My colleague Tracy Davis has been pretty quiet on the tomato-tossing front. At the risk of raising her fears that she might have to look at mediocre art now and then, I’d like to reopen the “art stimulates economic development” discussion.
The impetus for my return to this subject is a celebration early this month in New York City. Billed as a fund-raising event for the downtown not-for-profit performance space known as The Stone, the gathering was largely a reunion of artists who had played at the Knitting Factory.
As I had mentioned in a previous blog entry, during the late sixties and early seventies, artists began to move into the “downtown area” of Manhattan, the area from Fourteenth Street to the Financial District and the West Side piers to Avenue D. They were drawn to the plentiful availability of affordable studio space. Once this influx of artists reached a critical mass, the area was widely recognized as the center of the artistic universe, particularly between the mid ’70s and mid ’80s, when the area was contributing millions, perhaps even billions, of dollars to the local economy.
The economic stimulus did not end in the mid ’80s, however, it merely shifted somewhat from the visual arts to the aural arts. After a hard day of creating often extremely profitable product, the artists wanted to kick back in the evening. Music clubs began to spring up to meet this market demand.
A late entry, the Knitting Factory, was started by a couple of Cheeseheads, Michael Dorf and Bob Appel, from Milwaulkee. Originally conceived as an art gallery with a performance space and a cafe, the Knitting Factory soon became a major venue for music.
The music featured followed the shifts of the downtown scene over the 20 plus years of artistic and economic vigor. First offering experimental music, such as that promoted at The Kitchen (another downtown performance space), then moving into Loft Jazz (a response to the exclusionary practices of the the Newpart Jazz Festival), and finally helping to introduce Punk (and/or New Wave) to the world, the Knitting Factory contributed to the development of organizations that exported their product to the global economy.
The recent issue of Bass Guitar magazine may explain why I seem so attuned to this particular historic burst of creativity. The cover story is “The 1977 Punk Bass Explosion”. I graduated from high school in 1977 and was well aware of the release that year of the Ramones’ “Leave Home”, the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind the Bollocks”, the Clash’s “The Clash”, Elvis Costello’s “My Aim is True” and the Talking Heads’ “77” (with their talented bass player, Tina Weymouth, pictured above).
As a bass player in a post-Outlaw, post-Punk string band, performing everything from the Carter Family to Son Volt, I am well aware of my debt to these artists of ’77. I also think their legacy is another fine example of the creative and economic potential of affordable studio space.