1. Introduction

Artists have assumed a leading role in recent decades in urban redevelopment schemes, hailed as key figures that both attract other creative, affluent types and as economic generators themselves. Richard Florida has been the leading proponent of this style of redevelopment, one that focuses on the ³creative class´ and building cities that appeal to their sensibilities. One city that has bought into and followed Florida¶s ideas closely is Providence, Rhode Island. The mid-sized Northeastern city has pinned its future growth on appealing to both artists and the various other groups that fall into the creative class grouping, such as web designers, scientists and Internet entrepreneurs. The current mayor, David N. Cicilline, has even branded the city the ³Creative Capital,´ putting much money and effort into promoting the local arts scene and highlighting the work and events coming out of it. However, a look back at the recent history of one particular neighborhood in Providence, Olneyville, shows clearly the pitfalls and problems with this focus on the arts as a form of urban regeneration. In the abandoned mills that de-industrialization created in this area, scores of experimental artists found spaces for their work, housing and social lives. In a short period, it would become one of the most exciting, prolific and attractive arts centers in the country. Visual artists, cartoonists, rock bands, filmmakers and more, many from the nearby Rhode Island School of Design, turned the huge loft spaces into sites for concerts, galleries, happenings and recitals. Most of the individuals came together to form collectives, collaborating and spawning more and more groups. The


scene would spawn a retrospective at the RISD Museum of Arts, a Whitney Museum exhibit and a buzz felt around the country. As soon as the city¶s government became aware of the vibrant arts community that had grown up in the spaces of the city¶s industrial past, they saw it as an opportunity for redevelopment and growth. They would condemn and destroy many of these mill buildings, evict the artists and attempt to capitalize on the buzz with more acceptable, middle-class amenities. It failed immensely, bringing neither retail nor residential growth and destroying the very underground that had provided the city with something special and unique. This essay hopes to problematize the notion of the creative class as a means to redevelopment. The Olneyville example shows clearly the danger both to a city and its artists when planners and government officials get involved in the arts world. In the very roots of this strategy lies its eventual downfall, as the artists attract wealthier residents and visitors to their area, which in turn raises the cost of living. This drives out the people and spaces that provided the city with its unique character. I hope to provide some examples of ways that cities and planners can try to create development without displacement. In particular, prioritizing artist-owned spaces seems like an excellent strategy for ensuring a greater permanence for these scenes, while giving artists a means to create equity and spaces of their own creation. I also leave some unanswered questions on the efficacy of planning for the arts, as I feel that the profession needs to consider whether it can really have a positive impact or whether the arts are most effective when they remain underground and out of site.


2. A ³New Challenge´: A Prehistory of the Providence Underground Art Scene

In order to understand the uniqueness of the time period we plan to focus, it is necessary to jump back a decade earlier and show the roots of the underground art scene in Providence during the 1980s. This period sowed the seeds for the radical culture that developed a decade later and introduces a few important players still involved today in Providence¶s art world. Before that, we must go back even further in the city¶s history. Providence was one of the first American cities to industrialize; in fact, it was Providence investors who invested Matthew Jerzyk describes the Providence of the turn of the 20th Century:
A bastion of American industry, Providence was home to the country¶s largest manufacturers in the first half of the twentieth century: the biggest textile manufacturer (Fruit of the Loom), the largest precision-tool factory (Brown & Sharpe), the largest file factory (Nicholson File), the largest steam-engine factory (Corliss), the largest silverware factory (Gorham), and the largest screw factory (American Screw). (Jerzyk, 2009: 416417)

It was a peak moment for the city, as Providence enjoyed its largest population and world-renown for the products its businesses produced. The ensuing eighty years would not be kind, as many of these same factories shut down and move to the South and Southwest in search of cheaper, non-unionized labor. By the 1960s and 1970s, the spaces of production for industries would lie vacant, a sad, crumbling reminder of a former glorious past.


