Arts and culture and economics
But this argument, or at least many applications of it, gets things backward. Arts and culture generally do not fuel economic growth by themselves; rather, economic growth tends to create the preconditions for their development. Ancient Athens and Rome didn’t start out as undiscovered artist neighborhoods. They were metropolises built on imperial wealth — largely collected by force from their colonies — that funded a new class of patrons and consumers of the arts. Renaissance Florence and Amsterdam established themselves as trade centers first and only then began to nurture great artists from their own middle classes and the surrounding regions.
Even modern Los Angeles owes its initial ascendancy as much to agriculture and oil as to Hollywood. Today, its port and related industries employ far more people than the entertainment business does. (In any case, the men who built Hollywood were hardly cultured aesthetes by middle-class American standards; they were furriers, butchers, and petty traders, mostly from hardscrabble backgrounds in the czarist shtetls and back streets of America’s tough ethnic ghettos.) New York, now arguably the world’s cultural capital, was once dismissed as a boorish, money-obsessed town, much like the contemporary urban critique of Dallas, Houston, or Phoenix.
Sadly, cities desperate to reverse their slides have been quick to buy into the simplistic idea that by merely branding themselves “creative” they can renew their dying economies; think of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Michigan’s bid to market Detroit as a “cool city,” and similar efforts in the washed-up industrial towns of the British north. Being told you live in a “European Capital of Culture,” as Liverpool was in 2008, means little when your city has no jobs and people are leaving by the busload.