Association of American Geographers 2016. Conference report (Part 2)

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by Dr. Steve Millington

In the second session on creative place making Dominic Walker (University of Exeter) introduced a three projects in community place making organised by the Critical Art Ensemble http://www.critical-art.net/.  The objective of this group is to ground ideas about science and technology in places.  The projects Dominic referred to operate at different scales; the collective, the large and the individual:

These projects are confrontational, designed to provoke strong reactions as means to engaging the community in critical ideas about the function of science and technology in contemporary society

For more about Dominic’s work see: https://exeter.academia.edu/DominicWalker

Sarah Barns (University of Western Sydney) discussed the project Arrivals and Departures which was situated on Sydney’s waterfront, the Barangaroo Headland, an area subject to controversial redevelopment plans.  This regeneration project will involve the displacement of the remaining local community and virtually all vestiges of the deep working class history associated with the docks.   Sarah’s practice involves creating site-specific public archives of digital sound and images as a tool of enquiry for investigating peoples’ experience of place and establishing a platform for community engagement.  Arrivals and Departures, therefore, is a site specific project inviting encounters utilising the contemporary icon of globalisation, the shipping container, to host different installations that use local voices to weave the story of Barangaroo’s industrial heritage, in particular the neighbourhood’s role in the formation of organised labour in Australia.  Displacement is inevitable given the large scale political and capital interests driving the regeneration, which only adds poignancy to the project. Arrivals and Departures brings into question the management and governance of city space concerning the impact of the proposed development.

For more information:

http://www.esemprojects.com/news/arrivals-and-departures-barangaroo-headland

http://www.barangaroo.com/

http://www.uws.edu.au/ics/people/researchers/dr_sarah_barns

Shauta Marsh (Co-founder/Curator – Big Car Collaborative) and James Walker (Executive Director – Big Car Collaborative) represent a collaborative arts practice based in Indianapolis.  From their experience of delivering art based place making projects, they emphasised the importance of collaboration with communities, in contrast to top-down artist led initiatives.  However, they stressed that building community engagement in this way, artists have to accept that it is time consuming.  Creative place making, therefore, should be less about bringing art to the community, and more about working out the objectives of specific projects in collaboration with local people. Shauta and James highlight the value of small events, small scale interventions in neighbourhoods or on high streets.  Their practice is informed by the idea of Tactical Urbanism, the idea of short term action for long term change.  That said, Big Car’s approach is sensitive to the capturing of artistic practices by urban elites to deliver other economic and social agendas.  Perhaps creative place making might just be fun.  And so they suggest place making perhaps should be more about happy making.

For more information about Big Car’s projects:

http://www.bigcar.org/

and Tactical Urbanism:

http://www.citylab.com/design/2012/03/guide-tactical-urbanism/1387/

Eje Kim (Gyeongin National University of Education) provided some critical reflection on creative place making through the case of the Anyang Public Art Project (APAP) in S. Korea.  Anyang is a former industrial town, that today has become a commuter dormitory settlement as population is encouraged to resettle from Seoul.  The city attracted, for example, 40,000 households in 1989 alone.  Although Anyang comprises an Old Town, most of the new population occupies the New Town, an area of sprawling housing estates.  To address concerns about place identify and belonging, the State drew on Western models of public art policy, to create the triennial arts festival APAP, utilising well-known international artists to transform public space.  The first project, Anyang Art Park, involved the installation of 52 works of art to create an open museum on formerly derelict land.  The second festival shifted the focus to the beatification of the downtown through new art installations.  The third APAP brought an international artist to construct a large installation in Hakwoon Park. Although these projects appear to be great examples of creative place making, they have largely failed in their ambitions to either regenerate and re-energise public space in Anyang.  The APAP reveals a problem in top-down public art strategies, with locals largely indifferent to high concept western artists. What might work in one context, does not necessarily translate to another.  Understanding both the national and local context, therefore, is paramount.  Interestingly, one successful project was the installation of gigantic rubber duck which floats on a lake (http://bit.ly/1Sks1dL), a humours and fun concept.  But on a serious note, APAP also raises concern about the marginalisation of Korean artists at a national level.  Perhaps stories of failure are the most interesting as the 4th APAP festival is led by Korean local artists to create a public archive called the Anyang Pavilion.

In summarising the sessions on creative place making Ann Markusen raised several important concerns about the current state of play concerning both arts and cultural led place making and regeneration policies, and critical academic analysis.  In short, Ann warns against the totalising discourses of the creative city, neoliberalism and gentrification. When it comes to culture, an approach that is sensitive to both the national and local scale is paramount.  Clearly one-size-fits- all top-down interventions begin to unravel when they touch the ground within local communities.  But the same might be said of critical academic evaluations of cultural regeneration.  Gentrification, for example, is not always an inevitable outcome of successful projects, indeed, in some case gentrification might drive positive social outcomes, particularly in places experiencing large scale disinvestment.  In other words, gentrification only becomes a problem when its leads to displacement of communities.  This is not always the case in shrinking cities or places.  For places in decline, Ann suggests a need for place keeping, rather than making.  In summary, Ann makes the following recommendations:

  • Understanding the national context for arts and cultural policy is essential
  • Understanding locally situated social practices and behaviours, in distinction to top-down policy led approaches, is also significant – stressing the importance of actor centred approaches
  • Evaluating the long-term outcomes of creative place making remains a major challenge, as the desired impacts are often intangible
  • Jettisoning totalising discourses such as neoliberalism or gentrification for more nuanced accounts of change at the local level

 

 

 

Ann is suspicious of the recent celebratory accounts of temporary urbanism, or Tactical Urbanism, and instead calls for an approach she calls strategic place keeping.

For more information about Ann Markusen: http://annmarkusen.com/

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