Welcome everyone. My name is Gary Hattem and Im President of the Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation and Id like to welcome you all to our downtown offices. The story of today is that we are going to challenge ourselves to think about how we do our business differently than weve done it before, and with people we might have not worked with together before. I think all of us have risen to that challenge immediately by showing up early today. The arts community nor the community development crowd shouldnt be expected to be anywhere at 8:00 a.m., so hats off to all of you. I hope youve an opportunity to read the report we gave you, The Creative Engine.
This all got started more than two years ago when like a bolt of lightening we folks at Deutsche Bank were very cognizant that we were doing a lot of community development work. We also have a long tradition of supporting the arts. But even within our own institution we werent connecting the dots at all, and that there really was an opportunity to do something about that. We reached out to the Center for an Urban Future who were just dying to do this study. They had been thinking about the issue themselves and dived right in to tackle it. The product of that two-year effort is the report you have before you.
I think we really do have a singular moment of opportunity now. Everyone in New York is rethinking our economy. It has to change from what it relied on in the past, and the arts and creative folks who want to be in New York are very much recognized as being the asset that we need to build upon to go forward. Also the neighborhoods of New York have never been stronger. The arts community here and the community development community are really the best in the world. But they havent been talking to one another, and today is really that first step of beginning to talk to one another about how we might go forward together to rethink our citys future. And to really call on our most valuable asset which is the creativity of the people who live here.
Today is really about building a constituency for the report itself because it just cant sit somewhere. It really needs to be given life, and it really needs to be moved forward. And to do that it really requires all of us to think a little differently about our jobs, our institutions, how we think about our neighborhoods. The purpose of this is not to isolate the arts community, or isolate particular neighborhoods but look at the creativity of the city as a way to really lift the city in its entirety in all its neighborhoods, not leave anyone behind. Thats the moment of time I think we really need to act on. We also have a got a terrific mayor who not only gets it, he does it. He believes in it. So weve got a strong ally in City Hall which I think is incredibly important.
For today, we have a very simple and straightforward agenda. Were going to start off with Neil Kleiman who is really the quarterback to this report. He is going to tell the story of it, give you some key points. We have Rae Rosen from the Federal Reserve Bank who is here today, and who is going to talk about the arts economy in the context of New York Citys overall economy and how important it is and what the trends are with it. Then we have Nick Rabkin from Chicago who is going to talk about the national perspective. Oddly enough, as youll read in the report, New York is behind the curve on all of this. Other cities have really given it more thought and more attention, and been more deliberate about forming policies on this issue. I think we can all learn from that.
Then were going to break down into smaller groups. Were going to leave this room. Its sort of been scientifically orchestrated how those groups are formulated. So weve got a lot of different perspectives in the room. We want you to come out of those conversations with a response to the report. It really isnt in final form in that it is here, but it needs to be activated. So we are going to ask all of you, What do we need to do now? Did we get all of the issues right? Are there some we left out? How do we take this and go forward with it?
Then were going to feed you and talk over lunch. Once again, welcome. Thank you so much for coming. You were picked to be here because of your good minds, so use them today.
First of course I want to thank Gary, Rose and Mike from Deutsche Bank for being our hosts and supporting our work. I also would like to thank the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for supporting the staff work that went into this forum. The Rockefeller Foundation for sponsoring the research and all the time that went into the report. I especially want to thank everybody in this room. Most of you have been called and are part of this report. Some of you have probably been called 10-12 times, some in the last few weeks. You really are a part of this report. So thank you. As Gary said, this is really step one to try to move much closer to thought-out cultural and economic development strategy in New York.
The objective of todays gathering is to explore the many wayssome obvious, some not so obviousin which New Yorks immense arts & culture sector supports our economy and builds our communities.
I think were all aware of the raw economic power of the arts here in New York City. As we pointed out in our report, the sector conservatively supports more than 150,000 jobs and a strong presence of the arts is a magnet for the kind of jobs and businesses the city is looking to retain. It is also a powerful force at the neighborhood level, bringing new street trafficand often a greater sense of cultural identity to neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs.
If the presence of artists and art groups is that powerful, the question is how can this be best nurtured? How do we as a city make the most of this sector?
