Creativity is one of the keywords of post- and late modernism. The aesthetisation of the urban lifeworld has reached a point where it is almost the essential focus of economic, political and social competition.
The attractiveness of products as well as the image of enterprises and brands is based on creativity as a leading principle for the market, defining itself as follower of the habitus of individualism, on-going renewal and permanent aesthetic development. The popularity of neighbourhoods and cities rises with the degree of creative atmosphere – whatever is understood by this term. Being smart, living in a smart city, working for a smart enterprise, finding smart solutions, designing your individual lifestyle actually seems to be the ultimate challenge: the so-called Creative Class as winner of the economic and societal struggle for leadership.
Likewise, creativity seems to be a “genius answer” to all questions related to economy, politics or society. Even in regional development we find suggestions to cope with demographic changes by creative and event-based competition for new residents and wealthy tourists, for skilled workers and dynamic investors. And Arts and Culture seem to play an essential role in this world of creativity.
Why not? It sounds like a good recipe: save local societies from stagnation or even regression through creativity in the form of cultural events. Cultural performances attract masses of people and do have influence on the image of regions (see Commandeur/Dennert 2015). The success, measured in numbers of visitors, may be even bigger if the organisers create a unique atmosphere, e.g. by embedding the event in a remarkable landscape or choosing an authentic historical site as its location. If repeated year after year, those cultural events may even lead to a significant image boost of the region.
Is this what is meant by Creative Territories and Cultural Practices?
It probably it won’t be so easy. With those firework-type events you may raise attractiveness and be in the competition for the most popular “must-sees”, but it takes more to revitalize regions that are suffering from demographic changes and other transformation processes. A profound analysis of individual conditions and local possibilities of social interaction is needed to develop creative ways to sustain and revitalize imagination, initiative, capacities and leadership. As well as a hard look at the question of whether it should really be the task of cultural practices to be the ultimate rescue where other disciplines have failed or are insufficient.
The functionalization of arts and culture has a long history. Throughout the centuries people have tried to use artistic and cultural practices for their own different purposes, or at least justify artistic and cultural activities, and of course the need to fund them, by proving their different impacts.
And now again: Cultural practices to sustain imagination, initiative, capacities and leadership? Must cultural practice really be legitimized by its impact on the attractiveness ratings of cities or the degree of attainment of economically needed values? The decision to invest in a region or the selection of a site by economic investors is not as dependent on the cultural offer and creativity score of the inhabitants as a lot of cultural scientists would like to prove. (Ehlert/Ermert 2008: 10).Best conditions for sales and procurement market as well as for production processes are still the essential criteria upon which the decision is based. Most positions in the industrial sector are not given to workers because they play theatre or know how to paint a watercolour, even if those additional skills will undoubtedly contribute to their personal development. In first line migration simply follows the work offer. The attractiveness of a city or region as a place for living is still mainly determined by the economic situation, the productivity and economical success of the local companies and working opportunities (see Bertelsmann 2015: 17). Only when the employment, housing and educational offers leave a choice between living in a cultural hot spot and a city with a less attractive cultural offer, do cultural offers have verifiable influence on the decision.
However, Richard Florida, one of the world’s leading economists and experts in urban studies, underlines in his studies that future economies will be increasingly determined by smart, creative and dynamic people, defined by him as the Creative Class (see Florida 2012). Already in 2009 he saw the Creative Class as upcoming societal group for a more or less common opinion about what is going to be hip and what isn’t. In 2012 he found his theory proved by the obvious rise of the growing influence of dynamic Creatives in fields as diverse as economics, lifestyle, design or politics. But actually it can be doubted that Florida’s theory shows relevance for all inhabitants of every city neighbourhood, and for regions outside urban agglomerations. The remaining large group of low-earners, unemployed, lower qualified or socially deprived people will probably show little interest in or knowledge of the cultural and creative preferences and tastes of the Creative Class. Even for those who see themselves as members of the creative class, the ongoing and highly competitive struggle for the most creative ideas and most outstanding design increasingly resembles an exhausting run towards an unreachable goal.
