Artists are the Mushrooms of Civil Society
Have you heard about the experiments being done to clean up oil spills using mushrooms? Oyster mushrooms can turn the toxic sludge into rich compost and then transform themselves into something good enough to eat. Pass the Butter!
Artists move in to distressed areas and clean them up, make society a better place…just like oyster ‘shrooms can absorb the waste, transform it. Alchemy.
It is an organic process. This kind of civil transformation cannot be imposed. Think of all the boarded up strip malls, vacant storefronts-these pathetic, hopeful, consumer attempts to force community on a place. Now think about 4th St. in Long Beach, CA, or the South Congress area of Austin TX, or the Mission District in San Francisco, CA. The old SoHo area of New York City may be the most famous location benefiting from the clean-up efforts of artists in the ’50’s and ’60’s. I’m sure you know of many examples in your area where the creative force of artists and visionary presence is transforming run-down neighborhoods.
What are the spores of the Artist Mushroom? Bookstores, coffee shops, vintage stores, theatres, community gardens, art and educational centers, galleries, studios, bars, musical venues, honest handmade food…Artists know what it takes to live the good life.
Perhaps the most newsworthy ‘Art-Shroom colony’ is mutating in Detroit, Michigan. Artists are moving in, buying places for incredibly low prices, like $100. Like an oil spill, these areas are toxic, people can’t go out at night for fear of being caught in crossfire or robbed, but there they are working on the vision of a better life.
At the core of the colony is the Artist’s requirement for access to affordable housing. Cheap Space is the growing medium. Unfortunately, big business makes sure that the artists must often live and work in areas where no one else wants to go. Be the ‘Urban Pioneer”! The artists are willing to do it out of fierce passion for their work, for creating and expressing themselves as a valuable and worthwhile life choice. I have been involved with many attempts to create “community arts space”. I have seen things get wrapped up in ugly politics, or developers using artists to clean up an area only to evict them later when businesses or condos may provide higher rents, now that the ‘hood is safer and more “fun”.
Artists work with what’s there. Like the oyster mushrooms, they transform, not replace. You can’t dump detergent into the spoiled ocean and expect the birds and fish to thrive. Just like expensive developments and storefronts cannot support the lives of those less bankrolled.
We are living in an alchemical transforming unpredictable furnace. Artists are Wizards. In today’s economy, we need somewhere to produce the magic. To set up the crucible. Detroit may sound god-awful right now, but just you wait. XX
Green Oil spills: http://www.uas.coop/node/1011