And how do we bring out the artistic assets of individual neighborhoodsusing them to bring in new visitors and opportunitieswhile, at the same time, protecting our communities and the artists themselves from the real estate market pressures this interest may bring?
This is a tough questionand as youll see in this report, we havent answered it ourselves. But we are one of the first public policy groups to ask it. And thats an important start.
New York City needs the power of its performers, museums and artisans now more than ever. Today, here with you, we would like to consider ways that we can more imaginatively support both cultural growth and community development.
And what makes that possible today are the participants. We have a mix of people here today from the cultural community, economic development, labor, funders and government officialsthis does not happen every day and the goal is to collectively explore the best ways to pursue cultural development.
So we want to start off with a few brief framing presentations. We dont pretend to have all the answers, but merely to frame the issues and provide initial suggestion. And then well move quickly into breakout sessions to explore these issues with you.
Before the presentation I want to quickly review the findings from our latest report, The Creative Engine, which we e-mailed out. You also have copies available in your packet.
When we started this project, we assumed there would be a lot written on the subject of the role of arts in community and economic development because it has become so important to cities everywhere, and it is happening in so many different places just within New York City.
We were wrong. There was not a lot of policy guidance. There have been a number of excellent big picture arts and economic impact studies, but very little about what cultural economic development really is about and how to do it well on a very local level. So we spent two years looking at these issues and how they play out in seven neighborhoods across the city.
Here at the Center, we work hard to crystallize issues and make them more accessible to a broad audience. That was tough to do with the arts and economic development. The effects of this sector are everywhere in New York. At the same time, theyre hard to measure and quantifyparticularly at the neighborhood level.
It is also an area that is rife with controversy and misconceptions about the catalytic role that culture can play in revitalizing neighborhoods. As you may have seen on Monday, the New York Times headline had us accusing artists of pushing people out. We never said that. Gentrification and displacement are certainly major concerns in many areas with renewed cultural growth. And this is an issue that must be dealt with.
But we also found that culture-based growth brings new businesses and new jobsin many different sectors and at every skill level. And that is something that benefits everyone.
§ In lower Manhattan and Long Island City, cultural groups and artists are seen as key to establishing a vibrant 24/7 neighborhood and a broader mix of businesses.
§ In Jamaica and St. George, retail merchants and local artists and cultural groups are working together to provide a real lift to the quality of life and economy in those areas.
§ In Fort Greene, a culturally rich neighborhood is now home to the citys most ambitious culture and economic development plan.
§ And in Harlem and the South Bronx there are exemplary community and cultural models working to foster balanced growth in those communities.
The issue of how to capitalize on the economic potential of cultural development and at the same time assist the arts is a difficult and complicated task. It demands balance. Balance between a coordinated government strategy, but one that allows for organic growth, more targeted assistance from the philanthropic community, but support that does not dictate down.
One key group that we focused on that could be helpful moving forward is the economic and community development intermediaries with their on-the-ground role around business and community development work.
But the majority are not plugged into the arts.
In our survey of more than 150 economic and community development organizations, only six were directly linked arts & culture.
A few that did focus on arts & culture provide exemplary models. These are development organizations such as Greater Jamaica Development Corporation and the point that made connection to the arts a defining part of their mission. These organizations knew to nurture and sustain cultural growth that isnt dictated through planning but happens organically; they provided affordable space for the arts to take hold, and the best models attempted to mix different types of creative industries including nonprofits, commercial arts enterprises and traditional businesses.
In addition to development groups there are a number of arts service groups becoming more involved in this area including the Alliance for Resident Theaters (providing affordable space) and the Bronx Council on the Arts (workforce and job training), and the Staten Island Council on Arts and Humanities (collaborative marketing), NYC Arts Coalition (through a credit union for artists) often working hand-in-glove with development intermediaries.
We also found a number of relatively new organizations that have formed specifically to help culture groups get more organized around development goals. There is the Long Island City Cultural Alliance, Cultural Collaborative Jamaica, the Harlem Arts Alliance and the Heart of Brooklyn Consortium. All are relatively new organizations, which speaks to speed of growth and the need to get organized around it. In each case the cultural community has created their own forum not to oppose business and economic development, but formulate the best ways to connect to it.
