The Fear of Freedom: The Act of Living

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I am VERY angry.  These are incredibly uncertain times.

The UK is boiling over with a hatred and sense of alienation whisked up by UK and international self-interest – by the global libertarian elite: the 1%.  THEY do not want an EU.  THEY do not want peace.  THEY do not want social justice.  THEY do not care about the UK.  THEY support any political party who will pander to THEIR demands.  THEY control everything, everywhere.  THEY hate socialism.  THEY exploit people using whatever means necessary via THEIR media: lies, racism, hatred, division, xenophobia, false austerity, war, denying environmental destruction, on and on…

This global libertarian elite have riven the UK apart.  THEY backed #Leave.  Isolation, division and turmoil are THEIR favourite foods.  THEY feast on the very anti-immigrant sentiment they create in the first place.  THEY support fascists AND corporations; NGOs and authoritarian dictatorships.  THEY cover every eventuality.  But, most of all, THEY sell us the lie that we should be free from control.  That the people must take back control.  Individualism.  Not the individual responsibilities of a socialist democracy. No.  The divided, alienated, powerless individualism of a consumer: a consumer of THEIR products, THEIR media, THEIR culture.

Make no mistake, the global libertarian elite backed #Leave not just to unleash nihilistic division upon the people of the UK but to sow the seeds of disintegration across Europe too.  THEIR message is powerful: THEY will use the most disenfranchised people in our countries, in our communities, the people most affected by THEIR neoliberal agendas and austerity cuts, against our governments, against our better judgements, to destroy democracy whether in progressive, left, or centre-right wing forms.  The aim is to create instability, to falsely lead the most disenfranchised, vulnerable people to believe that they’ve taken back control, before revealing that the result is out of control.  The seeds of a new authoritarianism are now sown.  Now THEY just need to find another glove puppet “leader” – a “strong leader” – from, in the case of the UK, either a far right Tory or even a sinister “third way” new Blairite.  And THEY will do everything in their power to prevent socialist democracy rallying to oppose THEIR dominance, THEIR oppression.  These Neocolonialists know how to divide and rule.  The present attempted Blairite coup against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is about divide and rule.  It MUST be resisted.

Why?  Because, I believe, that our only option right now is to find the “freedom to”, not the “freedom from”.  The freedom from leads us into new authoritarian control, if not outright fascism; automaton submission at least. The freedom to gives us back our autonomy, our sense of relevance in the world, our sense of meaning something, an aliveness, connectedness. To do this, I believe we must become active, become activists, we must use creativity as a force for freedom, real freedom.  We must remember that, in the words of Erich Fromm in Fear of Freedom, ‘there is only one meaning of life: the act of living itself‘ (1942 [1941], p. 227).  We must realise that the libertarian elite have emptied individuality and freedom of all meaning, all value.  We must be creative.  We must co-operate.  We must participate in a fight for our freedom.

The arts and culture can be a powerful ally of progressive socialist movements for autonomy, solidarity, justice, co-operation, hope and peace across all people in the UK, Europe and the world.  And yet, in the UK, for example, the arts and culture have been used to build new palaces for the elite and their well-off servants, to help housing developers socially cleanse council tenants, to promote centrist, depoliticised happy participation in state-sanctioned cultural activities.  The result is that the arts and culture have been turned into the “Creative Industries” – a means to “produce” innocuous art that is easily “consumed” by more people.  The result is that art is used as a colonising arm for the pacification and “civilisation” of those most disenfranchised by global neoliberalism – those most likely to have bought the #Leave lottery tickets.  But, and this is important, the disenfranchised people tend to stubbornly refuse these offers of officially-sanctioned cultural salvation.  Arts Council England scratch their heads.  Many (not all) art institutions scrabble to work out how to increase their “outreach” programmes, how to become “inclusive”.  The thing is that spending on arts and culture was and is exclusive, elitist and dismissive of everyday culture, of working class culture, of “other” cultures.

LOOK AT THE RESPONSE TO OUR CURRENT #BREXIT CHAOS BY MANY ARTS INSTITUTIONS!

THESE ARE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES.  TUMULTUOUS.  INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT!

Most arts institutions haven’t even mentioned the #Leave vote.  It’s as if it hasn’t happened.  The Institution of Art has its head down.  Trenches dug.  Carry on as normal.  Business as usual.

NO!

I suggest that we need to rethink the role of arts and culture in the UK; that we need to spend much more money on the types of culture that the most disenfranchised WANT.  To not interfere, but to recognise how important creative acts are to people of all backgrounds.  We must, of course, focus spending and restructuring around the NHS, our welfare state, around public expenditure not austerity, on rebuilding social bonds from the bottom up instead of wastefully spending billions on weapons of mass destruction.  But the arts and culture can play a part in a move towards a socialist democracy too.

For me, my focus is on activist art and interventionism.  This is (and operates best when) outside of state funding agendas.  Here too, individualism and co-operation creatively open up moments of dissent, offer glimmers of opportunity for self-realisation, and fight for our rights, for social justice, against fascism, racism, hatred, oppression, exploitation and displacement.

I found solace during these past few difficult days in the work of psychoanalyst and critical theorist Erich Fromm that will inform my path through the lies and divisions created by the 1% for the 99%.  I would like to end by sharing four quotes from Fromm’s Fear of Freedom I think are incredibly relevant to our solidarity today and in our futures even though they were written in 1941.

The cultural and political crisis of our day is not due to the fact that there is too much individualism but that what we believe to be individualism has become an empty shell.  The victory of freedom is possible only if democracy develops into a society in which the individual, his growth and happiness, is the aim and purpose of culture, in which life does not need any justification in success or anything else, and in which the individual is not subordinated to or manipulated by any power outside himself, be it the State or the economic machine; finally, a society in which his conscience and ideals are not the internalization of external demands, but are really his and express the aims that result from the peculiarity of his self.  These aims could not be fully realized in any previous period of modern history; they had to remain largely ideological aims, because the material basis for the development of genuine individualism was lacking.  Capitalism has created this premise.  The problem of  production is solved – in principle at least – and we can visualize a future of abundance, in which the fight for economic privileges is no longer necessitated by economic scarcity (Fromm, 1942 [1941], pp. 233-234).

We must replace manipulation of men by active and intelligent co-operation, and expand the principle of government of the people, by the people, for the people, from the formal political to the economic sphere (ibid., p. 235).

The words democracy, freedom, and individualism become objects of … abuse …  There is one way to define the real meaning of the difference between Democracy and Fascism.  Democracy is a system that creates the economic, political, and cultural conditions for the full development of the individual.  Fascism is a system that, regardless under which name, makes the individual subordinate to extraneous purposes and weakens the development of genuine individuality (ibid., p. 236).

The victory over all kinds of authoritarian systems will be possible only if democracy does not retreat but takes the offensive and proceeds to realize what has been its aim in the minds of those who fought for freedom throughout the last centuries.  It will triumph over the forces of nihilism only if it can imbue people with a faith that is the strongest the human mind is capable of, the faith in life and in truth, and in freedom as the active and spontaneous realization of the individual self (ibid., p. 238).

