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Artists are inherently part of the cycle of gentrification due to the rise of the creative environment. With this comes an influx of infrastructure, exploitation of local accommodations and the continuous appearance of a wealthier class. Artists add vibrancy to a formerly drab and seemingly unwelcoming place of residence, inciting interest from business venturers and other artists seeking out freedom and lower prices. Artists have been a given a stereotype of being more forward thinking than the average population in terms of acceptance and individuality. However if creators do not look at the bigger picture of gentrification and their part in it then we are no better than the business schemers and young entrepreneurs that we blame for the destruction of low income families and the rise of big business in poor areas.
Visual artists and creators are not known for being the wealthiest of citizens, some may even go as far as to categorize them with the lower class however if we view an artist in terms of the “creative class” (as labeled by Richard Florida in “The Rise of the Creative Class”) we are given a much wider pool of individuals to analyze. “[Creative class] follows from people’s economic functions. Their social identities as well as their cultural preferences, values, lifestyle and consumption… Whereas members of the working class work mainly with their physical bodies, members of the creative class work mainly with their minds.” By this definition “artist” can include “scientists and engineers, university professors, poets and novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers and architects” to the bracket of wealth. Even though stereotype and association we can see that “artists” no longer fall in the same category as the lower class but many are still attracted to rough and poorer areas.
What would be the draw of living in a poor area? What attracts these aforementioned masters of craft to ghettos and places such as Boyle Heights? Carribean Fragoza attempts to answer these questions in her article titled “Art and Complicity: How the Fight Against Gentrification in Boyle Heights Questions the Role of Artists” where she states, “Newcomers, including artists, have been drawn to Boyle Heights by its rich cultural character — forged from generations of Mexican, Japanese, Russian and Jewish immigrants relegated to the city’s eastern periphery — as well as its cheaper rent and property in an increasingly unaffordable city.” Creators are always in search of inspiration and being surrounded by “a history of racism, gang violence, drug epidemics and poverty” are strong incentives to create provoking art. The only issue is being inspired by something negative and choosing to be involved in insuring it doesn’t happen are two very different things. Voyaging artists exist as bystanders to the trauma and pain of the residents of poor neighbourhoods being directly affected by the street’s blows. And unlike the people born in these areas they lift no finger to help.
““It’s important to know that we have suffered a lot in this community. It’s a miracle that we are alive. We have seen families lose their children and husbands. We have seen violence from the police. Many people have left their lives here,” says Delmira Gonzalez. A Boyle Heights resident for more than 35 years, she has worked for decades to make her community a safer, more livable place. She is currently a member of Union de Vecinos, a tenants rights organization that formed over 20 years ago during the demolishment of the Pico-Aliso housing projects.”
The residents born into this type of environment have the incentive to see it changed for the betterment of themselves and their people. Allowing artists to infiltrate their society to merely watch them suffer and then later to be the cause of it is disheartening and inhumane in a sense.
This is not to say that artists are the worst thing that could happen to an inner city. In fact many artists have brought awareness to causes that would otherwise remain unacknowledged. Some creators also attend rallies, demonstrations and assist the people of these rough cities by joining various organisations. However if these artists do not identify themselves as the “gentrifying foot soldiers of capitalism”, as Steven Pritchard refers to them, then their efforts are not making as favorable an outcome as they would hope. While partially blaming artists for the income of capital power and big business Pritchard also points to hipsters as the cause. “[Steven] asked the hipster[s]… how they described themselves. “Socialists,” they replied, quickly adding that they were not looking “to build empires”, just to “make a living”…by “crafting” and “creating”. They, like the original pioneers, are explorers and artists and they are capitalists.” When we think of hipsters we think of people outside the norm or breaking away from commonality at all costs. The problem is that they are buying into the companies selling them individuality which only lends aid to big business in the long run. Many current stores are switching their advertising to appeal to individualism, making it a trend to not be “trending”.
Due to the creative influence artists have on poor and inner city areas they will always remain part of the cycle of gentrification despite each individual’s personal conquest sand intentions. This issue may seem unavoidable, however if we continue to educate young artists about their effect on the communities around them we can hopefully lessen the negative impact they may have. Keeping art as the positive and world changing influence that it is meant to be, without any of the unfavorable side effects.
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