Community Land Trusts and the Arts: A Path to Permanency

Hilltop, Tacoma, the site of a new urban CLT by Forterra. Photo by Jon Armstrong.

In 1969, New Communities was established in the state of Georgia as the largest single tract of Black-owned farmland in the United States. This was achieved through the community land trust (CLT), boldly put forth by Charles Sherrod, a black pecan farmer, and other civil-rights activists after a fact-finding trip to Israel in 1968 sponsored by the National Sharecropper’s Fund. Particularly drawn to moshavim shitufim, a system of land ownership in which large, cooperatively owned farm fields were surrounded by small, private homesteads, the committee brought their notes from the newly established Jewish state to their troubled home in the U.S. They had their model for change.

Worldwide, land is a fraught commodity. Land sees violence, greed, domination, and gross devastation. Land cannot fight back, and so it is the humans upon it who see their battles waged. New Communities managed to establish its six-thousand-acre cooperative not through the promise of a $1 million grant from then- President Lyndon Johnson’s Office of Economic Opportunity, which never materialized, but through loans and community-based fundraising. Truly owned by the people, the CLT delivered on its purpose whereby land is held in a community trust and the buildings upon it privately owned by CLT members, allowing families to build wealth and inherit equity over generations. By insulating the land from market speculation, the homes remain permanently affordable.

New Communities sustained its purpose for many years, giving Black farmers the independence to live and work on the land that had historically enslaved them. Then, a devastating drought persisted through the mid-1980’s. As soon as federal relief was again required in the state of Georgia, this time in the form of the United States Department of Agriculture, white farmers (who today hold 98% of farm income in the U.S.) and the agency itself rerouted the funds to white farms. New Communities went into foreclosure in 1985 and was razed to the ground by the white farmer who purchased the land.

The story of New Communities encapsulates the paradox of the American dream: wealth and opportunity can be won, but only by the settlers; subscribing to ideals that applaud the status quo and marginalize anyone audacious enough to challenge it. Few understand this better than working artists in the U.S., and particularly artists of color, who have seen their jobs, their spaces, and their value to society debated as topics of partisan policy through various federal, state, and local programs. Art is highbrow; art is middlebrow. Art is elitist; art is indecent. Art builds intelligence; art is superfluous. As the culture wars maneuver their way through the economic underpinning of the U.S., artists are left to invent social safety nets – formal and informal – to ensure their work continues in society.

In thinking about the New Communities CLT as a mechanism by which Black farmers were able to acquire agency and build equity in their work, how might a CLT achieve the same purpose for working BIPOC artists for the long haul? And when it comes to community, how might cities better support the original intent of the CLT with an artist-led model that binds the arts to upward mobility and community preservation?

What is owed

Like the history that defines “land” in the U.S., the idea of “community” is fraught in American consciousness. With individualism the driving model for success and prosperity, and a fierce competitive spirit that keeps wealth inaccessible at the highest rungs, community is often formed in isolated ideological pockets. There are few models of community that achieve a real sense of equity, diversity, and balance – instead we see confirmation bias creep in and sow distrust between cities’ invisible divides.

This has only been encouraged by federal policies, which through the guise of the newly formed Federal Housing Administration in the 1930’s took great pains to provide opportunities for home and land ownership to white citizens while actively shutting out Black citizens in the same neighborhoods based on racist criteria, passed along to the banks as official record used by mortgage lenders. White families were steered away from Black neighborhoods and Black people were denied mortgages in “red grade” areas, leading to severe racial segregation in cities and an impossible situation for Black families, incapable of building wealth through home ownership. The ramifications define redlining and affect future generations to this day.

In response to these intractable structures, CLTs have been somewhat in vogue since the formation of New Communities in the Civil Rights-era of the late 1960’s. There are over 200 CLTs in the U.S. today, each with the goal of providing low-income families with affordable housing by protecting land from market pressures and rising property values. This, at least, is the intent.

