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.

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