Clearly, local collaboratives are key, but in a big picture way, how do we as a city encourage more activity at the neighborhood level? More imaginative, arts-oriented, economic development policy?
We have a number of low-cost ideas:
§ One area is focus from government. Not a grand master plan, but more of a sense of the agencies and programs that already exist and how they can better assist arts and culture. The citys Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Cultural Affairs are beginning to do this together to identify incentives and other economic programs that could benefit the field.
§ Having more technical assistance for economic and community development groups to understand how to best work with and assist local arts activity. This is also something the Department of Business Services has discussed, but is not yet been funded.
§ Providing targeted support for collaborative such as Cultural Collaborative Jamaica and others that are forming across the boroughs.
§ And we need more information about the sector. With the Alliance for the Arts we provided a snapshot of jobs and job growth, but there is a deeper understanding that places like New England and Portland, Oregon have done to determine exactly where the jobs are in terms of the nonprofit and commercial side of the sector and they have determined where it is based and the exact kind of economic development assistance needed.
§ And we need more information about the myriad of other areas that inform cultural and community development that we did not even explore such as workforce, education and the connection to labor.
§ Lastly, we need more studies like what we conducted, that try and determine what the assets and issues are at the local, neighborhood level because the cultural community is very spread out in NYC and there is much we need to know.
There is a lot on the table and now we want to move into the breakout sessions where we can really roll up our sleeves and discuss many of these issues and strategize concrete steps moving forward. It will be our role here at the Center for an Urban Future to reflect the issues that come up, both during lunch and in future policy work.
Let me introduce both Rae and Nick now. Rae Rosen is a Senior Economist and Officer at The Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Ms. Rosen represents the bank to the business, banking, government and media groups interested in the regional economy and is a member of several economic advisory panels to state and local governments. Ms. Rosen is responsible for analyzing the economic conditions and critical issues that affect the regions economy. Ms. Rosen joined the bank in December 1992. Previously she was Vice President, Senior Economist at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York.
Nick Rabkin is Executive Director of the Chicago Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College. Prior to this position, he was a Senior Program Officer at the Macarthur Foundation in Chicago. Prior to that, Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for the City of Chicago during the Washington and Daley administrations, where he was responsible for pursuing the citys interest in the role of the arts in neighborhood development.
So with that, thank you very much and Ill pass it on to Rae Rosen.
Thank you, Neil. Good morning. Its really a pleasure to be here.
New Yorks economy today is really stalled and were moving sideways as best we can measure it. So Id like to go through and look at the pieces that gave us growth in the past in outlying where we are today and what the weaknesses are, which really highlights where the arts come in. You are one of the it spots that we can build on for future growth.
We have an index of economic activity that pulls together all the measures that economists would like to look at to measure the economy. It tells us that after maybe a year and a half of getting smaller and smaller declines, we are now moving sideways. So the economy has stalled out. One way of thinking about this is that the job gains that we are generating are just being equally matched by the ones we are losing. So its flat. There is nothing that is pushing us forward. We are poised to rise and to gain strength as the national economy begins to expand. And well get spillover effects here that will be positive but they are very, very slow in coming.
We could see renewed weakness in the financial sector. Or perhaps renewed weakness in construction because we have a lot of empty commercial office space. Then those small gains that were netting out each month to go to zero to negative, and we could be in a decline again.
The economy is certainly unlike the 1990-1991 recession when we lost about 10% of our jobs. The recession predates the attack of 9/11 and we really began around January 2001 when the dotcoms started to buckle and fold. Weve only lost about 145,000 jobs. Thats about 4% versus 10% last time around. So as recessions go, this has been mild. The unemployment rate peaked this time at about 8% instead of over 11%.
But now when we try to say, Whats going to grow? Whats going to move us forward? When we look back again, we say that growth in the 1990s was heavily fueled by business services and security firms. The business service piece included temps not a bad job in this economy. They get $14 an hour and frequently flip within a couple of months to a permanent job. It included computer related jobs. And it included security jobs. All told, they added about 100,000 jobs to this economy. Security jobs in brokerage firms added about another 60,000. Many of the jobs in business services depended on that burgeoning security sector. As firms outsource their development for product and services.
