Thursday, August 14, 2008

Louisville Cultural Revolution: Lessons for Dayton?

Though I’ve shown there is less money and people in Dayton, which may impair attempts to grow a scene here, the cultural or “values” factor should not be discounted. Perhaps this is the "secret ingredient" that has kicked off a cultural revolution in Louisville, a city that by all indications should not have much of an urban bohemia or arts scene.

A city that can be as gritty and low-down and good-old-boy as Dayton

Though there are more resources in Louisville than in Dayton, more people and money, there is still a choice involved.

People with money can choose. They can save it, invest it, or spend it on various things (or all three).

Apparently the choice in Louisville was to spend some of it. In some cases a lot of it.

On art. And music. And performance. And dining out.

And this probably is generating an emulation phenomenon, leading to more patronage, which starts to create a scene. Then there is Louisville-in-exile (including yer humble host). Expatriate Louisvillians actually tout the city rather than bash it, which generates a buzz, leading to non-Louisvillians to notice the place and write about it.

As an example of outsider buzz; Louisville Reframed, from an online magazine hosted by fashion house Ralph Lauren, What’s’ informative here are the quotes and observations from the art mob; their interpretation as to why a scene is developing:

"A sense of solidarity has developed among Louisville's arts community,” says Jay Jordan, director and curator of the New Center for Contemporary Art. “People here have something to prove, and there is a real interest in making Louisville a great place for artists to be.” It all started, he says, in the late 1990s, when several galleries popped up on Market Street and young artists began staging group shows in lofts and warehouses. Jordan also credits the city’s “really strong and serious” collectors of contemporary art. “They show a lot of support for and interest in regional artists, not just internationally renowned names,” he says.

"Louisville’s cultural renaissance isn’t confined to its arts scene. Beyond the city’s art patrons, a 30-ish group of movers and shakers is raising the area’s profile. They include Gill Holland, a film producer whose documentary Flow: For Love of Water, about the world’s dwindling water supplies, made a stir at this year’s Sundance Film Festival; Matthew Barzun, a media entrepreneur who is one of Barack Obama’s biggest financial backers; and Jonathan Blue, chairman of Blue Equity, whose holdings include a talent agency representing tennis ace Andy Roddick.

"The city’s dining scene is getting equally creative. Louisville boasts a number of notable restaurants making innovative use of local farms’ abundant bounty—a prime example being 610 Magnolia, whose six-course prix fixe dinners put a modern slant on Southern cuisine. They are the handiwork of chef Edward Lee, an ex-Manhattanite who chose Louisville for its proximity to farm-fresh goods. “Here I can just hop in a car and be at a farm in 20 minutes,” says Lee, who works directly with local growers to source ingredients.

Craig Greenberg, a developer involved in the downtown revitalization and a partner in Museum Plaza, observes that Louisville “for its size, has a lot of young, energetic, civic-minded self-starters who want to take the ball and run with it and really make an impact. And in this town, that is possible.”

These are just anecdotes, But perhaps bolded points note what’s needed to make things happen; people with means who support local arts, a culture of patronage, a high energy level and bias toward action, undergirded by a certain broad-based civic pride (One thinks of the city states of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance)

Given Louisville’s relatively low ranking on Florida’s’ bohemian index it’s surprising this is happening at all for the visual arts, not to mention live original music, restaurants, nightlife and so forth.

Beyond what is happening in town, the Louisville diaspora evangelizes for the city, spreading the good news . An example of expat buzz is this piece from Big, Red and Shiny, a New England arts site by a former Louisvillian now based in Providence (a city that is also getting some buzz of it's own):

“On a recent visit I decided to take a look around and see what Louisville had to offer, not expecting much besides maybe some very nice quilts and paintings of horses - in the same way as expecting to find art galleries full of paintings of sailboats in New England towns.

What I found was a city reshaping itself around the arts…”

How did this develop? And how sustainable is this scene? Though the Ralph Lauren article says things started in the 1990s, the history goes back further, into the 1980s and even the 1970s. Exploring this back-story would be worth some future post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

interesting facts. glad you blogged about this

- lorie