC has created a studio at the Coney Island branch of the Brooklyn Library system. A radio station and recording studio is located in the Montreal North cultural and community center library facility.
32. Work with public television media to improve arts media television programming ("Culture planning at the metropolitan scale should include funding for "local" documentary film makingVoting vs. civic participation | elections vs. governance,"2016--this entry includes a long section on public media news programming).
DC has access to three public television stations from Virginia, DC, and Maryland, but none offer premier arts television programming comparable to programs produced by public media in NYC and New Jersey, the "Artbound" program produced by PBS SoCal or various productions by W in Chicago. WLIW-TV has recently launched a 24-hour channel called Arts Access, serving Greater New York.
WETA provides interstitial arts programming, produces short programs about communities, and produces or televises documentaries on local topics. WMPT produces a show called "ArtWorks" and WHUT produces a show called "Artico" (Art in your community).
By contrast WMPT Maryland's locally produced "Maryland Farm and Harvest" and "Outdoors Maryland" are excellent and ought to set the bar for an arts-focused program serving the DC area (which could be shared with digital channels and even NewsChannel 8).
Another example is All the Art: the Visual Art Quarterly of St. Louis. NYArts was a magazine that charged for articles, but had great covers.