Cities in the latter part of the last century felt pressure to create initiatives to remake their images in response to forces that privileged access to flows of capital in an increasingly hierarchical and exclusive archipelago of “global cities.” Local cultures and alternative perspectives were seen to be sites of resistance to these developments, and locating art and artists in the context of their own neighbourhood and community were represented as a more authentic expression of artistic practice. However, recent urban scholarship has brought these perspectives together in an approach that frames the city as an entity extant within a network of other cities, yet also as a place embedded within its own particularity.
Richard Florida’s landmark study on the rise of a “creative class” as an indicator of success under globalization undermined the idea that local cultures were bulwarks to global capital flows. He found that local artists and cultures instead acted as indicators of a community’s openness and attractiveness to those flows. Reaction to this study has often consisted of instrumentalist formulas to attract capital through investments in cultural amenities and centres of innovation that were seen as a replacement for the flight of industry, and more recently information technology and software development, from North America and Europe to other continents.

Toronto, for example, is portrayed as undergoing a cultural “renaissance” through well-funded building programs that will see the rise of magnificent new edifices designed by a new superstar elite of architects and will house mainly established culture in new museums, art galleries and opera houses.

Are local cultures and artists more than simply indicators of openness to innovation, harbingers of a home for a newly emergent “creative class”? The combination of changes in information and communication technologies, open boundaries and new cultures of collaboration have also reshaped artists’ communities and how they manifest within and amongst cities. Privatized spaces of artistic display, collaboration and production with varying degrees of sensitivity to the context of local cultures have emerged, such as the Distillery District, the Gladstone Hotel and Drake Hotel in Toronto. Artists engage in spatial practices that “intervene” on the urban landscape, as the city itself becomes a canvas for expression, critique and experimentation. The form of the artist collective has reemerged and underpins new virtual networks of artists that cut across communities, in a kind of distributed “localization.” It is this localization, originally expressed as a critique of globalization, yet increasingly adopting its forms, that is the subject of study of spaces in the Visible City Project + Archive.

- Charles Finley

Visible City: Project + Archive is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of CanadaCanada Research Chairs, York Research, Ontario Innovation Trust, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.