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Questioning the Cultural Turn

I want to look briefly now at whether the cultural turn in urban policy delivered the benefits claimed for it. Investment in the arts is less costly than that required to repair urban infrastructures, or improve education, health care, social services or to offer re-skilling for the new economy. But the claims made for the benefits of culturally-led redevelopment may in retrospect seem over-optimistic. Projections of visitor numbers and job creation for new cultural institutions were, in any case, only estimates, often produced by consultants hired to write funding bids. Although figures from comparable institutions or visitor attractions can be cited, there are too many variables to allow certainty. Hence, a centre for popular music in Sheffield closed because it failed to attract predicted visitor numbers. Leaving that case aside, while the justification for public investment in new museums is that they create employment and lever private-sector investment in the environs, most of the new jobs in the museum are low-paid, in areas such as cleaning, catering and security. The curators come from elsewhere. Similarly, employment in spin-off small-scale enterprises in the vicinity tends to be low-skilled and temporary – in bar and shop work. This was the case in Birmingham, Britain’s second city, when major public investment in the 1980s and 1990s produced a city-centre cultural zone at the cost, in part, of reductions in services for outlying districts (Loftman and Nevin 1998).

If cultural redevelopment was seen as bringing a wide range of public benefits, then, the claims made for it were either too vague to be demonstrable or never tested, as Sara Selwood found in a study of public art projects in three English regions (Selwood 1995). A report for the National Endowment for the Arts, in the US, illustrates the extent of the claims:

No longer restricted to the sanctioned arenas of culture, the arts would be literally suffused throughout the civic structure, finding a home in a variety of community service and economic development activities – from youth programs and crime prevention to job training and race relations – far afield from the traditional aesthetic functions of the arts.

Ships and Shipbuilding Shipbuilding emerged from modest beginnings to become one of colonial Country’s most important industries. Barcelona Metro Map Building ships was a top concern of the early colonization companies. The cod fishery, central to the early Massachusetts economy, and trade across the Atlantic, along the coast, and to the Caribbean all required vessels, which could be created locally given North Country’s abundance of wood. The first vessel built in the English colonies of North Country was the Virginia, a 50-foot pinnace built by colonists of a short-lived colony at the mouth of the Kennebec in Maine in 1607. A pinnace was usually a coasting vessel, movable under either oars or sails but capable of ocean voyaging. The colony was abandoned the next year, but the Virginia sailed between Virginia and London for twenty years before being wrecked on the Irish coast. In 1622, the Virginia Company sent out Captain Thomas Barwick and twenty-five ship’s carpenters to construct small vessels for coasting. Barwick died shortly after he arrived, though, and the plan came to nothing. There was a more successful effort at Plymouth, where a ship’s carpenter was sent in 1624.

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