Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Questioning Creativity In Memphis

In following up a post about ArtsMemphis, Harvey asked if creativity can in fact be nurtured, which inspired our recent question of the week:

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

Here’s a recap of Harvey’s comments, and they are followed by the other comments from readers:

“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 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.

“I am not saying that art and creativity are totally at the will of the winds, but am I 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.’”

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 that 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.

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 Memphis said...
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? (SCM Note: We’re writing about it in the coming days, so look for it to be posted soon.)

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 website 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 its 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!!!!!

In addition, these posts in response to the Grist magazine blog seem on point:

Amie said...
I have only lived in Memphis since 2004, but I love it here. The main draw to my moving here was family, but now that I am here, I do find plenty to keep me interested. I have lived all over the world, and I will say that every city has its good and bad points, Memphis included. The key here is that if there are things you don't like about our city, work to change it, moving to middle TN (or wherever) does not solve anything.

Anonymous said...
I've been here since 1986. as a technical professional as well as a musician.
I can honestly say its a dangerous and very poisonously racist city. When my time expires at my current position at a large research / health care institution, I shall be moving on.

The blatant curruption, and racial divide by the city leaders is unfathomable.
The lack of an educated populous is simply staggering. I've tried to affect change, and it’s to no avail.

Unfortunately, with such a largely uneducated population as well as the corroption and finger pointing, race card playing, etc, its pretty much hopeless.


Anonymous said...

The "uneducated population" angle is intriguing. The uneducated are the fodder for our economy - cotton picking has evolved to loading and unloading cargo containers. It is in the best interests of the business powers to have an uneducated population, and until we see our business leaders promoting education and arts for the masses, Memphis is doomed to be a backwater.

black and know it said...

Hopefully, the Democratic majority of the County Commission will put their THINKING CAPS on and figure this IDEA out as just another assault on the pocket books of the MEMPHIS taxpaying base. Memphian pay twice for POLICE enforcement services, simply because the Sheriff won't admit HIS OFFICE should always have been funded to provide such services. Translation: Memphis' tax rate should go down and Shelby County's tax rate SHOULD go up!

A Given... Mayor Wharton's government is anemically broke and his Republican led base of "free riding, no more taxes supporters" won't allow him to cut anymore services or raise any new revenues. Therefore... it's SUCKER time!

Maybe, I will enlighten the DEMOCRATS and remind them Memphis is a CITY located in Shelby County... and when crime is out of control, the Sheriff should be FUNDED proportionately to Memphis’ population to HIRE enough DEPUTIES to fight crime in MEMPHIS!!! But of course, tax dollars that should fairly be spent on MEMPHIS CRIME would mean these SAME DOLLARS that BELONG on Memphis streets can't be used to fund say... ambulances on County roads!!! So, enter the political "WC FIELDS" idea... CONSOLIDATION! And in the meanwhile, Memphians who have PAID for THEIR own police force and the Sheriff’s budget (and Wharton’ government) simply uses those dollars else where… in those other cities and unincorporated areas of Shelby County.

Our good Sheriff (a Republican), is left in a "high and dry" position. He will be termed limited shortly, the County is half Democratic, he is afraid to "reveal" the "political trick" his fellow republicans have been perpetuating on the populous for years and yet HIS political fiefdom is the one being sacrificed.

The solution – place ALL law enforcement and jail responsibility where it belongs… under the Sheriff. Of course, this will mean Memphis’ ridiculous net property tax rate of $7.48 will fall and the unincorporated Shelby County rate will rise from the $4.09 and the other cities whose rates and spaced in between, will rise also.

Harvey said...

To the anonymous who posted at 11:16 PM. I think you are write on about some of the business leaders in our city. Any business leader who deals in cheap labor benefits when his workforce is uneducated. That being said, Pitt Hyde stands as a major force in our city and at least publicly, he stands in opposition to the archetypal money-grubbing captains of industry.

He has made constant attempts to better Memphis by trying not only to equip our city's uneducated, but by attempting to enact true growth in them as well. In a city where our leaders have let us down so often, we should be careful before we hitch our wagon to any one man or woman, but Mr. Hyde deserves our applause for his civic work.

Anonymous said...

Dear Harvey,
Please tell me something Mr. Hyde has done to advance public education. He tends toward silver bullets, Teach for America and New Leaders for New Schools,both with dubious track records.

nate said...

