Posts Tagged ‘bronx’

Kwende Kefentse
by Kwende Kefentse
Thu Apr 23rd 2009 at 4:51am UTC

The Value of an Artist

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

After returning from the whirlwind that was the CHRA’s Annual Congress (with keynote speaker Richard Florida to boot) and DJ-ing at Urbana – a charity gala put on by a local housing developer to end homelessness in Ottawa – my mind is abuzz with housing issues. While at the congress, we took a tour of Regent Park’s redevelopment and, as with any redevelopment project, there was much talk/concern about gentrification with respect to community renewal.

Meanwhile, on the internet, some blogs were also abuzz with housing issues related to gentrification. From the Clyde-Fitch Report I fished out this Wall Street Journal article about the much-discussed and debated role of artists in community renewal and the gentrification process:

Artists have long been leaders of an urban vanguard that colonizes blighted areas. Now, the current housing crisis has created a new class of urban pioneer. Nationwide, home foreclosure proceedings increased 81% in 2008 from the previous year, rising to 2.3 million, according to California-based foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac. Homes in hard-hit cities such as Detroit and Cleveland are selling for as little as $1.

Drawn by available spaces and cheap rents, artists are filling in some of the neighborhoods being emptied by foreclosures. City officials and community groups seeking ways to stop the rash of vacancies are offering them incentives to move in, from low rents and mortgages to creative control over renovation projects.

But looking at the artists profiled in the WSJ piece, I couldn’t help but notice – they all seem to be, for lack of a better term, white hipsters doing, again, for lack of a better term, white hipster art. I’m forced to wonder: what do we really mean when talking about artists? What are we valuing?

Here’s another perspective on gentrification from the always sublime blog Model Minority:

Gentrification has very little to do with white hipsters moving into the ‘hood and everything to do with process of people who earn higher incomes moving into neighborhoods where folks reside who are earning comparatively lower incomes.

A more sustainable, honest and comprehensive conversation about gentrification would involve a discussion of the income of the gentrifiers and not just the race of the gentrifiers.

And that’s what the WSJ piece seemed to elucidate implicitly – beyond race or even occupation, the artists valued in the gentrification discourse seem to be more important as an economic entity than as a creative one. Because these blighted areas like the Bronx or Detroit actually generate some of the greatest abundances of high-potency art and artists in the world. Hiphop culture and that entire industry emerged from the 1973 Bronx, and artists are still coming out of the BX at high rates. Detroit breeds some of the world’s best street artists with a lopsided ratio of good music emerging from the 313. What is the difference between them and the museum curator who buys the $100 house down the street? Only that the street artist from the Bronx or the D are actually from the area and are often creating from a position of poverty it seems.

So are the artists we refer to in the gentrification and renewal discourse really more of an economic model – liberal people with fixer-upper money, within a limited margin? Why doesn’t it seem that local street artists who are embedded in the community, often telling the story of the community, don’t have the same renewal/gentrifying value as the sculptor or the graphic designer who move in? And how can we create that value?

And now, as always, some topical music. Video Style:

Kwende Kefentse
by Kwende Kefentse
Tue Aug 5th 2008 at 10:38pm UTC

The Shadow of Manhattan

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Hello Everybody! I’m Kwende Kefentse. It’s very cool to be involved in this exchange with all of you. For my part, I’m a DJ and student from Toronto and currently living in Ottawa. My work focuses on understanding the relationship between place and the development of culture, specifically in the city – what’s been termed “urban culture.”

Just the idea that there is a genre of music that is spatially defined is something that Richard and I agree is relevant – does this imply that we have some kind of shared idea about what “urban” means. How does the physical urban space relate to that construct? I’ve been engaged in study and in developing my ideas for a long time, and I’m looking forward to sharing them with you all and getting feedback about the way that urban arts/music and youth scenes work in your cities, and your ideas about the effect of space on expression.

I thought that for the first blog, we could start with something general to give you a sense of my perspective: The Dark Knight. I know that comic book movies have been all the rage this summer, but how good is this movie though?! However many billions of dollars later, this movie has (nearly?) become the biggest box office blowout of all time. It’s that good. Kudos to DC Comics for reinvigorating that franchise.

During the previews, at least in North America, DC began the hype-machine for their next feature film: Watchmen. The original 12 comics were written by Alan Moore, a master of his craft if there ever was one. I can say without a shred of hyperbole that it is one of the most nuanced, morally complex, structurally ingenious, transformative works to be printed to paper in the last century. If you don’t believe me, Google will tell you the same.

The hype-machine pumped out seven posters and released them to the web the other week. As I was trying to figure out what to say to all of you in my first post, this poster spoke to me:

Not to ruin any of the story for the people who are going to see this film, but when Dr. Wally Weaver makes that comment he is talking about the character Dr. Manhattan, it’s that blue gentleman with his back to us, floating in the lotus position. Dr. Manhattan used to be a regular human being and a scientist, but he changed and has become something much more than human. Dr. Weaver is trying to say that in his transformation Manhattan also transformed what mankind imagined it could be. There had been nothing like him before, and moreover we couldn’t go back to the way things had been. He represents a fundamental system change.

It’s a typical Moore-type metaphor – one that rings right through time and space. The image of Manhattan has been associated with that very kind of change since the island was gridded out in 1807. There had never been a space quite like it before. Its critical mass represented an opportunity for change. Changes in housing law out of New York (the 1879 and 1901 tenement laws) affected lot sizes in cities all over North America. When they were thinking to call the WWII Nuclear project “The Knoxville Project” (Thanx Wikipedia) , they thought better and settled on the name “Manhattan” for the project that would change the face of the world forever. The U.N. would eventually establish its headquarters there. Modern architecture would transform the idea of the city in New York. System change is part of its profile. We have been in the shadow of Manhattan for quite some time now it seems.

On the north side of the island in the South Bronx there was light though. In 1973, as the tax base fled, emerging out of the shadow of Manhattan, kids were collecting their feelings and observations about the city and unleashing them as either b-boying/breakdancing, djing, emceeing, and writing graffiti. As natives of the space – the first real natives of the modern city – the social innovators in the community collected the individual art forms into a culture and system of expression that would literally become synonymous with the modern city as we know it. The entire content and formation of it was the urban experience. Eventually it would be a beacon to youth, whether urban or suburban, American or otherwise. As it became disseminated through the media from city to city around the world, hip hop culture would affect not only the way we walk and talk, but the way we think about art, and the possibilities of expression as young people in cities. It would represent a fundamental system change in the way young people in cities identified themselves and related to each other.

This isn’t to say that all young people are into hip hop, but it’s just to acknowledge the fundamental changes that have taken place. How many people in my age bracket really think that graffiti is a crime? How many young people think that DJ’ing is a cool thing to do? When did your parents learn the word “dis”? Why do they say it like it ain’t no thang – how did that become normalized? Why is Barack Obama’s hip hop mannerism so explosive? I won’t make mention of the entire industry of music that came literally out of nowhere in the late 70’s to dominate the world in the late 90’s and beyond.

It’s easy to be glib about all of this, but we have to remember that it hasn’t always been like this. Not cities, and not the culture of the city either. How did this specific expression of place transcend culture and resonate so strongly all over the globe? I remember being almost the only kid in my school that liked hip hop or even really knew about it. Is that even possible now?

As the planet enters its first urban age, one of the things I’m trying to figure out is this: As one of the first modern cities in the world, how long is Manhattan’s shadow? How bright is its beacon?

I’m looking forward to thinking about that and more with you all.

And now some music to help it all go down. I’ll keep it shorter next time, I promise.