We can, I believe, only find our place in the world, our freedom, our meaning, through the act of living; through co-operative acts of living together, creative acts that build social unity, acts of participation in the social process for social justice.  Only then can we regain control over our lives, our freedom.  Only then can we offer hope where there is now despair; togetherness instead of loneliness, and strength in place of powerlessness.

STAY STRONG!

In solidarity…

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GREAT Art for THEM, #everydaycreativity for everyone else!

A provocation for the Everyday Creativity Session at University of Warwick

6th April 2016

This is the paper I presented.  I have included some of the slide images in the text below.  If you would like to view the presentation, please click here and remember to view the slideshow with notes enabled (bottom right).

 

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Parking Space, The Stove Network, Dumfries, 2014 (Photograph by Stephen Pritchard)

Perhaps it’s always been thus: GREAT Art for THEM and Everyday Creativity for everyone else – for US.

Gamekeepers police the palatial borders of the classical-traditional-fine arts; the gated-estates of the commercial arts monitored by drones.  Outreach and public engagement programmes: TOKENISTIC attempts to play the incredibly duplicitous democratisation of culture game.  THEY do not want US to be part of THEIR Art!  Never have.  Never will.

WE have, in John Holden’s words, ‘homemade’ culture (Holden, 2008, p. 11) and, Gregory Sholette’s more pointedly political cultural ‘Dark Matter’.  THEY say homemade isn’t Art; politically activist art is ‘not-Art’.  Secretly THEY do what they’ve always tried to do: appropriate not-Art; colonise OUR creativities.

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Park Fiction, Hamburg, 2006

And yet, as Gregory Sholette suggests, THEY depend upon OUR creative acts:

Like its astronomical cousin, creative dark matter also makes up the bulk of the artistic activity produced in our post-industrial society. However, this type of Dark matter is invisible primarily to those who lay claim to the management and interpretation of culture – the critics, art historians, collectors, dealers, curators and arts administrators. […]  Yet, just as the physical universe is dependent on its dark matter and energy, so too is the art world dependent on its shadow creativity (Sholette, 2003, pp. 4-5).

Spectres of hierarchy, paternalism, bureaucracy, technocracy, homogeneity, etc. loom behind a thin veil of ‘it’s for the people – for everyone’ policy rhetoric.  Democratisation of the arts offends cultural democracy.  It supports ‘official culture’; ignores or belittles other equally valid forms of cultural activities.  Sophie Hope:

With their intentions to democratise culture and take “quality art” to the working classes, the TUC, Centre 42 and the Labour government in the 1960s missed the opportunity to recognise cultural democracy by failing to acknowledge or fund the “cultural practices of the working classes” (Hope, 2011, p. 16).

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London Docklands Posters, Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn, 1980s

Owen Kelly:

[T]he democratisation of culture can be seen as the compulsory imposition, on society at large, of the values of one particularly powerful group.  These values appear as neutral, and as natural.  Their imposition serves to downgrade the value of the preferred activities of other groups within society, which are designated as hobbies, folk arts, ethnic arts – or just plain quaint (Kelly, 1984, p. 101).

François Matarasso:

Where community art saw itself as a form in its own right, the addition of a final “s” enabled the participatory arts to become a method applied to all other forms.  So art forms and styles previously criticised as “bourgeois” could be recast as ideologically neutral, while their advocates adapted the once radical methods of community artists to the cause of advancing civilisation.  The techniques of cultural democracy were conscripted to the cause of the democratisation of culture (Matarasso, 2013, pp. 6-7).

I believe, as did Justin Lewis, that the roots of UK arts funding lie in ‘the paternalistic conservativism of the 1950s and 1960s’ from which was born an arts policy based upon paradoxical aesthetic values (now often termed ‘quality’) ‘that simultaneously promote elitism and universal accessibility’ (Lewis, 2014 [1990], p. 87).

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Silo, Stephen Pritchard, 2015

Democratisation of culture is a form of cultural imperialism.  In the words of Su Braden:

[T]o take a particular art and expose a community to it in the hope that it will become less mysterious and more relevant [… is] reminiscent of the imperialist beliefs of fifty years ago, when our society imposed religion, laws and systems of democracy on other societies which were totally unsuited to them, asserts that if it is good and right for us it must be good and right for them (Braden, 1978, p. 180).

Dividing some creative activities or objects into art and not-art is always arbitrary; deeply divisive: a form of splitting.  A game only ‘experts’ or ‘anointed groups’ are allowed to play.

And yet our present conception and definition of Art is derived and developed from the Enlightenment, the industrial revolution: a division of labour and a division of the aesthetic realm.  Today Art is generally conceived of as ‘high art’, emanating from ‘fine art’; rooted in notions of unique beauty and unique knowledge.

But art was once a craft or skill.  To many, art did not exist.  Making buildings, carving marks into them, furnishing them, etc. was just that – some of it considered more pleasing and skilful than others.  Sculpting, painting, drawing, thatching, weaving, glass blowing, etc. – all skills.  Leaving marks on rocks, carving letters and symbols into wood, into trees, etc. were as commonplace as they are now, perhaps more so.  Everyone and no one was an artist then.  Taste existed, of course, but people did not define some things as Art and other things as ‘not art’.  Theatre, performance, music, writing, poetry, etc. were activities to enjoy, to take part in, to think about, and talk about.  All these things could also be useful – everyday.

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Page from News from Nowhere, William Morris, 1890

Carnival gave the masses their chance to reverse status quos, be playful, vengeful.  Today, we look back at paintings, objects, buildings, music, theatre, writing, poetry, even cave paintings and declare some of them ‘Art’.  Yet people from earlier times, earlier cultures thought differently: they lived different lives.  The ‘experts’ canonised certain interpretations of human making as ‘art’ (and continue to do so) – historicism that leaves little room for human agency.  Elitist and divisive and intended to maintain superiorities and hierarchies.  Art as forms of commodity AND power: as ideology.  Of course, past acts of human making also served to maintain and reinforce power but not for the same ends as those of capitalism and neoliberalism.  Division and categorisation do not bring togetherness.

Today, carnivals have (particularly but not exclusively in Western cultures) been rebranded as safe ‘fun’ provided and approved (directly or indirectly) by the state; graffiti a crime; folk music virtually disregarded; crafts are crafts – not art.  Creativity follows humanity’s need to constantly attempt to express itself.  Not as a homogeneous act; rather as individual, personal acts.  The division of labour removed many of the rights of individual expression.

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Cave art, Lascaux, c. 50,000 – 20,000 BC

Thousands of human hand prints created by individual acts of blowing handmade, carefully collected pigments deep within clandestine (at least to some experts today) cave systems tell a different, more humanistic tale.  Acts of common human expression and creativity; collective acts: their meanings now perhaps lost to us.  Creative activities not ‘industries’.  They carry deep (now mysterious) insight into us, into humanity, into our drives to be creative – to express ourselves; our experiences.  They are both art and not art.  The objects remain; the motivations shrouded in passing time.

