ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY ANNUAL CONFERENCE
LONDON, August 2013
Artists and Gentrification at the Urban Frontier: Questioning the Causes, Consequences and Validity of the Artist-Gentrification Correlation
The purported relationship between artists and gentrification has a significant and long-standing presence in the urban literature, much of it supporting the notion that where artists go, fashion, money and commerce inevitably follow (Evans & Shaw, 2004). From the Latin Quarter and Montmartre of C.19th Paris (Norton, 2004), Greenwich Village in the inter-war period (in Graña, 1990), to New York’s SoHo (Zukin, 1982) or London’s East End (Green, 2001) in more recent times, artists’ arrival in previously marginal and often oppositional environments is seen to precede increased property prices, displacement of extant communities, and an upgrading of the symbolic landscape to mesh with an altogether different class of citizen. But how inevitable and inexorable is this process? Has there perhaps been under-reporting or under-emphasis of cases where the activities of artists have instead lead to increased marginality via, for example, further disinvestment, depopulation and/or physical decline? Alternatively, might too little attention have been paid to the workings of artist-gentrification interrelationships in non-Western or less high profile contexts? Must the arrival of artists signal an impending taming and reclaiming of the urban frontier, or are alternative outcomes possible?
If, however, this idea of artist-led gentrification should indeed be shown to hold water, then we are interested in the mechanisms through which it takes place; and how artists’ roles might be usefully conceived and appraised. For example, are portrayals of artists as gentrification victims (e.g. Ley, 1996) tenable, or is the active agent characterization (e.g. Deutsche & Ryan, 1987) more apt, in light of the by now heightened (self)awareness of artists’ allegedly catalytic function? Might artists’ attempts to challenge the forces of gentrification and secure alternative outcomes (Vivant 2010) offer a way out of this victim versus perpetrator framing? Should intent (or lack thereof) to gentrify have a bearing on how the effects of their presence are judged? Or could it be that urban-oriented academia under-appreciates the policy view which tends to highlight the positives of gentrification and suggests artists embrace rather than disown their role in the process? Indeed, has artists’ participation in the widespread rollout of ‘staged’ or ‘policy-led’ gentrification and regeneration (e.g. Atkinson and Easthope 2009) engendered a reformulation of previously popular conceptions of the artist as being opposed to, yet paradoxically implicated in, dominant models of capitalist urban development?
We welcome papers which interrogate alleged artist-gentrification interrelationships from a variety of perspectives and geographical contexts, and which might address but are not limited to the following:
· To what extent might the idea of gentrification as an almost inevitable outcome of artists’ engagement with the urban frontier be challenged by theoretical or empirical advances?
· Artists have been portrayed as ‘stormtroopers’ of gentrification, in what ways have local communities resisted artist-related gentrification and how successful have they been?
· How have artists, perhaps in conjunction with local communities, challenged the idea or process of gentrification and how successful have they been?
· Who are the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in the artist-led gentrification game? To what extent might artists be accurately portrayed as gentrification victims, agents, or champions of alternative outcomes?
· How has the framing of artists’ social identities and roles been affected by the spread of ‘staged’ or ‘policy-led’ gentrification/regeneration models?
Cold Hands & Quarter Moon, ‘Stagnant’ at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLjxeHvvhJQ (live, at the Belle View pub, Bangor, north Wales); and at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkP_Mi5ideo (new remix, and new video, 2012)
‘Cheerful Sin’ – a song by Victor Rikowski: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIbX5aKUjO8
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