Monday, August 25, 2014

The Power of Place and Creativity

Villa Rotonda c.1564
Andrea Palladio
Hello Everyone:

Well how about that, we hit 15,072 page views. Whoo hoo.  You all are the very best audience a blogger can have.  A million thanks to all of around the world and here in the United States.  A special thank you to Nutmeg UK for all your encouragement and support.  Shall we try for 20,000?  I think we have it in ourselves.

Before I get going on today's post, "Why Do Old Places Matter? Creativity" by our friend Tom Mayes, I want all my readers in the North San Francisco Bay Area to know that I hope you all are safe and sound.  If you go to my social media sites, I posted a helpful post-earthquake resource guide from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  It's also available on their website Most important, stay safe.  Changing the subject, let's talk about old places and creativity, shall we.

Richard Florida
Richard Florida has devoted a considerable amount of research and writing to documenting the rise of the creative class, observing that said class is drawn to the particular qualities of places that appear to be attractive to them.  According to Mr. Florida, one of those attractive qualities is authenticity of a place.  Specifically, "Authenticity-and in real buildings, real people, real history-is key.  A place that's full of chain stores, chain restaurants, and chain nightclubs is seen as inauthentic.  Not only do those venues look pretty much the same everywhere, but they also offer the same experiences you could have anywhere." (Florida, "What Draws Creative People? Quality of Place," 2012)  In short, the creative class wants uniqueness of place and experience not bland boring boxes.

Downtown Charleston, South Carolina
 While Mr. Florida may have been the first to put into    words why creatively-inclined people are drawn to  certain places (a key measure of the possible success  of a city in the future, according to him), his is not an  entirely new idea.  The majority of the founders of the American preservation movement were artists and writers, like the people involved in the Charleston Renaissance who were integral to the city's nascent preservation movement.  Tom Mayes observes,

We find this overlap throughout the country.  And artists' colonies are often historic places that become tourist attractions, like Carmel, Provincetown, Ogunquit, Greenwich Village and increasingly, to many people's surprise, Brooklyn and Detroit.  All were places that creative people were drawn to because they were distinctive and interesting (and at one time cheap)...

William Faulkner at work in Rowan Oak
Oxford, Mississippi
The above places are magnets for people who wish to connect to the power of creativity.  To use a religious analogy, people once made pilgrimages to places that housed relics of saints, now places where creative people worked and lived have become places of pilgrimage.  Our friends at the National Trust operate a network of Artists Homes and Studios to these sites build their programs and operations.  Places such as Mark Twain's house in Hartford, Connecticut, Donald Judd's Manhattan loft, Jackson Pollock's house on Long Island, and William Faulkner's Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi, are giant pulls for people who want to connect to the creative power of art and the people who made them.  Personally speaking, I could definitely connect with artistic power of David Hockney's studio.

RCA Studio A
Nashville, Tennessee
Tom Mayes is happy to report that he recently connected, through Facebook and friends in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with musician Ben Folds who is trying to save the historic RCA Studio A in Nashville, Tennessee.  Mr. Folds, along with a host of other musicians and singers including Dolly Parton and Elvis, recorded in the studio. Mr. Folds is quite passionate about why this place matters to him as a songwriter and musician.  This is what he said about the venerable studio,

...tale a moment to stand in the silence between the grand walls of RCA Studio A and feel the history and the echoes of the Nashville that changed the world...listen first hand to the stories from those among us who made countless hit records in this studio-the artists, musicians, engineers, producers, writers who built this rich music legacy note by note, brick by brick. (Folds, Open Letter, June 24, 2014)

Ben Folds at RCA Studio A
Nashville, Tennessee
These words uttered by Mr. Folds capture the heart and soul of why certain places matter to creative people-the unique character of the spaces-the acoustics in this case-and that intangible sense of the legacy of all the people that came before such as Dolly and Elvis-who created some of the most iconic sounds of the twentieth century in this space.  Although Mr. Folds has been forced to record elsewhere because the new landlord raised the rent, he is continuing his fight to save the place-taking the cause to the media, talking about the studio and why it matters to him.

During his time at the American Academy in Rome, Tom Mayes was able to interview novelist Peter Bognanni, who talked about the significance of one specific on his path to becoming a novelist.  Mr. Bognanni studied at the Iowa Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa.  He shared with Mr. Mayes the way the Dey House, the old Victorian where the writers met, created an environment that allowed him the freedom to write.  The writers who walked the halls before him imbued the place with the possibility that Mr. Bognanni could write as well.  The legacy of that place dedicated to all talking about and the ongoing act of writing nurtured his ambitions to write.

Everyone has a place in this world where they can go and connect with power of creativity.  A place that inspires some artistic action.  A place where you can let your imagination roam freely.  Virginia Woolf called it "A Room of One's Own."  Although she was referring to a place where women could go and be, I think this phrase can be applied to anyone who has a special place where they can go and be.  Old places inspire this sense of creative being through their legacy.  Now that's something that no bland boring box can ever do.

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