Recently, I was chillin’ with some DC artists who were visiting Elsewhere, one of my favorite creative spaces here in Greensboro. Many of the people, who live in a very culturally rich city, had been waiting years for the opportunity to go down and see this art space that is now getting a lot of attention and press from mainstream and trade publications, along with other cultural institutions and organization. The executive director of Elsewhere is also very engaged in the sense of place , creative placemaking and his role in how that works.
I was not officially part of their visit, but I valued so much the cultural and regional exchange inherent in being able to chat with the visitors, as well as staff at the museum, many who are becoming good friends and partners. Our conversations went back and forth to history, culture, cost of living, and what it means to create.
That to me is what makes being in a city great. No matter what size, there are cultural connections to be had when there are a good number of cultural institutions, bars and restaurants, and homes in a central location. This exchange happened on a First Friday, the gallery walk/festival which has reignited many a downtown, small town or neighborhood.
Sadly, we still have the development community who still just doesn’t get it. I’m praying, crossing my fingers and knocking on wood that when two new buildings are built in my apartment complex, the rent doesn’t go up. While the DCers were happy to hear what I pay a month in rent, I explained that it was our equivalent of the condos-at-any-cost strategy. (However, the beer is really that cheap guys and so are the southern-style hot dogs I didn’t get to feed you because the joint shuts down early even on Fridays). Anyway, this particular evening was a nice grass-is-greener type exchange.
It also highlights what I think is the worst problem with the name “Creative Class.” These people were creative, but not necessarily rich. Most were White Americans, who appeared to have some middle-class upbringing. Yet, I too consider myself an artist. I’m middle-class and so are my parents. But I’m still black. The original theory failed to take into account cultural and even gender diversity. Jamal Green does a great job laying out those shortcomings of the theory. The orginial theory seems to only reward development, increase of salaries,increase of property values, and gay diversity, things that are heavily evident among educated or high-income people.
The development and salary piece is why I think Florida should have named his people and his theory, the Knowledge-Class. While there are artists and creative types in that class, attorneys, doctors and others that have a lot of knowledge and command high salaries aren’t necessarily creative. More information has come out on how the artist is not the real gentrifier. Also, the arts community is openly and enthusiastically embracing its women and non-white members. These folks are driving traffic and dollars to arts institutions, along with allowing people of all income levels to engage in their creations.
I’ll end with the next logical question. How can we reconcile artists, hard laborers, cubicle dwellers and people who lucked out on millions, retirees, disabled and even children without demonization over who causes ills such as homelessness, gentrification or globalization? Can we talk about knowledge workers and creative workers separately, so that we get a better view of where our economy truly stands?
Image: Young man and woman taking pictures of each other, by Flickr user ralphbijker, under a Creative Commons license.