Deciphering Culture

Archive for the ‘Art & Politics’ Category

Has the construction of “Creative Cities” exacerbated economic disparities?

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An important article from the Community Arts Network that raises questions regarding the actual effects of the UNESCO sponsored effort to transform 19 middle-tier cities into Creative Cities to gain global standing. The same questions apply to other communities trying to develop reputations as creative centers.

Creative City Fever: The 2010 City, Culture and Society Conference, Munich

By Tom Borrup

Singapore skyline at night

“The built city is the most complicated cultural artefact humankind has invented,” wrote Phil Wood and Charles Landry in “The Intercultural City.” And as such, cities cannot be understood from any one vantage point or through any one academic lens. A small but significant conference in Munich, Germany, in late February 2010 brought a dozen of these lenses into one room and raised a number of timely questions relevant to all of us concerned with cities, culture and social equity.

The Creative Cities movement has spread across the globe during the past decade. Since 2004, UNESCO has promoted a Creative Cities Network highlighting cultural diversity, heritage and the unique products of urban centers. Nineteen current member cities, mostly second-tier cities, compete for the gold in literature, film, music, craft and folk arts, design, media arts and gastronomy. Corporate media outlets, meanwhile, focus on the dominance of cities and their industrial, technical, medical or financial titles. Titans such as London, Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, Singapore and Beijing compete for dominance in global finance and business acumen. Meanwhile creative-economy guru Richard Florida has turned the spotlight toward cities’ hip factor, their ability to wrestle for the top talent needed to power these 21st Century empires.

Does the Creative Economy or status as Creative City that so many North American, European and capitalist Asian cities aspire to, widen or narrow economic disparities? Is the idea of the Creative City more than the latest tourism marketing or corporate recruitment strategy? Is it an opportune rationale for repositioning investment, or a smokescreen obscuring issues of social justice, environmental sustainability and real inclusion for all people? Will Creative City Fever soon be replaced with a passion to be the Sustainable City, the Slow City, the Bio City, the Just City or just the Next Great City? (to read the rest click here)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 21, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Gentrification and the loss of music venues

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Reposted from History is made at night: the politics of dancing and musicking

Monday, March 08, 2010

Freddy’s: a Brooklyn bar facing demolition

If one threat to music venues is over-regulation through increasingly onerous licensing laws, another is gentrification. As land and property values rise, spaces of conviviality (pubs, bars, clubs) are often swept away by developers to be replaced by upmarket residential and retail buidings. In London, the clearest example is The Foundry in Shoreditch, facing demolition to make way for a hotel.

City of Strangers notes a similar case from New York, where Freddy’s Bar in Brooklyn is facing demolition to make way for the huge Atlantic Yards Development. City of Strangers ‘started hanging out in the very late 90’s, when I still lived in Fort Greene. It was nice having a good bar in walking distance. In those pre-hipster days, there weren’t many bars in Brooklyn with found video loops broadcast on a TV over the bar, or that played the whole Velvet’s Banana album or the Ramones or 80’s British punk. The back room featured everything from hardcore to experimental jazz’.

If the developers get their way, 16 high rise buildings will soon replace not only Freddy’s but a whole neighbourhood, including many pesky low rise buildings with controlled rents. Freddy’s patrons – some pictured below –have threatened to chain themselves to the bar to block its eviction.
History is made at night: Freddy’s: a Brooklyn bar facing demoltion

“Dancing flashmob riot in Berkeley” (from History is made at night)

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Reposted from History is made at night: The politics of dancing and musicking

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Dancing flashmob riot in Berkeley

Last week in Berkeley, California, a flashmob dance party on the University ended up in a riot as students protesting against cuts in education funding took their party off the campus and into the streets.

According to Occupy California: ‘In Sproul Plaza of UC Berkeley, hundreds gathered for a dance party that began around 10pm on Thursday, February 25. At the peak of the party (around 12am) the 250 people dancing surrounded the loudspeakers as together they moved farther into campus’.

After temporarily occupying a vacant University building, the mobile party moved off campus and into surrounding streets: ‘Some 500 people were present, a combination of observers and protesters. The dance party continued to rage on as more and more people took the intersection, by now at least three hundred. Then without a clear reason, the police began to descend on the people in the streets. Some ran to the sidewalks to observe from a distance, others stood their ground, refusing to move. The police pushed people with their batons, the protesters pushed back and some were caught in the middle. Then an officer grabbed a woman at random and smashed her head to the ground… What had started as a dance party and occupation quickly turned into a direct confrontation with the police, whom had been following the protesters through out the night’. Shop windows were smashed and some bins set alight.

