Posts Tagged ‘Under Pressure’

Kwende Kefentse
by Kwende Kefentse
Sat Aug 29th 2009 at 5:25am UTC

Coming Together to Ease the Pressure

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

In one of my most recent posts, I wrote about the international graffiti and urban arts festival Under Pressure, and about the pressure that it and many other music festivals have been under with the economic downturn. Cultural initiatives that depended upon bigger, corporate-type sponsors have been feeling the pinch, some festivals just disappearing. While there is community and cultural value embedded in these festivals, by hitching their sails to finance that has disembedded and severely stunted that community’s ability to deliver that value. There was a good chance that Under Pressure wouldn’t make it this year.

Community to the rescue – community of practice that is. Across the region, and beyond provincial borders, grassroots arts organizations have come together to support this gathering. Parties in Toronto to save a festival in Quebec? Why not? As the digital media networks broke down geographical boundaries with respect to the access to cultural interaction and accumulation, cultural affinities are spanning unexpected geographies presenting new opportunities for collaboration.

This is certainly true in the world of DJing and promoting. If an artist is passing through a dense cluster of cities it’s to the benefit of promoters to share costs with respect to travel, or to share the cost of a national booking fee. The Quebec City-Windsor corridor with its clustering of university towns and cities alike is already replete with cost-sharing and collaboration at the grassroots level, but there is room for a big boom there.

Groups like the Grassroots Youth Collaborative in Toronto have begun coalescing the efforts and power of this growing sector. Recently I came across a very interesting paper out of the University of Chicago’s Cultural Policy Center about grassroots scenes and the role that they play in the creative economy ecosystem that was really prescient as well. What lessons can we learn from these informal youth networks as they support each other through financial crisis?

And now, as always, some music.

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

Culture Under Pressure from the Global Economy

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

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’s 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.

Kwende Kefentse
by Kwende Kefentse
Tue Aug 12th 2008 at 12:36pm UTC

The Semiotics of the Streets

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Was anyone in Montréal this weekend? How about New York?

In both places, the code of the streets was the rule of law as autonomous zones were established where people could appreciate their city from the perspective of the pedestrian. Montréal is in fact a recognized world capital of design, participating as a design capital in UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network and so this weekend’s 6th annual Under Pressure International Graffiti Festival probably wasn’t much of a surprise to residents of la belle province. Young artists from all over the continent and beyond converged on MTL from Friday to Sunday, taking aerosol art and hiphop culture to the next level. It actually baffles me as to why the festival is not included in Montréal’s City of Design profile – it’s the arts- and design-related event that my peers look most forward to in that city, and it attracts an incredible amount of talent from outside of the region. It seemed like all of Ottawa was there or trying to get there this weekend.

Getting fully behind an idea like this seems like very simple and obvious ways for municipalities to engage not only young people, but the types of creative people that contribute to that great intangible – the “vibe” of a city. The emergence of the arts as recapitulated by hiphop culture – taking the idea of the G.O.B.S. (Gallery, Opera, Ballet, Symphony) and putting them on the street via Graffiti, Emceeing, B-Boying and DJing – has galvanized whole new ideas about the role of art in the city, and perhaps its ushered new conceptions of beauty itself. It has certainly brought us a new semiotics of the streets. Acknowledging that this change has taken place makes a municipal administration more relevant to its young contingent.

Case and Point: In New York this weekend, Mayor Bloomberg and Jeanette Sadik-Kahn, his transportation commissioner, launched the Summer Streets initiative. Quoting this New York Times article:

On a path that extended from the Brooklyn Bridge north to Park Avenue and the Upper East Side, thousands of people filled the streets, taking part in activities like street-side tai chi or salsa dancing. Others simply enjoyed the chance to stroll in normally car-clogged streets. In a city where walkers, cyclists, and motorists must share limited space, having a major thoroughfare through Manhattan free of cars created a giddy sort of excitement.

An interesting move on the part of the city of New York to be sure. In Toronto, this is a monthly event over in the historical district of Kensington Market, but it’s nice to see New York getting on board. To get the event moving on the right foot, Mayor Bloomberg and Comissioner Sadik-Kahn coordinated with a special guest. Can anyone guess who?

Click here to watch Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Sadik-Kahn and Jay-Z launch the Summer Streets Initiative

That’s right. The Jigga-Man.

Now let’s look past the fact that the mayor’s speech sounded like a passage pulled directly out of one of Richard’s books about the Creative Class, or the obvious discomfort that we all felt hearing Bloomberg make those scripted jokes about Jay, or how awkward Jay-Z actually was on the mic (for once in his life). There’s something bigger to be said here: The administration of New York City, in considering how best to communicate that the streets are for the people, looked to hiphop culture’s – and indeed New York’s – brightest star to emblemize that idea. They are making very strong statements about the culture of the street and of the city – in fact, other than the scale and location of the operation, their statement is almost the most innovative thing about the idea.

Now if the city could hire these kids to ride through various neighborhoods of New York from weekend to weekend, puttin’ it down and giving workshops, THAT would be some innovation. Word.

Was anyone in New York to see how this initiative went? How about Montréal – anyone make it out to Under Pressure? How are you being innovative on your streets in your city? What ideas do you have about what street culture means?

I’m really interested in your opinions!

And now, as always, some music.

R.I.P. Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes