Where Arts And Creativity Have Been Part Of Long Term Solutions

I have recently started to become a little more vocal about one of my pet peeves about how the arts are viewed. It is no news to anyone that most career paths that involves pursuing a creative endeavor are dismissed out of hand in favor of a real job with real prospects.

I don’t have any illusions about arts careers being a difficult path to take. If anyone wants someone to help them combat fanciful notions people have about how they are different and will succeed where others have failed, I will be happy to help talk about the realities and the importance of the entrepreneurial mindset about which I spent all of last week writing.

What annoys me is that there is so little recognition by those who dismiss a creative career path that the group they dismiss are the first people called when a disaster strikes and there is a need to encourage people to donate to a relief effort. A couple weeks ago, This American Life had an ad agency suggest getting Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton to do a TV ad to help offset the negative associations people have with Volkswagen.

All this being said, I think it is only fair to acknowledge that there are a lot of people out there that recognize the power of the arts to address social problems and make a long term commitment to embracing arts and creativity as part of their solution.

Last week on CityLab, Brentin Mock pointed out that a reduction in violence in the Bronx and New Orleans 40+ years ago were a result of people competing through creativity rather than physical force.

The subtitle of the piece reads, “Hip-hop dialed down street violence in the Bronx. New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indian gangs made peace through craft. Why is culture such an underrated civic tool?”

The article doesn’t really address the reasons behind why culture is an underrated civic tool. It focuses more on how a peace meeting in the Bronx helped give rise to hop-hop culture and a similar effort inspired fanatical devotion to outdoing other groups in Mardi Gras parades resulting in more fingers stabbed by sewing needles than people stabbed with knives.

Essentially the article points out that it is the problems, not the enduring solutions that end up getting money. Despite the success of these programs in keeping the peace, little funding is directed to improve the communities in which they originated.

Another article I came across earlier this month in FastCompany drew attention to an artist who shutdown a freeway in Akron, OH and served dinner down the middle of the road to 500 people in an effort to bring the people of the city together.

When the freeway was originally built, it divided neighborhoods. Now the road is used less frequently and plans are to tear it down. The dinner was an effort to mobilize people to influence what will replace the space left vacated by the freeway.

“They’re shutting it down to traffic next year and opening it up to development, but there’s no concrete idea of what it will be—if it will be a park or whatever,” says Franks. “So this seemed like a very unique opportunity to help people reimagine this space.”

As people ate, they talked about the future of the area. They also just got to know people they otherwise may have never met. Franks spent a year working with volunteers from each neighborhood to plan the event and to bring 10 people from each neighborhood. The plates at the meal, designed to go home with each guest, were printed with favorite recipes from neighbors.

Granted, not really a solution that has been used long term, but it does seek to take advantage of a change to ameliorate what has long been an impediment.

The meal was a kick off event for the project which will continue by giving people toolkits to help them plan similar meals in their own communities. And lest you be skeptical about whether that many people might do it, there is already a sense of growing community in the city. Akron is the site of the PorchRokr Festival where homeowners give over their porches and front yards to concerts.

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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