Monday, March 17, 2008

Arts as Impetus for Successful Redevelopment Pt. 2 at HVCCA March 30

On March 30, HVCCA will be hosting a second panel discussion examining Art as Impetus for Successful Redevelopment. The panel will be held from 4-6pm with a reception to follow.
The panel will be moderated by Janet Langsam, Executive Director of the Westchester Arts Council and former Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for the City of New York.
Panel Participants are Richard Sennett, Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, and at New York University. Ralph DiBart, City re-development consultant and currently Executive Director of the New Rochelle BID. For more information on the talk,
click here.

I attended HVCCA's first discussion on this subject held on Oct. 5, 2007. That talk was sparsely attended, but it did draw individuals from a range of Hudson Valley communities on both sides of the river.
Panelists in that discussion included Maider Bilbao, the museum's artist in residence at the time, who gave an enlightening account of the effect of the Bilbao Guggenhiem on the cultural life of Bilbao. From Maider's point of view, the economic effect of the tourist draw of the museum has primarily focused on the tourist sector, and there has been little benefit to the broader cultural or even economic activity in the city.

Also on the October panel were Joyce Pomeroy Schwartz, Art Consultant & Director of Works of Art for Public Spaces and Linda Lees, Founder of Creative Cities International. I really wanted to hear more from Ms. Lees as I felt she has a particularly strong comprehension of the mechanisms within these processes, unfortunately there wasn't enough time for her to really dig in. The most clarifying and striking thing she said was that it is the development of culture, which may include the arts, but not only the arts, that can bring about a successful redevelopment of a community. It's an easy, cliff notes assumption, particularly after Bilbao, to think that all a community need do is plop an art institution in its midst and let the healing begin. Any such endeavor, if it's intended to turn the fate of a city must take into account the existing population, and work to create programs and institutions that serve that population in addition to drawing visitors with destination attractions. Both Maider's reflection on Bilbao from a local artist's viewpoint and Linda Lees comments demonstrated the nuanced complexities of revitalizing communities.
Conversations on this subject are difficult. At once, it's a fascinating topic, and a potentially frustrating one. There are now and have been many groups of people in stagnant cities around the country placing their hopes on such a culture/art centric strategy for the betterment of their own situation and that of their respective cities. The topic is interesting from an analytical standpoint, but when coupled with the peoples' hope and desperation for improvement, such a discussion becomes stunted by the pressure of frustration and impatience. Frustration flared at one point during the Oct. panel as a couple of Peekskill residents vented about Peekskill's intransigent government and that city's long floundering attempts to engender an art driven economic renaissance.

This art thing simply is not a panacea, and in some locations perhaps, hope may float, but art don't. That's where Linda Lees comments on the development of cultural institutions that are both attractive to visitors and new residents, but support the traits of the community as it exists.
I just get this sense that some folks think, well, if it worked there, it's gotta work here. Well, no not necessarily, and perhaps that city whose success on which their basing their expectations may not be as successful as expected for those anticipated reasons.
I equate this to people who read Malcom Gladwell's book The Tipping Point and come away with the empowered sense that "Yes, I understand the dynamics of trends, and I know I have the power to make this such and such trend happen for me." I enjoyed the book greatly, and reading it makes you (me) feel like everything is so clear and obvious. I see references to the book made to tout the potential of one scheme or another, but I've yet to see the roster of companies which have boomed or trends that have skyrocketed precisely because the producers of those efforts applied the examples from the book to engineer series of conditions to make the right bubbling processes happen.

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