Cultural Healing and the De-Priviatization of the Imagination
[A] project to build and sustain a coalition of artists, cultural organizations and their allies in other realms of social action, education and organizing. They would join to promote the democratic interest in culture, including democratic cultural policies and substantial public investment in community development, education and community service through the arts. Its centerpiece would be culturalrecovery.net [not up yet], an online center for information and organizing. While it would be home to a full range of initiatives to bring attention and resources to culture’s mobilizing power, its first targeted initiative would be a campaign to create a substantial, sustained public-sector investment in community service programs employing artists and cultural organizations as part of national recovery, WPA2.Last week, Arlene pointed her readers to an article in The Nation by Jeff Chang on "The Creativity Stimulus." I have to admit to being somewhat allergic to the rallying cries for group efforts when it comes to creativity, knowing how utterly individual most creative types generally are (images of cats being herded come to mind), but I was intrigued by this idea that Chang noted:
We have just released a discussion paper that lays out the need, the idea and how it would unfold if indeed its birth is viable. We are asking people to read and consider the paper, and if they feel so moved, to lend their voices as endorsers of the idea, taking part in its implementation. Click here and follow the link to download the discussion paper. And let me know what you think!
As I have been pondering the need for cultural recovery, I’ve had that slightly unnerving experience of seeing it everywhere, but not knowing if others do too—”The Emperor’s New Clothes” in reverse. Just reading the paper becomes a little uncanny. Yesterday’s New York Times included two page-16 stories: one about college students unlocking the mysteries of their own families by collecting oral histories of their parents’ immigration, learning through stories what they’d never before understood; and another about unemployed workers using their time to make art.
For decades, the de facto policy has been to confuse the culture industry with the source of creativity and largely to abandon the production, promotion, distribution and enjoyment of arts and culture to the dictates of the boom/bust marketplace. The result has been the spread of "lifestyle economies" that are merely new forms of monoculturalism and the rise of an environment increasingly antithetical to creativity. A wave of deregulation in the culture industry has consolidated distribution channels and destroyed local scenes, locked away sources of inspiration behind fences of "rights management" and copyright and favored a "blockbuster or die" approach that raises barriers to entry and creates diseconomies of scale. Call it the privatization of the imagination.Even as I recognize the truth in this, however, I'm not quite sure what the long-term potential here is. Goldbard and Chang both seem to feel that it takes a grass roots movement approach --Chang: "Creativity can be a powerful form of organizing communities from the bottom up."
We've seen some impressive efforts in this approach recently, none the least of which is 21st Century Plowshare, whose Bed-Stuy Meadow project was exactly the sort of idea Chang and Goldbard say is the key. The New York Times explains:
You can learn more about the project here and here.
When a woman set down a vision for her Brooklyn neighborhood on her blog last month, she did not know how popular it would become.
“The goal is to sow wildflower seeds on every single patch of abandoned soil,” Deborah Fisher, an artist who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, wrote on March 7.
“I want there to be so many wildflowers on the streets that the summer of 2009 is remembered very fondly by every single resident of the neighborhood. I want the continuity of the Meadow to be so strong that Google Earth is compelled to rephotograph Bed-Stuy.”
Her words, scattered to the blogosphere, fell on fertile soil, capturing the imagination of readers, about 75 of whom showed up on a rainy Saturday to take part in the Bed-Stuy Meadow project.They planted wildflower seeds in every patch of untended land they could find — tree pits, cracks in sidewalks, bare patches around boarded-up brownstones and vacant lots — over a three-mile area.
As Goldbard suggests, a centralized information source, such as culturalrecovery.net, seems to be the best way to make the most of such efforts. I hate to admit that I think adding a celebrity to the mix would help it grow even faster, but I do.