After writing an article about a local catalyst in a beautiful online publication called Dharma Arts, and especially after this past weekend’s successful House of Paint festival, some thoughts on the function of scenes have coalesced a bit more clearly. Both the occasion of writing the piece and participating in the festival were an opportunity to meditate on the words of Lawrence Rothfield, who spoke at the Martin Prosperity Institute earlier in June at the inaugural Placing Creativity conference. In his presentation about the city of Chicago’s cultural scenes he posited a very interesting hypothesis: that cultural scenes might be more powerful attractors/retainers of talent than creative industries. Seems simple, but this recognition can be a game changer.
The employment paradigm has shifted such that jobs follow talent just as much as talent follows jobs. In both cases, place has become more important because in both cases choosing it has become so fluid – there really has to be something particular about a given place for talent or jobs to settle and stay. An over investment in job creation without a balanced cultural investment can create a bubble/vacuum effect wherein creative class types are drawn in by the prospect of being professionally engaged, but aren’t incentivized to put down roots. Ottawa is an interesting place in that it has “creative class stabilizers” – three levels of government employment and 4 post secondary institutions. Still, even if there is a consistent flow of talent, it might not affect the economy that much in a quantitative way but it will inevitably affect the quality of place. In the pre-digital era connectivity and affinity through institutions like sports clubs, churches, or job related groups seemed to be sufficient, but increasingly these days people are more interested in being engaged as individuals. The flexible accumulation that the media environment has afforded us often means that the diversity of individual interests in a given area outpaces the scope of local institutions.
Local scenes are comprised of individuals who are willing to fill that gap by aggregating interest – usually at a place (read: venue) or series of places. I don’t think that the value or role of these people and these places can be understated within the creative economy ecosystem. Without them, the best that any given place can be is what Steven Johnson would term a “swarm without logic” – a group that could be greater than the sum of its parts but lacks the connectivity to realize it. Without active scenes though, talent can only be narrowly engaged along lines of official employment, and the net benefit of that talent can only be narrowly experienced by the region. Considering the fluidity of talent and jobs, creative industries may be the visible tip of the iceberg that signal security to talented people, whereas creative scenes might represent the larger underside that help catalyze that talent, cross-pollinating the emerging creative economy.
Has any particular scene in your city/town affected your quality of life? How is it related to that place? What type of scene activity would support an ideal employment situation for you? Considering that the aggregation of individual interests outpaces institutional reaction time as it does, how can institutions be more supportive of scenes and help to facilitate the emergent culture that is critical to retaining talent?