USP Creative

The future is bright. And it's creative

24/07/2015
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The future is bright. And it's creative.

With the recent news that the Granby Four Streets Project has a Turner Prize nomination we once again reflect on the power of creativity in society, and how it can transform an area and community in a way that politics, economics and traditional property development cannot.

This is not a new phenomenon, from the 19th century activism of the pre-Raphaelites, to the more modernist attitude of the Bauhaus group. Creativity as a catalyst for social change is a long-recognised force.

The Granby Four Streets area is a Victorian terraced estate that had been largely neglected and fallen into disrepair, until four years ago when the residents took the matter into their own hands. Inspired by the guerilla gardening movement, they began cleaning up the streets and planting trees and flowers, and the restoration of the community (as well as the bricks and mortar) began. The residents then set up a community land trust and invited arts collective Assemble to come in to help. People were investing in this community, and committing to it. A painted wall advertises their monthly market, along with a sign that reads ‘Games (please)’ in contrast to the more commonplace prohibitions. Whilst it’s been enormously hard work, it remains a relatively simple solution. A brilliant example of a community using creativity to make a better place.

American potter Theaster Gates spoke at TED about his work in Chicago, using culture as a ‘transformational weapon’. Gates bought a building on the rundown south side of Chicago for $18,000, and began using it for performances, exhibitions and events. Before long there was a Listening House, a Black Cinema House and an Arts Bank. Local people quickly rallied round and visitors came from far and wide, changing the view of the area amongst outsiders and its own residents within.

The key for Gates is in identifying a pulse in any given community and using that energy to fire regeneration. And of course, creativity adds interest, promotes innovative thinking, and positive results. Culture is a thing that helps ignite. Witness the transformation of Manhattan in the 80s, and more recently Brooklyn. Similarly Berlin in the noughties, and now Leipzig. Closer to home consider the gentrification of Chelsea to Bloomsbury, Soho to Shoreditch and now on to Hackney and Dalston, all powered by creative spark. Wherever culture thrives, gentrification follows. A very different model to your traditional property development and, I would argue, rather more effective.

Whilst undoubtedly positive in the short to medium term, as areas become increasingly desirable, prices push out the very people who made them cool in the first place, and this must be managed. But still, whether artists are working consciously for change, as in the case of Assemble and Theaster Gates, or simply collecting, and accidentally beginning the gentrification process, the fact remains that creativity is a powerful force for change in the urban environment.