The 1980s saw the beginnings of a new movement both literally and figuratively for the artists of the city. Physically, many began to see opportunity in the ruins of the city¶s industrial past. The huge, vacant mill buildings that had once housed the textile, jewelry and silverware were seen as perfect sites for artistic production and creativity. Much like what happened in the Soho neighborhood of New York City, artists were able to re-inhabit these spaces without much attention or price. One of the earliest such squats was at 220 Weybosset Street, as artists Umberto Crenca, Martha Dempster and Steven Emma moved in to a former machine factory in August of 1985. Once established, they would prepare and distribute the ³New Challenge´ Arts Manifesto. It was a short document, written in the overwrought language that manifestoes often are, that would form a guiding philosophy for the local arts community.
³Art has been removed from being an integral part of our society and has been relegated to mere processes which had [sic] lead to the production of dry, academic, pedantic, superficial, mechanical, and mass produced works of art devoid of all integrity, honesty, and meaning, and has stripped art of its physical, psychological, moral and spiritual impact necessary for the thriving and indeed the very survival of human culture.´ (AS220 website)

The manifesto would place its emphasis on physical spaces, interaction and collaboration. Crenca and crew would put their ideas into practice, as they formed the arts collective AS220 at their space on Weybosset Street, and later, 97 Kirkland Street (AS standing for Alternative Space, 220 the number of that first address on Weybosset Street). The space served as a home, a studio, school and gallery. While little else of similar philosophy


developed at that time, AS220 provided the blueprint for the underground scene that would develop nearby in Olneyville.

3. A History of the Providence Underground, 1995-2003

As the 1990s unfolded, a new generation of young artists began to adopt the experimental, cooperative attitude of AS220. An artistic cluster would begin to form in an 8-block radius in the Olneyville section of Providence, as numerous young artists would take over abandoned mills and houses in the area. The cluster would center on one particular squat/collective known as Fort Thunder. Fort Thunder was the creation of four Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) students ± Brian Chippendale, Mat Brinkman, Rob Coggeshal and Freddy Jones. The four friends moved into one of a series of abandoned brick mill buildings in the historic Eagle Square section of Olneyville in 1995. They would eventually add a few more regulars to the mix ± Leif Goldberg, Jim Drain, Paul Lyons and Brian Ralph ± plus hundreds of temporary members and guests over the years. The name Fort Thunder was arrived soon after the original members moved in; it was a necessity, since they needed a way to advertise the space for concerts. Brinkman especially liked the notion of the place as a fort, a place where ³you¶re there to defend yourself from the quietness of American bullshit.´ (Spurgeon, 2003: 3) This fort aspect would be quite apropos for the space; as Tom Spurgeon opines, the ³name proved appropriate, acting as the kind of buffer intended, but also encouraging the same type of isolation and absolution from responsibility that traditionally leads kids to build treehouses or dirt forts. Fort Thunder


was a place where the aspects of adult life unnecessary for sustained artistic output could be kept from walking through the door.´ (Spurgeon, 2003: 3) By 1996, the Fort took up the entire second floor of the building. The space itself would become a work of art (see the cover picture for an example of one particular room in the space). The front room was filled with bicycles and bicycle parts of color imaginable. The performance space was next, utilizing what was originally the warehouse. The room had 25- to 30-foot ceilings and massive amount of floor space, which allowed the collective to divide it up into various sections suitable for different events. It served as host to music shows, craft fairs, indoor fireworks displays, cookie bake-offs, radio plays, costumed wrestling matches, garden competitions, bicycle repair, and Halloween mazes. That main performance room connected to the kitchen, in which the refrigerator served as a door that connected visitors to the living spaces of the residents. Every single inch of the walls was written on and drawn upon by both the residents and their many guests over the years. Art critic Jeff Wiesner described the place as ³a world unto itself, unrestricted, an idyllic haven for artists and musicians to do whatever they wanted, part funhouse.´ (Wiesner, 2006: 1) More than just a secret club, it also served a philosophic purpose, a physical manifestation of collectivity and co-operation. Lauren Rosati describes Fort Thunder¶s impact in this respect in her essay, ³Providence: Relational Aesthetics and the Underground´:
Fort Thunder sought to create a collective understanding of art practices and social exchange in which everyone produced art for the sustenance of that co-operative system and the interactivity it allowed. But the reverse is also true: the very existence of the collective encouraged that sociability and gave the underground project a literal space to


evolve«Artists, musicians and members of the regional art scene who were clued in to the Fort started attending performances, parties and, sometimes, just showing up. It became a sort of micro-community: the space that was available was shared; members and visitors collaborated on big installations and music; visiting artists from out of town ended up crashing at the Fort. Over time, Fort Thunder became as much of a legacy for its collectivity as for its output of comics, live music and art. But locally, Fort Thunder was known as the anchor of the Providence underground from its beginning in 1995 until the artists¶ eviction in 2002. (Rosati, 2008: 3-4)