In today’s society the pressure and the desire to be creative and to produce ever-newer things is extraordinarily widespread. What was once reserved for the artistic sub-culture has now become a universal model of culture, a cultural imperative. (Reckwitz 2012: 2)
In fact, creativity is not the one and only solution or universal remedy for every challenge we face in transforming cities and regions. Cultural work cannot be the panacea for all problems linked to demographic changes and other challenges. Quite likely it is not sufficient to bring cultural practices to those villages and cities where people lack imagination, initiative is lacking, a renewal of capacity is needed, or nobody seems to be capable to take over leadership or develop the much-desired and discussed spirit of entrepreneurship. What about those who are not able or willing to join in the permanent competition of creativity? What about those who live far away from the creative hot spots of the hippest towns? What about roots, values, regional identity? Can we really use this old stuff as more or less funny quotes in our latest artistic performance, or just forget about it amidst our fantastic new world of omnipresent creativity? Aren’t we creating a widening gap between the “smart creatives” and the “others”, perceived as an undefined and negligible mass?
Perhaps it is necessary to ask if there might be a connection between the severe problematic of the growing xenophobe radicalisation and the described widening of the gap between the dynamic development of the creative class and those who can’t cope with its competition in creativity and smartness.
In this context it becomes clear that to aim at fostering such a form of Creative Territories would mean contributing to an ongoing social marginalisation of those who need to regain or sustain exactly those values needed. The term Creative Territories therefore shouldn’t be defined as a description of a competition ground for creatively exhausted, highly-qualified, smart urbans. What seems to be much more interesting is to research possibilities, models and methods to raise a form of creativity in those societal communities and “territories” – whether urban, rural or remote – that have to cope with ongoing societal transformation, and where creativity is understood as a capability usable for community building. Creativity in this context has quite another meaning than the permanent life-style designing processes of the smarter few.
But what, then, is really meant by creativity in the context of regional development?
Creativity does not happen inside people’s heads, but in the interaction between a person’s thoughts and a sociocultural context. (Csíkszentmihályi 1996:24)
There is lot of research on “creativity” that describes it as a very complex phenomenon, not reducible to a single formula. Bryant and Thorsby, for example, describe creativity as related to the capacity of individuals to think inventively and imaginatively and to go beyond traditional ways of solving problems. (Bryant/Throsby 2006: 508). Other studies reveal that the term is used quite differently in Western and Eastern cultures and could be therefore called a cultural concept itself. While the Western side sees creativity more as a problem-solving phenomenon based on originality (Lubart 1999: 339 – 350), the Eastern view would be not so much to innovate as to reveal the true nature of the self, of an object or of an event. (KEA 2009: 22). A wide range of other theories and analysis of single aspects of what is meant by “creativity” can be found in scientific literature. Most important for the topic addressed here seems to be the conclusion of the Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi:
Creativity does not happen inside people’s heads, but in the interaction between a person’s thoughts and a sociocultural context. (Csíkszentmihályi 1996:24)
If creativity does happen in the interaction between people and in a sociocultural context, it might be at the same time one of the main fields of community building processes, which is one of the most striking challenges of demographic changes. Comparing demographic projections for different urban, metropolitan, rural and remote territories in Europe, it becomes obvious that we will have to face severe transformation processes which will lead to considerable societal changes. Depending on markets, infrastructures, global interconnections and a converging set of other influencing factors, the metropolitan and urban territories will divide into those that will grow rapidly and host more and more inhabitants from different parts of the world, with different educational, cultural and societal backgrounds and those who stagnate or suffer from regression and structural weakness, facing vacancies, brain-drain, and an outflow of young and educated individuals as well as families. A growing part of those urban societies will settle down in deprived areas of big cities, building their own communities with no access to the world of the happy and creative few. Some cities will develop flourishing suburbs, whose inhabitants will be able to combine lower housing prices and more spacious living places with the amenities of the big cities in reachable distance. Others will face severe gentrification processes in parts of the city centres where the Creative Class selects certain neighbourhoods as outstanding places to settle in and create a community according to their current lifestyle desires.