To some, we may be artists; to others we may not.  It doesn’t matter.  Our actions may be thought of as art or community work or public services AND may not be thought of in these ways.  Can imagination, creativity and social consciousness be means to building the empathy, integration and equality necessary to restore humanity, humility and even ecological/ human respect to society?

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Revolution Non Stop, Christoph Schaefer, Hamburg, 2000

Classification is always institutional; always academic.  Life does not know classification.  It is an entirely human construct.  So is art.  Yet creativity is never a fixed concept.  Artists today represent a particular legacy of the capitalist division of labour.  Art is always work.  Work is not always art.  This does not mean art is superior (or inferior) to any other form of labour or action.  GREAT art is THEIR Art: high art; fine art.

Of course, creativity drives everyone, everywhere, every day.  Creativity has its roots in childhood.  It is instinctive.  Culture derived from playing and reality.  As psychoanalyst Winnicott said:

It is creative apperception more than anything else that makes the individual feel that life is worth living.  Contrasted with this is a relationship to external reality which is one of compliance, the world and its details being recognized but only as something to be fitted in with or demanding adaptation.  Compliance carries with it a sense of futility for the individual and is associated with the idea that nothing matters and that life is not worth living (Winnicott, 1991 [1971], p. 65).

Categories, rules, policy can lead to compliance, and compliance kills creativity.  Economic value.  Social value.  Cultural value.  Social Return on Investment.  Impact.  Innovation.  Evaluation.  Matrices.  Big data.  Wellbeing.  Happiness.  Resilience.  Adaptive resilience.  Sustainability.  Philanthropy.  Leadership.  Quality.  Great art.  Excellence.  Placemaking.  Creative placemaking.  Shakespeare.  Money.  Money.  Money!  COMPLIANCE.

We all create and define our own everyday creativity, our way, in response to our experiences of living; beginning with our relationship to our mothers.  We develop our creativity as we transition, as we individuate, as we experience.  We make our own potential spaces.  Winnicott again:

The place where cultural experience is located is in the potential space between the individual and the environment (originally the object).  The same can be said of playing.  Cultural experience begins with creative living first manifested in play (Winnicott, 1991 [1971], p. 100).

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Megafonchor : “Collective Invocation”, Park Fiction, Hamburg, 2013

We need potential spaces not people and places.  Self-initiated self-discovery: the realisation of creative potential (Davis & Wallbridge, 1981, p. 169).  A far cry from ‘projects’ initiated by the state via (not very) arms-length bodies, initiatives like Creative People and Places and all of the other institutional outreach activities are funder-initiated.  The terms of engagement are determined many miles away from the places where people don’t take part in the state’s authorised arts and cultural offer; in ivory towers that always reinforce class ceilings, by people who see, for deeply ideological reasons, the under-participating masses as in dire need of a good dose of ‘civilisation’.  Power in the hands of the few.  Not institutions who must, according to funding criteria, tick boxes.  Not uncomfortable ‘new’ partnerships tasked with delivering art to new people in new places.  Not artists often paid less than recommended rates to carefully comply with increasingly prescriptive project briefs and outcomes that perpetuate division of labour and precarity.  Certainly not people: not participants.  They have no power other than to choose whether to participate in a ‘trickle-down’ offer of what amounts to little more than the scraps from the table of our long-standing oligarchy, the English cultural elite.

Creativity already exists everywhere.  Let’s not reduce people to numbers and places to little more than pretty coloured pins on simulated maps.  The stiflingly policed borders of compliance are unnecessary when we learn to trust people, when we look beyond the false constructs of ‘Art’ and ‘artists’.

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Autohaus: Permanent Camping, Christoph Schaefer, ContainerUni, Zeppelin University, Friedrichshafen, Hamburg, 2012

 

References

Braden, S., 1978. Artists and People. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Davis, M. & Wallbridge, D., 1981. Boundary and Space: An introduction to the work of D.W. Winnicott. New York: Brunner/ Mazel.

Holden, J., 2008. Democratic Culture: Opening Up the Arts to Everyone, London: Demos.

Hope, C. S., 2011. Participating in the ‘Wrong’ Way? Practice Based Research into Cultural Democracy and the Commissioning of Art to Effect Social Change, London: Birkbeck, University of London.

Kelly, O., 1984. Community, Art and The State: Storming the Citadels. London: Comedia.

Lewis, J., 2014 [1990]. Art, Culture and Enterprise: The Politics of Art and the Cultural Industries. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Matarasso, F., 2013. ‘All in this together’: The depoliticisation of community art in Britain, 1970-2011. [Online] Available at: parliamentofdreams.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/2013-all-in-this-together-matarasso.pdf [Accessed 6th February 2015].

Sholette, G., 2003. Dark Matter: Activist Art and the Counter-Public Sphere. [Online] Available at: http://www.gregorysholette.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/05_darkmattertwo1.pdf [Accessed 10th February 2015].

Winnicott, D. W., 1991 [1971]. Playing and Reality. London and New York: Tavistock/Routledge.

From creative placemaking to “stewardship” for future wellbeing: the anti-academic turn. #AAG2016

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I admit to being rather surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to my presentation “Place Guarding: Activist and Social Practice Art – Direct Action Against Gentrification” at the Association of American Geographers conference 2016 on 29th March.  The feedback from the paper and the recorded presentation was also very supportive.

There have been a couple of reviews of the session in which my paper was one amongst many.  I am a little disturbed by the blog post “Beyond creative placemaking: the wellbeing of future generations” by Julian Dobson from Urban Pollinators: a profit-making company that specialises in “regeneration and placemaking”.  Whilst his blog post does not name any of the paper authors, it is clearly critical of the position taken up by a number of the session presenters, including my own.  I therefore feel a brief response is needed to clarify my position.

Julian Dobson’s long running blog makes for interesting reading, covering a host of topics related to making places “better” and finding “better ways to live”.  However, his response to the AAG 2016 conference session seems to mirror the views of discussant (and Creative Placemaking leading light) Ann Markusen.  (Although, it must be noted that Markusen feels it is necessary to move on from “placemaking” to “placekeeping” now.)  Dobson claims that critique can “descend into sterility”: into “academic demand for political or theoretical purism” which are “even more exclusive than the activity criticised”.  This seems like a rather simplistic and anti-academic perspective.  Behind “protests against eviction and ‘gentrification'” follows “a phalanx of critical theorists who frequently conflate the creative workers displaced by property development with the landlords and developers”, he continues.  Then, following Markusen, Dobson beseeches “the critics” to “look at displacement”: to look at “who is being priced or forced out, by whom and why” instead of “nebulous talk of gentrification”.  I feel I must respond to these three points to ensure that my paper (and research) is not misrepresented or misinterpreted.  I’ll then quickly respond to Dobson’s preference for “stewardship” over “placemaking” or “placekeeping”.

