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Injecting artists into seaside towns

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Derelict seaside towns are on the up and up, says the Guardian today.

In addition to giving media outlets across the nation access to endless bad puns (The Guardian had ‘Seaside towns plan to make cultural waves’; I was tempted by ‘the tide is high for seaside towns’), it signals a host of new work and proposed projects for architects and planners across the country. According to the piece, a recent survey by English Heritage ‘found more than three-quarters of Britons feel seaside towns are integral to national identity’.

The article’s focus, however, is of particular interest here. Apparently, at a conference in Blackpool the British Urban Regeneration Association outlined a plan to ‘inject’ arts and culture to draw capital to typically disused spaces, highlighting Urban Splash’s redux of the Midland Hotel in Morecambe.

BURA’s strategy follows the report released on 22 February by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport titled Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy. The report follows years of research on the economic benefits of creative clusters begun in the early 1990s chiefly under the American economist (and professor at the Harvard Business School) Michael Porter. Creative clusters, the thinking goes, attract and foster certain types of knowledge easily translated into capital.

The implicit development associated with ‘the creative economy’ (said, in the report, to include advertising, architecture, the art and antiques market, crafts, design, designer fashion, film, interactive leisure software, music, the performing arts, publishing, software and computer sciences, television and radio) is about gentrification and adaptive reuse instead of mega-developments like Canary Wharf.

Such reports and initiatives rely on a rather flexible definition of culture and creative industries. They speak to a certain kind of fetishised view of artists and the type of gentrification they bring. Gentrification, itself a loaded and ugly term to most, has the advantage of bringing heaps of money to local communities, at the cost of pricing out local residents.

Last week media sources were abuzz as Tracy Emin purchased the £4m Tenter Ground in Spitalfields, itself previously an artists’ stomping ground. The cycle of urban development leads to such waves, requiring the intervention of private investors to maintain the very creative industries other areas are trying to attract.

To imagine seaside towns as a bustling hub of tourist and creative activity is certainly an attractive prospect, but the fear of Disneyfication looms ever darkly.

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