Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Art About Place

Some artistic endeavors are pure geography. That is, if you understand geography as the relationship between people and their environment. The New York Times has a story about college programs springing up all over the West, the marriage of art and social science:

William L. Fox, a writer and the director of the Center for Art + Environment in Reno, said he believed that these kinds of wildly interdisciplinary art-making and academic activities might be flourishing in the West because artists see it as a place where boundaries are less rigid, and they can go looking for insights from many fields of knowledge, the way hard sciences have long done.

“For me, art is about making metaphors, and to do that you feed on new sources of information,” said Mr. Fox, who has served as a field lecturer for the Lubbock program. “In a sense that’s all artists are doing, the same as scientists: ‘What areas can we poke our noses into that give us new information and show us how to make work in a way we’ve never thought of?’ ”

Emphasis added, the West as frontier. One could say the same about Rust Belt cities. That's the metaphor informing the Levi's Braddock ad campaign. Walt Whitman and Ansel Adams sit around an urban campfire with John Fetterman and Phil Kidd. Vacant steel towns are places of possibility, where we can see the world in a new light.

We shouldn't label artist as Rust Belt saviors, residents of forsaken neighborhoods. They are urbanists, writers of policy. They are geographers and urban planners.

My hope is that these academic programs thriving in the West will migrate to the Rust Belt. We don't need a creative economy so much as we need to rethink shrinking cities. That's where the artists come in ...

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