I would like to start by emphasizing my love of Memphis and have to admit that my Memphophilia only came after I moved away and spent a couple of years abroad. The problem that I have with Memphis is with the people that complain about the lack of progressivity, but never physically advocate for change. I hear “The Creatives” of Memphis talking about the need to build bike paths, stripe bike lanes, and create a vibrant city that retains the talent it grows and attracts others of the same mindset. However, whenever I attend any type of rally, meeting, or some "progressive" effort these same people are never there. In fact, it seems that the individuals who are doing the majority of the advocacy work in this city are retirees. Am I the only one who sees the irony in this? I know that this city loses a lot of its best talent, but to the individuals that stay, where are you?

Harvey said...

Mr. Hyde is behind the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE). It is a charter school that educates over 400 of our city's children. Not to mention that Mr. Hyde doesn't want education to end after MASE, but rather wants to employ MASE's graduates in Memphis to further the biotechnical industry that he thinks Memphis can grow.

Anonymous said...

Wow! 400 of the over 115,000. I guess I was wrong, he is having a real impact.

Smart City Consulting said...

I think it's worth mentioning that the Hyde Foundation has been a major source of new thinking and creative programs about school reform, it's been the driving force behind the Memphis Bioworks Foundation (which is all about creativity and better jobs), it's been behind Memphis Challenge (the program to recruit our African-American college grads back to town), it's part of the move to a placemaking approach to issues facing Memphis, etc., etc.

The Hyde Foundation, and Mr. Hyde himself, certainly doesn't need any defense by us, but for our money, we have way too few business leaders like him and we need a lot more foundations like the Hyde Foundation that is willing to get into the trenches to make things happen.

Also, we think there are about 4,000 students attending the schools that the Hyde Foundation has funded to create pressure on the city district to improve.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, the Foundation has been a supporter of our Smart City radio program, which we take as another indication of their interest in stimulating thinking in Memphis.

Smart City Consulting said...

black and know it,

To the idea of shifting city services to the county's larger tax base, we say amen and amen.

Until Memphis rationalizes its tax structure, Memphians will always pay a disincentive to live in this city. There is a way to shift services in a way that the tax rate in Memphis becomes in line with Germantown's and in a way that public services enjoyed by the entire county are appropriately on the county's larger tax base.

Smart City Consulting said...

black and know it:

Not that it was the major point of your post, but we just wanted to make sure you know that the sheriff is term limited.

Harvey said...

You asked me to name something that Mr. Hyde is responsible for. You didn't ask me to name everything he has done. I simply related my knowledge of MASE in the post. Besides, 400 is a pretty good start in my mind. You have to start somewhere and I think he is one of the examples to follow for those who want a less class and race divided city.

Anonymous said...

From gatesofmemphis:

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.

Aaron said...

Anonymous: Do the math. 400 kids with hope and a future. 10 generations later how many kids are now growing up in nurturing environments? One man, one dream-it can go either way--Hitler or MLK...

Have you visited MASE academy and seen what they are doing? Have you gone to the Hyde foundation and proposed opening another Charter school? What's the rub?

The resources are there for those who are committed to our kids. It's the people committed to providing a way out for kids that are lacking... Evidence? People knock our public schools here and yet one of our best public city schools is still 85% black ( Snowden elementary). A lot of these students from this school go on to Ivy league schools.

And so you knock Mr. Hyde when most of the folks around here won't put their kids in even the best city schools? It's like constantly knocking corporate America when we as consumers are the ones that ultimately determine the fate of companies. Evidence? Check out Nike.

Nate: Did you get to go to the greening Memphis meeting back last February? It was an impressive turnout. If you are looking to meet a real person of action, I would suggest meeting Detric Golden who has started an after-school program for inner city kids near downtown. He's making a real impact with the kids. He works with about 35 children ( 35 out of 115000? Is he useless?).
He always needing volunteers and such. At the very least you get to meet a very progressive thinker who's putting his ideas to work.
His site is http://goldenchildministries.com/
Another real progressive is Steve Nash. He started Advance Memphis. Take a visit. These are just some of the doers of Memphis that are actively wading through all the complexities that come with city struggling with poverty. Very inspiring people. My bias is towards progressive thinkers working with the disadvantaged because IMO this is an area that requires the most creative type of thinker and thus most intriguing.