Wednesday, September 23, 2009

From rust belt to artist belt II - second of many....

I spent two days last week in Cleveland at From Rust Belt to Artist Belt II - a really terrific conference. I expect to write about it quite a bit. The conference focuses on transforming post-industrial cities in the midwest. It is put together by the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC) in Cleveland. This year's conference was held in a number of arts venues which have been redeveloped in Cleveland - the Gordon Square Arts District and the 78th Street Studios - the latter is a former industrial space now houseing studios, galleries and other art space. There were multiple sessions and I'll write about a number of them over time but today I'm going to focus on the keynote.

The conference started out with a terrific keynote given by Ralf Ebert who spoke on Transformation Thru Culture and Culture thru Transformation. Ebert is a city planner - he is one of the cofounders of Stadtart and their site describes their work thus: Our team develops ideas, solutions and strategies within the triangle of CityRegion - Culture - Planning and cooperates with other planning consultancies throughout Europe.

Ebert lives and works in Dortmund Germany. Dortmund is in the Rühr section of Germany. This area was the core heavy industrial part of the country and has made a remarkable transformation into a cultural arena with many former industrial sites becoming arts venues. There has been an enormous focus on "change with no growth" - focusing on conservation, sustainability, celebrating the industrial heritage of the region and improving the cultural infrastructure.

Ebert said that the transformation started post WW II with unions and in the 60s artists looking for sites to transform and work in.

Key elements were
•conservation of industrial monuments - conversion into arts spaces
•improving cultural infrastructure - neighborhoods, studios, local venues as well as larger installations
•cultural flagship projects
–Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex
_Landscape Park Duisburg-Nord
Inner Harbour Duisburg - regional landmarkss on top of old slagheaps
•establishment of cultural events
Extraschicht - night of industrial culture - bringing venue + content together
•Linking cultural projects with regional initiatives
•Youth focused projects

He mentioned several projects in particular - two examples - shaft signs - 900 defunct coal mine shafts will be marked in 2010 for 2 weeks with enormous helium balloons floating 80 meters above the entrance

calm-life - Rühr highway B-1 will be closed for 60 km and 30,000 tables will be set up to make an enormous street art fair with over 1.5 million people expected to attend

Another major initiative is setting up rent free spaces for artists from formerly vacant space.

Notable successes came from
Artists having an active role in the economy
Valuing the industrial heritage of the region
focusing on tourism
access to real estate and brown fields
support for development of knowledge based industry and temporary use of spaces
attracting start ups

Failures /discouragements

It takes a long time but cultural transformation has not stopped
The Rühr is an area with significant population loss - they haven't attracted significant influx but have kept loss to organic levels from low birthrate rather than major continuing exodus.

Lessons from the Rühr

Artists are needed as urban pioneers
Use landmarks as panorama
Network of artists, politicians, entrepreneurs, scientists is key
Multi=dimentional intergrational strategy - top down and bottom up at same time
German model depends heavily on state support for projects of all sizes, especially big ones
Promotional initiatives
Flagship projects attract attention - tourism, political capital and funding
Detroit should consider working to become a World Heritage site - Rust Belt - regional audience
Arts projects with international reputation, international conferences and meetings are key to bringing outside, cosmopolitan audience
not just high culture - pop culture links help bring people back from suburbs

link of cultural/creative industries and knowledge based industries will be important [more to come on this subject in particular]

I came away from this talk both inspired by the scope of the transformation that has and is taking place - and discouraged. Discouraged because today in a time of dire economy and a place where massive funding for the arts doesn't exist it's going to be a real uphill battle to effect change. Ralf Ebert is an interesting speaker and the projects he showed us were tremendously exciting. Even with our very different funding model than Germany's and our extremely challenged economy there are possibilities since economic crisis is also a time of unusual opportunities. My next post will be about a session where three people described amazing projects coming out of the bad economy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

ArtPrize & Rust Belt to Artist Belt

This article appeared in last Sunday's Monroe Evening News. I'm the last of the three artists discussed so you need to read down to the end. My piece will be at Spectrum Health - at 100 Michigan NE, Grand Rapids.

On another front entirely I'll be presenting my "sky river" project to "Rate My Project" - a panel of public art experts at the second Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference in Cleveland later this week. I'm hoping for good (useful, that is) feedback on the project and on community based public art projects in general.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rust Belt to Artist Belt 2

I'm very excited about going to the second Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference in Cleveland this week. Last year's conference was full of great ideas, resources and people doing amazing things to reinvent post-industrial cities. I'm looking forward to being a part of it this year again! More to come from the conference later this week.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

galleries - Chicago part 2 - & more trees

We visited a lot of galleries in Chicago of course. Two that really stood out - and that I try to get to regularly are Packer Schopf in the West Loop and Melanie Cooper in River North. Aron Packer was in the midst of installing his next show - image above - works of Karen Savage - but was kind enough to invite us in and spend a lot of time chatting about the work. The images are photograms - direct exposures where the object - beautiful infant dresses - are placed on photosensitive paper and then developed. They felt like the ghosts of the Valerie Mann show I wrote about a few months ago - graphical and compelling.

We went to Melanie Cooper the next day and had an equally long and interesting talk with her about encaustic and various artists.

I was shocked by the disappearance of a number of galleries that seem to be casualties of the economy. Flatfile apparently closed in March. A number of others seem to have disappeared as well. Unsurprising but sad.


I went back to Matthai Botanical Gardens yet again. The digital image below is the beginning of the next encaustic piece. It will be 12" x 40".