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Freshsheet
The Fruit of Our Labours
 
 
Freshsheet
NUMBER 139   ll   FOR THE WEEK OF JUNE 16-22, 2014

Build It and They Might Come

Nearly every community development plan includes some reference to the role that community organizations can potentially play. But the discussions about community organizations and those about buildings are often curiously and uncomfortably divorced.

The role that buildings are seen to play is usually in the context of bravura high-profile physical development, while the role of organizations is more often discussed in the context of fine grained community-building and the knitting together of communities through the generation of "social capital." The buildings and the organizations they may host are discussed in different forums by different people using different vocabularies and often manifesting a certain amount of mutual disdain. Organizations are only weakly enfranchised in discussions about buildings, a supplicant at a discussion that includes the booming voices of private developers, local politicians, business and development agencies, and master planners.

The reasons that artspaces, studios, and other creative venues should play a critical role in development are well rehearsed. They provide a context for the highly expressive and iconic architecture that is so central to the branding of a place; and in a privatized, secular, fragmented, post-modern world they are one of the few candidates for public space that can provide a communal feeling. Sports stadia and public parks perhaps bear a similar civic burden.

The contribution that certain overwhelmingly successful arts buildings have made to the brand definition and vitalization of urban areas - the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain is the most often cited example - has encouraged a rather naive "copycat" strategy in many communities throughout the world. This approach is almost certain to fail in cases where the following three factors are neglected.

First, culture cannot vitalize alone. Where cultural infrastructure plays a role it plays it alongside public and private investment in other civic amenities, transport systems, and housing. It is depressing, however, how often significant investment in cultural buildings is made outside of an integrated strategy. These cultural institutions then come to bear impossible expectations alone and without context.

Freshsheet Okanagan Media ApplianceFreshsheet Second, the cultural building boom has not been driven by "consumer demand" in the sense of an increase in audiences. Communities with a density of population in their immediate catchment and a sophisticated cultural tourist market smaller cities cannot match, and yet many "supply driven" infrastructure projects do not take this into account. Given the economics, it seems likely that these buildings will have a major adverse impact on the wider ecology of the arts in these communities as they preempt and siphon off existing audiences and philanthropic resources rather than generate new ones. This is hardly the regenerative function that the planners will have had in mind.

Third, vibrant buildings require thriving occupants if culture's role in vitalizing communities through generating social capital is to be realized. In the Faustian pact between organizations and urban planners, both parties have tended to gloss over the longer-term financial impact of expansion on the resident organizations while playing up the economic impact on the community as a whole. But struggling organizations, seeking to meet the increased fixed costs that come with a highly specified new building, are unlikely to deliver on hopes for wider community vitalization.

The antidote to naive optimism with respect to the contribution of organization to urban regeneration is not unqualified and jaded conservatism, but greater due diligence by both organizations and public agencies responsible for development strategies.

Organizations contemplating a potential role would be well advised to look at their options from a simple perspective: Will the opportunity increase or decrease the organization's ability to fulfill its mission and realize the full potential of its programming ambitions? Without constantly referring back to this test, it is easy to get caught up in the chase and the dramas of sparkling new buildings that will never deliver on their promise. Very few organizations have sufficient political support to go back to stakeholders after the event and persuade them to increase operating funding to a level where it is possible to thrive (as opposed to survive) after the initial thrill of the building opening has passed.


IDEAS WORTH CONSIDERING

A New Theory of Growth

Esko Kilpi Oy || For most of human history, creativity was held to be a privilege of supreme beings, initially, the gods who shaped the heavens and the earth, and then it was human beings who were the creators and not the helpless, dependent subjects of the wrath of the gods.
We switched our views as we began to understand how the world worked. Whether this will help the human race or cause its downfall is debatable. But it would help if we realized the responsibility that comes with the new role.

Our future is tied to human creativity.

You would think that given its importance, creativity would have a very high priority among our concerns, but we face a disturbing reality if we look at what is really going on today. The arts are seen as dispensable luxuries and instead of exploring creative new solutions, cutting expenses is the approach of most managers trying to deal with global competition.

What holds true for the arts and the economy, also applies to education. The models of mass society and mass production still prevail in the world of mass education. The industrial society is re-born daily at the expense of a different sociocultural context that would embrace creativity.

The sociocultural context matters because creativity is a systemic rather than an individual phenomenon. Workable new solutions to our most pressing concerns will not appear by themselves as isolated ideas of independent people. Creativity is born in connections and in enriching interaction.

To say that Thomas Edison invented electricity or that Albert Einstein discovered relativity is a popular, but misleading simplification. These breakthroughs would have been inconceivable without (1) the social and intellectual network that stimulated and advanced their thinking and (2) the people who recognized the value of their contributions and spread them further. A good, new idea is not automatically passed on. From this standpoint a lighted match does not cause a fire.

Freshsheet Rather the fire took place because of a particular combination of elements of which the lighted match was one. One cannot be creative alone. These qualities are co-created in an active process of mutual recognition.

The creative era is about interdependence, not about superhuman individuals.

An inspiring person is only inspiring by virtue of others who treat her this way. A good decision is only good if there are people around to agree with it. It is not enough to look at the individuals who seem to be responsible for a new idea. Their contribution, although important, is always a node in a network and a phase in a movement of thought. Creativity takes place in connections and communication. The network is the enabler and amplifier. It is time now for a new epistemology; new ways of talking about knowledge creation.

However, people have always networked. Scholars depended heavily on correspondence networks for the exchange of ideas before the time of the universities. These communities, known as the "Republic of Letters" were the social media of the era, and resembled the communication patterns of today astonishingly closely. The better-networked scientist was often the better scientist. Today, the better-networked knowledge worker is usually the better worker. In the future, the better-networked student will always be the better student.

The main difference from the time of letters and the printing press is the transformative efficiency of our new interaction tools. A "man of letters" may today be a man of tweets, posts and updates, but the principle is the same: what matters most is the way we are skilfully present and communicate using all the different means that are available.

Mutually recognizing and mutually supporting relationships are the core of creative progress and growth.

To be human means to be creative.


COMMENTARY

One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands out and throws one's head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun - which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with the millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in someone's eyes. - Frances Hodgson Burnett



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Celebrating the Creative Age

The most recent issue of the Okanagan Institute journal Sage-ing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude is online at www.sageing.ca

A volunteer publication of the Okanagan Institute, intended as an initiative for collaboration and sharing, the journal presents the opportunity for the free exchange of wisdom gleaned from creative engagement, and is focused on honouring the transformational power of creativity.
We hope that your perspective on the arts and creative engagement might also change as you read stories of Okanagan artists, experienced and emerging, who engage in art for the joy of stimulating personal and community wisdom and well-being.
Freshsheet Sage-ing Okanagan Institute

Freshsheet A JOURNAL OF THE ARTS & AGING
"One of the strengths that sages possess, regardless of age, is a willingness to be educated by all things. Curiosity leads them to learn from all they encounter. They do not judge people or situations. When one relaxes into just being, everything can nourish and stimulate. For those who embrace life as a sage-ing experience, things come to them from the world and from the events in their lives. By taking time and giving attention to creatively respond to what might at first seem ordinary and not deserving of notice, life ripens with significance and meaning."

To view online go to www.sageing.ca