The commonsense outcomes of the CLT – affordable housing, protected land, long-term sustainability, community benefit – conflict with the reality on the ground. An in-depth piece in Jacobin from writer and advocate Olivia R. Williams speaks to the persistent phenomenon within the modern CLT. Power structures inevitably manifest between owner and member, giver and receiver. Precisely because CLTs are such a “holy grail” model, they have been co-opted by the boards that direct them for self-serving interests including efficiency in mass-producing affordable housing developments with little community-backed input. Williams reiterates the point that “the CLT model (as it is typically implemented) is not financially self-sustaining.” Again: this is the point. A CLT is not meant to profit for itself, but for the homeowners who comprise the organization’s membership. But this is antithetical to American capitalism, and so the CLT has been commoditized away from the community itself into “more capable” hands.

Precarious permanency

If this sounds familiar, it is because the arts find themselves in a similar situation as modern-day organizations of goodwill. The mission is never enough. It must be supported, hard-won, through vicious battles of grantwriting, policymaking, and financiering, often in competition against neighborly arts organizations with their own righteous, community-based goals. There is apparently not enough money to go around, or else the tax base is highly restricted beyond basic infrastructure, with wealthy patrons in cities acting in precarious self-interest: a co-opting of working-class support systems. Trust in the community has faltered.

None of this is sustainable for the future of the arts and inequity will only increase if CLTs operate out of sync with community interests. In these extraordinary times, it is inevitable that a land grab will result from the failures of the housing market, with banks and investors pilfering what has been lost to local communities and overwhelmingly benefitting white homeowners more than Black communities – fueling the already enormous racial wealth gap and encouraging further gentrification. American cities find themselves in a crucial moment where change and innovation may rise from the ashes or the status quo may remain.

Is an arts-based CLT the answer? And if not, is there a hybrid model by which artists and arts organizations may benefit from the full potential and original intent of the community land trust? Combining the incentives and democratic structures of cooperatives, trade unions, and CLTs, a collaborative movement might take place to acquire land and cede it to BIPOC artist communities, planting a seed for future equity and agency in the post-COVID era. This must be treated as an investment and a moral obligation by city leaders, giving access to land and buildings that would otherwise be sold to the highest bidder.

The arts take place in communities. It is this sense of place that is both the biggest strength and threat to the arts and artists. Once a place is made attractive through its cultural value, the very land beneath it becomes a commodity and is seized by those in power. To ensure an equitable future for the arts, repeated history must be disrupted. This can be achieved through the original intent of CLTs, incumbent upon local communities to take up the mantle of justice and equality.

Introducing Jonathan Banfill and Danielle McClune — two new writers for the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies blog!

I am excited to introduce two new writers for the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies Blog: Jonathan Banfill and Danielle McClune!

Jonathan Banfill is Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. He holds a PhD in Comparative and International Education from UCLA and his research focuses on interdisciplinary and experiential pedagogies for engaging with global cities. From 2016-2019 he was a teacher and researcher at the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative, helping to lead study programs that compared contemporary urban life in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Mexico City, and Shanghai.

Caption: Outside Roberto Bolaño’s teenage home in Mexico City. 

Danielle McClune is a Master’s degree candidate in Arts Leadership at Seattle University and Senior Communications Manager at Microsoft. A Wisconsin native, she earned a B.A. in Creative Writing and spent six years as an arts critic in Milwaukee before moving to Seattle in 2015. Her graduate research has focused on economic equity in the arts focused on community wealth building through reparative, cooperative financial models. She has spoken at the EMERGE Conference in Minsk, Belarus for Eastern European startups on the importance of humane design in tech, as well as the Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) Conference on the realities of arts economy and the wealth gap in Seattle. She misses a good Midwestern thunderstorm.

Danielle McClune in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle

Over the next few months, the three of us will write about urban cultural studies topics including pedagogy, land use, and the arts.

Course on: New York City And Comics: Examining The ‘Special Relationship’

Cover illustration: Ron Frenz and Josef Rubinstein,  New York, New York  by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb (1985) TSR Role Playing Game booklet

Cover illustration: Ron Frenz and Josef Rubinstein, New York, New York by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb (1985) TSR Role Playing Game booklet

It is often said that New York and the comic book share a unique relationship. It is less often said what that relationship is, exactly — beyond the use of the city as setting in text, or headquarters for the industry, historically. In this course, we look critically at the so-called “New York–comics relationship”: what it meant that the city was so often chosen as the backdrop for story, and how that pattern helped shape new, popular understandings of space, place, and belonging, using the particular narrative forms and rhetoric of the medium.

