Today two Jennifers spoke at the 2010 Emerging Cities Summit. One of them was Governor Jennifer Granholm and one of them was…. me!
The conference was the last toot of the horn for Granholm’s Cool Cities program. The Governor’s term is up in 2011 and I don’t see much hope for the state to continue strategizing around cultural tourism, creative place infrastructure and interest in retaining the “Creative Class.”
I find this disappointing but expected.
While the governor’s administration as done an admirable job working to talk about methods to retain young talent in Michigan, the general state economy is still extraordinarily damaged. With one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, talented young Michigan professionals continue to flee and who can blame them? Between balancing the budget and desperately trying to attract and retain jobs, state officials stopped allocating spending to the flagship Cool Cities program.
The Cool Cities program was essentially an infrustructure and civic projects improvement program focused on retaining “the creative class.” The term Creative Class was innovative and edgy when it was first coined by Richard Florida, however, as with most social economic conversations it has not escaped criticism. From being the newest trend, to the baseline for starting an opposition group Florida’s theory has been deconstructed and is now considered a bit passe. Recently a local, older, community minded housing advocate recounted how alienating the focus on retaining the creative class had been for individuals outside of the prescribed demographic. She railed on the term’s exclusion of the middle class blue and white collar tax payers as a mobilizing force within communities and how it’s use automatically ignored retention of a skilled “labor” force. Her anger, at being out side of the desired targeted demographic didn’t really surprised me.
My disappointment the end of the celebration of Grandholm’s Cool Cities Initiative can stems from the following:
With the excessive hits to Federal and State spending on the Arts, Cool Cities offered an alternative model for creating infrastructure improvements that supported cultural institutions creative professionals and artists.
For a short period of time, cities were actively seeking to retain creative entrepenuaers and artists. Asking them to attend meetings, voice opinions and share in collaborating on civic projects. Artists were starting to feel involved in the civic movement of cities.
It was nice to feel like “weird” could be “good.” When backed by the state and local government, artists and creative professionals could become valued for their talents just as much as other professionals; for their time, talent and thoughts.
With our decimated state budget and destruction of HAL it will be a long time before Michigan sinks any significant funding and/or resources into the arts and culture. (Michigan’s arts and culture budget is less then any other state in the union)
And this puts creatives in a unique position.
We now have certain amenities afforded by Cool Cities funding, but with little to no state and federal support for creative entrapreunerships. This leaves the artists and entrepreneurs, who have gottened involved with the creation and vision of civic infrastructure to continue the charge to meet their commissioners and mayors, work with community groups and remind people that “weird” is sometimes just what they might be looking for….