Creative Placemaking, Food Trucks and Culture Contests

September 13, 2010
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I’m overflowing with thoughts and ideas today.  It must be the break I took to visit family over labor day weekend or maybe its just anxiety that so many interesting things are happening and I’m missing out.  Today’s post touches on what I think are the best ideas or the ideas with the most potential popping up in my daily news review.

Food Trucks and Creative Entrepreneurs

In his regular column over at the Boston Globe, Harvard economics professor, Edward Glaeser, argues convincingly for easing the permitting processes for mobile food trucks in the city.  He suggests, “public spaces should be rented to food trucks, so the space will go to the truck that values it most. Food trucks can improve Boston’s streets and Boston’s palates — they just need to be free to do so.”

Renting public parking spaces to mobile food vendors is a grand idea and one I think should spread to other industries.  I’ve seen a couple attempts in the creative industries that successfully explore mobile retail but just can’t understand why more entrepreneurs aren’t trying this route.  Cookies N Cream in New York always seems to find a prime spot on Broadway to flog their wares and the Mobile Art Show in Orlando is now a must see during the monthly gallery walks in the Downtown Arts District.

One of the first obstacles to successfully launching a brand for many a creative entrepreneur is market access. Yes, you can toil away in your 10ft2 stand at a flea market but why not park your mobile store in one of the best locations in the city for a day?  Which option is best for exposing your fledgling brand to the masses?   In most cities your new retail location can cost as little as $20 a day and a tank a gas.  The best way to find out if there’s a market for your creative output is to get out there and run a test trial.  What are you waiting for?

Battle of Ideas

Ok, I get it, you are not yet ready to sell your soul. You feel like your ideas and work are more valuable than to be tested on the free market.  There are many a creative that take this stance. If so, you might think about putting your cultural intellect to the test with Grant McCracken’s latest Culture Contest.  He’s calling for all potential Chief Cultural Officers (CCO) to “compare and contrast Showtime and USA Networks.  Identify the grammar or algorithm that produces the shows in question.”

This, he says, is the type of question any aspiring CCO shoud “hit out of the park.”  I’ve read his book and found parts of it interesting but much of it left me wanting more.  His fast culture, read pop and slow culture, read high, breakdown seemed spot on to me.  But when he detailed how corporate America could benefit from possessing greater cultural knowledge he only used fast culture examples.  In the end, I felt, he presented an either or model when we should really be exploring how both fast and slow culture effect the private and public sphere.

It’s too bad I don’t have cable.  I would love to participate in this conversation a little more. It’s these type of contests and conversations that would really help the public sector understand the reach of the creative industries in society and they also help creative producers delve deeper into their art.  I need to remember to check back for the results.

Supporting Creative Entrepreneurs

Talking about linking the creative sector and the community in a neat way, I’m particularly interested by the second running of the Berkshire Creative Challenge in partnership with Mass Moca.  This competition aims to match local entrepreneurs with the production and distribution facilities of the Mass Moca shops.  It’s a great individual to mass market example that should start to take root in other places.

It’s about establishing relationships and moving them forward. For the businesses, it gives them a connection with local people, many of whom they may want to establish relationships with. For the artists, it gives them the possibility of a new revenue stream,” says Helena Fruscio, Director of Berkshire Creative.  Not only that it also provides the local shops the increasingly important “made local” souvenirs that more and more travelers seek when they are shopping for memories.

The creative industries and the creative economy aren’t just about markets, employment and cash they are also about meaning, sense of place and emotions.  By boosting local creative economy movements we aren’t just supporting local workers we are also participating in developing a city’s culture, brand and external image.  This is one to watch because it is exactly about Creative Placemaking and the fascinating complexity of culture, commerce and community.

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Cities and the Creative Industries

A Creative Industry Primer

The creative economy movement started in the UK in 1994. Follow the links to understand how national cultural policy became creative industry policy and how it's now changing the world.