One sees this sense of co-operation being paramount to the scene in the existence of many other collectives in the area. In just the 8-block radius of Eagle Square, there was the Perishable Theater, The Hive, New Urban Arts, Oak and Troy, Paper Rad and Dirt Palace. There were also the innumerable spaces and groups that existed as temporarily as twenty-four hours: Red Rum, Pink Rabbit, Hilarious Attic and Canada, to name a few. This sense of community and interaction was also reflected in the numerous groups and publications that would be launched from within the confines of Fort Thunder but which grew and took a life of their own outside of the space. Most famous of these groups was the Forcefield Collective. Begun in 1996, the collective began as a two-person band, founded by Meerk Puffy (Fort Thunder¶s Mat Brinkman) and Patootie Lobe (Ara Peterson). Those two were joined by Le Geef (Fort Thunder¶s Leif Goldberg) and Gorgon Radeo (Fort Thunder¶s Jim Drain) and would also expand into new media. They would become best known for their video installations, which featured the members performing their music in colorful full-body knitwear. Their work was included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial, with the installation, entitled ³Third Annual Roggaboggas´, becoming the most famous work to come out of this scene. They


would also have exhibitions at the Art Basel Miami, the Institute for Contemporary Art, in London, the Daniel Reich Gallery in New York, Philadelphia¶s Space 1026, Madrid¶s Museo de Arte Reina Sofia and the Tate Modern. Another group that emerged from Fort Thunder to make a national impact was the noise band Lightning Bolt. This duo, featuring the ubiquitous Brian Chippendale on drums and fellow RISD student Brian Gibson, started in 1994, but wouldn¶t begin to record and tour nationally until 1998. They were initially an improvisational band only, renowned for their live shows at Fort Thunder and various impromptu performances around the city, including one on the back of a truck that drove around Providence for a night. They adopted the ³guerilla gig´ style of performance, in which the band would perform on the floor of the space, never on a stage. This would allow the audience to surround the band and the band to perform in unique and unusual places. As an example of the cross-pollination in Providence at that time, their first official release was a 7-inch vinyl split release with the Forcefield Collective. The band eventually signed to Load Records in 1997 and recorded their first eponymous album that same year. They have gone on to record 5 albums total, along with numerous vinyl singles and compilation appearances. They have toured the world, including an appearance at the acclaimed yearly All Tomorrow¶s Parties festival in 2004. Unlike nearly every other group associated with this decade in Providence¶s art history, the band continues to exist, releasing an album in 2009 called Earthly Delights, which they supported with a worldwide tour. Another well-known creation associated with Fort Thunder was the Paper Rodeo comic book. The zine has come to represent a quasi-anthology for the comics produced in


Providence during the mid- to late-1990s. Begun by Fort Thunder¶s Mat Brinkman and Chippendale, it was released at random and infrequent times free of charge to local readers and provided an outlet for many artists. As Tom Spurgeon explains, ³The newspaper tabloid Paper Rodeo´ featured ³consistent work from Brinkman and Chippendale, less frequent work from other known cartoonists and the appearance of new yet like-minded artists´. (Spurgeon, 2003: 9) Cartoons would actually prove to be one of Fort Thunder¶s greatest areas of influence, as their simplistic drawings and narrative would become the basis for the alternative comics that have dominated since 2000. As Tom Spurgeon wrote in his profile of the space and its artists in 2003 for The Comics Reporter:
As a group, the Fort¶s comics stand among the most compelling works of the last ten years. As individual books, very few reach greatness except in that they suggest a larger body of achievement, an ongoing project of rehabilitating cultural detritus into stories of meaning and significance«By concentrating on comics as marks on paper, simple stories, lacking in affectation, the Fort Thunder artists are making works that derive their power from every reason why the form shouldn¶t work at all. This is an impressive achievement. (Spurgeon, 13)

Tellingly, Spurgeon notes the impact of the Fort Thunder art as a total, collective work not in their individual instances. As he notes about the six main cartoonists to have lived in Fort Thunder, ³they all watched one another, and many seemed very aware when someone else in the group had done good work or made major strides in terms of artistic development.´ (Spurgeon, 2003: 9)


The Destruction of Fort Thunder and Eagle Square

Not surprisingly, the buzz about Olneyville and the Eagle Square section in particular spread. It became a magnet for artists and those who wanted to be around artists. As Matthew Jerzyk chronicled:
These ³risk-oblivious´ pioneers, many of them recent RISD and Brown graduates, joined with local activists and bohemians to create an edgy and popular underground art and music scene that drew people from throughout the Northeast. The presence of a flood of young white people stimulated investments in neighborhood coffee shops, music and video stores, and local bars and restaurants. By 2002, within a one-square mile area, coffee was available at White Electric, lunch could be had at Julian¶s restaurant, and a night of drinking could be undertaken at Decatur Lounge. (Jerzyk, 2009: 420-421)

