Aesthetic Revolution

Society as a Work of Art

The End of Modernity's End?

The Strange Relation of Art and Politics

The Ambivalence of the Public Square

Creativity and its Afterlives

A Game of Appearances


Malcolm Miles

Creativity and its Afterlives

The period from the 1980s to the 2000s saw a cultural turn in urban planning and policy, at first in the West and from 1989 onwards in the ex-East bloc, as it became, as well. Culturally-led urban redevelopment became the norm as cities faced economic decline produced by a shift of production to the global South, where costs were lower and regulation of safety and workers' rights was less enforced, and changing labour needs as immaterial production (in financial services, public relations, media, advertising, and the arts) replaced manufacturing. Most companies in the new economy are small and employ highly specialist, often non-local staff; if they re-utilise industrial buildings they remain unlikely to employ the redundant workforce. Instead, zones of redevelopment are promoted for external perception, offering a semblance of change while ignoring the actualities of ordinary life for existing populations. Structural economic change leads to social disruption, with problems from unemployment to higher crime rates, worsening health statistics, and a mismatch of infrastructures to changing needs. In a reductive perspective, cities seek new sources of investment, corporate relocation, and cultural tourism by means which are a kind of trickery reliant on selective images and a reductive trajectory. An element in this tends to be investment in the arts, and takes three main forms: the insertion of new flagship cultural institutions in ex-industrial areas (either new signature buildings, or re-used industrial buildings); the demarcation of cultural and heritage quarters; and temporary projects from arts festivals to nomination as a European City of Culture.

Taking the three categories in order, examples include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry and managed by a high-profile North American cultural enterprise, and Tate Modern in a disused power station in London; El Raval in Barcelona, a cultural zone carved out near the new Museum of Contemporary Art Barcelona (MACBA) designed by Richard Meier, or the Rope Walks area of Liverpool where cultural and media firms are housed; [1] Edinburgh's reliance on more or less continuous festivals through the year, and the programmes offered by Liverpool and Stavanger (2008) and Vilnius and Linz (2009) as EC Capitals of Culture. Sociologist Sharon Zukin notes, 'every well-designed downtown ... has a nearby artists' quarter ...' [2] Zukin sees cultural enterprise as a means of control, dominating a city's image in the interests of elites, and leading to gentrification - which increases the separation of redeveloped inner-city zones as new urban centres from peripheries. The presence of arts institutions or artists' studios is a 'means of framing space' which confirms the 'city's claim of continued cultural hegemony, in contrast to the suburbs an exurbs.' [3] From London Docklands in the late 1980s, with its fantasy of a life of affluent ease by a sparkling river Thames [4] to Tate Modern in 2000 as a lever for gentrification in one of London's poorest boroughs, the picture is a familiar mix of waterside apartments for young professionals, new cultural institutions, designer-bars and boutiques, higher tourist numbers - but marginalised communities whose ordinary shops, bars and social venues fade in culture's glare. Is culture the express train at the end of the tunnel, which sounds doom for the majority who have no stake in the new economy and its bling of galleries and designer-outlets?

As an academic I must answer yes and no. Yes for obvious reasons. No because the cultural turn has broken down in the train-crash of late-capitalism. So, on one hand, gentrification is designed into the demarcation of urban cultural zones; new cultural nodes render surrounding neighbourhoods as margins; and developers use culture as a badge of respectability, as they pretend to be Renaissance princes commissioning public art. Art provides a non-contentious diversion from the aims of re-development (increased property values and rent returns), too - which shows how art trades on supposedly universal values of goodness and truth while the art market, operating like any market (with blue-chip investments in pictures by established artists, and speculation on emerging kinds of art) is adept at incorporating dissent within its operations. Hence graffiti, once a claim to visibility by marginalised groups, is re-coded as street art and sold at international auctions. The process began in New York in the 1970s when SAMO (his graffiti tag) was invited into Annina Nosei's gallery as artist Jean-Michel Basquiat [5] during the gentrification of SoHo; [6] it was consolidated by Tate Modern's 2009 summer show, Street Art, for which graffiti-artists from several countries were invited to decorate the building's exterior (not its interior, still reserved for blue-chip art). The show's sponsor organised walks in London's East End to see graffiti artists in their natural habitat (like a favela tour, or wildlife safari).  So, graffiti was once described as anti-social activity foretelling a city's dereliction [7] but is now a commodity. Dissent is not crushed but traded.

