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Creative Santa Fe: Coals to Newcastle?

Four speakers for Creative Santa Fe’s inaugural “Imagined Futures” IF event, told a New Mexico History Museum auditorium full house on Saturday that:

Tourist towns are “brands.”

Attention to historic architecture can make a place a mecca.

Affordable housing for artists can retrofit vacant building stock, and is desirable. (image: Artspace affordable housing in Patchogue, NY)

Yes. So: what’s new?

The question goes ultimately to whether this new-old nonprofit called Creative Santa Fe, with a seven-year existence and a much more recent makeover with a five-person staff, will be true to its promise of “new ideas and tangible outcomes.” Those were the words of CSF’s chairman of the board Bill Miller, in opening remarks Saturday. By the new-ideas standard,  Saturday was not an object lesson in how-to revitalize culture with new ideas, but an occasion in which three of four speakers essentially described their own cities’ adapting ideas that Santa Fe could be said to lead in already.

Speaker Eddie Friel who ran a “destination marketing” firm for Glasgow, Scotland, took the lectern first. Friel offered that Glasgow, had gone from “cultural slum” to cultural city of Europe over a 20-year period.

Glasgow, said Friel, had become an “event-led” city, where “point of entry” jobs dependent on tourism had ensued. Nurturing the buildings and style of Glasgow’s famous 20th-century architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, was a strategy of cultural regeneration, Friel said. One mark of Glasgow’s cultural success: Airport arrivals went from 700,000 in 1983 to 8 million in 2003, said Friel.

An obvious observation is that Santa Fe lacks a major airport that would permit parallel “point-of-entry” job growth. Further, Santa Fe’s historic architecture was a cornerstone of tourism strategy, beginning around 1928. Preservation is an area in which Santa Fe has led architecture for decades; indeed, preservation and adaptable re-use have become such a way of life here that Frank Gehry once joked that were he to design a building for Santa Fe (a rumor whose falsity was early established), he would need to use brown glass.

Buffalo, NY, likewise cites historic architecture as cultural generator. Mary Roberts, who heads the Martin House Restoration Corporation in Buffalo, New York, next took the stage to discuss the MHRC’s $50 million architectural restoration project on a Frank Lloyd Wright building complex in Buffalo. She said the outcome will be 198 jobs for an $8 million annual payroll, and a total $17.6 million annual economic impact. Yet, cultural economy notwithstanding, Buffalo’s economic woes persist.

“Ouch!” reads a 2010 headline of a population report from Buffalo Rising – which relates: “Population estimates for 2010 and 2020 prepared by the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning based on a straight-line extrapolation of the 1990-2000 trend suggest that the city’s population may continue to decline to 250,000 or lower before growth resumes.”

These numbers mark a 10.7 percent population decline in the last decade, and a 50% drop in population, per the US Census, since 1970, reflecting decimation in the steel manufacturing sector, and commerce on the Great Lakes.

Such data – not difficult to find – make Creative Santa Fe’s incipient strategy very difficult to follow on the logic of straight-up economic analysis.

Even overlooking the lack of useful detail from program speakers, the simple fact that CSF’s first event couldn’t stick with the program raised a caution. It was 6:50 p.m. – just shy of two hours of lecture – when the final speaker’s presentation ended. While the printed program billed a panel discussion and presumably, a short q-and-a with audience, neither occurred. (Not a good augur for conference staff’s experience.)

The pertinence of the would-be examples continued to escape me, through Louis Grachos’s summary of his work as director (since 2003) at the Albright-Knox Gallery of Art.

Part of the Albright-Knox collection: Clyfford Still (American, 1904–1980), 1957-D No. 1, 1957. Oil on canvas; support: 113 x 159 in. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1959. Photograph: Tom Loonan © Clyfford Still Estate

Part of the Albright-Knox collection: Clyfford Still (American, 1904–1980), 1957-D No. 1, 1957. Oil on canvas; support: 113 x 159 in. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1959. Photograph: Tom Loonan © Clyfford Still Estate

Grachos, who is a CSF board member and directed SITE Santa Fe until 2003, gave an example of museums going outside institutional boundaries – such as when French tightrope walker Didier Pasquette navigated between the towers of Buffalo’s Liberty building in 2010.