Just as unsurprisingly, this organic development caught the attention of developers who saw an opportunity for profit. In 2001, Feldco Development of Long Island, New York came to the city with a proposal to build a major new retail development in Olneyville. Their plan included knocking down 8 mill buildings in order to build a 14-acre suburbanstyle shopping plaza with 26 stores, anchored by a Shaw¶s supermarket and other national big-box retailers. One of those mill buildings was Fort Thunder. As reporter Ian Donnis wrote at the time, ³It's hard to imagine a starker contrast between the fort, an organic and proudly non-commercial entity that got its start in 1995, and the prefab concept of a strip mall. (Donnis, 2000: 31) The proposed development marked a watershed moment for the Providence underground and artistic community. No longer invisible, they realized that they were


now prime targets for redevelopment and gentrification. For the first time, they began to organize to fight for their interests and the preservation of their community. Most of it centered on the battle for Eagle Square¶s future and the preservation of the buildings of Providence¶s past, the mills. The Providence Industrial Mill Buildings Association (PIMBA) was formed immediately; it was an advocacy group that helped organize and lead protests from the site of the demolition to meetings of the Providence Planning Department. At one planning meeting, 280 opponents registered to speak. A petition drive to halt the planned development garnered 818 signatures, a large number considering the little amount of time the opponents had to act. The situation was a classic example of modern-day redevelopment and gentrification, pitting young, white artists and their supporters against long-term, minority and immigrant residents, their representatives and out-of-town developers. It became an argument over whether to preserve these marginal use buildings or provide much needed retail and jobs. Supporters of the proposal couched their arguments in terms of quality of life for local residents and jobs for the community. Ward 15 Councilwoman Josephine DiRuzzo went so far as to say, ³"We'll never have an this opportunity again -not in my lifetime." (Donnis, 2000: 32) But, by the time these protests got rolling, it was too late. Feldco and the city were both in agreement that this was a development that would benefit the neighborhood and the city as a whole. After gaining a few concessions ± the preservation of four mill buildings and the µmill look¶ in the plaza¶s aesthetics - the proposal was given approval by the Plan Commission at a meeting on December 19, 2001. On January 31, 2002, Fort Thunder hosted its final show. A few weeks later, the building was locked up and barred


to prevent the residents from returning. (The residents had to get special permission just to return to the space and collect their belongings.) In May of 2002, the wrecking crews moved in and began to tear down Fort Thunder and the other twelve mill buildings condemned for the shopping plaza. More than one hundred artists were displaced with the development. It would also set a precedent for the city, which began to condemn other illegal artistic spaces and squats in the next few years. While many of the Fort Thunder artists and their circle would remain in the area, Spurgeon believes that ³it was definitely the end of an era.´ (Spurgeon, 2003: 5) Within the next two years, most of the groups and publications mentioned in this essay were defunct. As a prologue to the story, the anchor of the shopping plaza, Shaw¶s Supermarket, would eventually close down because of a lack of business and a corporate restructuring that changed the company¶s overall plan. The majority of the retail that emerged was standard; a Staples, Dunkin¶ Donuts, Subway and Blockbuster Video stores serve the neighborhood, as they serve so many suburban communities around the country. The blog Art In Ruins notes that Feldco created ³one of the most complicated parking lots around´ as a result of trying to work this massive development in among the existing building footprints. Ironically, after the destruction of Fort Thunder and Eagle Square, the city would attempt to capitalize on this scene and period of time. First, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum curated a show in December of 2006 entitled ³Wunderground: Providence, 1995 to the Present,´ which showcased the art produced at Fort Thunder and surrounding environs just a few years after the city had condemned these very places. The New York Times ran a review, which noted, ³Fort Thunder became the site of


clearly creative high times.´ There is something disconcerting about the city¶s cultural elites heaping praise on the very scene they condemned, literally and figuratively a short time before. Months later, in 2007, Mayor David Cicilline began his plan to brand the city of Providence as the ³Creative Capital.´ Over the course of the next three years, the city has developed a City of Providence cultural plan, Creative Providence. As Lynne McCormack, Director of Providence¶s Department of Art, Culture + Tourism, writes in the Introduction to the plan, ³Creative Providence lays the groundwork for Providence to strengthen and realize its next generation of potential as a creative center´. There is no mention of the creative cluster that had put Providence¶s arts community on the world stage just a few years prior.

