Richard writes at great length in his work about the effect of clustering, particularly in understanding why the mega-region is a seminal concept of the urban age. Clustering is vital at the micro-level as well. In Christian Norberg-Schulz’s Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture, he makes the argument that space and place create the context for gathering and that it’s only through gathering that things like culture and representative art can begin to happen.
My experience as a journalist and DJ echo his observations. When I first began to interview the artists that I grew up listening to, the thing that impressed upon me most was how interconnected their communities were – particularly the hip hop artists from the New York area. We couldn’t understand it properly as kids listening to the music from a distance, but from visiting New York and talking to these artists you begin to understand what the neighborhoods meant to cultural production. Before they were legends, they were kids who liked music or dancing or art, and lived down the street from each other, so they got together to do it.
Although artists formed separate groups professionally, before they were in the public eye they all went record shopping in the same places, hung out in the same clubs, painted on the same walls, bounced ideas off of each other, and shared a sense of community that was defined very much by the urban terrain upon which it was cultivated. As a DJ in a city that is pretty arts-intensive, I can see the parallels in my own environment. There are places where we go and cluster and as artists we get together to just hang out and exchange ideas.
I say all of that to underscore this: I was at an art gallery the other day and I saw a call for public art from the city along with a submission form. A street that traverses Little Italy is being torn up and repaired, and the BIA is taking proposals for designs on some of the the buildings/space before the street reopens. Having worked in an art gallery for a couple of years, it occurred to me that this was not the first time I had seen a form like this and, while artists do frequent galleries, that there might be more effective places to put these forms. A street intersecting the road under repair has become a locust for young creative business enterprise centered around the arts. Young artists forming co-ops and running cafés, or specialty fashion stores where creative people came to do their thing. In the week as I went about my business in and out of these places and checked around, there were no forms to be found.
It made me wonder – are cities aware of their creative geographies? Do they know where their artists cluster? If they need to address them, do cities have any real on-the-ground information, or do they guess at places like art galleries when the artists are hanging out right across the street?
And now, as always, some music.