Nothing in a comic is there accidentally. It is always the result of artistic choice. No story about New York speaks to the same experience of the city, either. And no setting captures every part of it. All of this means something, framing particular, chosen images and ideas. By looking at a variety of comics set in NYC, and different themes — from superheroes and romance and crime to 9/11 and future visions of utopia and dystopia — this course offers both an overview of major tendencies in this genre of comic, and tools for understanding it.

As such, it explores how the so-called New York–comics relationship is created anew every time a creator or creative team decides to make the city its setting. And why New York is so often chosen, against other cities in the US. The course will focus on how New York City is represented, what parts of it are shown, and who in it. It also considers how structural factors, such as differing genre, format, audience, or creator, have produced sometimes wildly contrasting interpretations of the very same places, and, even, ideas.

REGISTER HERE:

https://www.gothamcenter.org/courses/course-1-65ml5

–Martin Lund is Assistant Professor in Religious Studies at Malmö University in Sweden, a comics researcher, and a former Visiting Research Scholar at the Gotham Center for New York City History. His research mostly revolves around comics in relation to different forms of religion, identity, space and place, as well as racism and whiteness. A particular topic of interest is the representation of New York City in comics, and the rhetoric in fandom, pop culture journalism, and the Academy on the so-called “New York–comics relationship.”

Call for MLA 2020 – deadline Mar. 15 – 20th/21st-century Iberian sessions

Sessions Sponsored by MLA Forum on 20th and 21st Century Spanish and Iberian Studies for MLA Convention 2021

Deadline for submission:  March 15

Producing Race for Contemporary Iberian Studies

Papers that explore how the racialization of Spaniards intersects with notions of the modern nation by examining contemporary literature, film and society. 250-word abstracts to jeffrey.coleman@marquette.edu or rosi.song@durham.ac.uk by March 15.

Using Digital Tools in 20th and 21st Century Iberian Studies

Seeking presentations of 5-8 minutes for a round table discussion on using digital tools in research and teaching about contemporary Spanish and Iberian studies. Abstract 250 words and CV to session organizer compitel@email.arizona.edu

Spatial (In)justice in the Anthropocene

Proposals dealing with gentrification, displacement, gender inequality, right to the city and other forms of spatial (in)justice examined in contemporary Spanish and Iberian visual culture. 250-word abstract  to session organizer  Monica Lopez Lerma monlopez@reed.edu

 

 

Repost – “In The Future” Postcards As Popular Urbanism

Great post at the official blog of the Urban History Association by Peter Soppelsa,

Here is the opening paragraph and the link below,

“This post focuses on a remarkable source for illustrating popular urbanism and urban imaginaries: European and American photomontage postcards from around 1900 to 1920 that visualize future cities. Cobbling together an online archive of over 400 future cities photomontages, I discovered an under-utilized body of evidence about popular urbanism. Visual and textual traces of the urban imaginaries of card makers and senders demands further study because they reveal a specific practice of placemaking through print culture. This archive suggests how urban historians can engage with media history, visual studies, and ephemeral sources…”

“In the Future” Postcards as Popular Urbanism

Diversity and Disability in Restaurant Criticism in D.C.

Last month, the Kojo Nnamdi show aired a piece on the lack of diversity in food criticism in Washington D.C and featured the following people:

Among the things discussed in the show were the differences between food critics and food writers, the lack of diversity in restaurant criticism, the democratization of restaurant reviews sparkled by the internet, why should universal design and cultural appreciation be part of a restaurant critic and/or review, and why is it important to have diversity among food critics.

The show was inspired by Laura Haye’s article in the Washington City Paper, The D.C. Region Doesn’t Have Full-Time Food Critics of Color. Why That Matters.

The conversation revolves around the benefit that diverse race and ethnicity bring to the table when evaluating a restaurant. Underlying the discussion is always present the unspoken fact that food critics are not perfect and, for that reason they can also not give a perfect evaluation of a restaurant or a dish. As objective as a critic may be, there is always going to be a filter depending on that person’s previous experiences and conceptions of particular foods and restaurants/ These conceptions are directly affected and molded by factors such as race, ethnicity, disabilities, social class, among others and it is naïve to thing that having a professional training will eliminate all those bias, especially when food critics have such different experiences at restaurants depending on, among other things, their skin color. This is specially true when critics evaluate things like service at a restaurant. I think this is a valuable discussion for any type of evaluation that involves the possibility of human bias (notice that this also applies to Machine Learning and AI evaluations based on human-generated data). Definitely a very interesting show which I fully recommend.