5. Artists as Pioneers, Arts as Rejuvenation

One cannot help but be struck at the tragedy and shortsightedness of what transpired in Providence. However, it would wrong to declare this a unique moment in recent redevelopment history. It is a common story in the post-Fordist United States, where industry left and subsequently left behind these spaces of production. Those spaces were ideal for artists looking places to live and produce and were re-settled and reimagined by this group. These industrial ruins soon became the sites of vibrant neighborhoods of galleries, restaurants, bars and cafes. These spaces, in turn, attracted more affluent people to the area, those who wanted to be around artists and to live and play in creative, lively neighborhoods.


It is impossible to blame cities and their leaders for looking to the arts to help bring them back from the brink of bankruptcy and despair. A strategy highlighting the arts for redevelopment is an attractive one, since it involves preserving and building off of a city¶s past and does not involve any massive destruction as urban renewal did in the 1950s and 1960s. At this very time of disinvestment, flight and crisis, there was a group of people resettling these abandoned neighborhoods and calling them home: artists. Their first major move as agents of redevelopment was to re-inhabit the abandoned industrial buildings in neighborhoods like Soho in New York City that had lost much of their manufacturing base. The cheap rents and large spaces were ideal for struggling artists, providing both a place to sleep and work. Lofts would soon become not just acceptable places to live, but chic addresses that held cultural cachet amongst the wealthy. This, in turn, had a major beneficial impact on cities, as Sharon Zukin describes:
First, if the conversion of manufacturing lofts to residential use does not cost cities a loss of tax revenue, or the federal government an outlay of construction funds, then loft living represents an antidote to the state¶s fiscal crisis. Second, if loft living generates a middle-class return to the urban center, then city reaps a benefit ± a social and financial payoff ± from loft living¶s demographic and cultural effects. (Zukin 1982: 3)

This is exactly what happened in New York neighborhoods like Soho, Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO and Williamsburg; it has also happened in similar places around the country, from Philadelphia to San Francisco, reversing many of the negative trends of the preceding decades in terms of outmigration of people and money. Writers like Ann Markusen and David King, Richard Florida and Elizabeth Currid have illuminated the economic role that artists as a community hold in our contemporary society and the positive role they play in (re) development. While many still regard the


arts world as an outsider realm that does little for the economy of a city, this could not be further from the truth. Markusen and King make clear the huge impact that a lively arts community can have on a regional economy, what they term as the ³artistic dividend.´ This dividend has often been overlooked, with the assumption that the arts are not a real business, or underestimated, with too great a focus on the arts establishments and their income. But, Markusen and King make clear that there is much more going on outside of these official outlets. Self-employed and contract artists earn income on their work, create works that are bought and performances that are attended, hire others to help them out and place orders for materials and labor. This is a huge influx of tax dollars for a city, essential for any municipality that wishes to invest in better schools, parks and infrastructure. A vibrant arts community in turn can create an environment to attract new residents and businesses. They have accomplished not just through their choice of living spaces, but also through the semi-public spaces in which they work. The galleries, concert halls, museums, rock music venues and other artistic spaces bring the excitement, diversity and authenticity that many seek. Richard Florida has attempted to quantify the impact of this effect with his Bohemian Index. By using Census data to count the number of writers, designers, actors and other artists, he has been able to rank cities on this number. As he writes, ³The Bohemian Index turns out to be an amazingly strong predictor of everything from a region¶s high-technology base to its overall population and employment growth.´ (Florida: 13) This is impressive data, especially when put into context with how little cities spend on supporting the arts. The return on the investment is sizeable, making it a much more legitimate investment of public money than the


convention centers and sports stadiums that have dominated urban redevelopment over the past two decades.

