Reset #6 Art and Culture after the Creative City

Event date: 10 September 2021 at Waterside Workers Hall, Port Adelaide

The idea of the ‘creative city’ has its roots in the 1980s. In the face of accelerating de-industrialisation, the rise of grassroots social movements, alternative arts and new popular cultures held out the hope of a new kind of post-industrial city. They rediscovered the joys and energies of the urban realm, after the top-down, technocratic ‘master-planning’ of the industrial city. New kinds of cultural practice, messing with the boundaries ‘art’ and ‘popular’, mostly outside formal arts policy, occupied the ‘decaying’ spaces of the city. They re-invented both old industrial buildings and the kinds of ‘creative work’ that might take place within them. By the late 1990s city governments began to promote and celebrate these new spaces and activities, with ‘gurus’ such as Charles Landry and Richard Florida promoting the ‘creative city’ as the key to the future, exporting the model across the globe. 

Already by 2008 things weren’t looking so good. Gentrification was relatively benign in the 1980s and 1990s, as derelict spaces and run-down areas attracted artists and cultural workers, some of whom had money. By 2008 gentrification was in hyper-drive, with city governments courting global development capital and up-market leisure, hospitality and retail, with little need of the artists to do the groundwork. Property prices had gone through the roof and rents with them. The industrial city had become a developer city, with planning laws organised around the maximisation of tax/ rent yield and selling to the highest bidder. What had begun as a re-discovery of urban living ended with the mass construction of ‘city centre living’, most of it unaffordable for artists and locals, and frequently opposed to the urban ‘vibrancy’ which had been the original selling point. Cuts to culture budgets, increased freelancing, precarious employment, minimal social welfare, education debts – by 2020 cities were no longer hospitable to those whose energies had helped re-invent them 30 years before. 

Where to next?

The Reset series, responding to the general crisis of arts and cultural policy, aims to introduce new ideas to the arts and cultural sector. Using heterodox economists, labour and community activists, environmentalists and alternative urban designers we have sought ways of reframing arts and culture as part of a new post-pandemic, post-climate emergency public policy. Art and culture can no longer present themselves as engines of economic growth. They need find a new place in a policy landscape of public-investment into social ‘foundations’, centred on human services (education, health, social welfare) and utilities, all within sustainable planetary limits.

How then are we to re-think the city, and the place of art and culture within it? This is the question we will address in this half-day seminar hosted by Reset and Vitalstatistix in Port Adelaide.

We chose Port Adelaide for three reasons. First, we wanted to ground discussion in a concrete local case, and as an old industrial waterside city, the Port is – theoretically at least – prime ‘creative city’ material. Second, we felt that the Port’s radical history, and its more recent activism in opposition to on-going redevelopment, could provide a different story to that of the usual city boosterism and developer PR. Third, we would like to explore how the Port might play a lead role in a new kind of culture-led regeneration: can we outline a vision (utopian or otherwise) for a city in which art and culture are part of the sustainable social, economic and environmental fabric of the city?

To help us do this we propose a half day of shared ideas and experiences, in the convivial atmosphere of the Waterside Workers Hall.

We begin with a walk to highlight some key sites of community campaigning, resistance and urban redevelopment in the inner Port Adelaide area, led by Emma Webb, Director of Vitalstatistix, a local contemporary arts organisation, along with Kaurna Elder, Aunty Margaret Brodie, and local activist and photographer Tony Kearney.

This is followed by a panel, with Emma Webb from Vitalstatistix, in conversation with: Aunty Margaret Brodie; Anthony Coupe, Director of Mulloway Studio; Campbell Duignan, Organiser with the Maritime Union of Australia; Kirsty Hammett, Port of Adelaide National Trust and Save Shed 26; and Lindl Lawton, Senior Curator of the South Australian Maritime Museum.

Next is a zoom presentation from Dan Hill, based in Swedish Innovation Agency, Stockholm (previously London and Sydney) whose Slowdown Papers are to be published by Verso and who spoke at Reset #5 (both lectures supported by UniSA’s EU-Hawke Centre). He will be interviewed by Rory Hyde, Associate Professor of Architecture at University of Melbourne.

To end we will have a panel on new visions for the creative city, led by Justin O’Connor (UniSA), Sebastian Olma, activist from Amsterdam Alternative, and a spokesperson for the Rome Charter, a statement on culture and cities building on citizens’ rights to the city.

We will then have food and drink.

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