The types of cultural district that I like best are those that are the hardest to define. They’re not the type that is bolstered by a fine arts institution or even have organized events that you can rely upon for your evening and weekend pleasure. I’ve always been drawn to the artist-made hot spots that evolve over time and transform areas of town known as a “dud” into a “hub”.
Why is it that artists are so good at being able to do that? What do artists know that is so potently effective at revitalizing old buildings and empty neighborhoods where others coming beforehand have failed, given up, and left ruins to slowly fade into darkness? The answer to artists’ effectiveness at environmental change is not a secret, but it does involve magic. First, the power they wield comes directly from their ability to harness the power of unbridled creativity. The illusion they achieve is due to their capacity to suspend reality just long enough for cool things to start happening – as if they can animate the dead. Artists are the best-trained professional I can think of in the art of improvisation; and when the chips are down we all must know how to improvise, right?
So, maybe it should be no surprise that all the blighted areas that we see across the country will eventually fall prey to the axiom of “one man’s trash is indeed another man’s treasure”. In such a future I hope there will be plenty of artists around to re-imagine what has been left behind and recycle like no one’s business (artists are the ancestors of the recycling movement). Artists will fall in love with a broken down and weathered out old building because it has only become more irresistible to them – like an aging patina on an outdoor bronze.
A final magic trick that artists use to transform the community’s attitude towards abandoned streets and warehouses is that they create new spectacles in forgotten spaces. Cultural districts and livable communities require something to see, hear, or watch that excites on a regular basis. Locals need a reason to drive down out of the way streets and check out what’s going on – not to be vigilant, but to be inspired. That art of change is seeing something old with new eyes. The magic of revitalization lies within our continued belief that art just makes the world a better place for us to live.