6. Artists: Trojan Horses of Displacement and Homogeneity

However, it is impossible to ignore the sense of loss at the retelling of the story of Fort Thunder and Eagle Square in Providence. Just as it is a common tale for artists to move into the abandoned factories and mills in urban centers, it is just as common that they eventually find themselves displaced in the very places they have made attractive and trendy. This gentrification process, which pushes out the very diversity of people and commerce that attracted people in the first place, leads to the creation of inauthentic and homogeneous spaces. It creates a blueprint that can be reproduced in cities around the world, regardless of the cultural context of that specific city. Loretta Lees, Tom Slater and Elvin Wyly note a ³gentrification aesthetic,´ the process whereby ³places and people once deemed hip, authentic, trendy, and subversive quickly become appropriated, manufactured, and mass-produced kitsch for higher-earning groups.´ (Lees, Slater & Wyly: 118) In fact, this global quest to attract artists and creative class members leads to creating similar, copycat cities through the concept of the famous building and design. An article in the March 2005 edition of Dwell Magazine gets at this dilemma:

As design expert John Thackara argues that Richard Florida¶s 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class ³has had an enormous influence on cities¶ design aspirations. They

are often obsessed with attracting the µcreative class,¶´ he continues. ³The problem with


this thinking is that it creates a monocultural view. I¶m actually predicting design-city movement. A No Logo kind of cultural backlash against the idea

an anti± of a

µdesign city¶ is very likely. The more insightful architects and designers I meet think the city is too designed²there isn¶t enough space for people, for spontaneous creativity. The danger with an overdesigned city is that it squeezes out the space bottom-up creativity and social innovation.´ for spontaneous

Again, cities rely on these blueprints for development and end up creating the same city over and over. The local flavor and uniqueness that is found in a city is lost, overwhelmed by this µacceptable¶ culture. As Sara Agniel of Providence¶s Gallery Agniel said back in 2000, ³I think that Providence is a place where you get a lot of feeling from your environment. It¶s why a lot of people move here ± there¶s a lot of wistfulness about things that have been adapted and reused, or forgotten and that have the potential to take on a new life. What this kind of demolition does [as proposed in Eagle Square] is erase any feelings of potential.´ (Donnis, 2000: 31) Once this unique culture is lost, it seems unlikely to me that the newcomers, the latest wave of gentrifiers, will have much reason to stick around. As Lees, Slater and Wyly note in criticism of Florida¶s creative class thesis, ³ the very process in which the creative class takes part ± gentrification ± threatens the longetivity of the diverse and creative conditions which attracted them.´ (Lees et al: 108) One easily foresees a period in the near future when the later waves of gentrifiers begin to look again for that authentic and exciting experience and environment that cities used to provide.

7. Potential Solutions For Planning and the Arts


I want to conclude with some potential ideas on how planning can help try to develop a means for cities to grow without displacement. The key aspect for having cities that can attract new residents and revenue while not losing the very things that make them unique ± artists, restaurants, bars ± is cheap space, whether for residential or commercial uses. It is impossible to imagine that this Providence underground of the past three decades could have occurred without the preponderance of abandoned mills. AS220 founder Bert Crenca stated this explicitly:

I think that one of the most important factors about what¶s been happening in the city culturally and artistically is affordable space. There¶s always a lot of cheap space in terms of the textile mills [and] jewelry mills«I can¶t emphasize enough the importance and the value of affordable space in trying to make something happen. (Rosati, 2009: 2)

One can look to other iconic artistic areas like the Soho of the 1960s in New York City to see that this is the case. Is there a sustainable model for development, one that allows a city to grow while not losing the very affordability and cheap spaces that causes this hipness that creates the demand for development in the first place? In other words, is there a way to have gentrification without displacement? Ironically, one may only need to look to Providence and those early pre-history days for a model on how to achieve this. Crenca¶s AS220, the collective that once illegally squatted in a Providence mill, has gradually transformed itself into an official arts organization whose stated goal is ³for the purpose of providing a local forum and home for the arts through the maintenance of residential and work studios, galleries,


performance and educational spaces.´ To further this mission, they have teamed with the city of Providence to redevelop various buildings to create studio space, apartments and gathering places with an emphasis on affordability. The group sees itself as an artistic incubator, providing the space and resources for others to make their art. It has been wildly successful, evidenced by its current $1 million-dollar budget, and owns its own 22,000 square foot building in downtown Providence, the two remote spaces²a gallery in the Rhode Island Foundation building and a 3,000 square foot working studio on the city¶s Southside ± that it manages. They have been able to forge partnerships with the city of Providence, developers and institutions like RISD and MIT to create a livable space for artists. Another example from the Providence underground comes in the form of the Dirt Palace. The feminist arts collective is also the name of the building where the members work, live and create exhibitions. They were able to survive the development boom of 2003 and later because they owned their space, an abandoned library at 12-14 Olneyville, and a stone¶s throw from the former site of Fort Thunder. It is this concept of artistowned space that could serve as the linchpin for future plans for development without displacement. As Rosati notes, ³It seems then that perhaps the happy medium is artistowned space. That was a lesson learned by many artists after the leveling of Fort Thunder and the rest of Eagle Square; if artists don¶t take ownership over the buildings they live in, they, and the structures they inhabit, will disappear.´ (Rosati, 2009: 11) It seems to have been a lesson learned out of loss in Olneyville. As Ian Donnis reported in 2004:

