03 November 2006

Art in the Contested City

As interest in the role of arts and culture in the vitality of cities heats up, how can we address both the opportunities and challenges posed by this new mode of urban development?  In cities around the world, and in our own Brooklyn backyard, the fields of art, design, media, and architecture, are seen and used as increasingly powerful development tools.  Cities are host to an ever-expanding number of film and theatre festivals, museums and performance spaces, arts districts and gallery rows, public art and iconic buildings.  On the one hand such development is helping invigorate cities as great civic spaces.  Urban residents are finding that arts and culture are unrivaled in their capacity to enhance the life of the community, to open new spaces for creative expression and political engagement, and to stimulate dynamic forms of economic development.  Yet on the other hand, such development also poses new challenges that can’t be ignored. As communities struggle over affordable housing and scarce public space, some strategies of “cultural-led growth” may increase the risk of gentrification, displacement, privatization, and the exclusion of certain kinds of art and culture altogether.  

When and under what circumstances do arts and culture contribute to these divergent paths of urban development?  How important is the broader context and coalitions in which arts and culture are situated—ie the place of arts in the city’s urban planning vision, the relationship that artists create with local communities and arts institutions, and the involvement of the arts in urban social movements?  And what impact are ongoing struggles over urban space having on the work and creative vision of local and emerging artists?

To explore these questions, Pratt Institute will host Art in the Contested City, a day-long conference on November 3, 2006, that will bring artists, designers, community organizers, urban planners, urban scholars, and real estate people into dialogue with one another. We will use a comparative approach, relating local dynamics in New York City, and Brooklyn in particular, with those in other parts of the US and the world. The day’s events will include morning and afternoon panels, interwoven performances and film screenings, and an exhibit in the Higgins Hall Gallery entitled Artists in Contested Spaces.

Our overriding goal is to open a dialogue around the intersections between art, culture and urban development so that we at Pratt Institute and around New York can envision new academic initiatives and collaborations in this area.  The key themes of this dialogue will include. 
  • the increasingly powerful role played by arts and culture in community development
  • the place of artists and the arts in current struggles over urban space
  • the impact of the housing and studio space shortage on contemporary art practice
  • innovative collaborations between artists and social movements addressing issues of sustainable urban development
  • funding opportunities in the growing field of arts and community development

Planning Committee

The organizing of this conference is led by a committee of faculty, staff, and students from across Pratt, as well as an outside consultant.

  • Conference organizers: Miriam Greenberg, Social Science and Cultural Studies and Ayse Yonder, Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment, and faculty fellow, Pratt Center for Community Development
  • Exhibit Curators: Jim Costanzo, Digital Arts, and Brynna Tucker, Career Services
  • Outside Consultant: Caron Atlas
  • Graduate Assistant: Cynthia Turner, Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment
Additional assistance from and thanks to:

  • Janelle Farris, Pratt Center for Community Development
  • Margaret Fox, Pratt Center for Community Development
  • Brad Lander, Director of the Pratt Center for Community Development
  • Deborah Meehan, Media Arts
  • Uzma Rizvi, Social Science and Cultural Studies and faculty fellow Pratt Center for Community Development
  • Monica Shay, Chair, Arts and Cultural Management
  • Kwabena Slaughter, Special Events Coordinator, Multi-Media Services
  • Laura Wolf Powers, Chair, Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment


This conference was made possible by generous donations from the following divisions at Pratt Institute:

  • The School of Architecture
  • The School of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • The Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment
  • The Pratt Center for Community Development
  • The Department of Design Management
  • The Program in Critical and Visual Studies
  • The United Federation of College Teachers, Pratt Local
  • The Pratt Film Society


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