In the early 90s, this greater FIRE sector what we call Finance, Insurance and Real Estate accounted for about 15% of the jobs here, but 20% of the citys payroll dollars. By the time we got to the end of the decade, it still represented 15% of the jobs (a little bit less really), but it was over 32% of the payroll. So we became more and more dependent upon the sector. Now the wages of the FIRE sector are multiple of the average in other sectors. They are seductively high. So as a city, we built out our services that we give to people; we built on our programs right to that peak budget. It was a large budget. The bonuses and securities in the year 2000 were almost $20 billion.
Unfortunately, that is now behind us. The year 2000 is what economists call a cyclical peak for both revenues and employment in that sector. Bonuses have slid lower each year. The revenue estimates that have been made by city officials were lower but not sufficiently lower. So we are now caught in a progressively tighter cut of budgets where we cut and cut, and we still have a $1 billion deficit this year and probably a $5 to$6 billion deficit for the next fiscal year for the City.
New York State has a similar problem. The budget gap there - everybody was shocked to discover the day after the election - is about $8 to $10 billion. So the State really isnt in a position to help us in terms of money. I thought it worthwhile to develop this uncomfortable framework because its the difficult economic setting that we have to work with for at least the next 18 months. Its going to get better but so slowly that its very painful.
As we search for tax increases and program cuts that do the least damage, I think we need to consider strategies that are going to continue to promote economic growth even as we have to make these painful changes. And this is where the Arts comes in. Its a very difficult context but were smarter than we were during the fiscal crises in the late 70s. We know we have to cut; were cutting ahead. Were going to cut selectively and at the same time there are groups like this one saying, OK, its a tough situation but what do we want to do to continue to promote growth? And that is a really important question.
The financial sector is extremely creative and it has reinvented itself in the past with new products such as derivatives, collaterization of debt, the development of new markets and that extends into new countries. So Im not about to write it off. But I dont think it is wise to count on them for at least the next two years. Youd have to build a picture of corporate profits coming back strongly. Talk about the likelihood of a big upsurge in the stock market and that just doesnt seem to be something thats in the picture. I wouldnt count them out but theyre not going to be here in the short run.
Certainly the dotcoms and the web-related companies are likely to reemerge in the future. But again, they wont be as strong a force as they were in the past and perhaps when they do emerge, its going to be slower growth. Now we can look at healthcare and social services. Those continue to expand right through the recession and well probably continue to see some job generation there. That is really not enough to carry us.
So we get back to the arts where it is an attraction for development both locally and then as a pull when we pull nationally and internationally into this economy. In the next 18 months or so this is one of the sectors thats really it. When we look out and say, Going forward, what can we grow? Whats likely to move us forward? Were talking about the creative arts.
Here we consider - the economists at least in my bank are talking not just about art but about biotech. It could be education. It is art in the sense of culture, media and education.
Id like to make an analogy. New York City benefits from having three important tax sources. We have personal income tax collections, real estate tax collections and property tax collections. So when one of those fails, weve got the other two to keep us buoyant. Whereas other cities in the country or other states that rely on one of those are in a much worse position than we are.
That same kind of thinking should really apply to our economy. We really cant continue to rely on the FIRE sector to deliver bonus income. Its not going to be there in the next two years. Longer term, were a much stronger economy if we develop other sectors that can sustain us during periods of cyclical downturn. So we get back to the creative arts. Its deeply woven into the New York City economy. It serves a national and an international market, as well as the local market that Neil outlined this morning. One set of our web designers, ad agencies, graphic designers, architects, clothing designers serve a national and an international market. But another set or some overlap of those too also serve a local market. And many of them have been pioneers that turn local neighborhoods into trendy destinations and set off a beneficial cycle of housing renovations, new restaurants, nightclubs, art galleries and sometimes to the detriment of the indigenous residents.
We really have to figure how do we develop and how do we move forward without disenfranchising the groups that were there in the beginning. And its a tough, tough problem. You cant really be a 21st century economy and continue to produce buggy whips, but maybe you can aid that manufacturer to produce a more modern product or to produce with a more modern technique.
So as we scope out the likely candidates for continued expansion in the creative sectors are high on our list. And they include the established museums, the dance troupes, the newly emerging ones and the old ones where we both polish and we nurture and encourage the new. They continue to contribute to the vibrancy of many local neighborhoods.