First, I think that papers at an academic conference should be academic in style (although, I hope to skirt its edges wherever possible).  As a critical theorist, I believe critique is essential and incredibly positive: rarely sterile.  The suggestion that critical theorists form ranks to follow the displacement of people by gentrification is, frankly absurd.  Gentrification is of incredible concern to people all over the planet and critical theorists have every right to attempt to critique the different grips of its many tentacles.  Relating the effects of gentrification and the role artists can play in this is important to the overall understanding of this, undeniably capitalist, and therefore political and economic, process.  I argue that it is those with vested interests that attempt to discredit the work of many academics, activists, writers and others within this critical area of research and action.

Secondly, to suggest that critical theorists “conflate” artists and other “creative workers” with landlords and property developers is simply unfair and, largely, untrue.  It is well known that artists can, by living and working in rundown areas, help (usually indirectly but not always) developers gentrify areas only for most of them (although not nessarily the successful ones) to eventually be displaced as property prices rise or buildings are demolished, “repurposed”, etc.  It is essential to realise that it is not just artists who are effectively colonised and displaced by gentrification but many other local people too.  So, thirdly, and relatedly, I see displacement as the most fundamental aspect of gentrification.  I refer, in as much detail a short paper allows, to the displacement, dispossession and colonisation of poor and working-class people, the disenfranchised, homeless people, non-white people, and, of course, artists, at the hands of the “gentrifiers” – again explicitly described as affluent, hipsters, entrepreneurs, property developers, investors, finance capitalists, and supported by governments and local councils.  I make it clear that displacement happens not (directly) because of art or creative placemaking but because gentrification (which I go to lengths to clearly define) is inherently capitalist.

My problem is that, unlike Dobson, I do not believe that capitalism with a friendly, softer face offers anything particularly “better” than hard-line neoliberal global venture capitalism.  It is still (perhaps to a lesser degree) exploitative.  I think that describing gentrification as “nebulous” is a red herring: an attempt to claim that a very clearly defined term is hazy, ill-defined, unclear, uncertain, muddled, ambiguous, unformed in order to offer another alternative that can be of financial benefit to those with vested interests; those who promote softer neoliberal approaches such as placemaking or placekeeping – policies not self-organisation.  I feel we should be wary of people who travel the country and the world selling their own versions of placemaking as a means of making things “better”.  Stewardship is a revealing term.  It means to care for and safeguard others and their resources: the planning and management of resources; hierarchical.  It has a very different meaning, to me, than demanding the “right to the city” for everyone…

To me, the role that processes such as gentrification and, to a lesser extent, creative placemaking, play in manipulating artists and communities to become often unwitting foils for big money venture capitalism is political: a class struggle about rights and social justice.  Radical art that supports broader movements for activism – direct action – are the only means available to liberate our cities, towns, villages, countryside, seas and skies of the all-pervading menace that is capitalism.

Place Guarding: Activist & Social Practice Art – Direct Action Against Gentrification #AAG2016 PowerPoint & Filmed Presentation

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I’ve just shared my full paper from the Association of American Geographers Conference here but I thought some people might like to see the PowerPoint with notes or rather, I would recommend, the film with me presenting my paper.  (I presented it virtually, so this is exactly as the audience saw and heard it at the conference.)

As always, please comment, critique, etc.  Discussion and dissent are always good!

Here’s the PowerPoint link (remember to show notes, bottom right):

https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=506D631092AC8D21!170442&authkey=!AOglI4khY4q2diA&ithint=file%2cpptx

Here’s the MP4 filmed presentation:

https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=506D631092AC8D21!170011&authkey=!AF02_-s97jiggrI&ithint=video%2cmp4

 

Place Guarding: Activist & Social Practice Art – Direct Action Against Gentrification Full #AAG2016 Paper

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I’ve just presented my paper “Place Guarding: Activist and Social Practice Art – Direct Action Against Gentrification” at the Association of American Geographers Conference 2016 in San Francisco.  I wasn’t there.  Made use of PowerPoint Mix!  The PowerPoint and a nicer quality MP4 version will be available here very shortly.  For now, here’s my fully referenced paper with bibliography.

I would love to hear your comments and discuss any of the issues I raise…

Here’s the PDF version:

PLACE GUARDING FULL AAG2016 PAPER – Stephen Pritchard

I’ve also included the text below for blog readers who don’t fancy the PDF…

 

Place Guarding: Activist and Social Practice Art – Direct Action Against Gentrification

Stephen Pritchard, University of Northumbria, UK

29th March 2016

 

In Britain today, as elsewhere, culture is the wonder stuff that gives more away than it takes.  Like some fantastical oil in a Grimm fairytale, this magical substance gives and gives, generating and enhancing value, for state and private men alike.  Culture is posited as a mode of value production: for its economy-boosting and wealth-generating effects; its talent for regeneration, through raising house prices and introducing new business, which is largely service based; and its benefits as a type of moral rearmament or emotional trainer, a perspective that lies behind the “social inclusion” model, whereby culture must speak to – or down to – disenfranchised groups (Leslie, 2011, p. 183).

The art world is increasingly ‘entrenched within cycles of urban change’ (Mathews, 2010, p. 460). The innocuous sounding practice of creative placemaking is promoted by its growing legion of advocates as ‘a fulcrum for the creative transformation of American cities’ (Markusen & Gadwa, 2010 (b), p. 6).  For community artists and others with ‘commitments to historically marginalized communities, “placemaking” is nothing new’ (Wilbur, 2015, p. 96) – a means of cooperative artistic production, although usually without the clear outcome-driven motives attached to creative placemaking.  For many artists and arts organisations, creative placemaking can be an essential, even lucrative, form of income[1].  For others (including community members affected by creative placemaking), the arrival of artists signals impending regeneration-by-social-cleansing, or gentrification.  Rebecca Solnit describes gentrification as ‘the fin above water’ (Solnit, 2000, p. 13) revealing a shark eager to lay waste to ‘cultural diversity’ and ‘creative activity, artistic and political’ (Solnit, 2000, p. 18).  I would suggest, it is more common for gentrification (often dressed as creative placemaking) to present itself as a happy cupcake or subtle ‘pacification by cappuccino’, in the words of Sharon Zukin (Zukin, 1995, p. 28).

I would like to argue that creative placemaking cannot but lead to gentrification[2] because it is a practice steeped in neoliberalism, including a form of sometimes divisive, sometimes unconscious ‘urban neocolonialism’ (Hancox, 2016).  I wonder why artists should be encouraged to (re)make ‘places’ for ‘them’?  Don’t places already exist?  Aren’t people living there already?  Haven’t they already formed (often strong) communities?  The very inner-city sink estates and slums where the state side lined these (primarily working-class, homeless, and ‘non-white’) people are now ‘brown field sites’ brimming with ‘new investment potential’; run-down streets and markets are crying out for a little cultural (re)vitalisation – at least in the eyes of governments, local councils, investors and developers[3].  Hipsters, artists, others are queuing up to colonise these places (ibid.) – once they’ve been pacified a little, of course[4]: not too much – these places must remain ‘authentic’ and ‘edgy’ yet ‘playful’ and ‘fun’ (at least for a while), invoking a spirit of the (new) ‘urban pastoral’[5].

