Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Question Of The Week: Can Memphis Encourage Creativity?

In response to our last post about Arts Memphis and its stated goal of creating a vibrant city, Harvey weighed in with these comments:

“Nurturing a creative mindset and community sounds like an excellent idea, but I wonder if such a mindset can be nurtured. My qualm comes from looking back on the unstructured history of Memphis innovation. First, with innovations such as the supermarket (Clarence Saunders), modern hotel (Kemmons Wilson), and profit sharing (Hull Dobbs), I see capitalism (with all its warts) as the main driver of innovation in the history of the city.

“Second, for sure, much of the art that has come out of our city has been groundbreaking and barrier crossing. But, it seems to me that the greatest of the art innovators (Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MG's, W.C. Handy etc...) have grown organically. In fact, many of them grew up in a culture that did not bat an eye at, lend a hand to, or give a care about their innovation. They were not present in a nurturing society, yet their artistic output, and its effect in Memphis will probably never be rivaled.

“The same can be said for the great artists, writers, and musicians of the delta. Itta Bena, MS, does not have an arts council, but it does have one of the best writers in America as its son (Lewis Nordan).

“I am not saying that art and creativity are totally at the will of the winds, but I am wrong in saying that great art movements in societies by their nature don't lend themselves to structure and calculation. Perhaps not as the Renaissance attests with its patrons and prolific and excellent art output. But still, it seems odd to me to create ‘creativity.’ I invite criticisms, comments and suggestions.”

It’s an interesting question. We’re already on the record with our opinions, and Harvey raises interesting points.

So, here are the questions of the week:

Do you think that a city can do anything to encourage creativity? If it can, what should Memphis be doing?


gatesofmemphis said...

ArtsMemphis and other leaders can help create a climate of creativity. We're suckers to wait around for them or anyone else to do it for us, or empower (what a crappy word) us to do it, but they can help. For instance, with their resources, they can provide or broker lots and lots of inexpensive creative tools, classes, collaborators, studios, meeting places, critique, venues, events, connections between all of the above and a pulpit to evangelize a movement of mass creativity.

To me, creativity is the thing, not innovation, not greatness. It's fun. Creativity will make Memphis a better place, even if no one recognizes it but Memphians. I hope innovation and greatness happen -- and they're dramatically less likely to happen if we're not creative -- but they're icing on the cake. If they don't happen, we will still have lots of cake.

Mass creativity may mean 99% of us painting all Pissarro, all bad, all the time. That's okay. It's still funner than a small percentage just looking at Pissarro and the rest watching TV. (And the 1% not painting Pissarro might be driven into a mad creative frenzy by the sight of the Pissarro knockoffs -- they could change everything.)

Anonymous said...

We can do it in any number of ways. Chicago had the cow painting competition, a city in South American taught every one the samba, a place in Europe had every one come out one night and dance in the street. It's about an attitude, not a program. It's about having fun and being part of something bigger than yourself.

We've done so much to change the culture of the world, but we still don't have the right attitude to sustain it.

I say amen to gatesofmemphis, because he's so right. It's about fun. It's about all sorts of things - outdoor things, arts things, music things, silly things.

It's about doing something to show there is life in Memphis. It works in other places so why not here. Austin exudes creativity, and because it does, it solves its city problems differently. San Francisco exudes tolerance and it invites every one to get in the game of making a great city. Boston exudes intellectualism and talks about totally different things than we do. Miami exudes energy and cultural diversity and becomes a pot boiling with music, arts. There's no one road to creativity, but you can't get there if you never start.

We just sit and wait. And we end up with a city with that kind of lethargic attitude and hang dog behavior.

b said...

make sure the arts aren't abandoned in our schools. every child should be exposed to music and art on a weekly, if not daily basis.

AL said...

Creativity requires inspiration and cultivation. Memphis needs to emphazize structuring the city, county, and community in such a way that an amiable atmosphere is obtained for creativity. Right now fear and pessimism stymie any progress that can be made. It all starts with the public and private leadership in the city. We need bold leaders to take tough stands and to make these stands publically. We need inspirational leaders to cultivate the creativity that is suggested. I am convinced that Memphis and its infastructure and culture are primed for our own sort of "renaissance" and that it is simply a matter of convincing people that the problems we face are not from a lack of creativity but rather from a lack of boldness. The ideas are there, so encourage peers and leaders to take hold of their own ideas and step forward.

Jeff said...

