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How Art And Culture Happen In New York

Elizabeth Currid
Published 2007 · Sociology

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Abstract Problem: In the last two decades, urban economic development has shifted its focus from industrial recruitment to talent and human capital, including art and culture. Many have argued that talented people are drawn to artistic and cultural amenities, but few have examined art and culture as a production system and drawn meaningful insights for urban planning and economic development based on understanding its inner workings. Purpose: This article looks closely at the mechanisms that structure and drive the cultural economy and suggests possible avenues for cultural economic development and policymaking based on these mechanisms. I focus on the ways cultural producers obtain jobs, advance their careers, gain value for their goods and services, and interact with each other. Methods: I conducted 80 interviews with cultural producers, cultural gatekeepers, and owners and managers of entertainment venues these groups frequent. Results and conclusions: I find that not only are artistic and cultural producers densely agglomerated, but that key social mechanisms structure and inform this clustered production system. These industries depend on unique kinds of social interaction, from nightlife to gallery openings, to thrive. This is more than just fun and games, and is critical to the operation of this economic sector. Takeaway for practice: Cultural producers rely heavily on their social lives to advance their careers, obtain jobs, and generate value for their goods, so that the local arts social milieu is critical to the cultural economy. Cultural producers also tend to cross-fertilize, collaborating to create goods and services, review each other's products, and establish new careers, meaning the ability to live and work in close proximity to one another is important. Finally, a large concentration of creative people and an active cultural milieu has made New York culture a known brand. While New York is unique, the cultural life of other cities and regions can also be economic development assets. Places can strategically cultivate the social milieus that are most conducive to the production of art and culture.
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