Artists are the Mushrooms of Civil Society

Mushrooms in the yard, Wisconsin, photo by Lillian Sizemore

I found this article I wrote back in 2009 on someone else’s blog and I thank Earthnight for re-posting it. It seems pertinent still, but today at the end of 2015, there’s the “HIPSTER” twist: the tech money, the entitledness of well-resourced youngsters, the maligning of “tattoos and “facial hair” of a new “Creative Class” who have in the last 8+ years changed the vibe and intention of what is possible for the existing residents. The locals are left to get on with their lives or leave, as landlords jack up rents. I live in London now, and see it here too. Speaking of gentrification and oil spills, this August 2015 article about New Orleans from National Geographic continues the conversation.  I’m following and loving the “the movement of radical hospitality”  an inclusionary community-driven direction for urban planning, spearheaded by Theaster Gates in Chicago. Read On>>

Mushrooms in the yard, Wisconsin, photo by Lillian Sizemore

Mushrooms in the yard, Wisconsin, 2015. Photo by Lillian Sizemore

From Musiva @ Evolver.net: 2009

Have you heard about the experiments being done to clean up oil spills using mushrooms? Oyster mushrooms can turn the toxic sludge into rich compost and then transform themselves into something good enough to eat. Pass the Butter!

Artists move in to distressed areas and clean them up, make society a better place…just like oyster ‘shrooms can absorb the waste, transform it. Alchemy.

It is an organic process. This kind of civil transformation cannot be imposed. Think of all the boarded up strip malls, vacant storefronts-these pathetic, hopeful, consumer attempts to force community on a place. Now think about 4th St. in Long Beach, CA, or the South Congress area of Austin TX, or the Mission District in San Francisco, CA. The old SoHo area of New York City may be the most famous location benefiting from the clean-up efforts of artists in the ’50’s and ’60’s. I’m sure you know of many examples in your area where the creative force of artists and visionary presence is transforming run-down neighborhoods.

What are the spores of the Artist Mushroom? Bookstores, coffee shops, vintage stores, theatres, community gardens, art and educational centers, galleries, studios, bars, musical venues, honest handmade food…Artists know what it takes to live a good life.

Perhaps the most newsworthy ‘Art-Shroom colony’ is mutating in Detroit, Michigan. Artists are moving in, buying places for incredibly low prices, like $100. Like an oil spill, these areas are toxic, people can’t go out at night for fear of being caught in crossfire or robbed, but there they are working on the vision of a better life.

At the core of the colony is the Artist’s requirement for access to affordable housing. Cheap Space is the growing medium. Unfortunately, big business makes sure that the artists must often live and work in areas where no one else wants to go. Be the ‘Urban Pioneer”! The artists are willing to do it out of fierce passion for their work, for creating and expressing themselves as a valuable and worthwhile life choice. I have been involved with many attempts to create “community arts space”. I have seen things get wrapped up in ugly politics, or developers using artists to clean up an area only to evict them later when businesses or condos may provide higher rents, now that the ‘hood is safer and more “fun”.

Artists work with what’s there. Like the oyster mushrooms, they transform, not replace. You can’t dump detergent into the spoiled ocean and expect the birds and fish to thrive. Just like expensive developments and storefronts cannot support the lives of those less bankrolled.

We are living in an alchemical transforming unpredictable furnace. Artists are Wizards. In today’s economy, we need somewhere to produce the magic. To set up the crucible. Detroit may sound god-awful right now, but just you wait. XX

Green Oil spills: http://www.uas.coop/node/1011

Detroit Artists: In Detroit Artists look for Renewal in Foreclosures, May 18, 2009, radio show.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102053853

Artists Buying Cheap Houses in Detroit May 17, 2009

http://www.boingboing.net/2009/03/17/artists-buying-cheap.html

(my original reposted on https://earthnight.wordpress.com/2009/08/21/artists-are-the-mushrooms-of-civil-society/)

Theaster Gates: The Dorchester Projects, to name one of many…

http://theastergates.com/section/117693_Dorchester_Projects.html

thanks Lillian

EARTH NIGHT 2012

From Musiva @ Evolver.net:

Have you heard about the experiments being done to clean up oil spills using mushrooms? Oyster mushrooms can turn the toxic sludge into rich compost and then transform themselves into something good enough to eat. Pass the Butter!

Artists move in to distressed areas and clean them up, make society a better place…just like oyster ‘shrooms can absorb the waste, transform it. Alchemy.

It is an organic process. This kind of civil transformation cannot be imposed. Think of all the boarded up strip malls, vacant storefronts-these pathetic, hopeful, consumer attempts to force community on a place. Now think about 4th St. in Long Beach, CA, or the South Congress area of Austin TX, or the Mission District in San Francisco, CA. The old SoHo area of New York City may be the most famous location benefiting from the clean-up efforts of artists in the ’50’s and…

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