Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Creative Ecosystem

More on benchmarking from Will K. Wilkins, Real Art Ways' Executive Director: 

It’s so valuable to look at other places where artists and creativity have been at the center of changing attitudes and evolving dynamic communities.  Project Row Houses in Houston is an interesting example.  I also like what AS220 has done in Providence.  And the Philadelphia Mural Project is of a scale and quality that engages people as participants, as neighbors and visitors. All of those organizations exist in a broader creative context.  

What I mean is that it isn’t just them, by themselves.  There is a supportive infrastructure of funders and creative allies to collaborate with and bounce off.  It isn’t about one big thing. It’s about an ecosystem of organizations, businesses, artists, activists and entrepreneurs.

Hartford is a city that has made some dramatically bad development decisions, ideas that perhaps seemed forward thinking at the time.  What those decisions have in common is a search for a “big bang,” the big project that will be the spark that makes other things happen.  It is past time to think differently about development, to recognize the significance of the local, the already existing, the modest, the creative, the idiosyncratic.

We’ve got assets, and it’s important to appreciate what we’ve got:  

  • A steady influx of young creative people that comes through the area's colleges.  
  • A renowned scene for jazz, replete with committed educators and outstanding young musicians.  
  • A group of visual artists who have worked hard to create a supportive local scene.  
  • Institutions that are committed to the city and its development.  

We have a context that can provide energy and ideas for creative development.

Jane Jacobs said (something like), “New ideas require old buildings.”  Parkville is a good example of what can happen in old buildings, creative enterprises that would be unviable in newer structures.  And look at what the University of Hartford has done with an old car dealership building.

Learning from others, and learning from mistakes, are fundamental.  So is appreciating what we already have.

One idea: tear down I-84 where it slices through Hartford.  Look at how the demolition of elevated highways in San Francisco has resulted in vibrant neighborhoods in what used to be "no man's lands."  


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