Preliminary thoughts on Elizabeth Currid, The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City (Princeton University Press, 2007). A more formal review will follow in a few days.
Planners, economists, urban politicians, and anyone interested in how cities work — and how the arts work in a city — will find something fascinating in Elizabeth Currid’s new book. Here are three reasons to pick up a copy:
1. To understand the place of New York’s artistic culture in the city’s economy and society.
Currid makes a compelling argument (in Chapter three) that New York’s national and global pull as a city does not come from its finance and business management cluster. Using location quotient methodology and other evidence she illustrates that other cities easily rival New York in their concentrations of management talent. By contrast, New York is unmatched is in the concentration of artists, musicians, fashion industry specialists, and the media industry (writers, illustrators, editors, publishers), what she collectively calls the cultural economy.
She also offers an interesting urban history lesson, illustrating how during times of recession and decline in other areas of the city’s economy in the 1970s and 1980s generated space for artists. Rent became cheap and creativity boomed as artists could live more cheaply. Eventually this outpouring of creativity fostered a vibrant economy that now sets music, art, fashion trends for the world. More recent real estate price increases and gentrification is making it more challenging for the New York arts scene as many cannot afford to live in the city.
2. To experience an in-depth case study of how an economic cluster works in a city.
Currid has done one of the most thorough jobs I’ve ever read of detailing how a cluster works at the micro level where people cross over related industries (graffiti artist and fashion designer, for example), cross-pollinate ideas, and work through word of mouth.
She draws the reader into the complex social scene that supports the creative economy in New York. Artists, musicians, fashion designers, and their media supporters and critics run in the same social circles, attending the same gallery openings or indie band concerts, and frequenting the same night clubs (like the famous CBGB). People and their ideas cross-pollinate in the social, informal milieu.
“[Creative] industries operate horizontally, engaging with each other through collaboration, sharing skill sets and labor pools, and reviewing and valorizing each other’s products — and much of this often begins in the informal or social realm. Film directors and musicians hanging out at SoHo House or the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institutes’s annual gala that mixes high fashion with high art and has every A-list celebrity, designer supermodel and tastemaker in attendance. Creativity is so fluid that cultural producers from one industry move seamlessly into another (e.g., Claw as graffiti artist and fashion designer; Beyonce and her boyfriend Jay-Z as hip-hop superstars and fashion designers).”
Currid insists that the reliance on a social scene to keep the cultural economy going is unique to this cluster. While she briefly acknowledges the social informal networks in other clusters, she downplays its importance outside the culture cluster. However, you can replace the gallery openings in Currid’s treatment with a golf course or the box suite at a hockey or football game and the process is remarkably similar. The movers and shakers in other clusters meet casually at these sporting venues as well as a particular watering hole to see if they can do a deal.
3. To understand the process of how global fashion trends germinate in New York and reach around the world – or why the upper middle class white kids in a suburb near you wear jeans hanging off their butts (designed in New York ghettos to emulate black prison wear) while listing to gangsters’ rap music on their iPods.New York’s importance is everywhere in our daily lives. The clothes we and our families wear, the music we hear, and many other goods we consume daily come from the New York cultural economy. Currid illustrates how New York’s cultural economy generates trends that then spread across the country and around the world.
The book contains much more pertaining to the economic development of cities. It also invites some tough probing questions. Stay tuned for a subsequent review…