Some observers, like Berge Zobian, a photographer who runs Gallery Z on the edge of Eagle Square, thinks the Olneyville artists need to get more organized when it comes to


solidifying their future by buying property. Zobian, who was among the 80 or so artists displaced from the Foundry complex in the late ¶80s, was able to use the equity he had accrued from fixing up a triple-decker to buy his gallery space, and he acknowledges having a bit of an edge. Still, he says, "There are always ways." (Donnis, 2004: 27)

This ownership can provide either a permanent place or a means to achieve equity and income through sale of the property. It puts the power back in the hands of the artists and away from the developers. For cities and their planners, this can provide a focus for an artistic redevelopment strategy, one that allows for both growth and a maintanance of the unique character that allows them to grow in the first place. This could mean creating a trust fund that artists could tap for funds to purchase spaces. It could mean funding groups such as AS220 that develop spaces for artists and/or provide the expertise, guidance and money for artists to do it themselves. It could mean that cities require developers to do the same in exchange for development rights. This enables the city to create the conditions for a vibrant arts scene without being seen appearing to be too hands-on. As Elizabeth Currid suggested, ³One approach may be to support cultural milieus indirectly by creating the right conditions for creativity and supporting the contexts in which cultural innovations occur.´ (Currid: 463) This indirect support, working through middlemen, would also allow cities to go with a more hands-off approach to artistic development, enabling artists to avoid the label of sell-out that goes with direct government funding. As Currid right notes, ³Subsidies and grants are seen by some as corrupting of the creative process or as signs of a failing career that needs support.´ (Currid: 464) An indirect approach would avoid this corruption while still providing resources for artists to utilize and stay in the area.


Likewise, planners and city leaders need not only look to the big idea that requires big money to make a real difference. A focus on creating the conditions for a creative city means paying attention to the little things. A group of Providence artists that went by the name of Stinktank released a pamphlet entitled ³Compost and the Arts: How to keep the arts from dying of old age´. In it, they put forth a few simple and inexpensive ideas to help foster a creative city. These included a city-run list compiling all of the available properties in the city and their landlords, expedited code variances for live/work spaces or a website dedicated to artistic events and workshops. Perhaps the simplest but most effective tactic would be to allow artists to hang posters around the city that highlight upcoming concerts, gallery openings or lectures. As they say, ³Posters are often seen as the enemy of tidy streets and shop windows, but they are also a way that words gets out: a facilitator of ferment.´ (Stinktank, 2004: 6-7) For progressive planners, this ownership concept holds great potential as well. For Dirt Palace, it has allowed them to remain and to continue to adhere their radical, oppositional philosophy. They are a co-operative that strives for ³an environment conducive to challenging thoughts and radical actions.´ For any progressive, these are welcome words and ideals. However, they would not be possible without participating in the system of private property. The radical nature of the squats cannot provide a longterm solution, as their lack of acknowledgement of our current property system puts them in a permanent state of jeopardy. This artistic ownership would work with and within the system, a far more effective strategy for shaping society in a more co-operative and progressive way. Their permanence provides an everyday forum to show people a different way of living and thinking; these ³micro-utopias´ arising from the underground


hold a promise for the Left going forward, especially in the wake of the postmodern attack on the grand narratives and all-encompassing theories of Modernism.

8. Doubts On the Viability of Relationship Between City Planning and the Arts

However, I do want to acknowledge that city planning may not have any means or any reason for intervening in this world. These underground arts worlds derive so much of their power from the very fact that they are underground and therefore, invisible to most people and structures of power. As Providence artist Raphael Lyon remarks in short piece entitled ³Some Thoughts on RISD¶s Wunderground from someone who was here and there.´:
They draw a circle around some, and not others ± giving labels where perhaps none belong ± and in doing so eliminate everything contradictory, ephemeral, and fragile. Their imposed coherence can never do justice to something that is in fact unlimited, wild and unpredictable ± something indefinitely growing and changing. Something dangerous. This is a thing called culture ± moments and shared experiences for the ³us´ who are watching, listening and making. Right now. (Lyon, 2006: 1-2)

