Friday, April 27, 2012

Useless Degrees

Whenever I drive through an area bleak with shuttered factories or mills, or the hollow core of a city, I find myself thinking, "This place needs an injection of artists."

Sculptors, potters and painters go where accountants fear to tread. Drafty, dingy warehouses that no longer house any wares make great studio spaces: it is conceptually impossible to mess them up. It is very freeing to have no concern about splattering the walls. Old warehouses and mills can become professional offices, too, but they often don't, or don't right away, because the depressed neighborhoods around them won't support the services such businesses provide.

So, in come the artists. A degree in art is a degree in creative thinking; artists are resourceful, and can do as well or better with less. They can use the spaces with minimal improvements: bare lightbulbs and concrete floors are fine; perfect, in fact. They can work in the economically depressed neighborhood for the low rents, because they are bringing their product elsewhere to sell it. And they bring the money back home.

Artists need to get haircuts; their cars need repair, they purchase beer and coffee and sandwiches. Businesses nearby the formerly-empty warehouses benefit. Maybe they even hire another waitress or mechanic.

Artists hold events to display their work; they bring people from outside to come, to look, perhaps to buy. These people provide activity and life; perhaps they visit other shops while they are there. Because of the artists, there's a concentration of interesting things to see in this neighborhood! People come back. Off-beat restaurants and clubs, book stores and independent movie houses open to serve this market for unusual experiences.This becomes a hip neighborhood, if we are still allowed to say "hip." It has cache. People want to live there.

The rents go up. Higher income people move in. Some of the warehouses-come-studios are converted to condos, then offices. These higher income people can support the financial managers, the lawyers and insurance agents who occupy these offices.

The artists get squeezed out, except a tiny handful of the very successful. But no matter: they'll find another neighborhood to resurrect.

I've seen this, exactly this, in the warehouse district in Minneapolis, and in the Old Port in Portland, and other places as well. Artists are the dandelions and earthworms of the economic ecosystem. They inhabit inhospitable places, and make them livable for other entities.

If only there were more of us! No area need be depressed for long, as long as there are artists around.

Useless degree, my ass.


Unknown said...

Love it - thank you for it :)

Marian Williams said...

YOU are brilliant! Well said!