Three topics related to Cultural, Economic and Urban Geographies of Beijing's Creative Industries

By Danny Butt

1) Can you manufacture a creative cluster?

In the West, one of the challenges of creative cluster development is
the level to which governmental initiatives can develop creative
ecologies. Historically, creative clusters have developed informally
- artists begin the process of gentrification by moving into areas of
cheaper rent and with the space to set up studios. During the 60s-80s
the prime locations for artists were in the inner city, which had
been evacuated by the middle-classes who were in the suburbs. The
development of the creative industries has allowed some creative
practitioners to stay, but the incursion of other people keen to
enjoy the newly gentrified "creative environment" price out low-
income artists.

Perhaps the trajectory of 798 is similar to this logic, but there
seems to be a range of different approaches to art village
developments - some based around established artistic communities,
some more propositional, believing that if the development comes
first the artists will follow.

The question of how to actually create a new cluster or creative
environment is an open question, and there are no clear answers. I
believe that the multiple developments in Beijing have the potential
to lead the thinking in the West on these topics. No urban authority
has really tried a planning experiment quite like this in the West
that I know of.

2) Creative Industries Development and Inequality

A second issue is the link between creative industries development
and income inequality. This is well established in the West in the
literature of Florida et al. Developing creative economies will
essentially be a process which exacerbates poverty, but in the name
of overall "economic development."

I've heard from a couple of people that there were protests at a
recent opening at A-Space gallery at Artbase in Chaoyang. They were
described to me as people saying "We don't want another art centre
here." I would be very interested to hear any comments on whether
this is true and what might be happening here.

3) Orientalism and Foreign Direct Investment in the Art Market

The final issue is the centrality of foreign investment to the
development of the art market. This raises a very different set of
dynamics to the West, where domestic support (either state support or
private capital) has been the norm. Here I note Els' comments from
earlier this month about the "stalking" of the Chinese scene by
foreign artworkers. I can't recall anything else quite like it in the
West. We have had transformation of the traditional material culture
market into a contemporary craft market (e.g. the link between the Te
Måori exhibition, cultural tourism, and the redevelopment of carving
practices within a commercial context in NZ), but this is not quite
the same thing, and also took place during a very different mode of
capital circulation. What will happen here will be interesting to
keep track of in the future.