While Lyon was not directly talking about planners, his words struck me as something that could perhaps apply to those working in and thinking about the profession. Perhaps this oppositional art world should be off-limits to planners, who look at things in the long-term, never in the here and now. Artist J Hoge notes of these underground arts spaces, ³Because these places are under the radar, they have to do what they can and


maybe they have to shut down for a while, but they open up again someplace else.´ (Rosati, 2008: 11) Is this emphemerality a necessary condition for the most experimental and powerful art, forcing it to be immediate and unconcerned with money and permanence? Does a sense of impermanence foster the adventurousness needed for art? Is there anything wrong with boom and bust cycles for artistic micro-communities, to borrow a phrase from the French critic Nicolas Bourriaud, that mirror the boom and bust cycles chronicled by Susan Fainstein in real estate development in New York City and London of the 1980s and 1990s? Is it possible that these transitory moments can help provide a legacy for future generations of a city¶s residents, a sense of possibility that a small utopia can occur in the unlikeliest of places? Do they force the rest of us to be more attuned to these moments and to seek them out these artistic moments when and where they occur, so as not to be left behind? I do not have the answers to these questions, but I hope that they can provide both food for further thought and cause for pause among the many champions of the arts as a source of redevelopment.


Bibliography: Currid, Elizabeth. 2007. ³How Art and Culture Happen in New York: Implications for Urban Economic Development.´ Journal of the American Planning Association Vol. 73, No. 4: 454-467. Currid, Elizabeth. 2010. ³Symposium Introduction ± Art and Economic Development: New Directions for the Growth of Cities and Regions.´ Journal of Planning Education and Research 2010 29: 257-261. Donnis, Ian. ³Dig the New Breed: Providence got a wake-up call when opponents sounded off against a proposal to turn Eagle Square into a strip mall. A look at the rhetoric and reality of nurturing the arts.´ The Providence Phoenix, December 14-21, 2000. Donnis, Ian. ³Whose creative economy is it? The vitality of Providence¶s artistic underground is weakened by the demise of Olneyville¶s fabled music scene.´ The Providence Phoenix, February 13-19, 2004. Fainstein, Susan. 2001. The City Builders: Property Development in New York and London. 1980-2000. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. Florida, Richard. 2003. ³Cities and the Creative Class.´ City and Community 2:1: 3-19. Greenberg, Miriam. 2008. Branding New York: How A City in Crisis was Sold to the World. New York: Routledge. Lees, Loretta, Tom Slater and Elvin Wyly. 2008. Gentrification. New York: Routledge.


Ley, David. 1996. The New Middle Class and the Remaking of the Central City. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Markusen, Ann. 2006. Urban development and the politics of a creative class: evidence from a study of artists.´ Environment and Planning A Volume 38: 1921-1940. Markusen, Ann and Anne Gadwa. 2010. ³Arts and Culture in Urban or Regional Planning: A Review and Research Agenda.´ Journal of Planning Education and Research 2010 29: 379-391. Markusen, Ann and David King. 2003. ³The Artistic Dividend: The Arts¶ Hidden Contributions to Regional Development.´ Mele, Christopher. 2000. Selling the Lower East Side: Culture, Real Estate and Resistance in New York City. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Peck, Jamie. 2005. ³Struggling with the Creative Class.´ International Journal of Urban and Regional Research Volume 29.4: 740-770. Rosati, Lauren. 2009. ³Providence: Relational Aesthetics and the Underground.´ Arts and Education June 2009: 1-13. Smith, Neil. 1996. The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City. New York: Routledge. Smith, Neil. 2008. Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press. Smith, Roberta. ³Looking for Graphic Lightning From Fort Thunder.´ New York Times, December, 16, 2006, Arts Section, East Coast edition. Spurgeon, Tom. ³Fort Thunder Forever.´ The Comics Reporter, December 31, 2003, Issue 256. Squires, Gregory D. 2003. ³To Grow or Not to Grow: That is Not the Question.´ City and Community 2:1: 27-31. Wiesner, Jeff. ³FORT THUNDER: the pigs came in and blew the house down.´ Double Negative Magazine, Number 17. Winnick, Louis. 1990. New people in old neighborhoods. Pp. 61-69 in Louis Winnick, ed.. New People In Old Neighborhoods. New York: Russell Sage. Zukin, Sharon. 1982. Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.


Zukin, Sharon. 2010. Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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