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Blog » Roberta Brandes Gratz & Tim Jones: Creative City Conference speakers

Posted on 10/19/2007 by Amy Fung

Brought in from New York and Toronto respectively to discuss the issues of urban revitalization and renewal, Gratz and Jones certainly gave us some food for thought.

(A week before the civic elections, Gratz's comment on how we shouldn't turn our cities over to developers struck a chord. We may not turn anything over, but is it okay if we vote them in?  Similiarly, Jones askewed opening example of how the then newly elected artistic mayor of Tirana, Albania, painted the city's run-down buildings in different colours mattered in revitalizing the former Communist country . . . questionable as painting initiative was doubtfully on the election platform, and support of the arts does not resonate with the majority of voters . . . )

At this stage, Edmonton needs further development, but that is re-development of a city construct gone awry. We do not need to build out any further, we need to fill in existing empty pockets and focus on density and expand the diversity of this city if we are truly to grow into an urban place.

Living in another boom time, the legacy left behind by any era is its culture; what will Edmonton be remembered for 100 years from now besides one of the worst urban sprawls in North America?

Gratz addressed issues from the root and up, honing in on the need to create for the local before attracting the global. The idea that creativity will lead to revitalization is a conclusion in and of itself. Stepping back, where are the creative folks in this city going to live and create to make this city so creative and prosperous? That is the first issue we should address before marketing the city's (completely unsustainable) creative culture to its citizens and elsewhere. A city does not become world class by catering to the fluctuations of global standards set for some metropolitan paragon; a city gains the world's respect by retaining and nurturing its local gems and thus attracting visitors from the world over.  We are losing our gems one by one and we need to focus more on the capacity to produce culture rather than jumping ahead to how this end product of "art" is so great for a city.



Jones, on the other hand, who is the CEO of Artscape, pushes for "art" as a trigger for revitalization of cities and cultures. Diversity was a key word for Jones' speech, as was "innovation"--leading to an overall gloss of what these words could possibly mean in context. He is succesful at what he does, but I question the cracks in approach and not the noble intent.

It is admirable that Artscape has succesfully taken over abandoned spaces in major urban areas and turned them into functional art spaces to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood, but Jones points to the psychological barrier that he thinks has been preventing art and diversity from overflowing into the popular mainstream--and this is where the lecture crumbles.

The viability of economy may have more to do with the profileration of art and culture than our mental barriers, which does not directly implicate economics, but really should.

There are often questions and comments concerning funding and privatization. Artists want to know how to access private funds to continue their craft, but if treated as a business, you propose a detailed plan and budget with a projection on the anticpated return on investment. (I do believe that is how the public funding bodies have been created?) 

Jone's use of "pyschology" gives an easy and unexplained out for the public, but it is the psyche of artists and arts professionals that needs conditioning on the economic impacts of their craft.

If we continue to segregate art as just "enrichment" to our lives, we will forever be at the suckle of government subsidies and living off the charity pot of those other successful businesses.



In conclusion, the city of Edmonton needs greater diversity and density to grow. Edmonton has a great number of empty buildings, often blocks at a time, privately owned. Developers are sitting on land waiting for the arts to revitalize the area. Edmonton artists need space to create and produce.

We're so close, so far away.


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