You can read the show notes and transcription here and listen to the piece here directly from your web browser..

You can subscribe for free to The Kojo Nnadmi Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Himalaya, or wherever you listen to podcasts. While you are there, remember to check out our own podcast: UCS Podcasts – urbanculturalstudies, by Professor Benjamin Fraser from the University of Arizona.

There Goes the Neighborhood: Urban Coyotes in Pennsylvania and California

Cities for coyotes? We also have coyotes and other interesting wild fauna in Arizona. This makes me think about Timothy Morton’s Dark Ecology all over again. Great blog post from https://inhabitingtheanthropocene.com/

See the full post here: https://inhabitingtheanthropocene.com/2018/08/22/there-goes-the-neighborhood-urban-coyotes-in-pennsylvania-and-california/#more-4635

Call for abstracts: On_Culture: The Open Journal for the Study of Culture

Call for Abstracts for Issue 10 (Winter 2020)

Metaphors of Migration

Guest editors: Jörn Ahrens, Axel Fliethmann

This guest-edited issue of On_Culture focuses on migration, one of the most pressing issues that contemporary societies currently face. The lived reality of migration is fundamentally framed by discourse formations, where metaphors can function as creative devices to establish a reality of what migration could or even should mean. Seen from this perspective migration and imagination are closely tied as two subjects of central interest and core concern in both the Humanities and the Social Sciences.

Although at a first gaze both topics seem to be quite unconnected, “migration” playing a central part of current research in the Social Sciences, “imagination” being traditionally discussed in the humanities and arts, obviously both fields are strongly related to each other. Both, the social perception and the political discourse about migration, but also its very practice from refugees to modern nomads, refers to and stems from particular forms and techniques of imagination through which migration is approached and labeled as social reality. The “ways of worldmaking” (N. Goodman) as much as “society as an imaginary institution” (C. Castoriadis) speak to what has become the social reality of migration on a global scale. We will not be able to understand the processes and phenomena of migration accurately without acknowledging that, although it is a real problem, which often yields tragic consequences, migration is nurtured by tropes of imagination. More than other subjects today, migration seems to fill a gap in the production of cultural meaning and socio-political imagination. Thus the phenomenon of migration should accordingly be analyzed as depending on social practices and imaginations, which eventually equip the political discourse with cultural meaning and provoke demands for particular forms of management. 

The cultural perception of processes of migration is massively communicated by the use of metaphors by which migration as a distinct phenomenon is embedded into a particular frame of cultural codes and meaning. The cultural poetics of metaphors as social practice help to identify migration as something which is distinct part of an as normative as coherent Weltbild. At the same time, the social perception and construction of a social reality of migration massively refer to practices of cultural imagination. Migration as a phenomenon clearly connects to a long standing history of cultural memorization that is, in large parts, laden with imaginative topoi. That way, migration as cultural imago refers to figures in mythology, prose, ideology, etc. The reality of migration within society is only emerging within the frames of performative cultural practices of imagination in various ways.

Migrating plants, animals, and people are subject of massive restrictions and, if successful by migration, often object of campaigns and activism with the aim to reverse this process. Also, we can observe the migration of ideas, images, or art—all of which unfolding massive influence on possible transformations of a seemingly given social and cultural reality. Capital is as much migrating—legally as illegally—as objects ranging from food to weaponry with often enormous consequences for their destination societies. Eventually, abstract threats to the life of humans and others are constantly migrating—bacteria, virus, disease, radio activity, etc. In the digital realm, migration seems to be an illusion when any website only seems to be one click away.

If migration is pointing to social practices of imagination as genuine social practices, migration cannot separate notions of disturbance and disruption, practices of othering, and exclusion, or assimilation from forms of signification and any crisis of ‘making sense’. Adequate understanding of migration therefore warrants interdisciplinary collaboration within the Humanities and the Social Sciences. Competences from philology and literature studies, art history, philosophy, media studies, etc., must be taken into account alongside with the expertise from sociology, political science, anthropology, criminology, and psychology. 

