My good friend Peter* recently gave a talk at The Oval Space in London where he argued that we should look at the art community not as an isolated group but as an active participant in the post-industrial information economy, and as an integral part of the process of human innovation. Artists and bankers, he says, are more alike than most people think. Both tend to flock to cultural "melting pots," both professions are highly globalized in terms of education and international mobility, both are highly competitive, and both are often criticized -- bankers for making profits and artists for being provocative and controversial. In economic terms, he says, the relationship between art and business is a two-way street: business produces goods and services and supports the arts, and art provokes self-reflection, generates ideas, and challenges clichés.
Living in New York City where most of my friends and acquaintances work in finance or law, I think it can be easy to discount the creative class as superfluous. As such, I think it's important to highlight the interplay that already exists between artists and other young professionals, and to cultivate the relationship between the two. Like Peter, I believe that artistic reflection is crucial for innovation and creativity beyond art. If you're interested in these topics and live in New York City, please be in touch. The following is a synopsis of his talk:
Artists, Bankers, and Geeks: Antagonists or Brothers in Arms?
The Oval Space is an interesting experiment in hosting a variety of events within one area: contemporary art shows, concerts, club nights, film screenings and corporate receptions. This multifunctionality is not just a curious feature of East London’s cultural life. It represents a broader trend in urban development where traditional distinctions between genres and functions of a particular venue are blurred and replaced by a flexible approach which attracts a more mixed crowd and allows an exchange of ideas across various lifestyles.
The Oval Space was launched in April 2012 in a former pharmaceutical warehouse. Such transformation of industrial buildings into cultural venues is characteristic of one of the most significant developments of our time: the transition to a post-industrial information society. As a mega-city and an incubator of ideas London has been on the forefront of global economic and social change. Within the megalopolis of London, East London represents the stronghold of what the urban theorist Richard Florida calls the “creative class.” According to Florida, such metropolitan regions with high concentrations of artists, musicians, computer scientists, gays and lesbians, a group he describes as "high bohemians,” are associated with higher levels of economic development.
In that context, it is interesting to look at the art community not as an isolated group but as an active participant in the post-industrial information economy, an integral part of the process of human innovation. Art as part of rational human economic behavior can be viewed through the writings of Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize winning professor of economics and sociology. He analyzes the economic role of long-term “investments” into human capital through such largely non-commercial activities as education, family life and art. Although many art institutions function on a non-profit basis, that does not undermine their long-term role in the broader economy. The process of artistic reflection and challenging clichés is fundamental for innovation and creativity beyond art.
In that sense, East London art galleries and projects such as the Oval Space are an integral part of the innovative economy along with the City of London, Canary Wharf or the Silicon Roundabout in Shoreditch. Creating contemporary art is a very globalized activity which requires an intensive exchange of ideas and high concentrations of creative people with various backgrounds within one area. In many ways artists are less dissimilar to other globalized professions than people are used to think. Such other professions include, for example, computer scientists and bankers. Contemporary art has an economic dimension and an economic impact. It is intrinsic to the existence of London as a global economic centre and a cultural melting pot.
*Peter Kaznacheev is a managing partner at Khaznah Strategies, a consulting firm focused on emerging economies. He holds a PhD in political philosophy from Moscow State University and a Master's degree in international economics from the John's Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He is also a visiting professor at the Russian Academy of the National Economy (RANEPA).