III Practicing Culture

The Fun and Games of Creative Citizenship: Urban Cultural Policy and Participatory Public Art

Saara Liinamaa

Introduction: The City-as-Playground

The creative city model of culture-led urban development and economic growth has deeply influenced urban cultural policy in the contemporary moment. In addition to a steady stream of scholarship that has unpacked the political economy of the creative city (e.g. Peck 2005; Pratt 2008; Ponzini and Rossi 2010; Scott 2006, 2010), broadly speaking, criticisms of the creative city as urban cultural policy have questioned the employment of creativity as a resource for social cohesion and citizenship (e.g. Barnes et al. 2006; Bayliss 2007; Catungal and Leslie 2009; Grundy and Boudreau 2008; Mould 2015) and challenged the reduction of culture to forms of urban branding, leisure, and consumption (e.g. Evans 2009; Miles 2005a, b; Vicari Haddock 2010; Zimmerman 2008). This chapter contributes to these debates by pulling out an underlying theme within creative city platforms. By strategically drawing on the varied but powerful associations that the term creativity carries in popular culture (Pope 2005),

S. Liinamaa (*)

Department of Sociology, Acadia University, Wolfville, NS, Canada © The Author(s) 2017

F. Kurasawa (ed.), Interrogating the Social,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-59948-9_8

the creative city promises not only a more economically viable city but also, by association, a city that is both freer and more fun. Creativity promises innovation as well as liberation from the staid conventions of urban policy; the creative city embraces the concept of a more playful city. To this end, creative city-inspired cultural policy and programming, by prioritizing the social as well economic benefits of culture, also asserts the values and virtues of play, where the arts are presented as a means of playing together that connects urban populations and neighbourhoods. For example, consider the case of the arrival of the international phenomenon Nuit Blanche in Toronto in 2006, a key event of the city’s “Live with Culture, 2005-2006” initiative that developed out of Toronto’s clear commitment to implementing a strong cultural plan based on creative city principles.1 This all-night arty party is less about contemporary art than the experience of the event itself. As the organization writes of the first Toronto instalment, “[a]s remarkable and distinctive as the art was, the magic came from the audience response and interaction”. Importantly, Nuit Blanche makes art “fun, engaging and accessible” (Nuit Blanche Toronto 2010).2

The playful character of the city, and its ties to leisure, consumption, and innovation, has always been a key feature of modernity (Benjamin 2002; Lefebvre 1996; Sennett 1978; Stevens 2007). As Baudelaire (1972) astutely recognized, with modernity, everyday life becomes more playful on the whole. The creative city model illustrates in the contemporary moment how different values and virtues of play become embedded as urban principles, and this chapter maintains that the current turn to celebrate the arts as urban fun and games requires more critical scrutiny. Given the popularity of the creative city mandate, this is a timely moment to reconsider a past and current history of alliances amongst art, play, and the city.

We are well reminded of a history of artistic engagements with urban life that draws on play as a critical strategy, one capable of subverting the rigidity of the city and the rules of order. It is easy for cities to champion the promise of urban play and entertainment that the creative city presents but harder to reckon with the more disruptive character of play, particularly when we are keen to cast play as the glue for social cohesion. Creative city cultural policy proposes to cultivate a playful citizenry, and a strand of contemporary urban practices craves to do the same. But if we take together different threads of contemporary public art’s forms of playful participation, we can discern a number of insights about the process of producing creative urban citizens. Participatory public art demonstrates the potential of play as a form of critical urban action and analysis, one that accentuates the work and play of urban citizenship through participatory cultural practices. The arduousness and ambivalence of creative citizenship is something that the rhetoric of creativity in urban cultural policy and management clearly misses.

This argument unfolds in three main sections. Firstly, the chapter turns to histories of artistic play and the city (Dada, Surrealism, and the Situationist International [SI]) that intersect with the sociology of play (Caillois, Huizinga). I use these histories to dramatize the contemporary stakes of playing together in the city. Secondly, in light of this context for thinking about the aesthetics of urban play, the chapter outlines the assumptions guiding the creative city model of urban community building and social participation. I argue that the emphasis placed on building creative citizenship delineates a new model of urban responsibility, one that seeks to embrace the benefits of creativity-based experimentation and sociability, while eschewing the conflict and contradictions that these practices engender. Thirdly, the chapter provides an analysis of various urban-based contemporary art practices that use play principles to cultivate diverse forms of public participation, both similar to and distant from creative city interests. In this section, I also identify key issues that emerge within contemporary art’s efforts to remake the city- as-playground. The conclusion argues for the relevance of contemporary art’s urban play experiments as a way of framing the work and play of creative citizenship and urban participation in the contemporary moment.

This chapter contributes to debates and dialogues central to practising critical sociology through cultural analysis in a number of respects. First, as Kurasawa states in the introduction to this volume, one of the key challenges of our methodology is to blend “structuralist cartography” with an “interpretivist taxonomy” (5). The chapter charts a strategy for moving between structural and interpretative frames by treating the city as a foremost interdisciplinary object of social research. Second, this concern for the city and the conditions and consequences of contemporary urbanization responds to the publicly minded orientations of critical sociology. This city becomes representative of critical sociology’s ongoing concern for the vibrancy and accessibility of urban public spaces and, by extension, a notion of the public sphere that is inseparable from urban public life. However, rather than position participatory public art as a necessarily critical antidote to the assumptions that ground popular narratives around urban life and change—as is often the case—the following pages demonstrate how the critical analysis of cultural practices must contend not only with the rifts between mainstream and oppositional culture but also with their often-telling intersections. While the chapter draws on a sociological analysis of play that is largely micro-sociological in orientation, the critical heart of this analysis stems from the recognition of how local and situated practices fold into structural concerns over the concentration of economic and cultural capital and power in cities. This chapter advocates for scholarship that acknowledges the complexity of the cultural field (Bourdieu 1984), which means bringing together the study of a specific activity—in this case, participatory art practices—with different, at times conflicting, models for interpreting the socio-cultural meaning of these activities, from policy to theory. Cultural practices as objects of academic inquiry may productively call into question assumptions about the social world, despite not offering a straightforward analysis of, or resolution to, these larger concerns. The participatory projects discussed here illustrate the dilemmas posed when we recognize the “creative and reiterative features of contemporary cultural production” (Kurasawa 30). I underscore a history of thinking about the social dimensions of play that stresses the multi-fold stakes of artistic play as an urban practice in the present that illuminates and complicates the symbolic resonance of public space and cultural citizenship.

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