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Structurally Unsound

April 25, 2010

Greetings suburbanites.

Do you ever wonder why art and suburbia just don’t seem to mix, or why most original art continues to get shut down or prevented by the powers that be? While there are numerous explanations, I believe one of the problems is structure.

If you walked the sidewalks of 4th Street in  downtown LA you would be eye level with numerous  art galleries, shops, bars and restaurants.  Almost every one of them has large windows,  open  doors and music playing (many have outdoor  seating, right next to the sidewalk). It’s as if the building itself is telling you, “Come on in, everyone is welcome.” Many apartments are on the upper floors above the establishments, sharing the same building. The structure itself  connects one with the city, forming a tight bond. Here there are no gated communities, and your front door leads directly onto the sidewalk, filled with pedestrians going to and fro. The overall structure is freedom, diversity and expression. Everyone is close together, and most space is public space.  A good word to describe the city would be movement: movement of people, of ideas and culture.

For our foil let us choose Valencia –  aka Awesometown– to represent suburbia as a  whole. Many suburban communities look to give  their residents all of the amenities of the city  but without the commute, the crime or the noise.  Basically, the suburbs are an ideal place to start and  raise a family.

An ideal suburban life cycle could look like this: a married couple with 2 kids settle down in a quiet neighborhood with a cul-de-sac and community pool. The father works (usually out of town), and the mother works either locally or is a stay-at-home mom. The kids go to the local schools, then maybe community college before going away to a university. While away they find a spouse, a career, or both, and eventually settle down to begin the cycle all over again.

There is movement in the suburbs, only it is more formulaic in that one is limited as to where they can go and what they can do. With many more corporations and chains in the suburbs than in cities, as well as curfews and few place open past 9:30 PM, one’s variety is limited or stripped away.  I like to think of it as the difference between an ant hill and an ant farm. A big problem is sameness: most houses and shops look and feel the same, and no one really minds it. In fact, sameness is encouraged because it’s easier to regulate and control. Sameness in structure means sameness in mindset. The overall structure of this cycle is comfort, security, and similarity. A good word to describe the suburbs would be quiet:  quiet neighborhoods and quiet art scene.

Art and culture in the suburbs is an uphill battle. To survive they need the movement of people, thoughts, ideas and emotions, and the freedom to express them. That’s why it’s all about structure. If we structure our communities solely around business and entertainment, then what is called art is only good if it sells, or if it reaffirms the mindset of the majority. Art needs to be nutured and protected from capitalism and the “Art is cute” mindset of suburbia. Only when we change the structure of suburban living will we see a true change in our art scene and how others view art in suburbia.  Won’t you join us as we seek to do just that?

Want more?

An amazingly funny, superbly poignant speech by James Howard Kunstler on suburbia and public space.

An in-depth look on how New York families dealt with living in the city vs. living in the suburbs. From a 2006  NewYork Times article.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Tamarin permalink
    April 26, 2010 6:19 pm

    What exactly inspired you to write this post?

  2. April 26, 2010 6:24 pm

    Both the article and video at the end of my post played a huge role in inspiring me, as well as numerous meetings and conversations with members of Proxart about the state of art in Santa Clarita. I hope you enjoyed it, and wish to write more on the subject in the future.

  3. April 27, 2010 12:06 am

    I have a question about this quote: “Art needs to be nutured and protected from capitalism.” Aren’t cities the crowning jewels of capitalism? And if cities are the hub for great art… wouldn’t capitalism be a fuel for great art?

  4. April 27, 2010 12:18 pm

    Justin- I believe the fact that cities are home to both big business and thriving art is incidental. While downtown is host to numerous business districts, it’s also a hub for culture and diversity. It’s important to remember that cities have uninspired art as well as amazing and groundbreaking stuff. Capitalism can and should support the arts, but when it become the motivation for art, creativity dies.

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