Deciphering Culture

Archive for the ‘Arts & Community’ Category

A “REMIXhibition” experiment — online media as social objects

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Andrew Dubber of the Interactive Cultures research centre at the Birmingham School of Media at Birmingham City University in the U.K. is inviting bloggers and creative artists to take an image, slogan or sign and respond to it. Based on the idea that people use online media as “social objects” upon which to base online conversation, Dubber is posting photos and video online to spur dialogue. Dubber’s article Fight the Power: The Art of Protest and the Theory of Social Objects is well worth reading for its access to this “remix” experiment, its theoretical exposition and its discussion of the Fight The Power REMIXhibition of Punch Records at the Custard Factory in Birmingham (in the heart of that city’s new arts & media quarter).

The internet is not a broadcast medium – and nor is it a ‘revolutionized’ older medium. It is instead a conversational space – and there are two main categories of object within that space: the conversation, and the things about which the conversation is taking place. By repositioning exhibited works and media artefacts that spring from that exhibition as individual and decontextualised social objects, the aim is to provoke conversation within that space. (to read the rest).

Written by Jeffrey Callen

June 3, 2010 at 8:29 am

David Byrne reflects on The Architecture of Fear

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In his Journal, David Byrne reflects on how the architecture of cities helps shape human interactions. Motivated by the irony of attending a New Urbanism conference in Atlanta, Byrne writes insightfully on planned communities, urban sprawl, the history of urban planning, and the ongoing transformations of the American urban landscape.  The Architecture of Fear is well worth reading — check it out.




Written by Jeffrey Callen

June 1, 2010 at 8:57 am

New patterns of cultural infrastructure: the “creative economy” model

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Interesting article from Community Arts Network on new forms of cultural infrastructure that are developing in formerly marginal cultural centers

Something Different Is Stirring: DIY Culture in Silicon Valley

By Tom Borrup
SoFA District
The SoFA District (South First Street in Downtown San Jose) on a Friday night. Photo by Joshua Santos

…we can now treat culture not as one big blanket, but as the superimposition of many interwoven threads, each of which is individually addressable and connects different groups of people simultaneously…. In short, we’re seeing a shift from mass culture to massively parallel culture. –Chris Anderson[1]

Many have written on the social impacts of new technologies, globalization, the shift to the knowledge-based or creative economy and DIY or do-it-yourself culture. Various theories have been advanced as to how such change has begun to redefine work, the nature of cities and the role of arts, culture and education, especially with regard to economic growth and sustainability. However, there has been little discussion of how these changes impact the evolution of what we might call the cultural infrastructure – the networks of organizations, facilities and practices that have evolved in both older and newer urban regions.

Richard Florida, best-selling author and creative-economy guru, predicts in his latest book, “The Great Reset,” that radically new ways of living and working will emerge over the next two to three decades – changes that will exceed any of the social and economic paradigm shifts experienced since the mid-1800s. What this portends for the cultural sector as we know it is a question worth examining.

What I’d like to suggest in this article is that the bulk of what we understand to be the formal cultural infrastructure in the U.S. emerged with and was patterned after Industrial Age, or Industrial Economy thinking and models along with a Eurocentric cultural focus. Corporate structures that are hierarchical in form, centralized in their management and monocultural (or monolithic) in their product and/or interpretation reflect the norm. The realities of the emergent creative or knowledge economy, together with globalization and technologies such as the Internet and social media, have begun to suggest a different model. (to read more click here)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

April 20, 2010 at 4:25 pm

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Art and Regeneration – why do it? (@ Architecture Centre Network)

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Interesting article on the use of art in urban regeneration efforts — more complicated and interesting than I would have thought.

Installation by Faisal Abdu’allah using poem from Almost an Island  project. Image courtesy Art on Greenwich Peninsula
Installation by Faisal Abdu’allah using poem from Almost an Island project. Image courtesy Art on Greenwich Peninsula

Art and regeneration – why do it?

When art and regeneration join forces the effect can be a renewed celebration of the places where we live, work and play. On the other hand, it can result in imagination being hounded into nothingness. Both these perspectives were revealed at a candid talk at The Building Exploratory in London on 10 February 2010.

Sarah Butler, Sam Wilkinson and Anna Strongman shared their wisdom on the roles of the artist, the curator and the development manager. All three have worked on major regeneration projects that have included artists in community engagement, design development, and in exploring how people use a place.

Political and complicated

All three speakers emphasised that combining art and regeneration can lead to some unexpected relationships, opportunities and problems. It is a complicated and political process, which is driven by different needs – to describe or understand a place, to develop people’s physical and imaginative experiences of a place, to make a place attractive in a competitive market for business tenants, for PR value, or by an appreciation of the intrinsic value of art, to name a few.

