Dissecting the Sector was an intervention within a larger community conversation called “Culture, Creativity and the City.” This project asked the question “Can art cause harm?” as a way to open a conversation about the use of art as a tool for revitalization and community development. It was conceived of by Meredith Warner and supported by Jeremy Beaudry and Jethro Heiko.
On September 9, 2007 a “Town Hall Meeting” was hosted at the Painted Bride in Philadelphia called “Culture, Creativity and the City.” The event was described as “a rousing and important community dialogue began. At the heart of this dialogue were many of the core questions and ideas about how we, as Philadelphians, can harness the energy of the Creative Sector to consolidate Philadelphia revitalization and create the conditions to drive the economy.” This event related directly to the Think Tank’s previous investigation called “Scrutinizing the Cartography of Talent,” a Publicly Held Private Meeting.
The Think Tank drafted a series of questions that were printed and distributed on notecards at the event. Questions included: What is the fundamental ideological purpose of art? How do we create a space for cultural freedom? Can art cause harm? The stack of questions was passed to the moderator during the panel discussion and the last question, regarding harm, was asked of the panelists. The questions themselves were conceived of in response to author Julian Stallbrass being interviewed on Against the Grain. The questions were derived from his thoughts on the subject of art and commerce.
At the “Culture, Creativity and the City” event, an audience member passed in a comment that “Philadelphia should become the Creative Capital of the East Coast.” When read to the crowd, it was followed by a bolstered cheer. But Philadelphia has been the murder capital of the East Coast. Doesn’t that count for anything? If there is a direct correlation between the well-being of a city and the amount of public art made available to its citizenry, then how it is that Philadelphia, which boasts more public art than any other city in the nation, is also leading the nation in murder? Either the correlation is false, or the art that is being implemented for this purpose is a failure. Is the notion of the “creative economy” nothing more than a scrim? What hides behind that scrim, who is directing the backstage? Who benefits from the thin veil of our city’s arty surface? And what is really happing in Philadelphia when you peek behind the art to see the city for what it is?