The final speaker: Architect Matthew Meier, dealt with artists’ affordable housing, presumably as a key rung of CSF’s new mission to invigorate creative economy here. But incomprehensibly, we learned nothing about the outcome of two days of artists’ and funders’ community meetings in Meier’s presentation. Artspace as a nonprofit operates with significant foundation funding; according to its schedule, it charges $12,500 for a two-day visit to a community outside its home state of Minnesota. Artist market surveys and arts’ organization surveys respectively cost $30,000 and $45,000.

Meier presented on live/work spaces from El Paso, Texas; New York, NY; Patchogue, NY; and Buffalo, NY. Three of the four relied on first identifying vacant building stock in cities for retrofits. In Patchogue, Artspace found a site for a new building. Meier showed maps and interior shots, but never got to specifics such as: what are building costs? What defines “affordable?” (Case-by-case; or a formula?); What about zoning and overlay issues?

Meier told Conrad Skinner after the event that in the community meetings here, participants said the Railyard would be the logical site of affordable housing. (Begging the question of Don Wiviott’s Live/Work Artyard lofts, which had dedicated several affordable units for artists, in foreclosure and in the sights of lawsuits.) The Albuquerque Journal editorialized a year ago that the Artyard spaces at the Railyard might have worked out, albeit at $500k plus price points.

“But given that Wiviott and his partners seem to have run out of money to follow through on the project, we may never find out whether Santa Feans are really ready to embrace the live-work concept — particularly at the prices mentioned in the latest ArtYard court action, more than a half-million bucks per unit,” the Journal wrote.

If Creative Santa Fe is getting behind affordable housing, is it because there has been a needs assessment surveying artists? And will CSF be lobbying the city for policy changes, simultaneously?

The Creative Santa Fe website has a long list of initiatives – production of  an Imagined Futures IF festival, an IF conference, IF residencies and an IF online magazine. But as the mission drift exemplified by its first event comes into strange focus, this first event had a patronizing flavor, not mitigated by the announcement that next up for the Santa Fe series is a session on “missing links” from Canyon Road to the Railyard, called “Santa Fe Ground Up.” In terms of attracting the  young people whose leaving town is widely considered problematic, I don’t know whether the organizers just overlooked that this first Santa Fe series event  was also the day of commencement from Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Not a single person under 30 appeared to be in the building.

The question for Creative Santa Fe may not be IF, but why?

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  1. Ellen has once again done the Santa Fe community a great service in fairly and accurately reporting on CSF’s awkward, but well-intentioned efforts to draw fresh attention to our shared obligation to thoughtfully discuss/plan the future of our city. If only someone had used a stopwatch to keep the 4 presenters from using up all the air and patience in the room! If ever there was a need for a good Q&A this was it! I applaud CSF’s effort to raise the issues, but there must be time for reflection and dialogue – and yes, there must be people under 30 in the room when those conversation take place. CSF: how about partnering with MIX for the next conversation?

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  2. I walked away from the Artspace presentation on Thursday also wondering if the demand supports the intention. When I recently spoke to Richard Florida for a story on artistic cities/creative economies that will appear next month in the Santa Fe Reporter, he said that creative economic development is only effective when it incorporates the service sector, providing service workers opportunities not only for affordable space, but also for their own creative advancement. So while an Artspace is only one part of a larger economic plan, it may also represent the lack of a more widespread creative economic redevelopment plan. I’ve been asking my sources Santa Fe has been focusing too much on the old standby creative industries (esp. traditional arts&culture) and the sense I’m getting echoes the notion in your lede: that what has worked elsewhere won’t work here, that Santa Fe needs to find a way to bring all residential groups to the table; and that if events/tourism are to be an economic driver, they can only be so over the short-term.

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  3. Ellen, John, and Matthew all make valid points and, as Creative Santa Fe’s Creative Director, I promise that we will listen and work to do a better job in the future. As Eddie Friel said (far more eloquently in his talk) the goal is to make Santa Fe a great place for Santa Feans and then it will be a place tourists want to visit.

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  4. We all had our hopes for the Railyard to add a new layer of urban style good living to our town, but greed got in the way. We had a friend who was set on buying one of the work/live lofts. The price was $350K for the shell and amounted to $500K once you included walls and windows (joke), and the deal-breaker was the parking… paid parking for yourself and your guests.

    The Railyard is also the only place in the United States that charges for parking on a Sunday (but they probably can’t pay someone to fine you at this point).

    I know very little about the Railyard’s inside story, but I can sniff out that its first priority was not for the people, but planned as a way to make money – and that’s why it failed.