On the other hand, after the financial services crisis of 2008, there are signs that the cultural turn has turned. The mantra of the creative city and the creative class on which consultants Charles Landry in the UK and Richard Florida in the US [8] traded has been ruptured by at least three factors: first, a lack of evidence that the socio-economic benefits claimed for culturally-led redevelopment were delivered, [9] leading to a shift in UK arts policy in 2005; [10] second, a growing recognition that these claims were often too vague to be demonstrable anyway, [11] and were simply a means to expand art's professional infra-structure, [12] third, some new cultural institutions have closed due to low visitor numbers and high costs (such as the centre for popular music in Sheffield, and the Niemeyer arts centre in Aviles, Spain) [13] and construction has been halted on others (such as an arts complex in Santiago de Compostela, Spain). Most recently, Helsinki's City Board voted against a new Guggenheim museum on its waterfront on the grounds of excessive cost and questionable governance. Paavo Arhinmaki , the Culture Minister, asked 'whether Finnish taxpayers should finance a rich, multinational foundation ...' [14] Perhaps he was informed by Bilbao' experience, where the city continues to pay a large annual fee to Guggenheim for its expertise, while visitor numbers have fallen after an initial boost. Perhaps he was also aware that Guggenheim, designed by Frank Gehry, was favoured by Bilbao's elites because as a global brand it marginalised Basque culture, which they saw as linked to Basque nationalism. [15] In contrast, a new cultural infrastructure was aligned with Catalan nationalism in Barcelona, a city which is still successful in attracting tourists but also provides for its own population. [16]


Sociologist Monica Degen notes that Barcelona is 'hailed as the most successful global model for post-industrial urban regeneration based on urban design.' [17] The city has a good record of public benefit from its cultural turn (as in the reinvigorated waterfront, used by all social classes), though more recent redevelopment has moved to a market-led model in the mall, high-rise apartments, and convention centre of Diagonal Mar. Barcelona is, nonetheless, unique in terms of a large critical mass of cultural attractions, and in its political-economic history from suppression by the Bourbons after the siege of 1714 and then by Franco in the fascist era to post-1975 liberation. Its cultural regeneration has been integral to economic growth, but also restates a national identity in post-colonial terms. The range of cultural projects around the city's hosting of the Olympic Games in 1992 was not depoliticised, either, and included the reconstruction of Joserp Sert's Spanish Republican pavilion for the 1937 Paris Expo on a site near the Olympic village. Nearby are streets named after Rosa Luxemburg and Salvador Allende. This contrasts with the redevelopment of El Raval in the 2000s but hints at how cultural policy could evolve post-2008, though it will not be the same everywhere.


One of the difficulties produced by the success of a few large cities, such as Barcelona and Glasgow, in part through cultural means is that many more cities, with entirely different conditions and histories, seek to emulate the success but with lower budgets and little real understanding – a process encouraged by consultants such as Florida, Landry and their imitators. To ask, however, whether the cultural turn is now defunct requires a nuanced answer. The flow of cultural projects will take some years to cease, though redevelopment is tending to let go of cultural pretensions. Further, it would be unfortunate if city dwellers were regarded as lacking creativity – part of the afterlife of the cultural turn might be to recognise, precisely, the creativity of non-elite groups. And there will be hybrid developments in which familiar routes are diverted, and capital projects take on re-inflected meaning. For example, a new theatre in Soweto, on the site where, in 1985, Zindzi Mandela quoted her father Nelson: 'Your freedom and mine cannot be separated ... I will return' [18] is described as 'reminiscent of Frank Gehry's architecture' and denoting the presence of a new middle class in 'detached houses with gardens and pools', near a mall, a four-star hotel, and a multiplex cinema; [19] but, in another way, the theatre is said to engage local audiences as Soweto seeks a post-apartheid re-coding of itself – people cannot inhabit an iconic past moment forever. This suggests an afterlife in which the creative city gradually becomes something else in a post-colonial phase of creativity-(rather than culturally-)led urbanism.


