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Ann Markusen on Createquity.com: “Fuzzy Concepts, Proxy Data: Why Indicators Won’t Track Creative Placemaking Success”

Last weekend I had the great honor and pleasure of presenting our Out the Window findings and meeting (!) Ann Markusen, the leading scholar in creative placemaking. To call Markusen’s work incisive, trailblazing, and deeply relevant is akin to calling the sun orangeish and warmish. It was a blast. Imagine my sheer delight when she liked, then asked to cite, said research! At the risk of losing all academic credibility, I say, “Wheee!”

But seriously. Please do yourself and your mind a great favor, and read Markusen’s latest blog post, which confronts and challenges assumptions made in the name of evaluating creative placemaking projects. All the better, she includes links to other research projects she’s done, all of which belong in your e-library. Enjoy!

via Fuzzy Concepts, Proxy Data: Why Indicators Won’t Track Creative Placemaking Success | Createquity.

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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

Markusen, A. and Schrock, G. (2006). The artistic dividend: urban artistic specialization and economic development implications. _Urban Studies_, 43(10):1661.

Greg Schrock, PhD, Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Chicago, is Assistant Professor at Portland State University. His research focuses on the intersection of regional economies and local labor markets, and how economic and workforce development initiatives can promote social equity and upward mobility in low-wage sectors.

With this article, the authors aim to reconceptualize the additional, positive impact of artists on their cities that would not otherwise occur without them: the “artistic dividend.” Thus far, their contributions have been understated because current methodologies ignore critical improvements artists bring to manufacturing facilities, cross-fertilization into other sectors and artistic practices, or the fact that “regional consumption of the arts may be import-substituting, as consumers prefer to spend on performances and artwork rather than spending at shopping malls full of imports” (1662).

Artists “heavily patronize other artists’ work and as so much of this work is labor-intensive, the multiplier effect of local arts consumption maybe higher than expected” (ibid).

There are two forms of dividends: first, current income streams within the market and second, “returns to the region as a whole on past investments” (ibid), which echo Markusen’s (2004) “distinctive city” findings about artist distribution among cities. They operationalize the artistic dividend occupationally, and look at individuals who self identify as artists.

So how and where are artists locating themselves at the start of the 21st century? Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco lead the pack, having highly skewed location quotients (particularly in performing arts), believed to be linked with: increases in arts funding, emphasis on tourism, and the pursuit of cultural capital by city leadership.

At the same time, these cities reversed the trend of decentralization, with artistic communities reconvening in LA, New York, and San Francisco in the 90s, so much so that LA overtook the highest-concentration-of-artists mantle from New York. Artists did flock to other second-tier cities, making their populations more secure. Migration is affected by the artists’ decision about where they want to live and work, but work is not the deciding factor.

Without question, artists cluster by their particular practice. For example, designers and architects are more likely to have full-time professional occupations in their field. New York, LA, and San Francisco are home to the largest concentrations of designers but not architects. Because the latter’s work is so cooperative, they cluster in metro areas in general. Advertising industries are correlated with large pools of artistic groups, but Markusen and Schrock demurred to make claims about direction of causality. Artists, especially writers, are self-employed in varying patterns; therefore policymakers should look at more information than just arts organization impact studies.

The authors conclude with the following policy recommendations. Cities should: (1) support artists’ centers, (2) link resident artists with their corporate communities not for philanthropy but product development purposes, (3) improve their decision-making processes for arts funding, and (4) make more granular, strategic investments.

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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.


  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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