Time for change

One thing that is certain is that the regeneration of a place takes time. Anna Strongman, Development Manager for Argent, said it took six years to get planning permission for the 67-acre development at Kings Cross in London, which will result in eight million square feet of space for offices and homes and a host of facilities from new roads to the relocated University of the Arts.

So when is the best time for artists to get involved? Sarah Butler, director of UrbanWords and a writer, said the longer an artist can work in a place the better as “relationships and changes that can happen are gradual and unpredictable … artists can be effective at later stages of a project, but for their conversations and skills to have the most impact on the development of a place, they need to start working if possible before any master planning is done.”

Sam Wilkinson, arts consultant and co-director of Insite Arts, described how artists were involved from the beginning of a large-scale retail development in Bristol with a £12.5 million art budget. The first two years were spent developing a public art strategy, which the local authority needed and the developer was keen to support as a step to building a “very positive relationship with the local authority”.

However, smaller or temporary art works can generate change too, particularly when they happen in the context of other regeneration projects. Sarah described how ideas and words from the Almost an Island project on the Greenwich Peninsula in London were picked up by other artists, which generated “small scale ripples beyond its resources”. And Sam said: “A lot of the fabulous work we did in Bristol has kind of gone away – it’s about that moment in time. It’s about dialogue.”

Dialogue and community

So, how do you define the different needs of residents, businesses, developers and artists in relation to a particular place? One approach is to do a character profile of a place. Sarah once asked a firm doing a profile if they had talked to anyone and was shocked when the answer was no. “I was kind of horrified that these documents were written without any reference to the people who lived there. There’s a key role for the arts here as artists can spend the time and have the skills to explore and unpick and observe a place in a way that would be useful to that process of regeneration.”

She said that the regenerator, community and artist are often seen as separate entities. “I worry about sticking the artist in the middle … they can push open doors but the (to read more click here)…

Written by Jeffrey Callen

April 8, 2010 at 6:11 pm

National Endowment for the Arts Announces Research on Informal Arts Participation in Rural and Urban Areas

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Not surprisingly, a new report by the NEA finds that traditional arts venues are clustered in urban areas but that looking at “informal arts” offers a more comprehensive measure of arts participation.


National Endowment for the Arts Announces Research on Informal Arts Participation in Rural and Urban Areas

Announcement made during NEA Chairman’s Art Works Visit to Chelsea, Michigan

March 22, 2010

"" "" Contact:
Liz Stark
202-682-5744
starke@arts.gov

Washington, DC – Any serious reckoning of how Americans participate in arts and cultural activities must account for demographic and geographic diversity. Prior National Endowment for the Arts publications, including the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, already have examined the age, race/ethnicity, gender, and education and income status of arts-goers. Another way to understand arts participation is by asking where it takes place. Come as You Are: Informal Arts Participation in Urban and Rural Communities is the NEA’s first research publication in several years to examine the “informal arts” — such as playing a musical instrument, attending an art event at a place of worship, or visiting a craft fair. This finding is part of new research from the NEA, announced today during a visit by NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman to Chelsea, Michigan, as part of the NEA’s Art Works Tour. The publication provides an analysis of arts participation in rural and urban areas.

Come as You Are: Informal Arts Participation in Urban and Rural Communities is available in print and pdf on the website.

National Endowment for the Arts Announces Research on Informal Arts Participation in Rural and Urban Areas.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 25, 2010 at 10:10 am

Posted in Arts & Community

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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

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

Dancing in the kitchen (from History is made at night)

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Nice little photo piece from the History is Made at Night (the politics of dancing) blog. As anyone who’s been to a house party knows, the communal hub / party center is the kitchen.

Monday, February 01, 2010

In the kitchen at parties

I like the places where the night does not mean an end
where smiles break free and surprise is your friend
and dancing goes on in the kitchen until dawn
to my favorite song that has no end
(Bonny Prince Billy, You remind me of something)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 4, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Chapter 3: Art is a temporary condition (Wild Caught Stories @ Center for the Study of Art & Community)

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Milenko Matanovic

Insightful piece from last spring by Milenko Matanovic expressing a utopian vision of art as a desirable component 0f everyday life. Matanovic asserts that ” in the future we must create communities and cities that are themselves works of art, rather than being satisfied with ugly and wasteful communities with token artworks that show our repentance, asking absolution for our sins. In this future, like the traditional Balinese people, we may have fewer cultural institutions because artistic quality will be expected of everyone and deposited, with care, into more and more things until everything is art. Excellence will be the norm.” (To read the entire article or other thought-provoking chapters go to Wild Caught Stories).

Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 2, 2010 at 1:01 pm

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