Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ann Markusen on Creative Placemaking

Prof. Ann Markusen, 'Creative Placemaking: Artists, Designers, and Arts Organizations as Shapers of Urban Space and Vitality' from GSA on Vimeo.

Ann Markusen, economist, professor, and director of the Project on Regional and Industrial Economics at the University of Minnesota, is probably the main researcher of the idea of the "creative placemaking." (Click here to download a PDF of her paper on the subject prepared for the National Endowment for the Arts.) Markusen is more astute than Richard Florida in my opinion because she has really done the research in-depth as opposed to just gesturing toward it. I still have some issues with the idea as it relates to the whole gentrification thing, but it's worth checking out if only to understand the way things are being framed by high-level institutions such as ArtPlace. This lecture was presented a couple of years ago at the Glasgow School of Art, which is where 2009 Kresge Arts in Detroit Fellow Cedric Tai is currently doing his MFA.

Markusen's first foray into the impact of the creative industries on local economies is The Artistic Dividend (2003), written with David King and which uses data from the US Census to uncover the contribution artists make to regional development (download PDF). The perspective takes artists as entrepreneurs, essentially acting like small businesses not only selling their own wares but generating value-added economic activity through their consumption of services such as bookkeeping and computers, materials, and other things they need to do their work. The study focuses primarily on the Twin Cities area where Markusen herself lives and teaches.

Her next significant study, Crossover: How Artists Build Careers Across Commercial, Nonprofit, and Community Work (2006; PDF), was conducted for a partnership of private foundations, two in California and one in New York, and it looked at the socioeconomic networks artists negotiate in managing their careers, using empirical research gathered in LA and San Francisco. What she and her colleagues Sam Gillmore, Amanda Johnson, Titus Levi, and Andrea Martinez found is that artists (taken broadly to encompass visual artists, musicians, writers, performers, etc.) cross economic-sector boundaries regularly not only as part of putting together their livings but because of their desire to engage different communities. As sociologist Howard S. Becker noted in his 1982 study of the same title, there are many different art worlds (and even worlds outside of art) and artists often move between several without regard to aesthetic hierarchies.

Another study worth taking note of is Artists' Centers: Evolution and Impact on Careers, Neighborhoods, and Economies (2006; PDF), which is a predecessor of Markusen's work on creative placemaking. Where The Artistic Dividend studied individuals (in social science lingo "agents") and Crossover studied their interactions, Artists' Centers looks at the function of institutions (the structural yang of agency's yin) in fostering an environment in which the arts, and along with them development, can flourish. A group of researchers under the direction of Markusen and former student Amanda Johnson studied organizations and spaces across several artistic disciplines in smaller cities in Minnesota, British Columbia, and elsewhere to understand how they evolve and prosper, or fail as the case may be.

There are those who object, and with good reason, to Markusen's line of argument for essentially buying into the market logic that the traditional avant-garde was founded to reject. (She is an economist after all and so it makes sense that she sees things through that lens.) Studies of the dark side of the creative economy include Sharon Zukin's 1982 Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change and Richard Lloyd's Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Post-Industrial City. In these analyses, the rewards of creative placemaking are seen in the end to accrue to forces beyond the control of either artists or the local communities they intended to engage. Negotiating between Scylla and Charybdis is essentially the dilemma of cultural producers currently at work in postindustrial environments such as Detroit.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Vince! These are useful resources to think with/against.

  2. As I do more research connected with things happening at CCS and in my own work, I plan on doing more of this. Glad you fine it useful.