Can art, as Gittlitz asks, ‘resist gentrification’ rather than ‘mask the violence of displacement’ (Gittlitz, 2015)?  Is there are a way that communities and artists can avoid becoming complicit in the rush to accumulate capital and grab state power (Pinder, 2015 [2013], p. 41)?  Can interruptions such as Lefebvre’s ‘moments of presence within everyday life’ offer transformative visions: ‘spaces of desire, resistance, struggle and possibility’ – new potentialities (ibid., p. 36)?  If the art world is ‘part of “business as usual”’ and ‘the universal grease relied upon to make the cogs of business turn better and the joints of society mesh smoother’ (Leslie, 2011, p. 187), can, as David Holmes enquires, ‘cultural practices become political acts’ (Holmes, 2012, p. 81)?  Can artists, activists and creative placemaking participants find effective ways to avoid or ‘deal with their complicity in the production and marketing of the city’ (Hornung, 2014)?  Finally, can communities resist gentrification by embracing outsider-perceived poverty and the notions of self-sufficiency, real democracy and the commons (BAVO, 2006)?  I argue that it is perhaps time to think about ‘place guarding’ rather than ‘place making’ (creative or otherwise); to directly resist the machinations of gentrification instead of following a hopefully misguided urban (re)map – a simulacrum in which all roads lead to capitalist complicity[6].

It is important to first define my understandings of some of the key terms.  Vanessa Mathews’s description of gentrification clearly defines it as ‘a process of inner-city transition, where low property investment spurs a process of reinvestment and an accompanying shift in social demographics and built form’ (Mathews, 2010, pp. 460-461).  She also describes its recent ‘makeover of sorts’ and its erasure from ‘policy and planning discourses, alongside the class relations and displacement issues that typically accompany the process’; replaced by positive terms such as ‘“renaissance,” “regeneration,” and “revitalization”’ (ibid., pp. 461-462).  Cultural activism is nicely (if necessarily indeterminately)[7] summarised by Jennifer Verson as the point ‘where art, activism, performance and politics meet, mingle and interact’; a bridge between art and activism that links the ‘shared desire to create the reality that you see in your mind’s eye and believe in your capacity to build that world with your own hands’ (Verson, 2007, p. 172).  Importantly, she sees cultural activism as a form of:

campaigning and direct action that seeks to take back control of how our webs of meaning, value systems, beliefs, art and literature, everything, are created and disseminated.  It is an important way to question the dominant ways of seeing things and present alternative views of the world (ibid., p. 173).

This ‘myriad of forms’ exists ‘not only in physical space but also in cultural or idea space’ (ibid.).

So how is creative placemaking characterised and do these characteristics offer people and communities emancipation or routes to neoliberalism and even, sometimes, gentrification?  Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa wrote the seminal Creative Placemaking report for the National Endowment for the Arts in 2010.  Rather than discussing the document in depth, I shall instead offer a very brief (undoubtedly selective) flavour of some of the key phrases that illustrate its neoliberal tone.

In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities.  Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired (Markusen & Gadwa, 2010 (b), pp. 3, emphasis added).

Whilst this statement suggests an air of positivity and celebration, it is apparent that strategy, economics, structural development and safety underwrite this feel-good factor.  The positive business-like phraseology continues throughout to, for example, link ‘the potential to radically change the future of American towns and cities’ to ‘creative locales’ that ‘foster entrepreneurs and cultural industries that generate jobs and income, spin off new products and services, and attract and retain unrelated businesses and skilled workers’ (ibid.).  It is unsurprising that the report also acknowledges how ‘[l]arge cultural institutions, often inspired by their smaller counterparts, are increasingly engaging in active placemaking’ (ibid.).  The language becomes increasingly dominated by economics as the report progresses.  The authors do, however, take a little time to advise readers of the need to avoid ‘displacement and gentrification’ (ibid., p. 5) because, sometimes, ‘they may be too successful’ (Markusen & Gadwa, 2010 (a), p. 17), putting ‘[l]ow income and minority residents […] at risk from creative revitalization’ (ibid.).  Nonetheless, the report clearly believes artists garner significant economic potential[8].  For example, it states:

Artists and designers are an entrepreneurial asset ripe for development, and in creative places, they find business skills and access to each other that improves their work and earnings.  Cultural industries cluster and thrive where creative workers reside. Arts anchored revitalization encourages nonarts [sic] firms and families to commit to place and to participate actively in remaking where they live and work.  Confirming the investment payoff, seniors, families with children, and young working people are moving back into central cities and arts rich small towns (ibid., p. 3).

Another key proponent of a perhaps more ethical strand of creative placemaking, Roberto Bedoya, acknowledges the process should include an ‘aesthetic of belonging’ because a ‘blind love of Creative Placemaking that is tied to the allure of speculation culture and its economic thinking of “build it and they will come” is suffocating and unethical, and supports a politics of dis-belonging employed to manufacture a “place”’ (Bedoya, 2013).  Nevertheless, following Steve Panton, I argue that economics and enterprise underpin all forms of creative placemaking to one extent or another by using art ‘to attract (wealthier) people and investment into a neighborhood’, even when the ‘social impact of Creative Placemaking is debatable’ (Panton, 2014).  This often leads, as Abigail Satinsky suggests, to ‘a startling shift in the field where socially engaged artist initiatives […] are walking the walk and talking the talk of community arts, without necessarily the community investment or social change mission’ (Satinsky, 2013).

Grant H. Kester argues that ‘culture and the arts have played a central role in framing urban renewal as a creative or ameliorative process’ but that ‘[i]n each case, the destructive component of urban redevelopment, the often-coerced displacement of poor and working-class populations, is elided’[9] (Kester, 2011, p. 197).  This echoes Martha Rosler’s concerns that whilst ‘artists look for the messianic or the merely helpful moment, aiming for [often impossible or impractical] “social change,” the institutional production is centered on various trendy formulas[10] for the “future city”’ (Rosler, 2011).  It is therefore unsurprising that David Harvey argues that a coherent oppositional movement must involve ‘a global struggle predominately with finance capital for that is the scale at which urbanization processes are now working’; a ‘class struggle […] between the accumulation by dispossession being visited upon the slums and the developmental drive that seeks to colonize more and more urban spaces for the affluent to take their urbane and cosmopolitan pleasures’ (Harvey, 2008).  Hence, it is not uncommon for artists in these situations to be portrayed as ‘the expeditionary force for the inner-city gentrifiers’[11]; their ‘colonising arm’ (Ley, 1996, p. 191).

It is little wonder that, in response, some artists are committed to reorganising ‘socially and theoretically’ to create ‘art and revolution simultaneously, never content with just one or the other’[12] (Gittlitz, 2015).  Following David Harvey, I argue that artists (and communities) must:

exercise […] a collective power over the processes of urbanization.  The freedom to make and remake ourselves and our cities is […] one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights (Harvey, 2008).