I hope ArtsMemphis will rethink its requirements for funding organizations. The current ones are a horrible Catch-22.

I tried a couple of years ago to get a grant to fund the creation of a fiction anthology through my 501(c)3 literary non-profit and my e-zine Southern Gothic. I learned to that get funding from the Arts Council, I must first get donations. Until I could prove that I didn't actually need money, I couldn't qualify for a grant. The Arts Council only provides MATCHING funds. They specifically DO NOT provide seed money to help NEW creative projects get off the ground.

This being my only experience with an Arts Council, I assumed this was normal and began asking editors in other cities how they raised donations. Donations? Sure, donations were nice, but no one had ever heard of this kind of funding structure. If they had to rely on donations, they'd be out of business. They weren't required to prove their artistic worth by their ability to solicit charitable donations.

Because of this, I have considered, on more than one occassion, moving to another city. I hear that the arts funding opportunities in Mississippi are more geared to artists than professional fundraisers.

I hope that ArtsMemphis will change this. People with a proven creative history (including the literary arts!) should be encouraged to create, not told to hire a fundraiser. I don't mind competing with other artists and other arts organizations for a slice of our very small pie. I'm confident my project could win such a competition. What I object to is having to compete with well-connected non-artistic, professional fundraisers who show, by their ability to raise $5,000 in charitable contributions, that they don't need $5,000. If I could do that, I could self fund and wouldn't need the help of an Arts Council. The Arts Council should help the poorly-connected and poorly-recognized artists of the community gain the recognition they deserve so they can begin raising their own funds and move aside to allow new organizations and new artists a chance.

Jeff said...

To continue my thought on this matter, the NEA has time restrictions on individual fiction and poetry grants. If you win an NEA grant fiction, you aren't allowed to submit for another fiction grant for ten years.

If ArtsMemphis had a similar policy, it would certainly change the way arts are funded in Memphis. I think it would be a good policy to say that after three consecutive years, or $X dollars, of funding, that organization could not apply for ArtsMemphis funding for, say, three years.

This would free up a bunch of money that could be used to provide seed funds for new projects.

Anonymous said...

Memphis begins by rewarding creative people. Five years too late, the Chamber of Commerce is bringing Richard Florida to Memphis to talk about what talented workers want. We know what they want, but we'd rather talk about it than do something to make it happen.

How about the Arts Council doing something that turns the spotlight each year on the most creative people that live here - in the arts, at the grassroots, in nonprofit groups.

We don't suffer from a lack of creativity. We suffer from a lack of appreciation that any one gives a damn.

Smart City Consulting said...

Anon, 3:07: It's worth noting that we worked with Richard Florida when we developed the Memphis Talent Magnet report in 2002 and became the first city that applied his research to develop specific recommendations. He hadn't even written his book at that point, so we were in on the ground floor.

Then, in 2003, Carol Coletta developed and co-hosted the Memphis Manifesto Summit with Richard, and it produced the manifesto for cities looking to attract young professionals. The manifesto is printed in the back of his book.

The recommendations from both efforts were executed - unfortunately, it was in other cities. As a result, we lost a chance to get ahead of every one else and today, we still don't have a talent strategy for Memphis.

Anonymous said...

So what did the Memphis manifesto say?

Anonymous said...

How about support for cutting edge arts and culture, embracing the hip hop scene, sponsoring the work of young Memphis artists, funding Live from Memphis, encouraging performances in unexpected places, seeding digital and alternative arts, and building a web site that promotes them.

How about tax incentives for musicians and artists like the ones given away to corporations and developers, a venture capital fund for contemporary, edgy work, and "real" money given to grassroots groups by ArtsMemphis rather than the pocket change they throw at us like we're street performers.

Anonymous said...

Our public TV station could be a major player in doing this, but first, it'd have to decide that it's job is not to censor what we see. It's a dark day for Memphis if WKNO now sides with the idiocy of intelligent design. Creativity happens in cities where there is an intellectual life, the kind WKNO is helping to stamp out.

Anonymous said...

ArtMemphis and WKNO are crap - they don't encourage new projects, new artists, nothing - all they do is reflect on the past and do a whole lot of talking. They both SUCK!!!!!

gatesofmemphis said...

Our neighborhood libraries could be a great asset in a mass creative movement. They're in the neighborhoods, they have computers (a major tool in mass creativity), meeting rooms, good hours, a staff that is there to help people find and learn.

Now we need a movement.