Leaving that aside, a by-product of the cultural turn was a neglect of culture's content, as of aesthetics, in favour of its uses. Cultural expediency has now been overtaken by austerity, as public purses in many countries pay for the wildly irrational speculation of bankers in what I hope will be capitalism's last gasp. Cuts in public arts funding allow a reconsideration of the relation between culture and society. Among the issues is the legacy of the cultural turn, not in urban strategy, but in critical and academic writing on culture in the 1990s, which led to the emergence of a quasi-discipline of visual culture between art, architecture, the media and sociology. Art historian Margaret Dikovitskaya remarks, 'The major theme needing revision was the status of the social.' [20] This entails a reinterpretation of categories, and attention to the location of the subject in culture. Dikovitskaya notes, 'The scrutiny of culture demonstrated ... that all our approaches are contaminated with ideological preconceptions.' [21] These can be contested once made evident, so that culture acts for either affirmation or refusal, offering a process of critical engagement rather than a set of objects of disinterested (often take to mean de-politicised)contemplation. For Catherine Belsey, representations in culture are not 'purely discursive: they also have ... their own materiality ... culture is in its way lived' [22] while, too, 'Culture constitutes the vocabulary within which we do what we do; it specifies the meanings we set out to inhabit or repudiate, the values we make efforts to live by or protest against, and the protest is also cultural.' [23] On the model of verbal language, culture has a structure which informs but is equally modified continually by its acting out. In that process there is scope for intervention to inflect both the categories and the content of cultural work. Hence, while the model of the creative city stresses the role of cultural intermediaries in inventing new cultural markets, cultural processes can be viewed as antagonistic.

Peter Marcuse remarks that, 'Florida's creative class is a good part of what stands in the way of achieving a creative city for all.' [24] And part of the creative city for all is the culture, in the anthropological sense, of ordinary, non-privileged people, which is often most threatened by redevelopments to house the creative class in gated compounds (called urban villages). This continues after 2008. For instance, redevelopment in Stoke-on-Trent, a UK city blighted by the end of its pottery industries, will include demolition of the last shop selling traditional oatcakes (a thriving small business) despite 5,000 signatures on a petition against it. A local resident commented, 'The council should hang their heads in shame'; and another, 'If Hitler had bombed this area, he couldn't have made a bigger mess.' [25] Even the marketised City Centre Partnership seems to have no influence on the scheme: its representative is quoted, 'buildings of that nature ... should be retained to give the area some character.' [26] Tristram Hunt, the Member of Parliament for Stoke, adds, 'The threat is we just end up with car parks and Tesco.' [27]

But the tide is turning. In Stokes Croft, Bristol, described as an arts district, a new Tesco store was trashed in the Spring of 2011 (before riots in British cities later that year); a distinct local culture is emerging in Stokes Croft, evident in a Free Store (reminiscent of San Francisco in 1967) and counter-cultural house decoration, but also in a spread of local small businesses - from which profit feeds the local not the global economy. In May, 2012 I saw  a sustainable local culture, not Florida's city for the new rich but a mix of bohemianism – alternative food shops, a flower shop, alternative cafés - and the kinds of ordinary shop which tend to close under the impact of new malls and supermarkets. Perhaps this suggests a possibility for local self-reliance rather than gentrification when citizens are sufficiently mobilised (which is not to condone riots but to applaud politicised consumption).