Reclaiming ‘the right to the city’ also repossesses some ‘power over the processes of urbanization, over the ways in which our cities are made and re-made […] in a fundamental and radical way’ (ibid.).  This act, as Michael Gardiner explains, is underpinned by Adorno’s and Lefebvre’s use of ‘“negative dialectics”’ to develop an ‘understanding of modernity by focussing on “the way the negative is at work in present reality”’ (Gardiner, 2004, p. 245).  Another critical aspect is the fusing of ‘Art into life[13] (Holmes, 2012, p. 73) because, as David Holmes contends:

What has to be grasped, if we want to renew our democratic culture, is the convergence of art, theory, media and politics into a mobile force that oversteps the limits of any professional sphere or disciplinary field, while still drawing on their knowledge and technical capacities (ibid., p. 74).

Holmes is calling for an exploration of ‘how we act, and what role art, theory, media and self-organization can have in effective forms of intervention’ (ibid.), because this form of activist practice ‘is the making-common of a desire and a resolve to change the forms of living, under certain conditions, without any guarantees’ (ibid., p. 79).  This challenging perspective derives from Henri Lefebvre’s assertion that:

everyday life, the social territory and place of controlled consumption, of terror-enforced passivity, is established and programmed; as a social territory it is easily identified, and under analysis it reveals its latent irrationality beneath an apparent rationality, incoherence beneath an ideology of coherence, and sub-systems or disconnected territories linked together only by speech (Lefebvre, 2000, pp. 196-197).

And yet, as Jennifer Verson explains activist art ‘isn’t just about making things pretty, fluffy or fun’, it’s also about ‘taking direct action’; a ‘full spectrum resistance’ (op. cit., p. 171).  For her, ‘an insurrectionary imagination is at the heart of cultural activism’ (ibid., p. 174) because:

[t]his living practice addresses complicated questions about how we build the world that we want to live in.  Insurrectionary imaginations evoke a type of activism that is rooted in the blueprints and patterns of political movements of the past but is driven by its hunger for new processes of art and protest[14] (ibid.).

This form of activist art ‘in pursuit of an engagement with the possibility of real social change’ always seeks ‘to work in ways that break with the dominant paradigms and established institutions of modern art’ (Bradley, 2007, p. 10).

So how do artists resist gentrification?  Is this a new phenomenon?  In short: no.  I will briefly sketch out some of the artists and collectives I feel reflect attempts to guard places and people[15].  Back in the 1980s, the activist art collective Political Art Documentation/Distribution staged a series of ephemeral poster projects and protests against the gentrification of Lower East Side, New York[16].  At the same time, community artists Loraine Leeson and Peter Dunn worked with local people to oppose gentrification with the Docklands Community Poster Project[17].  However, as the pace of ‘urban renewal’ quickened, it became impossible for artists involved in supporting the work of developers to claim they were but ‘innocent pawns in these processes’ (Hornung, 2014).  So, by 1994, the group of artists, musicians and local people who became known as Park Fiction were prepared to use self-organised activism to go beyond earlier, more representational approaches to contesting gentrification in the then rundown dockland area of St. Pauli, Hamburg.  Using a wide range of techniques, the collective’s ‘strategy of tension’ deployed militancy and play and games and art ‘to multiply its fronts of engagement’, ‘neutralise’ the threat posed by the administrators of the area’s proposed redevelopment and expose the limitations of ‘consensus management and soft control’ (Vishmidt, 2007, pp. 457-458).  Their efforts led to the developers’ plans being rejected and the physical installation of Park Fiction in its place in 2005.  Although, it is worth noting that today the park is a popular location in Hamburg and may, as Viola Rühse argues, have increased property values and supported the area’s ongoing gentrification[18] (Rühse, 2014, p. 44).  However, one of Park Fiction’s founders, Christoph Schäfer, went on to instigate the anti-gentrification urban activist network It’s raining Caviar in 2008 which developed the ‘Degeneration Kit’ and seeks to defend neighbourhoods around Hamburg threated by demolition by a range of tactics including performative gentrification tours and a permanent protest picnic in Park Fiction (Richter, 2010, p. 467).  Also, in 2008, Schäfer was instrumental in setting up Hamburg’s Right to the City movement which later produced an important manifesto Not in Our Name!  that opposed the corporate branding of the city by gentrifiers[19] (Oehmke, 2010).  The manifesto[20] begins with the statement: ‘A spectre has been haunting Europe since US economist Richard Florida predicted that the future belongs to cities in which the “creative class” feels at home’ (NION, 2009).  Not in Our Name! ends as follows:

We say: A city is not a brand.  A city is not a corporation.  A city is a community.  We ask the social question which, in cities today, is also about a battle for territory.  This is about taking over and defending places that make life worth living in this city, which don’t belong to the target group of the “growing city”.  We claim our right to the city together with all the residents of Hamburg who refuse to be a location factor (ibid.).

I have only sketched out a few examples.  But I will quickly skip through some other notable projects such as BAVO’s Plea for an uncreative city, Rotterdam (BAVO, 2006); the collectively ‘indignant’, sometimes confrontational activist ‘performances’ of the PAH (Mortgage-Affected Citizens Platform) in Madrid, Barcelona and elsewhere[21] and their embodiment of Lefebvre’s ‘notions of “rights to the city” in their radical potential to resist urban neoliberalism’ (Micu, n.d.); Balfron Social Club’s demand for fifty percent social housing in Ernő Goldfinger’s Brutalist icon, the now gentrified Balfron Tower, London, and their sharp critique of the role of socially engaged artists as ‘place-makers’[22] (Balfron Social Club, 2015); London is Changing[23]: a billboard project that told ‘the story of those Londoners that have fled the city after being priced out’ (Perry, 2015); Bushwick, New York City: the Mi Casa No Es Su Casa: Illumination Against Gentrification project[24] produced in conjunction with NYC Light Brigade and local residents (Voon, 2015); the incredible Illuminator 99%[25]; the resolute acts of resistance by Focus E15[26] – a group of young London mothers whose motto is ‘Social Housing not Social Cleansing’ (Focus E15, 2016); and London’s recent Brockley ‘Fat Cat’ sand sculpture[27], created by a local artist ‘as a critique of gentrification’ (Mann, 2016).