If you are interested in having a peer reviewed academic article featured in this issue of On_Culture, please submit an abstract of 300 words with the article title, 5-6 keywords, and a short biographical note to content@on-culture.org (subject line “Abstract Submission Issue 10”) no later than February 28, 2020. You will be notified by March 15, 2020 whether your paper proposal has been accepted. The final date for full paper submissions is June 15, 2020.

Please note: On_Culture also features a section devoted to shorter, creative pieces pertaining to each issue topic. These can be interviews, essays, opinion pieces, reviews of exhibitions, analyses of cultural artifacts and events, photo galleries, videos, works of art … and more! These contributions are uploaded on a rolling basis, also to previous issues. Interested in contributing? Send your ideas to the Editorial Team at any time: content@on-culture.org

About On_Culture: The Open Journal for the Study of Culture 

On_Culture: The Open Journal for the Study of Culture (ISSN: 2366-4142) is a biannual, peer-reviewed academic e-journal edited by doctoral researchers, postdocs, and professors working at the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC) at Justus-Liebig-University Giessen. It provides a forum reflecting on the study of culture. It investigates, problematizes, and develops key concepts and methods in the field by means of a collaborative and collective process. On_Culture is dedicated to fostering such engagements as well as the cultural dynamics at work in thinking about and reflecting on culture.

The journal consists of three sections: peer-reviewed academic _Articles, _Essays, and the aforementioned _Perspectives. On_Culture brings new approaches and emerging topics to the (trans)national study of culture ‘on the line’ and, in so doing, fills the gap ____ between ‘on’ and ‘culture.’ There are numerous ways of filling the gap, and a plurality of approaches is something for which the journal strives with each new issue.Please note: as a commitment to the open access to scholarship, On_Culture does not charge any Article Processing Charges (APCs) for the publication of your contribution!

Visit the website for more information: www.on-culture.org


Amazon in Arlington

An interesting topic in today’s world is the influence that large corporations have in urban areas. Amazon is present in many locations around the world. Amazon jobs were advertised: 210 at the time of writing. Mostly (if not all) are cities. Recently, the Kojo Nnadmi show featured this week its piece on Arlington called Amazon’s $20 Million Housing Deal. It talks about the pros and cons of Amazon’s presence in this city and how inevitably Amazon is changing some of the fundamental components of its makeup. A very interesting topic, indeed.

You can subscribe for free to The Kojo Nnadmi Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Himalaya, or wherever you listen to podcasts. While you are there, remember to check out our own podcast: UCS Podcasts – urbanculturalstudies, by Professor Benjamin Fraser from the University of Arizona.

“J’ai perdu mon corps” dans Paris

Photo by Heike Mintel on Unsplash

“This film is an urban, modern fairy tale about destiny and resilience; it tells us that to change things, we must surprise ourselves, dare do something unusual, stray away from the straight and narrow.” – Jérémy Clapin for La Semaine de la Critique

Two weeks ago in the US, Netflix released the critically-acclaimed movie J’ai perdu mon corps (“I Lost My Body”). It is the story of an animated hand that makes its way through the streets, subways, and rooftops of the 1990’s Paris all the while dreaming/remembering of its previous life with its body. At its core, it is a movie of contrasts: youth and death, love and heartbreak, fear and wonder. The movie was directed by Jérémy Clapin and written by Jérémy Clapin and Guillaume Laurant (Amélie). According to the director, it is “loosely” based on the novel “Happy Hand” by Guillaume Laurant

What most impressed me of this movie is the way that urban space is represented. The whole city acquires a different, more dangerous (and marvelous) presence when viewed from the hand’s perspective. The hand, in order to complete its journey, must remain unseen and avoid the many challenges that the metropolis poses. In order to do this, the hand has to be fast, stealthy, and even athletic. In this sense, urban space is an essential component of the movie.

Back in May this year after its premiere, the movie won the Nespresso Prize (The Critics’ Week Grand Prix) and it has been acclaimed ever since. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 97% score in the tomatometer. I recommend it to everyone. Here is the official trailer:

“Anyone who’s willing to meet this movie on its own terms and roll with the dream logic it requires will be rewarded with a resonantly cathartic saga.” – David Ehrlich, indieWire

Resources