This is going to be a “stone soup” type of thing. So I’m not going to say–obsessed as I am with government stuff–how much I think Raleigh and the Triangle could use a shot of creativity in our public-policy backside. Not yet, anyway. That’s not how stone soup works.
No, the idea of a conference about the creative class in the Triangle is about what you think, and what you want. And–at a slow simmer now–what you can add to the pot. Make that the kettle.
For example, let’s say you’re a musician. You play in a band (or bands). So here’s a question for you: What’s missing from the music scene around here that would help your life? What is happening that should be happening more?
Better, what do you wish were happening that, if you saw it starting to take shape, or even just thought it had a chance to get started, you’d roll up your sleeves and begin stirring it yourself?
Public sector? Private? Both?
Make no small plans.
That’s the stone-soup concept, which Aly Khalifa explained to me the first time we talked about “SparkCon: Igniting Creativity in the Triangle,” an event scheduled for Sept. 14-17. It’s from the story of the hungry travelers who were getting stiffed for food in the village, until they started to cook up a stone, and described it in such tasty terms–albeit, needing just a few more key ingredients–that before long the villagers wanted their share too … and were throwing in a rich variety of their own crops to make the mix even better.
Got it? SparkCon is about making the mix even better for the creative folks among us, so they’ll stay here, and more appealing to the ones who are thinking of settling instead in Austin, or Seattle, or Boston–but we want them in Raleigh, too.
Here’s the thing about Raleigh and the Triangle, says Khalifa, whose profession is product design and engineering. On the one hand, we’re a pretty good place, good enough that creative-class guru Richard Florida (The Rise of the Creative Class) puts us in the top five areas in America where the c-c crowd is found.
“On the other hand, though, how do we do better?” Khalifah asks. “Because nobody here is satisfied.”
“A thriving creative environment,” a working paper for SparkCon says, “is what attracts great talent. But ask what the identity of the Triangle is, and you’ll find a creative person struggling for an answer. We believe this is a truly modest step to claim this area as the ‘Creative Hub of the South.’ But to claim an identity requires us to adhere to it … and purposefully nurture and grow the Creative Hub we claim to be. How do we do that?”
Thus, Khalifa and friends are reaching out, not with a fully developed plan for the SparkCon event, but with an outline and an offer: Tell them what it should be. Throw your own stuff into the soup. Help create SparkCon.
The outline of SparkCon is simple enough. It’s organized around four interactive workshops: 1) The Arts–creativity in nurturing artistic environments; 2) Technical Innovation–creativity in expanding R&D environments; 3) Inclusive Culture–creativity in celebrating and sharing cultural environments; and 4) Indie Business–creativity in propelling small business environments.
But don’t think of them as separate subjects, Khalifa says. Think of them the way Florida (the guru, not the state) does–that there’s R&D where you have good college music, and there’s independent business where there’s a strong artistic culture, and so on. In other words, a place either values creativity and it thrives in all its forms, or it doesn’t value it and creative minds get that and move on.
So a big part of this is creating opportunities for the science crowd to get with the artists, and the store owners with the musicians, and the landscape architects with the Web masters. Thinking of a biotech start-up? Meet the graphic designers who can help you sell it to the world.
That’s how it works at Designbox, the collaborative workspace on South Bloodworth Street in Raleigh that Khalifa and his wife, Beth, who is a graphic designer, created for their own firm, Gamil Design. They share a building with a variety of other designers and artists. More than that, everyone there shares their talents with each another at a weekly meeting where work is brainstormed, critiqued and strengthened.
Think of SparkCon as a chance to do that citywide.
Think of it, too, as a chance to mount a show at your art gallery, your music hall or your R&D lab and have the creative class of the Triangle come calling.
That’s right, R&D lab. The SparkCon organizing group is reaching out widely, and they–well, we, actually, because the Indy‘s helping too–have lines out to the clubs and the museums and the shops that are part of Raleigh Unchained (the Raleigh Independent Business Association). But the coolest idea they’ve had yet–I’d love to claim it, but I missed that meeting–is for an “R&D Crawl” along the lines of the various pub crawls you’ve taken but never learned anything from.
If you can help with that, do call Aly or me. Or come to the weekly SparkCon organizing committee meeting Thursdays, 7:30 p.m., at Humble Pie, 317 S. Harrington St., Raleigh.
In fact, if you can help with any of this, or if you want something else thrown in the soup, join us at Humble Pie.
Let’s get down to cases. The HellCar Summit last Saturday in Raleigh was a kind of low-test run of these ideas for a small group of cartoonists, animators, Web designers and such. Donald Corey, who teaches design and also has a furniture company called The Other Edge, was there. He’s been planning his own design expo in Raleigh. Why?
Corey was in New York City recently showing his wares at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. There were five other companies from the Triangle there as well. None had ever heard of the others.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn School–a collaboration among companies whose products were no better than our own, Corey said–was out selling the idea that the Brooklyn style was cutting-edge, must-have, top-of-the-line. Corey returned disgusted. “We are the world’s worst at promoting ourselves,” he thought, and not just in furniture, either.
So Corey thought he should call his event “Hidden Gems.” More on this as it develops. But the point is, does anybody in the Triangle think the music industry hangs together any better? Or the artists? Or the theaters? And what about any “cross-pollination,” to use Corey’s word? Where’s our Spoleto Festival? Our SXSW?
One more story–mine. I’m sitting in front of Kings Barcade on South Dawson Street, where HellCar took place, and I’m looking up–and east–to the center of downtown Raleigh. I am looking at the most dismal landscape of parking decks, ugly buildings and the county jail that you can imagine. Ty Beddingfield, a designer with Gamila, walks by, sees what I’m seeing, and says off-handedly, “You have to wonder where all the architects from the design school went [meaning NCSU’s College of Design]–because they obviously don’t work here.”
Cheryl Gottschall, a photographer who lives in Five Points, and I–resident of Cameron Park–trade war stories about the unfortunately designed (really, not designed–that’s the problem) townhouse units that developers are jamming in and around our respective neighborhoods, threatening to destroy the urban fabric that’s the major selling point for their “products” in the first place.
This is why I’m hot to have a creative-class conference. In fact, I’m desperate for it–though stone-soup etiquette says never show ’em you’re hungry.
I want Raleigh to value creativity and put it to work in the public realm as well as the private sector, helping our developers create not mediocrity, but excellence. I want a public transit system worthy of a great city, not bumpkinville. I want people to care enough after the fake-stucco hotel they’re subsidizing that our City Council will never again dare to make the same mistake. I want a great public school system that is in every way inclusive–which is what a great system must be.
And what a creative place will demand–and create.
Cheryl Gottschall was taking pictures and promised to send me one–a small example of collaboration. And in that vein, I promised to cite her as “the best commercial photographer in Raleigh–call her now.” Thanks, Cheryl. She’s at 821-9902. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.