Clearly, there are many examples of activist and radical social art practices that fuse performance and visual representation with direct action against the gentrifiers and place-makers in attempts to guard complex community structures and rights and to protect existing ways of living.  They, like Lefebvre, Harvey et al., believe it is time for ‘the dispossessed to take back control of the city from which they have for so long been excluded’ (Harvey, 2008).  To some, this may seem utopian, to others ‘[d]emanding the impossible may be […] as realistic as it is necessary’ (Pinder, 2015 [2013]).  I argue, as does David Madden, that ‘the narrative of “urban renaissance”’ is as insidious as it is ‘a condescending and often racist fantasy’ (Madden, 2013). We must acknowledge that the right to the city is, in Harvey’s words, ‘an empty signifier’ that can be claimed by ‘financers and developers’ but, equally, by ‘the homeless and the sans papiers’ (Harvey, 2012, p. xv).  Following Marina Vishmidt, I contest, then, that the instrumentalisation of art as a salve for social ills produced by ‘pro-business policies’ can only lead, via the ‘re-imaginings’ of the authorities, developers and ‘bold lifestyle visionaries’ and via ‘the production of difference’ to the reproduction of surplus: of profit (Vishmidt, 2007, p. 459).  I end by suggesting that now is not the time for creative placemaking.  Now is the time for direct action to guard our places against the forces of creeping capitalism, against gentrification.

 

 

 

References

 

Balfron Social Club, 2015. Brutalism [redacted] – Social Art Practice and You. [Online] Available at: http://50percentbalfron.tumblr.com/post/116281372004/brutalism-redacted-social-art-practice-and-you [Accessed 13th April 2015].

BAVO, 2006. Plea for an uncreative city. [Online] Available at: http://www.bavo.biz/texts/view/156 [Accessed 6th February 2016].

Bedoya, R., 2013. Placemaking and the Politics of Belonging and Dis-belonging. GIA Reader, 24(1).

Bradley, W., 2007. Introduction. In: W. Bradley & C. Esche, eds. Art and Social Change: A Critical Reader. London: Tate Publishing, pp. 9-24.

Cameron, S. & Coaffee, J., 2005. Art, Gentrification and Regeneration – From Artist as Pioneer to Public Arts. European Journal of Housing Policy, 5(1), pp. 39-58.

Focus E15, 2016. Focus E15: Social Housing not Social Cleansing. [Online] Available at: http://focuse15.org/ [Accessed 2016 March 2016].

Gardiner, M., 2004. Everyday utopianism: Lefebvre and his critics. Cultural Studies, 18(2-3), pp. 228-254.

Gittlitz, A. M., 2015. Evicted Utopias. [Online] Available at: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/evicted-utopias/ [Accessed 20th November 2015].

Hancox, D., 2016. Gentrification X: how an academic argument became the people’s protest. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jan/12/gentrification-argument-protest-backlash-urban-generation-displacement [Accessed 22nd January 2016].

Harvey, D., 2008. The Right to the City. New Left Review, September-October.Issue 53.

Harvey, D., 2012. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. London: Verso.

Holmes, B., 2012. Eventwork: The Fourfold Matrix of Contemporary Social Movements. In: N. Thompson, ed. Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art From 1991-2011. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press, pp. 72-85.

Hornung, S., 2014. Artists and Gentrification: Don’t Let Action Dissolve into Discourse. [Online] Available at: http://www.artslant.com/9/articles/show/38542 [Accessed 18th November 2015 2015].

Kester, G. H., 2011. The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Lees, L., Just Space & SNAG, 2014. Staying Put: An Anti-Gentrification Handbook for Council Estates in London, London: Antipode Foundation.

Lefebvre, H., 2000. Everyday Life in the Modern World. London: Athlone.

Leslie, E., 2011. Add Value to Contents: The Valorization of Culture Today. In: G. Raunig, G. Ray & U. Wuggenig, eds. Critique of Creativity: Precarity, Subjectivity and Resistance in the ‘Creative Industries’. London: MayFlyBooks, pp. 183-190.

Ley, D., 1996. The New Middle Classes and the Remaking of the Central City. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ley, D., 2003. Artists, aestheticisation and the field of gentrification. Urban Studies, 40(12), pp. 2527-2544.

Madden, D., 2013. Gentrification doesn’t trickle down to help everyone. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/10/gentrification-not-urban-renaissance [Accessed 20th December 2015].

Mann, S., 2016. Artist sculpts giant cat out of sand in protest against London gentrification. [Online] Available at: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/artist-sculpts-giant-cat-out-of-sand-in-protest-against-london-gentrification-a3203851.html [Accessed 17th March 2016].

Markusen, A. & Gadwa, A., 2010 (a). Creative Placemaking, Washington: National Endowment for the Arts.

Markusen, A. & Gadwa, A., 2010 (b). Creative Placemaking: Executive Summary, Washington: National Endowment for the Arts.

Mathews, V., 2010. Aestheticizing Space: Art, Gentrification and the City. Geography Compass, 6(4), pp. 660-675.

Micu, A. S., n.d. Making of the Indignant Citizen: Politics, Aesthetics, and Housing Rights in Madrid and Rome. [Online] Available at: http://www.part-urbs.com/anthology/making_of_the_indignant_citizen [Accessed 9th January 2016].

NION, 2009. Not in our name! Jamming the gentrification machine: a manifesto. [Online] Available at: http://www.signandsight.com/features/1961.html [Accessed 18th November 2015].

Oehmke, P., 2010. Squatters Take on the Creative Class: Who Has the Right to Shape the City?. [Online] Available at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/squatters-take-on-the-creative-class-who-has-the-right-to-shape-the-city-a-670600-3.html [Accessed 15th November 2015].

Panton, S., 2014. Art that knows its place. mile: A Journal of Art and Culture(s) in Detroit, Issue 12.

Perry, F., 2015. ‘I feel I’m being forced out’: London billboards highlight stories of relocation. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/feb/23/forced-out-london-billboards-share-stories-housing-crisis [Accessed 18th January 2016].

Pinder, D., 2015 [2013]. Reconstituting the Possible: Lefebvre, Utopia and the Urban Question. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 39(1), pp. 28-45.

Richter, A., 2010. Gentrification will eat itself. Taking theory to the playground: Lefebvre for kids. City, 14(4), pp. 464-469.

Rosler, M., 2011. Culture Class: Art, Creativity, Urbanism, Part III. e-flux Journal, Issue 25.

Rosler, M., 2014. The Artistic Mode of Revolution: From Gentrification to Occupation. In: M. Kozłowski, et al. eds. Joy Forever: The Political Economy of Social Creativity. London: MayFlyBooks, pp. 177-198.

Rühse, V., 2014. “Park Fiction” – A Participatory Artistic Park Project. North Street Review: Arts and Visual Culture, Issue 17, pp. 35-46.

Satinsky, A., 2013. Is Social Practice Gentrifying Community Arts?. [Online] Available at: http://badatsports.com/2013/is-social-practice-gentrifying-community-arts/ [Accessed 18th January 2016].

Schäfer, C., 2010. Die Stadt ist unsere Fabrik (The City is our Factory). Leipzig: Spector Books.

Solnit, R., 2000. Hollow city: the siege of San Francisco and the crisis of American urbanism. New York: Verso.

Stallabrass, J., 1999. High art lite. London: Verso.

Thompson, N., 2012. Living as Form. In: N. Thompson, ed. Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art From 1991-2011. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press, pp. 16-33.

Verson, J., 2007. Why we need cultural activism. In: The Trapese Collective, ed. Do It Yourself: A handbook for changing our world. London: Pluto Press, pp. 171-186.

