On October 25 and 26, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the California College of the Arts are partnering once again to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph that touches upon the topics relevant to the summit’s theme: Art, Place & Dislocation in the 21st Century City. This posting is by Shannon Jackson, Director of the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley.
I think it is so interesting to see Creative Time take questions of artistic social engagement to issues of place and creativity in urban and regional planning. In my own work, I find that these streams of thinking and making are strangely un-aligned, often talking past each other. Socially-engaged art expands the parameters of visual and performing art practice. Sometimes this work seeks to explore relationality as such; sometimes this work is connected to a fairly explicit social justice mission. Meanwhile, urban arts planning and placemaking uses a language that sounds familiar to many politically-minded artists; words like “engagement,” “participation,” “community,” and “intervention” come trippingly off the tongue of many city planners and “creative class” promoters. But the goals of such projects often have very little to do with addressing issues of social and economic justice or of provoking a critical consciousness beyond what can be safely absorbed by the palatable ironies of a boheme marketing campaign. Urban “vitalization” seems quite far removed from bio-political “vitalism.”
And yet, here we are, trying to see if we can find a sweet spot where political engagement and “creative class” engagement might redirect and redefine each other. Does this conjunction mean building different skills across artistic and civic sectors? Is it about learning to intervene at economic scales and in institutions to which artists have only occasional access? Is it about changing our conceptions of how we define “political” or “radical” practice in a city, a neighborhood, in a community center, or down the block? Is it about trying to find formal innovation and political resistance in urban planning sectors where we usually find “instrumentalization”? Can we redirect the discourses of urban vitalization to support a platform for the so-called creative “under-class”? Perhaps this the sweet spot. If so, occupying the sweet spot seems to be about deploying a discourse that is always on the edge of deploying you.