But Stokes Croft is still unusual. Elsewhere social clearance is becoming the UK norm, the new reality of actually-existing urban redevelopment. For example, dwellers in Gibbs Green Estate, West London are threatened with eviction for redevelopment. Sally Taylor, chair of a tenants' and residents' group, said, 'We are the wrong sort of people in the right sort of postcode ... We're sitting on a golden nugget of land. They've never thought for one minute that we're human beings.' [28] Similarly, houseboat-dwellers on a canal near the 2012 London Olympics site were told to go. [29] From Hussmann's Paris in the 1860s to the present, the poor are peripheralised, as if authorities (in service of capital) wish they might vanish.


Finally, to suggest another afterlife of creativity, aligned more to Joseph Beuys' idea that everyone has a creative imagination which can be applied to social and aesthetic formations, I cite the reclamation of a public space for community use in St Pauli, a district scripted for gentrification in Hamburg. Park Fiction, an artists' collective emerging from the squatters' movement of the 1980s, worked with local groups to co-design a park overlooking the city's waterfront. artists Christoph Shcaefer and Cathy Stevens describe it as 'a practical critique [of planning] ... from the perspective of its users.' [30] They cite Henri Lefebvre's The Urban Revolution, [31] that urban transitions produce structural uncertainty, in which new possibilities of social organisation are imminent. They differentiate Lefebvre's idea of urbanisation from more frequently used ideas of a leisure society or an information society, and write, 'The decisive point for us is that the city is appropriated space, that the process of urbanisation describes a process of appropriation.' [32] They also cite Lefebvre's analysis of urban power's tripartite location: Level G (the global) is institutional power, instrumentalised by the market; Level M (intermediary) is the streets, squares, and major buildings of urban space; and Level p is the realm of dwelling - were change begins (and not among sociologists, planners, or architects, who are restricted by institutional ties). They continue, '...the city must turn from an object into a subject. It should no longer be the object of change effected by powers adverse to it ... it should develop the direction out of itself and become the actor. ... The revolution begins at home.' [33] At home is used broadly to include the in-between spaces – such as cafés and bars – where people gather. Park Fiction almost lost the site for the park when a developer tried to annex it, but in 2002 were invited to exhibit at Documenta - the important five-yearly art show in Kassel – which offered the city cultural capital it was reluctant to lose. By exhibiting documentation of the process of co-design, and utopian cultural projects and cultural movements of the late 1960s, the park in St Pauli was located on a reclaimed version of the global culture map. I visited the park in 2009, and saw young people hanging-out and relaxing in a hammock slung between painted steel palm trees, and a text on a nearby squat: No Person Is Illegal.

That might be a point of departure for a creative city for all, countering the view projected by planner Peter Hall at the end of Cities of Tomorrow, revised in the mid-1990s amid widening divisions between rich and poor, of whom latter he says, 'the less fortunate are likely to be ... damned up in the cities, where they will perhaps be housed after a fashion ... in but not of the city, divorced from the new mainstream informational economy, and subsisting on a melange of odd jobs, welfare cheques and the black economy. [34] As it happens, the informal economy offers creative potential, as in the second-hand economy of charity shops and free-cycling, [35] while Occupy demonstrated in the winter of 2011-12 that the spontaneity and new coalitions characteristic of single-issue campaigning (as in 1990s anti-roads protest) [36] remain vital to any real political change.  I end by quoting geographer David Harvey: 'The system is not only broken and exposed, but incapable of any response other than repression. So we ... have no option but to struggle for the collective right to decide how that system shall be reconstructed, and in whose image.' [37] Culture turns again, this time to Red.

