Markusen, A. (2004). The distinctive city: Evidence from artists and occupational profiles. University of Minnesota: Project on Regional and Industrial Economics.

Ann Markusen, PhD in Economics from Michigan State University, is Professor at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis’ Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and Director of the Project on Regional and Industrial Economics. She is considered one of the foremost authorities on “creative placemaking” and has also taught at Rutgers, Northwestern, Berkeley, and the University of Colorado.

Tracking occupations in American cities, Markusen makes discoveries about the “distinctive” city, and the occupational and lifestyle trends of various artists, and gives recommendations for cities to articulate the arts to distinguish themselves from other municipalities.

Beginning with discoveries, cities “have not resurged at the expense of other second tier cities” (4) in recent decades. Some occupations trend toward major metros, others second-tier, others still avoid the second-tier, opting for cities bigger and smaller. A city’s size does not dictate the degree to which its economy is specialized or hierarchical, but distinctiveness does appear to be on the rise.

To study change over time, Markusen used the “occupational advantage” (7) measure in California cities and discovered the cities are becoming increasingly specialized. Regarding the artistic advantage: in the 1990s, artists showed a reversal in the decentralization trend, particularly in LA, New York, and San Francisco.

Reasons for the concentration of artists in these and other cities:

  1. sheer size, though “only at very high thresholds does the demand for elite arts activities show sensitivities to size of place” (11);
  2. demand might be higher in the traditionally elite cities because of the concentration of disposable income;
  3. the media and advertising industries are in larger cities and have a high demand for artistic labor pools;
  4. arts lure tourism dollars;
  5. cross-pollination and synergies across the various art practices;
  6. artists themselves are drawn to cultural amenities; and
  7. artists patronize other artistic works.

And now the factors that draw artists away from large cities to smaller ones:

  1. different types of artists prefer different locales;
  2. as they’re often self-employed, they are freer to move from city to city;
  3. their presence in a city is linked to the host-city’s sectoral strength;
  4. self-employment varies considerably across regions;
  5. because they’re often self-employed and “footloose,” artists are “paradoxically, capable of acting as stabilizers in a regional workforce” (18), often staying where they are and producing at the same frequency.

Conclusions:

  1. The notion that a city’s sheer size or personal wealth equates to artistic competence is unsupported.
  2. Sectoral strengths are linked to artistic clusters and migration patterns.
  3. Higher cost of living matters sometimes, sometimes not, in dissuading artistic presence.

So what can cities do to cultivate their distinctiveness? Cities should:

  1. play to their current strengths,
  2. “make more modest [arts] investments in smaller distinctive neighborhood-based arts complexes that will stabilize communities, home-grow artists, and create that…urban mosaic” (21);
  3. target the sectors that play up the distinctiveness;
  4. lure artists through amenities, arts education, social/housing benefits;
  5. subsidize artists’ spaces;
  6. link artists to each other; and
  7. rethink current arts investment strategies (read, megaprojects).
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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Cultural Economy, Minor Field, Research Fields

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