Underground arts, respectability and resistance – notes and thoughts


More things in early stages, but getting on a roll with something here. Enjoy.

As I said a while back on Twitter:

“If there’s no $ in arts, nobody will make it”, more like “Only people with time and resources to make art, will.”

There’ll still be art around. Celebrity art. Famous person art. Well-off professional artist art. Independently wealthy art.

Otherwise, *crickets*, save for the occasional person who dares challenge the dominant hegemony, creatively, politically or both.

– Mainstream society acknowledges that you have to work hard to be an artist, but paradoxically thinks that art happens as if by magic, including the means by which people have successful careers. This is a smokescreen. Art is life, life is hard, making art is life, art is hard. This doesn’t have to be true, but it frequently is, especially if you’re an underground artist and/or person who is otherwise gate-kept away from respectability.

– The urban gentrification cycle typically gets underway when underground artists start being capitalized upon by mainstream taste-makers, including in some cases eventually becoming part of the capitalization cycle themselves, via opportunistic business enterprises, “get in first” real estate deals, and so on.

– This is typically followed by whoever doesn’t get harvested for potential future returns getting bulldozed over and sent off into the hinterlands, or to struggle against mounting challenges to remaining put, while the larger culture as a whole is driven out, then finally, most if not all of the city becoming unaffordable, save for the most well-paid workers on up.

– What may be shifting in terms of gentrification: a marked increase, if not simultaneous occurrence, of the above stages of gentrification, as well as fix-is-already-in promotional campaigns for “arts-friendly’ second-tier cities, who plan to use migrating artists as quick fodder in downtown development schemes.

– This city-and-corporate-led “pro-arts” agenda runs the risk of not only driving out present art-making residents out via a combination of gate-keeping and escalating living costs (including but not limited to rent), it also prevents people who co-habitated with or preceded underground artists – frequently communities of color and poor/working class people overall – from returning. Even leading up to periods of economic decline (which frequently include an influx of artists, due to the increase in more affordable housing), the potential of keeping people out when the gentrification cycle eventually reverses, and housing becomes affordable again – typically when middle-class and up whites leave the city, developers abandon future projects, and things start to decay – is real. In other words, the pro-arts agenda provides the convergence of moneyed, powerful interests that drive gentrification with an additional cultural and economic weapon against keeping undesirables out, if they so choose, by labeling them as “the bad sort of creatives” or otherwise less-than, while keeping the semblance of being pro-artist intact, to be utilized as needed. This utilization may include implementation during periods of decline, depending on the plans, interests and future needs of capital, in a local/global context.

– The solution to this is for communities to organize for the sorts of transformative conditions that allow people the practical and life-altering means to make all kinds of art, not for artists to be played by corporate arts entities that collude with downtown interests – while collectively resisting gentrification as soon as it starts to happen. The Right To The City is real. We are not your puppets!