“White Night”: Gentrification, Racial Exclusion, and Perceptions and Participation in the Arts

Samuel Shaw & Daniel Monroe Sullivan

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Shaw, S. & Sullivan, D. M. (1). “White Night”: Gentrification, Racial Exclusion, and Perceptions and Participation in the Arts. City & Community, 10(3), 241–264. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6040.2011.01373.x

art festival , belonging , boundary work , exclusion , Gentrification , identity , social class , symbolic economy

Art festivals are a feature of many urban districts undergoing gentrification; they help to catalyze change by drawing a set of consumers with particular cultural interests. This article examines whether the arts produce racial exclusions by examining long-term Black and White residents’ participation in and perceptions of the monthly Last Thursday Art Walks in Portland’s gentrifying Alberta Arts District. We use surveys to measure arts participation and follow-up, in-depth interviews to understand whether long-time residents feel excluded by the arts, and if race is a factor. We find that Black residents participate less in Last Thursdays than White residents, and they often feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. We conclude that the arts-anchored symbolic economy results in racial exclusions that have little to do with differences in arts appreciation, but much to do with perceptions of people associated with the arts, and with residents’ abilities to use the arts to identify with neighborhood changes.

Main finding
The art-based economy of Alberta Street's Last Thursday Art Walks results in feelings of belonging for white residents and exclusion for black residents. Perceptions of inclusion and exclusion are affected by how long citizens have been residents of the area. In addition, opinions on the style and type of art showcased at Last Thursdays had little effect on the perceptions of the event itself. Differences result from the boundaries made around groups of people that are associated with art in general and the event. Sense of belonging affects participation in Last Thursday events and their feelings on demographic changes within the neighborhood as a whole. The art walks act as a symbol of racial change and thus helps to create real racial demographic change in the Alberta Arts District.

Description of method used in the article
A door-to-door, random sample survey was conducted throughout four census-block groups clustered around Alberta Street (n = 243; response = 74 percent). Select three-way cross tabulations and bivariate analyses of survey results were conducted. The frequency of participation in the monthly Last Thursday Art Walks in the previous year (range 0-12) was used as the dependent variable. The independent variables used were tenure, ownership, race, age, and perceived vulnerability of displacement, and race. Follow up race-matched interviews were conducted with 39 long term residents (range: 4–53 years, mean: 15 years).

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