City, Arts and Public Spaces: Gavin Kroeber, Part 2

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is participating in the ongoing campus initiative Global Urban Humanities: Engaging the Humanities and Environmental Design, which aims to bring the humanities into closer connection with disciplines that study the built environment to help address the complex problems facing today’s urban areas. To jump-start conversation for an upcoming working session, participants have been asked to “reflect upon a keyword that provokes, confuses, inspires, and/or annoys you in current thinking about urban and/or urban arts engagement.” This posting is by Gavin Kroeber, freelance producer and founder of Experience Economies.
Keyword: Innovation
In an attempt to attend to the particular urban and cultural ecosystem of the Bay Area I’d like to contribute a second term – innovation – and loosely suggest its relevance to the discussion.
As the national discourse around innovation expands, we see hundreds of thousands of square feet of urban space mobilized and repurposed under the term: municipal innovation districts, public and private innovation incubators for entrepreneurial ventures, etc.
Innovation – which stands basically for the hope that we can innovate our way out of what we’ve innovated our way into, that the ecological and other crises produced by an unparalleled manufacture and marketing of new things is best met with more new things – enlists concepts of art, design, creativity, and social practice in the service of product design and entrepreneurship. It established a myth of self-invention, of remixing, all of which positions the entrepreneur as the apotheosis of the creative spirit.
Innovation is place-based. Even as it operates through and celebrates communication networks that would overthrow space, it advances itself through copresence (TED talks, Davos) and nodes of innovative density (the Bay Area and Boston, both possessed of imbricated educational, military-industrial, and countercultural histories). Municipalities, embracing the term and the idea of an economy based around it, affirm Florida’s creative class claims and set about trying to remake themselves with the ingredients that will foment innovation – not only educational and technological infrastructures and financial incentives for incubators to rise up but also a texture of life that is suitable to innovators.
That texture of life is, as Florida notes, bound up in concepts of “experience” and eschews traditional art genres.
The intertwining of experience (which pays no heed to disciplinarity) and innovation (championing the creative entrepreneur) serves to remove any sense of historic aspect from cultural production within the territories of their greatest ascendance. Innovation seeks to produce a culture that rejects an erases the position of artist and, moreover, the historical lineages and institutional infrastructures of art disciplines in favor of a new figure: the entrepreneur/creator.


Innovation as an ideology, though ubiquitious in the United States, radiates from two particular urban nodes: the Bay Area and Boston. This suggests a “cultural axis” in the country between these two points that is now rising to compete with the assumed one four hours to its south between New York and Los Angeles.