Over the past few years “Arts led Regeneration “ or “Culture led Regeneration” have become “buzz concepts “ internationally. But like all positive stories about arts and culture, the concepts are being derided in some circles.
Most of the parts of cities that I find exciting were once down at heel.
In the 80s when we manufactured some of our Red or Dead stuff just of Brick Lane in East London, Gerardine and I marveled at those stunning old merchants houses that we coveted but at the time we couldn’t bring ourselves to bring our kids up in an area with such high levels of deprivation and street crime. But intrepid artists, designers and musicians were brave enough (well it was very cheap!) to establish their studios and start to work and sleep there and led the “Rise of the East“.
On our trips to New York over the past 30 years we have see the same happen to Soho, The Meat Packing District, the Lower East Side and now areas once classed as “no –go“, Harlem. All of these have been brought back to life by, dare I say it, becoming cool. And it is the cooler end of society that led the colonisation and regeneration of these parts of the city allowing them to be the successes and “must visit” places that they are today.
Perhaps the best example is the Mitte district of Berlin where East German austerity was turned into one of the world’s most joyous creative parts of a city.
On a smaller scale it is creativity that is lifting Manchester’s Northern Quarter and allowing struggling seaside towns like Margate to dream.
And you can go further. When I was 15 The Sex Pistols questioned our blinkered reverence to authority and in God Save the Queen attacked a British institution that had rarely been questioned. Almost 4 decades on, our relationship with the British Royal Family is much healthier, with the reverence and cap doffing gone but with a healthy respect for values intact and with a Royal Family that understands its place in a democratic society. In 1976 the Queen was certainly not relevant to this 15 year old who wanted a more open society, at the 2012 London Olympics a Queen interacting with a fictional figure , James Bond , spoke volumes of a lightening up of an institution which recognises that we all don’t want to just doff our caps and say “thank you maam”
And we can be sure that once the initial authoritarian knee jerk reactions subside, the Pussy Riot (part of The Guerrilla Girls in The Art World) saga in Russia will have profound positive changes on freedom of expression and give youth in Russia a much louder voice.
If social change is about all aspects of society being happier then where better to start than art and culture?