That term, coined over a decade ago by urban theorist Richard Florida, encompasses a wide array of architects, designers, performers, painters, writers, educators, entrepreneurs, and even scientists whom Florida cites as comprising nearly one-third of the U.S. workforce. According to Florida, these creators and innovators constitute the single biggest hope for urban economic revitalization. Inspired by Florida’s vision, cities including Baltimore created housing and development incentives to attract and retain members of the “creative class.”
A visit to Baltimore’s Station North Arts & Entertainment District on a random Friday night would seem to bear out this promise. Within the space of a few blocks, one can listen to a hip-hop duo perform at Joe Squared, catch a play at Single Carrot Theatre, attend a reading at Cyclops Books, or experience a Baltimore Rock Opera Society show at the newly restored Autograph Playhouse. These are but a few indicators of Baltimore’s surging arts scene, which has led some to claim that the city is in the midst of a cultural renaissance.
Yet underlying these signs of vibrancy are some disquieting economic figures. Timberg cites data from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bureau of Labor Statistics that reveal falling revenues and job opportunities for performing arts companies, musical groups, and individual artists, as well as architects, graphic designers, and photographers. Even as the U.S. begins to emerge from economic recession, the labor market prospects for artists and other creatives remain grim.
If Baltimore is serious about tapping the full potential of the “creative class,” the city and state need to build on the investments they have made
in the city’s cultural landscape. Official arts districts like Station North, Highlandtown, and the soon-to-be-designated Westside/downtown arts district represent one strategy for creating jobs, providing artist housing, and increasing the city’s cultural vibrancy. These are promising initiatives that should be sustained and expanded.
Creators and consumers of the arts can also play a vital role by working with groups like Maryland Citizens for the Arts to advocate for increased public funding for artists, arts, organizations, and cultural activities.
At the Art + Justice Project, we believe that arts can be a tool for positive social change. In order to help bring that change about, we need ensure that artists have the resources to produce their work and contribute to the common good.
Earlier this month, MICA hosted a lecture/discussion titled Art as a Tool for Change. I presented the Baltimore Art + Justice Project to an audience of students, researchers, artists and community members.
Dr. Mark Stern of the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice demonstrated how an investment in art can transform the economy of a city. Jeffery Cudlin and Gerald Ross, instructors of MICA’s Masters in Curatorial Practice, explained how they and their students are using art to transform and build community in non-traditional spaces, and Rebecca Yenawine, Executive Director of New Lens, illustrated the impact of art on the hopes, dreams and health of young people in Baltimore.
Do you believe art can change the face of Baltimore? Can we build a stronger Baltimore through art? What are the challenges? What are our collective strengths? Leave your comments.