    Matthew brings up a very good point. If our nurses, firemen and police officers can not afford to live in Santa Fe, why are we concentrating on the artists?

    So my two concerns are that greed and short-sightedness will hinder CSF in the long run. I’m not saying those 2 things will happen, just saying those things will make it flop.

    As of now, CSF is fostering a platform for information. I don’t always see lack of organization as a bad thing, because they are working in the realm of possibilities – and are planting seeds for the future. They appear to be including the community in the process, and may adapt to what works and what doesn’t.

    Their concepts are so abstract that it’s going to take some time to see what the tangible outcomes are. I am 100% in full support of their vision – and wishing that greed and short-sightedness are not lurking beneath the surface. I’m pretty sure my thoughts are shared with many in Santa Fe.

    Ellen’s criticism is an important part of the process and shines a light.

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    • Katy Crocker says:

      Agree with Willy, and perhaps having 100% support for CSF would make all the difference. Another Santa Fe problem is the often our resistance to change. BUT, the challenge is still there, which lofty ideas alone won’t overcome! Also, something I was going to note, that Willy also pointed out, the lofts at the Railyard were not affordable by my personal accounts either, so that never seemed to be the mission. Another item that caught my eye in this story was the “event-led” city concept–we have events in Santa Fe–are they tired?

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  5. Zane Fischer says:

    Some great points, both in the article and in the comments. One of the really positive takeaways I had from Eddie Friel was that tourism efforts need to correspond to the primary goal, which is a good quality of life for the city’s residents. I think that’s something that gets a little lost sometimes.

    I’d like to point out to Willy and Katy that, although greed did play a role in high housing costs on the Railyard, it wasn’t the greed of the developer, it was the greed of forces in the surrounding neighborhood and some typical NIMBY sympathizing at the (then) City Hall.

    Housing cost is scalable, so greater density creates greater affordability. The original plan called for significantly greater density both for cost and community, but it ended up being fought tooth and nail and ultimately restricted to the degree that affordability went out the window. Many of the neighbors who complained about height, density and in influx of new people to the area then turned around and built two story contemporary units (ruining the view shed they had earlier claimed to be defending) and sold them for big personal profits.

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  6. True (as in New Mexico True!),
    Ellen, I feel your “overview” of the event and all of the comments that follow give a fairly accurate account as well as criticism. Among the many issues I would like to discuss (with whom, I wonder?) concerns CSF’s recent announcement of a series of lectures and conferences. What seem missing are any clear goals with respect to the achievements the organization has in mind. Do we have to wait until the conference in 2013 to learn more about what the organization’s objectives are with respect to these next steps?
    Some reactions I heard about this first event were “elitist”, “top down” and other similar terms. I feel the lack of an open discussion and Q&A is one of the reasons for this perception, but these are not the only ones. When CSF began some years ago it engaged the whole community, everyone was incredibly fired-up and a lot of good ideas came out of these initial meetings. Then nothing followed and all the work seemed to vanish, then something totally different emerged, now IF, a far cry from what the “grassroots” beginning was all about!
    Helping artists is certainly a priority, and perhaps a justified beginning. But there are so many other groups as well as unemployed people that deserve attention in order to make our town a livable place and attractive to visitors. Besides, what has home/work spaces for artists have to do with attracting tourists and “making it a place tourists want to visit”? What about service and transportation ranging from airport to connections to other places? I also wonder how artists feel about being in a place that besides hopefully offering an affordable living space would create, in my view, a kind of zoo where they are on display.
    Although this town is famous for its art & culture, these can’t be the only drivers to come visit. Not everybody in the world is interested in these subjects, many come seeking something else to do. I’m afraid that the sport bars which look like the new thing are not the answer either. Finding any information is quite a challenge, too much indeed. Can someone think of bringing together the tourism industry’s players and organizations to discuss why tourists don’t come here as much as to other destinations all around us? Why, once they are here, they are often disappointed?
    I have often heard how people were shocked when the word brand came up in relation to this town. Santa Fe is probably the most branded town on earth! But this brand is now obsolete and not up to our times. That’s the problem! I think that Eddie Friel’s presentation was brilliant. I’m afraid that it will be difficult to make something similar happen in Santa Fe. Too much resistance to change.
    The intriguing title “Evolve or Die?” was promising. Where is the answer so far? How can Santa Fe evolve? Is it a viable hope?

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