Renewal of Our Cities for the Age of Innovation

Posted by John Eger, Jul 25, 2013

John Eger John Eger

Economist Edward Glaeser once said, "Cities are so fascinating because they play to mankind's greatest gift, which is our ability to learn from other people."

They are places also where you raise your children, develop your sense of right and wrong, learn about yourself and your fellow man. Importantly, they are the places where attitudes about life and values and politics converge and where new ideas take root.

Now, perhaps more than ever, cities are places where the crucial incubators of innovation are formed. Now more than ever Art and Culture Clusters are vital to renewal and reinvention.

In the wake of globalization the challenge America faces in the wake of global competition is daunting. Globalization 3.0, first coined by The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, is here. As Friedman has written, The World is Flat. Outsourcing and offshoring have entered our lexicon of new words and we are suffering what economists are euphemistically calling a "jobless recovery.” We don't know exactly how many jobs are lost from offshoring. But this shift of high tech service jobs will be a permanent feature of economic life in the 21st century.

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What Does it Take to Create a Cultural District?

Posted by Ms. Adele Fleet Bacow, Jul 22, 2013

Adele Fleet Bacow Adele Fleet Bacow

People often ask me what it takes to create a cultural district. How hard is it to accomplish? How long does it take? Who should be involved? What do you need to know? As an urban planning consultant specializing in cultural development, I have been involved in a number of cultural district and art-related economic development projects. Here is my list of the ten basic steps to creating a plan for a cultural district and important questions to answer before you even begin. You will find a lot more questions than answers. The challenge and the reward are in finding the right answers to meet your unique needs.

1. Decide why you want to create a cultural district in the first place. What do you hope to accomplish? What problem are you trying to solve? Is there a strong interest in creating such a plan? Are people enthusiastically behind the idea who can offer momentum to help you through this process and then work to implement it successfully?

2. Who should be involved? Who are the key players in town who can offer ideas, energy, resources, and legitimacy for your process? In addition to the obvious leaders, identify hidden assets and talent. Involve the community and key players in your early planning stages.

3. Who will do the work in actually crafting the cultural district plan? Do you have staff, expertise, and partners who can put together the information and creative thinking necessary to develop a viable plan and then carry it out? Do you need to bring in outside expertise or can you tap resources and experience in your community?

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Creating a Cultural District: Not Just the Wedding or the Honeymoon - it's the Partnerships that Count

Posted by Ms. Adele Fleet Bacow, Jul 24, 2013

Adele Fleet Bacow Adele Fleet Bacow

The talk that I gave at the recent Americans for the Arts national convention offered an intriguing title for the panel: “The Wedding of Public Art and Cultural Districts”. That title led me to think further about what makes a real marriage work. I resisted the urge to show in my PowerPoint presentation a photograph of me wearing my mother’s wedding gown at my own wedding 38 years ago as being too hokey. But I did appreciate the opportunity to reflect back on enduring partnerships and what makes them succeed.

We all know horror stories of bridezillas, conflicts in planning a wedding, and marriages that unfortunately don’t live up to the unrealistic romanticized notions played out in movies or idyllic honeymoon settings on a beach. What makes some relationships work and others fail? What traits do you need and what qualities should you run from screaming? Do beauty, power, money, and excitement matter? How do you make a long-term relationship keep its zest? Without pretending to be Ann Landers or Dr. Joyce Brothers, let me offer a few suggestions.

The most successful partnerships bring out the best in each other without trying to be competitive about who is on first or who has the most power. Each partner should feel like it is getting something important out of the relationship and has something to offer. Partners should be clear about their roles, responsibilities, and expectations. What tasks are easy for some and a burden to others? Parcel out the components so people are playing to their strengths.

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Artists of Change

Posted by Mr. James M. LeFlore, Jul 23, 2013

James LeFlore James LeFlore

The types of cultural district that I like best are those that are the hardest to define. They're not the type that is bolstered by a fine arts institution or even have organized events that you can rely upon for your evening and weekend pleasure.  I've always been drawn to the artist-made hot spots that evolve over time and transform areas of town known as a "dud" into a "hub".

Why is it that artists are so good at being able to do that? What do artists know that is so potently effective at revitalizing old buildings and empty neighborhoods where others coming beforehand have failed, given up, and left ruins to slowly fade into darkness? The answer to artists' effectiveness at environmental change is not a secret, but it does involve magic. First, the power they wield comes directly from their ability to harness the power of unbridled creativity. The illusion they achieve is due to their capacity to suspend reality just long enough for cool things to start happening - as if they can animate the dead. Artists are the best-trained professional I can think of in the art of improvisation; and when the chips are down we all must know how to improvise, right?

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Why Does a Community Need an Arts District?

Posted by Jeffrey Parks, Jul 26, 2013

The threshold question for any use of public and private resources is “Why should we allocate these precious resources to create an arts district when there are so many needs in our community?”

Indeed, an arts district may not be the priority when all of the needs of a community have been analyzed. There are specific circumstances that merit the consideration of an arts district in communities. The need will set the metrics for the success of a district.

Some of the specific needs which an arts district can support are:

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Authenticity in Arts Districts

Posted by Jeffrey Parks, Jul 23, 2013

Jeffrey Parks Jeffrey Parks

We Americans are jaded. We have been to amusement parks that attempt to replicate Main Street. We know, or at least think we know, the genuine from the artificial. As we add the next level of development to our communities, mostly in our downtowns or retail districts, we need to keep in mind that each of our communities has a history, a heritage, and a story. While we may not realize it, that story is our most precious asset. In a world where derivative work thrives in film, television, books, and the Internet, the most original stories are right at our own doorstep. And there is an audience eager to hear our stories.

The term “authenticity” was used by virtually every practitioner who spoke at the Arts District preconference in Pittsburgh. Our experience in Bethlehem, PA is not unique, but it is informative. We renovated 10 acres in the core of an old steel plant using the five remaining 80-foot tall blast furnaces as the permanent “installation,” an artwork so authentic and with so many stories, that the sense of place is overwhelming, even with the overlay of landscape architecture, music performance venues, and al fresco dining.

The blast furnaces at SteelStacks are illuminated at night by a massive LED lighting system. They form the backdrop for an indoor stage in a contemporary performing arts center 150 feet from the furnaces, as well as an outdoor stage directly at their base.  With the oldest building (1863) on the site renovated to be the Visitor Center (and major restroom facilities for the hundreds of events that occur on the site), SteelStacks exudes authenticity, and invites the visitor to want to learn more about the stories of this industrial relic.

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