In rural and remote areas, demographic changes are leading to wide-ranging transformations of the smaller communities. All over Europe we find a constantly increasing number of rural regions where the average age is constantly rising, where young people leave home and villages for education and working places, and never return. Local tax income declines, infrastructure has to be reduced to a minimum, the brain-drain causes alarming consequences, impulse-givers and keypersons leave the villages. In many of those regions, those who stay are those who didn’t succeed in leaving the sinking ship: the elderly, the less educated, the unemployed, the poor or those who accept extremely long commutes to work or to school. In fact, these communities are particularly challenged by the overwhelming changings. To cope with them, to find the power to renew the community building processes according to those severe transformations, certainly requires impulses, imagination, capacities and leadership. Here creativity really seems the only way to deal with the situation, to develop models and methods to shape the changes.
In short – what is needed are indeed cultural practices for creative territories as means of social interaction. But who can implement them, in which way, and what kind of cultural practices can reach those ambitious goals? Assuredly it must to be something completely different than the struggle for fulfilling the creative imperative. Cultural work for community building has a lot in common with what economics consider important for functioning organisational systems. To cope continuously with new challenges, in our case caused by societal changes, it is helpful to have an organisational structure
- based on a common idea as core model;
- based on an atmosphere of open-mindedness and curiosity about new ideas, concepts and visions,
- where the different individuals with their skills, capabilities, ways of thinking and acting are appreciated,
- where new members and critical observers are welcome as impulse-givers,
- where skills and capabilities are implemented and developed for the needs of the community;
- supported by imaginative leaders or key persons who act as impulse-givers, moderators and help-givers
All in all those organisational recommendations are more or less the same criteria which can be identified as factors for creativity. The studies and surveys researching the creative processes and its preconditions differ in some details, but the main aspects stay more or less the same:
Creative processes need:
- An atmosphere of open-mindedness and curiosity;
- Interaction between other interested and open-minded people;
- An inspiring atmosphere of “open game”;
- Appreciative evaluation and feedback;
- Motivation and support throughout the creative processes in order to reach the planned results;
- Keypersons with a sense of humour, a stress-free attitude and a certain mediating capacity
- an impulse-giving (at least minimal) framework suitable for the goals of the processes (time, spaces, equipment, money, decision power…)
In reality, there is no ultimate recipe for ideal cultural practices leading to creative territories. What can be said, at least, is that the organisation of sociocultural work based on participative cultural practices shows a lot of parallels to the recommended methods and models for creative processes. Similar to the processes identifiable in traditional village cultures, based on amateur arts, sociocultural work can look back on a wide range of experiences in community-building processes and participatory cultural work. In contrast to methods and models often used in audience development processes, participative cultural work in connection with sociocultural work and community building goes far beyond time-limited cultural offerings with their different music groups, dancing circles or painting classes, which people can join to enlarge their skills. Participation in a sociocultural sense means real inclusion of participants in creative organisational processes, opening even the organisational structures to volunteers and community members. The core model of those cultural practices is concentrated in three leading questions which determine all activities:
- What kind of society do we want to live in?
- What do we need to achieve it?
- What can we do to start the process?
Obviously in this kind of work the local or regional community is the focus of cultural practice. For the cultural organisation it may be helpful to provide a programme, qualified teachers and a well-equipped cultural centre, but the main tasks remain impulse-giving and frame setting for those described participatory processes. The sociocultural organisation moderates and supports the community building processes by strengthening capabilities which are required to reach the common objectives, by supporting the community with know-how, equipment, workspaces, contacts and whatever else is needed.
