Mapping cultural creativity
April 13, 2009 by CMC
So just where are “cultural hot spots” these days? The New York Times recently wrote about some researchers who have proposed a “geography of buzz” that identifies and catalogs hot spots according to how often certain cultural events happen in or around them: film and television screenings, music shows, gallery and theater openings, etc. While you may think hipster hot spots would match “cultural” hot spots, this kind of data suggests otherwise. The researchers make the case that in New York, Lincoln Center, the Broadway theater district, and other areas are cultural hot spots. In Chicago, we suppose the Loop central theater district, the Lake Street club scene, and the Rush/Division area would qualify as cultural hot spots (one of the data points in the research is photos taken at events—the more photos the more likely a spot is to be deemed a hot spot).
At CMC, we’re not quite sure what to make of this kind of research. On the one hand, we in the music community need to develop “facts on the ground” that support our now well documented assertion that music is a serious economic player in Chicago. Identifying and mapping where that music is happening is a large part of that effort. The sophisticated mapping techniques supporting this research are very important and can be a very effective tool as the music community makes its case to policy makers. On the other hand, this kind of research seems to stumble into the same problems as other attempts to quantify cultural output have–it fosters “district”-like thinking about music and the arts, thereby encouraging planning techniques that don’t encourage city-wide, inclusive music friendly policies and practices that break down barriers to participation in the music community.
How can researchers best measure a broad, diverse community’s cultural ‘production’? And can you measure what areas in a metropolitan fabric contribute to developing creativity and building a “creative class”? This research starts to answer these questions. CMC hopes more research continues, and shines a brighter light on the “value” of Chicago music to the city at large.