Buying an “A” in Your Creative Classes

Brief Prologue

Before I start the main portion of my entry, I just wanted to state that I will be helping my sister move for the next week and so most likely won’t have time to make any new entries. Those of you who have joined in late or read me occasionally may want to take this opportunity to catch up. I just added a nifty link to a page that neatly lists my entries and categories thus far.

Entry De Jour

I came across an article by Richard Florida in Washington Monthly, entitled “Creative Class War -How the GOP’s anti-elitism could ruin America’s economy”. In the article, Florida basically says cities like Wellington, New Zealand are going to attract the creative folks of the world because the Bush Administration is promoting situations which stifle the creative class in the US. Personally, I was ready to move to NZ some time ago because of what I had heard. Now that Peter Jackson has shown off the country in The Lord of the Rings, I don’t need much of an excuse to take off. (Jackson and LoTR have been credited with essentially setting Wellington on the road to becoming the next Hollywood.)

My dreams of life in the southern hemisphere aside, I am sort of ambivalent about Richard Florida and his book The Rise of the Creative Class. I am sure this is partly due to the frequency that I hear the book and his name mentioned. The incessant radio play of “Mr. Jones” ruined me on The Counting Crows for life. It is starting to get that way for me in regard to Mr. Florida.

I will openly admit that I haven’t read the book and that I should and will. I have read many articles on his website CreativeClass.org and feel that an article featured on Salon, “Be Creative —or die!” does a good job of summing up his theories.

I don’t think he is wrong per se. In fact, I think he is right on. It just seems that people are hailing him as a guru and wildly scrambling to revitalize their cities according to his vision. Certainly, there are detractors to his theories (links here and here). For the most part, it seems people have drank the Kool-Aid when it comes to assessing his suggestions.

Actually, I think the Kool-Aid reference is apt. As I said, I don’t think he is wrong about what he says. He seems to have done a lot of research that backs up his conclusions fairly well. My problem is actually with the way cities are approaching their anticipated transformations.

I can’t put my finger on exact examples, but the impression I get from reading many of these articles is that governments are going a superficial route rather than making an effort toward long term development. It is almost as if they have been watching a miracle diet pill infomercial and making the phones ring off the hook. Again, this is not to say that Florida is selling a “just add water for a creative class” scheme. It just seems like few people are employing their critical thinking skills to make educated decisions.

I think this is what the two detracting articles I cited above are reflecting. Governments seem to think that if they add gay people, high tech jobs, etc., suddenly they will become the hot, new place to be. The thing is, the hot places to be on Florida’s list: San Francisco, Austin and Boston, were hot before the list came out because they made decisions they felt would better the community. They didn’t make decisions because they read a book that listed good decisions to make. That is what this rush to become home to a creative class feels like.

Once place that may never make it to Florida’s list but that I think is making the right decisions for the right reasons is Liberty, NY. It is a little town in the old Borscht Belt of the Catskills that fell on hard times as the resorts went out of business when people from NY City started vacationing elsewhere.

When the local cable franchise was bought out by Time-Warner, the owner decided to invest the proceeds of the sale back into the community. Now different towns in the county compete for improvement grants administered by his foundation. He is also planning on building a performing arts center on the Woodstock ’69 site in Bethel, NY. The towns are improving due to his largesse and the state’s desire to improve the area in anticipation of adding some casinos nearby. (Not sure the casinos fall into the right decision for the right reason, but it is having a positive effect at present.) Wouldn’t you know it, gays are moving into the area and renovating and restoring historical houses and pride in the community.

Cities and states are complex organisms and there are no simple or one size fits all solutions. This is especially true in this day and age when advertisers are trying to collect information on your specific interests and then deliver a customized pitch right to you. Cities have their own personalities so 90% of what works for Seattle probably won’t work for Detroit. Change has to be heartfelt, embraced by all and accentuate the best parts of the locale’s personality.

I wish all these cities and states the best of luck. I have traveled to many parts of the country and would love to live in a lot of places. I am looking for a job and really don’t care where I live. I am all for you governments making wherever I end up a hot place to work. Just please, please, please…do it because it is the right thing to do, not because Richard Florida says it is.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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