The organisation of a village around a generation-gapping historical theatre project, for example, can lead to community building processes, if young and old participate in storytelling, costume design, stage building, music, acting, selling tickets, baking cakes for the theatre café and all the other tasks linked to such a production. In fact, for centuries this was the routine way of organising cultural events in villages. Throughout time and throughout the world, community building has always stemmed from smaller, more or less self-sustaining communities in this way. Participation was developed and strengthened through cultural processes and the organisation of traditional, seasonal festivals. With industrialization and the increased dependence of the villages on depersonalized working places in the industrial cities, those capabilities vanished or were no longer appreciated. The cultural offer of the creative classes, with their museums, art events and cultural fireworks, has led to a devaluation of those community building activities which shaped all those elements of creativity we now struggle to get back. (See Mak 1999, Kegler 2014)
But in times of transformation, it can’t be enough to support the re-implementation of old cultural formats without regarding new challenges. To simply return to self-affirming and past-time-glorifying cultural work would lead in the wrong direction. Creativity would be reduced in this case to the simple repetition of formats which have nothing to do with contemporary challenges. The truth is that it is not so easy to re-invent community building projects that relate to actual societal challenges.
However, all over Europe we can find a range of sociocultural organisations, projects and activities which could be easily mentioned as good practices in this type of participatory cultural work for the developing of creative territories. The Wandering Cultural Forum Lower Silesia in Poland, the Netwerk Kultur & Heimat in Northern Germany, the initiatives of the ECOC Aarhus 2017 with its programme Rethink the Village, and hundreds of others all directly address people living a specific region, take into account their history and regional identity, refer to the actual challenges of transformations, bring people together to allow them to develop new ideas, and assist them to pursue, enrich and implement their creative projects. By using the traditional format of cultural community work, they also help the members of those communities thematise actual challenges, for example in a historic context, build cooperation with other communities, bring together people who aren’t used to interacting with each other and provide possibilities for developing new capabilities and ideas for further collaboration. Community-building processes made by participative cultural practices, like the ones described above, end up leading to what we could call creative territories. People who take part in this type of projects will develop initiative, train their imagination, improve their different capabilities or develop new ones and finally contribute elements of leadership in the regional development process.
Even if there is still very little research on the topic of sociocultural participatory work, the necessity of cultural practices for creative territories are obvious, the strong need to exchange best practice ideas can be seen in the demands of demographics and policy for creative impulses for changing societies as well as in numerous upcoming conferences and workshops.
Academic Associate at the Department of Cultural Policy, University of Hildesheim
Bryant, William D. A./Throsby, David (2006): Creativity and the Behaviour of Artists,. In: Ginsburgh, Víctor/Throsby, David (ed.): Handbooks of the economics of art and culture, vol. 1, North-Holland, 2006.
Bertelsmann-Stiftung (ed.) (2015): Deutschland zwischen Wachstum und Schrumpfung, Wanderungsbewegungen in Deutschland. Bielefeld
Commandeur, Beatrix/Dennert, Dorothee (ed.) (2015): Event zieht – Inhalt bindet, Bielefeld
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1996): Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention, New York.
Ehlert, Andrea/Ermert, Karl (2012) (ed.): „Pampaparadiese?“ Kultur als Standortfaktor: Strategien der Regionalentwicklung. Wolfenbütteler Akademie-Texte Bd. 54, Norderstedt
Florida, Richard (2012): The Rise of the Creative Class. Revised, 10th Anniversary Edition, Revised and Expanded, New York.
Kegler, Beate (2014): Ganz nah dran. Der ländliche Raum zwischen Breitenkultur und Soziokultur, in: Schneider, Wolfgang (Hrsg.): Weißbuch Breitenkultur, Hildesheim 2014, S. 57 - 80
Lubart, Todd (1999): Creativity across Cultures, in: Sternberg, Robert J. (ed.): Handbook of Creativity, Cambridge
Mak, Geert (1999): Hou God verdween uit Jorwerd, Amsterdam
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