....Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish Citizen and artist Matt Baker

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Creative Economic Miracles and Place Governance = big thinking

Might just be me I guess, but there does seem to be something in the air at the moment about the big questions……I suppose the announcement of the referendum date could be the cause or maybe the ongoing Creative Scotland Open Sessions or even the Fresh Start project closer to home.

Being trapped inside by the snow yesterday meant I had some time to follow up some of the things people were talking about on the internet and two articles/ideas grabbed me in particular……if fact, my cabin-fevered brain started making too many connections and before I knew it a hybrid of these sources was making very sound sense for all of the 3 situations above:

Lately at The Stove we have been thinking a lot about governance, participation and collective responsibility – so I was (not typically!!) drawn to something at the Projects for Public Spaces (US) website about a concept they call Place Governance (below are extracts from the article – read the whole thing here):

In Place Governance, officials endeavor to draw more people into the civic decision-making process. When dealing with a dysfunctional street, for instance, answers aren’t only sought from transportation engineers—they’re sought from merchants who own businesses along the street, non-profit organizations working in the surrounding community, teachers and administrators at the school where buses queue, etc. The fundamental actors in a Place Governance structure are not official agencies that deal with specific slices of the pie, but the people who use the area in question and are most intimately acquainted with its challenges. 


The engagement of citizens from all walks of life is central to Place Governance, and while a great deal of Placemaking work comes from grassroots activity, we need more change agents working within existing frameworks to pull people in. As the Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community Study has shown for several years running, “soft” aspects like social offerings, openness, and aesthetics are key to creating the attachment to place that leads to economic development and community cohesion.
Katherine Loflin, who served as the lead consultant for Knight on the study - “By the third year of Soul we decided to start testing different variables to see whether civic engagement has to work with something else to inspire attachment. We found that one thing that does seem to matter is one’s feeling of self-efficacy. You need civic engagement plus the belief that you can make a difference in order for it to create greater attachment. We can’t just provide civic engagement opportunities, we also have to create a culture of success around engagement if we want it to translate to feelings of greater attachment to a place.”

Big Things on the Beach - Portobello, Edinburgh

Matt Leighninger, the director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (a Community Matters partner) echoes this need when talking about his own work in engaging communities. “The shortcoming of [a lot of community dialog] work,” he says, “is that it is too often set up to address a particular issue, and then once it’s over, it’s over. You would think that people having an experience like that would lead them to seek out opportunities to do it again on other issues, but that often doesn’t happen. Unless there’s a social circle or ecosystem that encourages them and honors their contributions, it’s not likely that they’re going to stay involved.”
Creating that support system is what Place Governance is all about. In addition to their capacity for creating a sense of attachment to place, great public destinations, through the interactive way in which they are developed and managed, challenge people to think more broadly about what it means to be a citizen. Place Governance relies on the Placemaking process to structure the discussion about how shared spaces should be used in a way that helps people to understand how their own specific knowledge can benefit their community more broadly. “We can set up the conversation, and help move things along,” Kent says, “but once the community’s got it, they’re golden. Just setting the process up for them to perform—that’s what Placemaking is.”

The second source I was taken with was an article about the recovery of Iceland after the catastrophic financial meltdown there – I was aware that the country was making a remarkable recovery and had been interested in their citizen assembly and constitution model…..I had also heard how NOT rescuing the banks had actually meant that a lot of talented and creative people who had worked for the banks were now working in different ways in their economy….so I was then further intrigued to read about how the creative industries were fundamental to the turnaround in Iceland….(again extracts only…the full article is here)

Iceland escaped the grip of austerity and has turned Icelandic culture into the country’s second largest contributor to GDP, with an impact of around €1bn per year. Unemployment is at 5.7 per cent, growth at 3 per cent – and the island is alive to the sound of music and movie shoots.
If the financial collapse Iceland went through in 2008 is viewed as a laboratory of questions and answers about the current crisis, taking notes on some of the solutions the Icelanders have come up with might be wise.
Unlike in southern Europe, where cuts and tax increases have hit on the culture sector in particular, since 2008 this country of 320,000 inhabitants, which is the size of Portugal, has thrown itself into the creative industries sector. The economic impact of that activity (€1bn) is double that of agriculture today and ranks just under the island’s top industry, fishing – the legendary export machine that ships cod (and other seafood) to the continent.


All thanks, in part, to Iceland’s petite 37-year-old culture minister who has dug her heels in over the last four years and refused to go away when the government asked her, “Why should we give money to artists?” Sticking to her guns, she has converted the arts into the poster child of the island’s recent economic success.
The government cut back on spending, thinned out ministries and cut overheads. But they boosted contributions to independent cultural projects. It was a highly adept and flexible blend of public-private involvement, but without the state ever stepping back from its managing role in culture and education.

Sonar Music Festival
There also remains the issue of whether this model can be exported to countries such as Spain or Italy, whose populations are 150 times greater – and so too are the economic problems. Magnason thinks it can. “It can be applied to most places. The problem in Europe, especially in Italy and Spain, is all these young people who do nothing or who are in that strange limbo where neither the government nor the industry are defining what they should do. And that keeps them from fully tapping into their creativity.” Perhaps it’s a question of hitting bottom.

So there you have it…..invest more in culture to get people more involved in the places they live and the whole thing multiplies…..if we get folk actively involved in making their lives better we might even get a quality discussion about the country we want to live in and how best to achieve that….you never know.

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