I personally find it difficult to quantify the number of jobs in the creative arts. Do we count architects who are contributing to the rebuilding of lower Manhattan as part of the arts group? Or do we count them as part of what economists call the business service group? I find it difficult to make those decisions. In a sense when we had the dotcom surge, we made that kind of count where we took somebody creating a webpage in a bank and we counted them twice: once working for a bank and once working in this new industry. So for me, thats a difficult one to handle.
But what I can do is step back and say, I know another measure. I can measure what has happened to property values where these people have moved and where weve seen a renovation. You can trace what a strength of a strong economy and burgeoning cultural scene has done to residential real estate and commercial property prices. Youve got one really good hard handle there. That would be my preferred way of doing it. You could also do a job count, as this report has done. I would step back and say, Whats happened to property prices? and perhaps go to the tourist industry and say, What do you value in terms of bringing people in, in terms of culture? Theyll give you not only the money they spent in the museum, but also the money they spent on lunches and travel and a multiplier, which will give you some really nice hard numbers.
In a period of difficult, difficult budget decisions, I think we need to put all our options for economic development on the table. The arts have been truly underrated both in terms of what they contribute in general dollar terms, and what they do in terms of economic development. Theyve been left to the heavy initial lifting and theyve had too little support or recognition for their potential in the citys economy. Because there has been so little forethought given to what they are actually doing, we also overlook the impact on the local residents.
So the timing of this conference from my viewpoint, couldnt be better. As were evaluating the Citys budget, and we decide what we need to keep and what we need to trim, we remain a vibrant capital world capital, national capital because of our creative abilities and our ability to reinvent ourself. In doing so we create this virtuous, beneficial cycle of attraction and renewal. We attract foreign immigrants. We attract other companies. We attract internationals here. I think, therefore, we want the arts on the table as one option to consider when we look at what were going to maintain, what were going to cut.
This report is very timely. The arts are there. Theyre getting the recognition of what they contribute and I think this might be one we want to save, we want to add to and if it comes at a low dollar cost, that is even more to our benefit.
Nick Rabkin:Good morning. I have to say that I really am delighted and honored to have been asked to come and reflect on the Centers report on the arts and development in New York, as a New Yorker by birth. But I also feel a bit like an actor with a mediocre script and a great set. As Rae spoke, I was reminded just how much of a New Yorker by birth I am. She was talking about New Yorks fiscal crises in the 70s and I had remembered something that I hadnt remembered for a long time which was that my mother took accounting from former Mayor, Abe Beame at Richland Hill High School in Queens. So Im for real. I have a short time limit and I want to try to keep to it. So I decided that I was only really going to talk about one big idea. I have a couple more, but Ill keep them to myself and Im going to get to the big idea fast.
And its this: to recoin a phrase that we all cherish from some years ago, Its the art, stupid. The arts obvious contributions to physical and economic development are complemented by their contributions to the ideas, experiences, feelings and perspectives that blind communities together or give them a sense of purpose, identity and direction. In addition, there are other, often hidden dimensions of the arts that make enormous contributions to community capacity. The ability of a community to participate in the creation of its own future.
First though, I want to remind you that the arts its a funny word my spell check kept correcting me. Its a funny word. The arts are not singular, they are multiple. But they are also singular. But when I say that they are multiple I mean that they reflect many distinctive realities that take different forms within different development contexts. The arts can empower people but for all the good the arts can do, they have also historically been indicators of social class signifying who has power and authority in our society and who does not. So they also divide us. What Ive seen sometimes in Chicago is what I think the Center found in New York: its a struggle for control of cultural development that is tightly wound with parallel struggles over who has access and power over housing, jobs, education and other resources. Done with sensitivity and respect for cultural, economic and political realities in the neighborhoods, cultural development can be a balm in Gilead.
But cultural development projects too often mismatch goals, sites, institutions, and cultures and are legitimately objectionable to residents in contested neighborhoods. Weve learned a great deal about the economic connections between the arts and development since the Port Authoritys first study in 1983, I think it was. What weve thought about far less are the ways that the arts contribute to development as art. And that is what I want to focus my remarks on today.