[1] Bell, D. and Jayne, M., eds., 2004, City of Quarters – Urban Villages in the Contemporary City, Aldershot, Ashgate

[2] Zukin, S. 1995, The Cultures of Cities, Oxford, Blackwell, p. 22

[3] Zukin, The Cultures of Cities, p. 23

[4] Bird, J., 1993, 'Dystopia on the Thames', in Bird, J., Curtis, B., Putnam, T., Robertson, G. and Tickner, L. eds., 1993, Mapping the Futures: local cultures, global change, London, Routledge, pp. 120-135

[5] Cresswell, T. 1996, In Place, Out of Place: Geography, Ideology, and Transgression, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, pp. 31-61

[6] Zukin, 1989, Loft-Living: Cultural Capital in Urban Change, New Brunswick (NJ), Rutgers University Press

[7] Cresswell, In-Place, Out of Place, p. 37

[8] Landry, C., 2000, The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators, London, Earthscan; Florida, R. 2002, The Rise of the Creative Class, New York, Basic Books

[9] Loftman, P. and Nevin. B., 1998, ' Pro-Growth and Local Economic Development Strategies: Civic Promotion and Local Needs in Britain's Second City', in Hall, T. and Hubbard, P. eds., 1998, The Entrepreneurial City: Geographies of Politics, Regime and Representation, Chichester, Wiley, pp. 129-148

[10] Jowell, T. 'Why Should Government Support the Arts?' Engage, 17, pp. 5-8

[11] Selwood, S., 1995, The Benefits of Public Art, London, Policy Studies Institute

[12] Yudice, G., 2003, The Expediency of Culture, Durham (NC), Duke University Press

[13] Tremlett, G. 'Spain can't afford “the other Guiggenheim”', The Guardian, 4 October 2011, p. 17

[14] Cited in 'Finns Say no to Guggenheim plan', The Guardian, 3 May 2012, p. 20 [Reuters report]

[15] Gonzalez, J. M., 1993, 'Bilbao: Culture, Citizenship, and Quality of Life' in Bianchini, F. and Parkinson, M. eds, 1993, Cultural Policy and Urban regeneration: the West European Experience, Manchester, Manchester University Press, pp. 73-89

[16] Dodd, D. 'Barcelona, the Making of a Cultural City' in Dodd, D. and van Hemel, A. eds, 1999, Planning Cultural Tourism in Europe, Amsterdam, Boeckmann Foundation, pp. 53-64

[17] Degen, M. M., 2004, 'Barcelona's Games: the Olympics, urban design, and global tourism' in Sheller, M. and Urry, J. eds, 2004, Tourism Mobilities: Places to Play, Places in Play, London, Routledge,  p. 131

[18] Smith, D., 'Theatre aims to foster Soewto cultural revolution', The Guardian, 3 May 2012, p. 20

[19] ibid

[20] Dikovitskaya, M., 2006, Visual Culture: The Study of the Visual after the Cultural Turn, Cambridge (MA), MIT, p. 48

[21] ibid

[22] Belsey, C., 2001, Shakespeare and the Loss of Eden, Basingstoke, Palgrave, p. 7

[23] ibid

[24] Marcuse, P. 2011, 'The Right to the Creative City', paper to AHRC-funded workshop, Creative City Limits, organised by University College London, Geography Department, 19 September 2011

[25] Cited in Doward, J., 'Potteries mourn passing era as developers claim last oatcake shop', The Observer, 4 March 2012, p. 13

[26] ibid

[27] ibid

[28] Cited in Hill, D., 'The battle of Earl's Court', The Guardian, 9 March 2011, Society, p. 3

[29] Griffiths, I., 'In shadow of Olympics, houseboaters fear they will be “socially cleansed”', The Guardian, 10 March, 2011, p. 3

[30] Park Fiction, 2006, 'Rebellion on Level p'

[31] Lefebvre, H., 2003, The Urban Revolution, Minneapolis (MN), University of Minnesota Press, pp. 77-102

[32] Park Fiction, 'Rebellion on Level p'

[33] Park Fiction, 'Rebellion on Level p'

[34] Hall. P., 1996, Cities of Tomorrow, Oxford, Blackwell [updated edition] p. 422

[35] Gregson, N. and Crewe, L., 2003, Second-Hand Cultures, Oxford, Berg

[36] McKay, G., 1996, Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance since the Sixties, London, Verso

[37] Harvey, D., 2012, Rebel Cities: from the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, London, Verso, p. 164