When the creative class strikes back: State-led creativity and its discontents

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Abstract

The implementation of ‘creative city’ policies (see Florida, 2002, 2005) in Asia is well documented (see Kong et al., 2015) as Asian cities have increasingly repositioned themselves as nodes within the global cultural economy (Oakes and Wang, 2015). What is less – documented are the tangible impacts of these state-led creativity policies, often administered for entrepreneurial reasons in authoritarian or quasi-democratic contexts. Particularly lacking are explorations of the way these policies give rise to various contestations, resistances, and subversions.

Singapore is one Asian city that has been especially receptive to the idea of implementing creativity, undergoing a cultural turn over the past two decades that has seen the arts prioritized in a number of ways (Chang, 2000; Chang and Huang, 2009; Kong, 2012a,b). However, the following paper outlines how the ‘creative class’ is striking back, against the state, in the form of critical expression – and probes how recipients of arts policy, envisioned as an ‘arts generation’, have been given a platform for critical views at the same time they face authoritarian boundaries. Likewise, the aims of such policy are interrogated, questioning whether or not critical expression was an intended or unintended externality of state-led, top-down policies. Most importantly, however, are the class tensions between the ‘arts generation’ and the Singaporean heartland – exposing an under-theorized aspect to the conversation on cultural production that deserves better understanding in a paradigm where urban elites are increasingly mistrusted by suburban/exurban ‘heartlanders’.

Using examples drawn from field work conducted in Singapore from 2012 to 2014 (semi-structured interviews with both policy makers and cultural producers), this paper suggests that in the effort to broaden the global discussion on ‘creative resistance’ (Colomb and Novy, 2012) and ‘cultural activism’ (2013), local context may be overlooked amidst attempts at global theory building. What the Singapore example points to is the possibility that the creative policy implementation process – and its impacts, contestations and resistances – have difficulty moving beyond the ivory tower of elite urban cosmopolitanism. This calls into question the way that activist alliances and networks are sometimes portrayed in which cultural producers join forces with a variety of broader causes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)330-339
Number of pages10
JournalGeoforum
Volume106
Early online date5 May 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes

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