Monday, March 23, 2009

Tacoma will never be a destination

Why Tacoma will never be a destination, TAKE ONE.

The City of Tacoma wants more than anything to get white upper-class residents from Seattle to move into its newly-renovated apartments and gentrified condominiums. In so doing, it realized that there is a vast hole in the city's culture and none of their traditional methods of beautification work. Or more accurately, the artists realize this. On a big wall in Portland I saw a large mural which said, "Art fills the void" with a big banana next to it. Art clean-up, homeless person eradication, racial profiling, and building pointless highways have gotten the City of Tacoma nowhere. No one wants to put their feet on the street, if that was ever the goal, and the city is even shittier because now there's more condos and cops and very few small business districts.

Even though they hire professionals from Community Development Corporations and consultants to tell them where they got it wrong, the city cannot do a damn thing to get its house in order. They should have listened to the consultant Lars Gemzoe who came all the way from Copenhagen to say that pedestrians (not to mention bicyclists) in Tacoma are obviously "invisible in the planning process" and that "people, life, and vitality are the biggest attractions of a city." But instead of hearing out the wisdom from that successful public art architect, the city council and mayor seem to take their advice from successful fascist mayors like Rudy Guliani and bankers who think they can be like the Medici family - moneymen of the Italian Renaissance - by only funding "high art" for the rich and famous.

"People, life, and vitality" are the biggest reasons why most people even want to travel at all, or get out of the house, or explore new cities. I was excited to go to San Francisco again last week because of the people, life, and vitality there. Nobody complains that the weeds are overgrown in Golden Gate Park. In fact, the vegetation is half the charm. My friend and I ooed & awed at the overgrown brushes and trees and envied their verdant walkabouts. The ganjaweed dealers deal out in the open and the cops don't seem to be needed at all. Adults must be "accompanied by children" in order to step foot on the kids' playground. The kids know best. People from all over the city come to the park to enjoy the day.

Tacoma's parks, sadly, are like golf courses. If that's the case who would want to come out of their offices for their lunch break? This weekend for our antiwar march, the city would not allow the Food Not Bombs group to cook food in the park. We either had to have a business license or $1,000,000 in insurance to do this. Yet another reason to stay home. The City thinks art means building more art museums for stagnating, glass-enshrined exhibitions you'll need to pay to see. Art has a department. It's someone's responsibility. It must not interfere with commerce, unless it is commerce.

The recession is causing an exodus in the Tacoma art community. Artists say want to live in cities like Portland where their work is appreciated. In Tacoma city henchmen claim to "work with the community" to solve problems, but I have never seen any of these people, and I work with the community too. They don't advertise these community groups because they want to autonomously take action to eradicate art and sterilize the city when no one is looking. So the message to everybody in the community is: this is simply not a good time to venture into new and uncertain territory, like art. In the words of artist Chip Van Gilder in the Tacoma Volcano:

“I‘ve pretty much dropped out of the artist community. I found a minimum-wage day job... I put a few years effort into getting my work out there and helping others, but the foundation didn’t produce any long lasting results. My personal feeling is that the good ole boy society of the Tacoma business has done everything it can to eradicate art as a culture in Tacoma.”

Eradicated art as a culture. That's what Tacoma did. That's why it will never be the great city it imagines itself, in its wildest dreams, as "the city of destiny".


Anonymous said...

Do a little bit more research and tell us who Chip means by "good ol' boys". Do more research and learn that Metro Parks and the City are not the same entity. The museums are participating in community and community events, more then you realize. And you don’t always have to pay. Again, do some research. Your blog appears to be written by someone who just dropped in and is a little bitter. If, as you claim, Tacoma is shit, why are you here?

de.borea said...

Give counter-examples of the city "participating in community". I did not say Metro Parks and the City were the same entity by the way. City with a lower case 'c' applies to more than the city government institutions. Of course they're separate, and they require separate permits.

What better research is there than actually living in Tacoma and knowing its deficits first-hand, rather than from a budget task force or neighborhood beautification (gentrification) progress report?

Muser said...

Points about Tacoma's art-scene, etc., well taken. I'm slightly more sanguine, as the "curve" I've observed starts in 1983. Tacoma's slow. It just takes a *long* time to get where it needs to go, and no one can be blamed for running out of patience. You and others have helped it along (believe it or not!). Eventually, artists will change the art-scene. Keep on truckin'.

Cap'n Glitterfuzz said...

It’s not going to happen if the local artists continue to pursue their hunt for recognition in more hospitable cities. Tacoma is ripe, so turn it out.