At the end of summer term the academic calendar segues into conference season. First was the ECE 6th Conference at the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI), University of Toronto from 18-21st June. A highly stimulating yet exhausting programme ran from 8.30am till we had finished up to 7 courses of our dinners (around 9.30pm, depending on stamina). The conference was designed as a way to bring early career academics together from around the world in a process of field-rebuilding on the creative economy. Generosity of funding by MPI enabled early career academics with limited or non-existent research budgets to attend – although Canadian immigration prevented two of the speakers joining us in person (Ammar Palik, Pakistan, and Andrés Goméz-Liévano, Colombia).
Richard Florida gave his time to meet one-on-one with each of the participants as part of a game in academic speed-dating. He also led a discussion on revisiting the creative class where he rightfully noted that 100s of trillions is invested in urban spending and urban practice therefore focus needs to be concentrated on how spending is translated into pragmatic strategy. Casinos, stadiums and bike lanes are not, of course, the simple solution. Issues of inequality and disadvantaged communities in urban space were discussed in the session and throughout the conference, with common agreement that the pay and conditions for the service sector were unacceptable. A set of fascinating papers ensued. In particular I was impressed by the potential of Dr Xingiian Liu’s data visualisations which showed how creative cities are networked in terms of level of workers and interdependence.
The next week it was onto a very different but interesting conference Artscapes: Urban Art and the Public at the University of Kent, 27-28th June. As an example of where site-specificity falls down, Dr Rob Knifton discussed David Mach’s Polaris (1983) which was set on fire by a protester on Southbank who suffered fatal burns. The paper recalled the type of intense public participation, and ‘radical decommissioning’, that artist Simon Pope articulates in the burning of Raymond Mason’s Forward in Birmingham City Centre in 2003 (see my artist talk with Simon here). Of particular note was an excellent keynote talk by Dr Jonathan Vickery which read Jochen Gerz’s 2-3 Strassen in relation to creative cities literature. Vickery’s consideration of how culture in public space has to map itself onto broad objectives of governance and government usefully brought together the strands of thinking from both conferences which feed into our governance work. Exploring culture as a function of policy is one of our lines of thinking, and, taking a multi-level approach, in the next academic year we will be working with communities to learn more about how they connect into cultural and creative practice. More on this soon.