A few weeks ago I heard a wonderful story about Angels in America in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlottes City Council made Mayor Giulianis fights with the Brooklyn Museum seem like a tempest in a teapot. The Council cut all public funding to the arts in Charlotte when Angels was produced with some small grant support from the City of Charlotte. Their action, though, stimulated a broad based opposition that swept the evangelical City Council majority from power within two years. The content of Tony Kushners art the content of his art, not the economic impact of the show changed the course of Charlottes history. When asked if he thought the Laramie Project changed the town of Laramie, Director Moises Kaufman told of vigils to protect the homes of Muslim residents after 9/11. Tectonic Theaters rigorous respect for Laramies multiple perspectives for getting the story right helped that town confront its communal demons. As Kaufman said, Laramie had practice with difficult and disturbing issues because artists had made their work in the community.
But art neednt be political to have significant effects. Several months ago the Center for Arts Policy in Chicago, which I direct, released a study of the informal arts in Chicago. You might think of the informal arts as what amateur artists do. But the term also includes informal art making by professionals who sometimes prefer to make art informally. The French horn player who really prefers to play chamber music in somebodys living room to the hour and half of boredom and sheer terror at the Philharmonic.
Participants in the informal arts arent part of the audience. They make art. They sing, act, quilt, paint, draw. They make music and dance. Sometimes of course, it is truly amateur in the pejorative sense of the term. But sometimes it is enormously accomplished. What it is not actually is commercial. What it is not is formal. Our study was inspired in large measure by an NEA study of arts participation that found over 20 million adults thats 10% of the American adult population sing in choral groups. This is a phenomenal fact. More than 30 million paint and draw. Another 22 million play classical music. Countless others participate in activities that the NEA didnt count because they dont think its art: rock and roll, hip hop, folk music just to name a few.
These millions make art because it gives them pleasure. It satisfies their need to communicate, learn, create beauty, tell stories, make something with friends and neighbors. The arts add values to their lives. Our study looked at one African-American in Chicago with per capita income under $8,000 and found 78 informal arts programs church choirs, arts programs in classes and parks, creative writing program at the library, an open mic program at a coffee house.
Clearly the informal arts are not limited to the affluent. This is a mass phenomenon that cuts across race and class very differently than the formal ones. But it is hidden from view. I bet youve never seen an advertisement for any of the kinds of arts activities that I just mentioned. It is literally hidden from view. But the informal arts are present even in those neighborhoods that may resist cultural development. In the ways that the Times article the other day suggested some do. I would suggest that attention to the informal arts is likely to significantly improve the likelihood of finding community support for cultural development, even in those neighborhoods.
Heres what our study found. Participants in the informal arts are far more representative of American pluralism than audiences for the formal arts or the labor pool of professional artists. The inclusive character and low barriers to participation in the informal arts induce trust and solidarity and promote greater understanding and respect for diversity. Significant social boundaries of age, gender, ethnicity, occupational status and skill level are bridged in these informal arts projects. An example: a theatre project at a park in Chicagos most diverse point of entry neighborhood has a company of 80, from 8-75 years, of every race, and a dozen nationalities, performing stories and songs based on oral histories. The cast has always included formerly homeless residents of single-occupancy housing. The chairman of a local business organization, one that has consistently opposed SRO development in the neighborhood, now volunteers to build sets.
The informal arts build community capacity. Community capacity depends on two things. This is something I learned when I was at the MacArthur Foundation and we talked about things like this all the time. I finally have the opportunity to apply it. Community capacity depends on two things: the norms and social networks that are present in a neighborhood and that they can draw upon as resources. Social scientists sometimes call this aspect of community capacity efficacy or community efficacy. The second thing is the skills that residents bring to the table. So its norms and social networks on the one hand, and skills on the other.
Clearly the informal arts build art skills. People who do the informal arts get better at the art- making piece. In neighborhood after neighborhood we learned that local residents value those skills. Even in neighborhood, as I said, had been hostile to cultural development because of the threat of gentrification and displacement. Parents want their kids to have these art skills. Its an important thing to remember as you think about cultural development.
They also build skills that are transferable to civic, community and economic life. World Business Chicago, which is the economic development group that led the campaign to bring bowling to Chicago from Seattle, surveyed high technology business leaders on the kind of workforce that they needed. They found this: high tech employers were looking for people who work well with others, develop trust and tolerance in the workplace, have the capacity to imagine change and the willingness to work for it, and to use innovation and creativity to solve problems.