The context is an ongoing movement of student occupations and demonstrations across California prompted by cuts in education funding and increases in tuition fees.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

An urban neighborhood tells its own stories

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Over the last thirty years, the Iron Triangle neighborhood in Richmond, California has gained a reputation as one of the most distressed and dangerous urban neighborhoods in the U.S. One of the bright spots in the Iron Triangle has been the East Bay Center for Performing Arts. The East Bay Center has embarked upon the Iron Triangle Legacy Project through which more than 250 of the residents and artists are exploring their own culture, history and vision for the future through public performance works — music, theater, community gardens, photography…

Today, the Community Arts Networks posted an article by Jordan Simmons, artistic director of the East Bay Center, talking about this exciting project:

My Iron Tri-Angel: An Urban Neighborhood Seeks To Tell Its Own Story

By Jordan Simmons

My iron tri-angel,
You have with your damaged wings swept the white chalk from where
Syetha’s body’s outline lay quickly sketched on the pavement.
And whenever she laughs now, all the tears of the saints
Are close by. Still, what did she leave us?
I hit the spring-board and somersault up to the basketball net, legs wide
Open, and facing down before I dunk, I pray:
Little girls everywhere, little sisters everywhere,
Be careful when you cross the street.
Be careful when they shoot.
Be careful.

—From “My Iron Tri Angel” a new work-in-progress of the
Iron Triangle Theater Company, Richmond, California

“Just because you’re poor, it doesn’t mean you’re spiritually dead. Art comes from within. Soul: sometimes we lose touch of it in day-to-day struggle. We can help people come back to themselves. It is the easiest way to express that one is alive. When you create a piece, something that people can relate to or react to, it acknowledges that you are alive. “

— Anthony Allen, resident of Richmond’s
Iron Triangle Neighborhood

Here is an introduction to the Iron Triangle Legacy Project, a collective work led by East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and a ten-member advisory committee of neighborhood residents and activists. The work of the project is to tell the story of Richmond’s Iron Triangle, a neighborhood whose tale has been told by others in the media often enough, and deserves to be told by its own residents. The arts play an important part in the telling of this tale, and in the crafting of the project.

The Iron Triangle is a neighborhood in Richmond, California, of about 18,000 residents. Richmond’s overall population of 110,00 is rich in culture and heritage, and yet it has suffered from disproportionate urban blight and economic depression since its industrial heyday as a WWII shipyard, loomed over by one of the largest oil refineries on the West Coast and divided by railroad lines — hence the “iron triangle.” In 2004, both the local school district and the city made national news with their near bankruptcy. Since then, local public schools are regularly threatened with closure for failing to meet minimal national and/or state standards. “The Triangle,” as it is commonly referred to in Richmond, once a vibrant immigrant portal, is now a historical icon, marking the post-WWII migration of southern African Americans to the West Coast (many finding work in the Kaiser shipyards between 1941 and 1944); a destination neighborhood for California’s Mexican-American newcomers since the 1960s, and, since the 1980s, for refugees from the Southeast Asia Indo-China conflicts, especially from Laos. (to read more go to CAN)

For more info. on the Iron Triangle Legacy Project click the photograph..

Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 11, 2010 at 11:23 am

“Literature is like love; it is best enjoyed in private but has social consequences.”

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A short thought-provoking article from Axess magasin, a Swedish publication that “aims to unite academic culture and publishing culture to create a forum in which researchers in the humanities and liberal arts can meet a wider public.” The article is entitled “Imagination is the Enemy of Tyranny” and, focusing predominately on literature, author Per Wästberg writes:

The Earth is not the inexhaustible resource we thought it was; it must be protected as something very precious. The same is true of the freedom of expression – it has no life of its own; it must be protected but also defined in a debate that is constantly being renewed. In a vulnerable world fraught with danger, the free flow of ideas plays a vital role. The visions of our poets and thinkers are not concerned with easy solace or a flight from reality but instead with providing nourishment and energy, creating new connections, devising new solutions.

To read the entire article click here: “Imagination is the Enemy of Tyranny”


Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 2, 2010 at 7:49 pm

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