This is the abstract for my paper presentation at the Association of American Geographers Conference 2016 in San Francisco. I'll be presenting it at a session on 29th March at which Ann Markusen (seminal proponent of creative placemaking) will be the discussant!
I'll upload full paper and presentation after the conference.
Place Guarding: Activist and Social Practice Art - Direct Action Against Gentrification
Creative placemaking is no longer a friendly foil in the soft power arsenal of private property developers. It has been successfully institutionalised at every possible level from national governments to NGOs. Loosely threaded utopian hopes of democratic community building have been quickly woven into pretty bunting for insidious gentrification; winners’ pennants for the agents of systemic social cleansing. Some artists working in the field of social practice – once as instinctually opposed to free market economics and state instrumentalism – swallowed meagre scraps as bait for complete annexation to neoliberal agendas. Social practice has, in some cases, become ‘regeneration’s muse’ or at Balfron Tower, London, recruited artists as ‘foot soldiers’ whose arrival signals impending regeneration-by-social-cleansing. Even ‘poster boy for socially engaged art’ Theaster Gates concedes that gentrification is the inevitable (and profitable) end game for social practice as creative placemaking.
But some (perhaps many) socially engaged artists do not wish to engage in creative placemaking’s global dystopian ‘dreamscapes’ nor in falsely democratic community ‘re-imaginings’ where state/developer always get their way. Artists in the US, UK and other countries are beginning to question why should ‘we’ want to ‘make’ a place for ‘them’. Don’t places already exist; already have communities? Who are ‘we’ to become embroiled in the sinister depths of urban planning, some artists wonder. Increasingly, socially engaged artists are, true to their roots, standing in support of those threatened with rehousing - against vested interests; taking direct action with people against place-makers; guarding complex community cultures and their existing ways of living.
Stephen Pritchard, 14th October 2015.