Markusen, A. (2006). Urban development and the politics of a creative class: evidence from a study of artists. _Environment and Planning A,_ 38(10):1921-1940.

In this piece, Markusen critically addresses Richard Florida’s methodology, looks closer at artists as workers and residents, sees where the previous two jibe, examines how the arts organize in cities — where and how they work, and their role in gentrification — and finally, makes recommendations about pro-arts planning.

Richard Florida, famous for his anointing the creative class with his 2002 The Rise of the Creative Class, asserts that the new creative class has overtaken virtually all other classes, both collars and the wealthy, and that they prefer high-tech locations in amenity-filled, diverse cities. Markusen says hold on. “Creativity” is a fuzzy concept from the start, which Florida confuses even further by his use of occupational code statuses (i.e. he includes managers from some questionably creative categories, but omits such groups as tailors, millwrights, etc.) Second, he generalizes from select anecdotes, which is just a problem anywhere. Third, his regressions show a relationship between the creative class and high-tech, which has a few foundational flaws. Glaeser (2004) included educational attainment into Florida’s regressions and his erstwhile significant relationships, notably his gay index, were all gone. He further uses metropolitan areas, which cast a much wider net. Consider Silicon Valley — nowhere is more high-tech and its built landscape is very suburban, homogenous. His “glib treatment of diversity is particularly troubling” (1923) since he uses same-sex male households reporting as partners as a proxy for overall diversity. Both Clark (2004) and Glaeser (2004 find this “gay index” really to be correlated to education, one, and two, most Americans would agree that diversity, while inclusive of it, extends beyond sexual identity to include race, ethnicity, migrant presence, economic class mix, etc. Overall, there’s an issue of causality that lingers and Markusen’s biggest issue is the “seriously flawed conceptual treatment of creativity. Human creativity cannot be conflated with years of schooling…. It is simply incorrect, and indeed dangerous, to label people in large lumpy occupational groupings such as managers and professional workers as creative, and others–all production and service workers, for instance–as not creative” (1924).

Richard’s virtue is that he does see creativity as embedded in occupations, though, so Markusen studies discrete occupations to discover migration behavior, socioeconomic characteristics, and why artists migrate, to where, and how they relate with and to their communities.

The two reasons for location: (1) demand from artist-hiring commercial sectors, and (2) conscious lifestyle choice to promote one’s artistic development. The latter is possible because artists are more apt to be self-employed — they have high amounts of contractual work and direct access to consumers. Therefore, artists are “more footloose and apt to choose a place to live before committing to employment or marketing efforts” (1926).

Artists have comprised a growing occupation in the US in the last 30 years. There was a surge following new pro-arts funding of the 60s (e.g. Ford Foundation, the NEA, regional corporate funding), which was hampered during the 90s Culture Wars’ crippling of NEA funding. The upshot was a re-concentration of artists in the top three most artistic cities: New York, LA, and San Francisco.

Migrational findings:

  • urban economies both attract and homegrow artists
  • artists move between and within cities, and between cities and rural areas at relatively high rates (per the 2010 NEA “Creative Placemaking” panel, this migration is also generational)
  • educational institutions and cultural organizations skew spatial distributions
  • artists’ decisions are thought-out and deeply researched
  • where: toward denser cities, transitional neighborhoods
  • why: art schools, performance and exhibition spaces, affordable live/work and studio space, training institutions, artists’ centers, and amenities (nightlife, recreational)
  • how: ratio of men to women is higher, more apt to rent than own, whiter than their workforce as a whole, and highly educated as a group; while they might be poor, they can live in households with very high incomes

Markusen’s findings jibe with Florida’s regarding artists’ intermetropolitan, intraurban, socioeconomic characteristics, though the relationship to high-tech is unclear and his emphasis on agglomeration (1) overlooks precise locations and (2) inspires urban megaprojects, a la the Bilbao Effect.

Her research finds artists use smaller spaces, some permanent and some temporary for their work more than any one given institution. There are three artist-centric spaces, all incubators, spaces for exchange and debate. Creativity is not a zero-sum game.

“…this nurturing of artists may strengthen regional and neighborhood economies in ways that magnify their contribution to equity, stability, and diversity. Such spaces are a relatively underappreciated element in the urban economy and deserve to be studied and appreciated” (1935).

  • artists’ centers: offer conversations, classes, mentoring, shared workspace and tools, and where exhibits, readings, and performances take place; involve dedicated space that is available for ongoing visits, where membership and access to many events is available to all comers, and where other artistic functions are available on a more selective, often openly competitive basis
  • artists’ live/work and studio buildings: conversion of former industrial buildings converted into artists’ studios or live/work units; initiators of transformations are often artists themselves; conversions involve tax credits, city loans, and land or building write-downs
  • smaller scale performing arts venues: these provide the opportunities for an important segment of artists to learn their craft and network; for the “real time” enterprises that can’t be installed, stored, etc.; are often adaptively reused buildings

Artists, though linked with gentrification, are generally diametrically opposed, politically, to conservative development efforts. “But for the most part, artists are adamant in their support for more decentralized, neighborhood-based theaters, galleries, and other artist-centered spaces” (1936). Artists are social actors, not gentrifiers.

Conclusions: be more nuanced. (1) Major downtown projects aren’t the best approach. (2) Really look at who’s bringing in the money. (3) And if it’s the artistic community, then there are different approaches.

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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Cultural Economy, Minor Field, Research Fields


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