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Voon, C., 2015. Activists and Residents Light Up Bushwick with Anti-Gentrification Signs. [Online] Available at: http://hyperallergic.com/265264/activists-and-residents-light-up-bushwick-with-anti-gentrification-signs/ [Accessed 18th January 2016].

Wilbur, S., 2015. It’s about Time: Creative placemaking and performance analytics. Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts, 20(4), pp. 96-103.

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[1] Although some argue that this form of work reinforces a role that ‘art and the artist has played a part in both of the main long-established theories of gentrification, looking respectively at “culture” and “capital” as the key driver of process’ (Cameron & Coaffee, 2005, p. 39).

[2] Hancox states that ‘[g]entrification is becoming one of the defining issues of our age’ (Hancox, 2016): a sentiment I would strongly agree with.

[3] Loretta Lees et al. point out that ‘[i]n the 1970s and 1980s […] the changes in [working class] areas were not led by individual “gentrifiers” but by property developers and local governments working together.  Today, by demolishing council estates, local councils are able to sell valuable public land to developers, who then build new and more expensive housing targeted at wealthier buyers and renters.  This is sometimes called state-led gentrification’ (Lees, et al., 2014, p. 6).

[4] ‘As the hugely telling “place-making” videos make abundantly clear, for the money-men, a proliferation of art galleries, hipsters and small independent businesses are a great sign.  Indeed, for the sharper investors, by the time Starbucks arrives, you’re already too late’ (Hancox, 2016).

[5] Julian Stallabrass, wrote of the urban pastoral: ‘A little edge, just the right amount is energising, and is necessary to spark off pastoral fantasy: simple rural folk enjoying rustic pleasures have become replaced by the characters of the inner city, similarly devoted in middle-class fantasy to the joys of politically incorrect humour, the circulation of obscenities, the joys of violence, crime and vandalism, carefree sexual encounters and drug-taking’ (Stallabrass, 1999, p. 246).  He went on to suggest that gentrification is ‘closely connected’ with this ‘cultural celebration of urban debasement’ (Stallabrass, 1999, p. 247).  Of course, this is not to suggest that all forms of creative placemaking practice celebrate this particular form of new idealisation of the urban frontier.

[6] David Harvey, for example, argues that urbanisation ‘has played a crucial role in the absorption of capital surpluses and has done so at every increasing geographical scales but at the price of burgeoning processes of creative destruction that entail the dispossession of the urban masses of any right to the city whatsoever’ (Harvey, 2008).

[7] ‘Cultural activism is difficult to define’ (Verson, 2007, p. 173).

[8] Martha Rosler argues that, ‘[f]or the business and urban planning communities, culture is not a social good but an instrumentalized “strategic cultural asset” (Rosler, 2011).

[9] A position that Nato Thompson suggests is directly linked with ‘pro-arts, pro-real estate development advocate, [Richard] Florida’s quick fix to economic woes explicitly draws a connection between the arts and the global urban concern of gentrification’ (Thompson, 2012, p. 31).

[10] Martha Rosler later argued that ‘[r]eal-estate concessions have long been extended to artists and small nonprofits in the hopes of improving the attractiveness of “up-and-coming” neighborhoods and bringing them back onto the high-end rent rolls.  The prominence of art and “artiness” allows museums and architecture groups, as well as artists’ groups, artists, and arts administrators of small nonprofits, to insert themselves into the conversation on civic trendiness’ (Rosler, 2014, p. 191).

[11] Ley argues that this positioning of artists as a sort of urbanising vanguard leads ‘the surfeit of meaning in places frequented by artists becomes a valued resource for the entrepreneur’ (Ley, 2003, p. 2535).

[12] Similarly, Rosler believes that ‘the cultural sphere, despite relentless co-optation by marketing, is a perpetual site of resistance and critique.  Bohemian/ romantic rejectionism, withdrawal into exile, utopianism, and ideals of reform are endemic to middle-class students, forming the basis of anti-bourgeois commitments – and not everyone grows out of it, despite the rise of fashion-driven (i.e. taste-driven) hipsterism’ (Rosler, 2011).

[13] To which Holmes asks: ‘Is there any more persistent utopia in the history of vanguard expressions’ (Holmes, 2012, p. 73)?

[14] Similarly, for Marina Vishmidt, clarifies these forms of ‘“[c]onstituent practices”’ as being capable of traversing ‘art and community activism without […] proposing that art can improve lives (“social engagement”) or that mediation of knowledge in a research-based practice implies political consequences (“field work”)’ (Vishmidt, 2007, p. 456).

[15] This is a very short and completely superficial discussion on what is a very large and very disparate field of practice that ranges from the ‘soft’ activism of ‘craftivism’ to the ‘hard’ activism of Class War and others.

[16] For more about PAD/D’s actions, see, for example, http://www.sholetteseminars.com/home/the-lower-east-side-is-not-for-sale-with-greg-sholette/

[17] For more about the Docklands Community Poster Project, see, for example, http://www.arte-ofchange.com/content/docklands-community-poster-project-1981-8

[18] Indeed, Christoph Schäfer later reflected that ‘it was our most radical gestures that could best be made use of – to increase the value of real estate, to construct new neighbourhood identities.  As soon as there was an illegal club somewhere, a cappuccino bar would open next door, followed by a new media agency […].  [W]e were management consultants’ (Schäfer, 2010, p. 132).

[19] For more information about Not in Our Name! see http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/squatters-take-on-the-creative-class-who-has-the-right-to-shape-the-city-a-670600-3.html

[20] Read Not in Our Name! Jamming the gentrification machine: a manifesto in full here: http://www.signandsight.com/features/1961.html

[21] Andreea Micu described the ‘indignant performances’ as follows: ‘[Their] radical political potential lies precisely in the possibility to transform affect into specific gesture and action.  These gatherings have the very concrete goal of stopping evictions and more broadly, specific housing rights agendas that depend on the local context.  However, insofar as performance is mobilized to do so, the energy released in these gatherings may unleash affective potentialities that then might transform participants and carry into the everyday.  These outcomes are notable in their pedagogical potential to signal possibilities of collective action; in the fact that they modify participants and observers; and in the fact that they leave traces of the utopian that remain long after the performance is over’ (Micu, n.d.).

[22] Read Balfron Social Club’s critique of social practice art as placemaking for gentrification here: http://50percentbalfron.tumblr.com/post/116281372004/brutalism-redacted-social-art-practice-and-you

[23] See the London is Changing website here: http://www.londonischanging.org/

[24] Read more about Mi Casa No Es Su Casa here: http://hyperallergic.com/265264/activists-and-residents-light-up-bushwick-with-anti-gentrification-signs/

[25] For more about Illuminator 99%, see: http://theilluminator.org/

[26] For more about Focus E15, see: http://focuse15.org/

[27] Read more about the Brockley ‘Fat Cat’ here: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/artist-sculpts-giant-cat-out-of-sand-in-protest-against-london-gentrification-a3203851.html