Cracks in the creative city: The contradictions of community arts practice

McLean, H. E

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McLean, H. E. (2014). Cracks in the creative city: The contradictions of community arts practice. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(6), 2156–2173.

Arts Festivals , Community/participatory arts , Culture-led Regeneration , Gentrification , Radical social praxis

The recent flurry of research about arts‐led regeneration initiatives illuminates how contemporary arts festivals can become complicit in the production of urban inequality. But researchers rarely engage with detailed empirical examples that shed light on the contradictory role that artists sometimes play within these spectacularized events. Similar research in performance studies connects the political limits and potential of social practice arts — interventions that encourage artists and non‐artists to co‐produce work — as civic boosters strive to stage cities in order to attract investment. In this article, I explore the case study of Streetscape: Living Space at Regent Park, a participatory artistic intervention programmed in a public housing neighbourhood that is undergoing redevelopment in Toronto, Canada. Streetscape was part of the Luminato festival, an elite booster coalition‐led festival of ‘creativity’. I refer to these arts interventions to demonstrate how artists engaging in social practice arts can become complicit in naturalizing colonial gentrification processes at multiple scales. But I also reveal how artists can leverage heterogeneous arts‐led regeneration strategies to make space for ‘radical social praxis’ (Kwon, 2004), interventions that challenge hegemonic regimes. I conclude by interrogating the effectiveness of place‐based efforts in unsettling the ‘creative city’.

Main finding
The author finds that participatory culture produces exclusionary space but can open up space for collective artistic praxis. The 'Streetscape' program of one city festival offered youth-led walking tours where the youth were very transparent about their life in the neighborhood. However, many criticized Streetscapes’ participatory arts as being superficial, offering minimal learning opportunities and focusing on famous artists not youths and locals. Similarly, white philanthropists of the program tended to veer away from discussing structural inequality issues. The Streetscape youth-led walking tours did foster some critical engagement and through the youths’ interviewing of local park workers, activists, and residents, opened up a space to reflect critically on the redevelopment.

Description of method used in the article
Research included archival research (newspapers, magazines, blogs) with discourse analysis, interviews with stakeholders in creative city programming.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Performance/Cultural Expression
Case Study
Physical types
Geographic locations