The head of World Business Chicago, after reading our study, wrote us a letter and said, You may recognize these as being identical to the qualities you found in people who participate in the informal arts in your study. The informal arts make an important contribution to Chicagos economic development.
Social networks and norms develop in the informal arts and this is the stuff of community efficacy. Some of you may have heard about a recent study about the killer heatwave in Chicago in 1995. Its an amazing story. You may remember we had nearly a month of 100degree weather in Chicago in 1995 and more people died during that heatwave than died in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. One of the remarkable findings of the study was that the difference between life and death in two adjacent low-income neighborhoods was the degree of community efficacy present. The informal arts are not the singular reason for higher community efficacy, but they are an important part of a complex of factors that helped low-income seniors in one neighborhood survive while just blocks away, their neighbors were dying.
Health development needs to consciously build these kinds of factors into neighborhoods. Religion and sport can do this kind of stuff as well but the barriers in those two kinds of activities are much higher than they are in the informal arts, the barriers to participation.
Finally, there is a dynamic relationship between the informal and formal arts. Of course professional artists provide vital knowledge and expertise in the informal arts where they frequently find income and employment opportunities. Meanwhile, informal artists are among the most knowledgeable audiences for the formal arts.
But theres more. I was speaking to some people before about theatre in Chicago and I want to talk about that. It happens that I came from the theatre world in Chicago before I got into this peculiar business Im in now. Chicago, as you know, was a theatre town and its pool of theatre artists are steeped in ensemble and improvisation. Where did that tradition come from? In the 30s, a social worker worked at Jane Addams Hull House Settlement and later for the WPA. Her observations of childrens imaginative games led to the discoveries about the rules and principles of those games and then she adapted those rules and principles for making original community theatre. Spallens books on theatre games became the bible for Chicagos theatre community. In the 50s and 60s, Chicago theatre artists continued to be trained in her discipline. It is this historic link to the informal arts that gives Chicago theatre its remarkable vitality.
I would argue further that the creative dynamic between the informal and formal arts, not just the economic dynamic which is powerful and vital, the informal art is an essential tributary to the most distinctive American cultural achievements: jazz, blues, rock and roll, comedy, musical comedy, tap and jazz dance to name a few.
The informal arts do not require enormous capital development, of great relief given the economic picture. But they do require some resources. Is it unreasonable to expect that if more of these resources were available, this mass phenomenon would grow even larger and significant? Is it unreasonable for a cultural plan in the worlds greatest capital of art and culture?
Here are a few thoughts on how to do it:
Widen the frame around what we call art.
The standard definition of art is just too narrow. The arts in a healthy community include the concert master at the philharmonic and the fiddle player at the Irish pub. Rock bands in stadiums and in garages. Chamber ensembles in living rooms and choirs in churches. Painters who show at the Whitney, rarely but occasionally, and painters at kitchen tables. Dancers at ABT and at neighborhood parks. Think about this continuum.
The formal and commercial arts are profoundly connected to the informal, and they wont remain healthy unless the informal arts are healthy as well.
They dont require a lot but they need some. Parks, libraries, churches, community centers and schools can inexpensively provide vital space, supplies, time, talent and organizational support. Because of the way we define the arts, the informal arts are generally off the radar screen of funding agencies. This needs to change. Foundations and other grantmakers should develop strategies to deliver resources to the informal arts and some of New Yorks numerous intermediary organizations may be well-suited to provide mini or micro-grants to the informal arts. Parks and other community centers should eagerly welcome informal arts projects into their spaces just as they welcome the basketball, soccer or volleyball leagues (which we may think about as informal sport.)
Make the informal arts more visible.
Despite their popularity, the informal arts are hidden from view and so are their benefits. Community, cultural, and political leaders should make efforts to publicly recognize the value of the informal arts activities in their communities. Why arent there annual awards to art projects that have made significant contributions to communities? Why doesnt the press cover these projects at all?
The contributions of the informal arts to development grow naturally and intrinsically from the process of art making itself. The very act of participating in the informal arts grows communities. New Yorks cultural development plan should attend to the informal arts because they are essential to the health of the arts sector overall and because they cultivate the skills, norms and social networks that make communities work.