Welcome to City / Culture.
Like payment for a flatscreen bought on layaway, this is the first installment of Next American City’s newest online column. Barring breaking news and other such bumps, City / Culture will appear four Wednesdays per month. Please make this column yours. Have a story idea? Constructive critique? Rant or flame? Send it attention City / Culture, c/o firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment in the section below each post.
City / Culture sets out to cover the work done by creative folks in urban settings. More specifically, the column will focus much of the time on projects undertaken by artists, architects, writers, filmmakers, actors, dancers, photographers, performers, musicians, web and game developers, and others whose work in the public realm simulates – or even overtakes – work that could otherwise be associated with government.
Readers’ understanding of what “government work” is, or what it should be, will of course differ wildly. Small or no government advocates, for instance, please keep in mind that this column won’t necessarily be endorsing the idea that, say, park rangers should be state or local municipal employees.
Instead, City / Culture will interview the Los Angeles Urban Rangers, an artist collective who wear park ranger-style uniforms, produce Parks Department-style maps, and lead informative tours of the Malibu’s contested coastline.
City / Culture will also write about and interview the people behind achievements such as New Orleans’ Transforma Projects, Houston’s Project Row Houses, Dave Eggers and friends’ 826 National, Bill McKibben’s 350.org, Los Angeles’ Fallen Fruit, Islands of LA, Public Matters, Richard Ankrom’s Guerilla Public Service, and the Watts House Project.
Voter registration drives at concerts will count here, too. Plantings and benches and dance lessons as civic activities. Urban informatics. And much more.
Are all these projects, and others like them, conceived to fill needs, where local or larger governments have failed?
Are these projects bureaucratic flattery – perhaps community redevelopment agencies are so happening, everyone wants to be one?
Are the projects sly irony? Pure patriotism? A movement with a great big capital – or should that be capitol — “M”? Or it is simple enough to call them another 1,000 points of light – albeit maybe more James Turrell light than Thomas Kinkade.
More examples: In late 2008, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, in Montreal, opened a seminal exhibition, Actions: What You Can Do With the City. Ninety-nine projects – not problems – were recognized, including some by groups mentioned above, and two by a Boston pair, ParaSITE, and the Office for Unsolicited Architecture. The CCA show then traveled to Chicago, closing last month. Wherever you’re reading this, if you have the pull, bring it to your hometown.
Also back in 2008, my friend and former boss, Adolfo V. Nodal, organized the exhibition Citizen Artists Making Emphatic Arguments. Nodal has worked in city politics and as a private curator and author. He wrote:
“Today, the general search for change and accountability that the global community is demanding…. The artists in this show are strong change agents for civic, social, political, environmental, and a myriad of other interests. These Citizen Artists have become a force again in contemporary life.”
And a force well worth covering. Thanks for reading this first post, and see you all soon in the comments section, via email, or in this space next week.
Jeremy Rosenberg is a 2009 Next American City Vanguard. Rosenberg has worked for the Los Angeles Times and the Annenberg Foundation, and his words have appeared in dozens of books, print and online publications. His “Think Tank LA” blog is found at KCET.org.