Kwende Kefentse
by Kwende Kefentse
Mon Jun 22nd 2009 at 9:21am UTC

Culture Under Pressure from the Global Economy

Last summer, I blogged about Under Pressure in Montreal, one of Canada’s premier graffiti conventions. While out last night checking out a show, DJ Static [of the internationally acclaimed WEFUNK radio show and regular DJ @ Under Pressure] mentioned to me that the festival has recently encountered some economic peril with many of its funders backing out. It is not the only one though as the Under Pressure blog indicates:

After 13 years of dedication and hard work, the organizers of Scribble Jam had to regretfully announce that due to lack of funding and the current economic climate, they do not have the resources to continue with the festival this year.

Read more HERE.

Events such as Toronto‚Äôs Style In Progress have already succombed to the same fate and this serves as a reminder more than ever that Under Pressure 2009 needs YOUR support this year…

Meanwhile, festivals that are a bit smaller like Ottawa’s House of PainT, which are primarily DIY with a bit of local community support, continue to roll on. I’ve always understood Hiphop culture to be grounded in “get-it-how-you-live” economics. In other words, it emerged out of an endogomous low-budget environment where the idea of sponsorship or support from external agents was far-fetched at best. To borrow a concept form Karl Polanyi, the economy was very embedded in the society. To extend that idea a bit further, when economy is embedded in society that way, value becomes determined by metrics that are responsive to that society. That is to say the distance between expense and expectation is shorter in these kinds of societies. Particularly with respect to cultural products – currency expectations (read: cost) are set based on the value of that product, which is determined by those society specific metrics.

Haute Finance and global economics have disembedded economy from society such that the value of a product, cultural or otherwise, is set externally and determined by metrics that are often quite apart from the society that produces them. The idea was that the ability of federal governments to communicate, exchange currency and goods, and participate in this international system would set up a more even-handed trickle-down system for the citizens who produce those goods/services. 150 years later, we see how that’s worked out.

What’s going on with these festivals is a good example of all of that. As this culture globalized and patched itself into a bigger economic system, it’s on the ground value – the endogamous value – became supported by off the ground finance, and things got disembedded such that culturally important gatherings find it difficult to support themselves on their own steam.

Might we see more regional and embedded expressions of culture in the future, based on real value to that region like the House of Paint model? What other feasible models might emerge? How will cultural investment strategies be affected by/reposition on account of the economic climate?

Before I go, I’ve gotta give a big Rest In Peace shout to IZ the WIZ, one of the very few Kings graffiti, setting the standard in New York and all over the world. He passed away on Friday. Do the knowledge here.

5 Responses to “Culture Under Pressure from the Global Economy”

  1. Michael Wells Says:

    I think one of the changes in the economic restructuring will be more successful local models, based on indigenous community support rather than national/global influences. The smaller festivals, venues and businesses will suffer, but the ones who have built a strong community base will survive and hopefully thrive. One result may be that we see more local or regional differences re-emerge as local becomes more important.

    We were driving down a trendy shopping street last night and my wife said “what’s going to go into all of those empty storefronts?” As with malls and shrinking cities, neighborhoods will change as shopping habits change and perhaps become more local.

    By the way, I love your posts. They give me a look into arenas I wouldn’t otherwise appreciate, like graffiti art and hip-hop.

  2. Kwende Kefentse Says:

    Thanks so much Michael. Your observations are always really well measured and make me think a lot about whatever it is you put your pen (fingers?) to. Makes me wish that I was the “creative observations” guy sometimes! I’m glad that I can help open the door to the culture for you though – Hiphop can act as a great foil for investigating a lot of issues.

    I think we share the same hunch – that we will see more regional differences re-emerging as cultural currency slides away from global metrics and re-embeds itself into the local. It will be interesting to see the way the global and the local feed back into each other now that things have changed so drastically. I’m hoping that we will see broader appreciation of local iterations of culture, but without the bandwagon hopping effect that has been so pervasive in the globalized culture environment. It would be nice if it was cool to like what others were doing, while still doing one’s own thing essentially.

    One of the organizers of House of PainT read the blog and got up with me, explaining a bit about how they were funded. They mentioned that their position on corporate funding isn’t for any lack of asking, but that they’re less affected because they haven’t come to expect it as yet. What stuck out to me is that while they do get a little bit of corporate support, they have a very low reliance upon it, and the support that they do get is mostly of the “in kind” variety keeping them less impacted by these recessionary times. Interesting strategy.

    And yes Fin; It bears saying again – IZ THE WIZ, RIP!!!!

  3. Michael Wells Says:

    Iz the Wiz got a 1/2 page obit in today’s NY Times. Very respectful, wonder what they wrote about him in the ’80’s?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/arts/design/29martin.html?_r=1&ref=obituaries

  4. Michael Wells Says:

    Even more amazing, the Times obit links to YouTube of Iz the Wiz painting MTA cars and other graffiti community links.

    Where are the borders?

  5. Creative Class » Blog Archive » Coming Together to Ease the Pressure - Creative Class Says:

    [...] KefentseSat Aug 29th 2009 at 5:25am EDTComing Together to Ease the Pressure In one of my most recent posts, I wrote about the international graffiti and urban arts festival Under Pressure, and about the [...]