In a recent article in The Nation, Jeff Chang argues for arts and culture to take a leading role in rebuilding our economies and communities. He cites the work of the Boggs Center as an example of the kind of leadership we need.
In Detroit the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, built around the inimitable 93-year-old woman who gives the center its name, has served as a home for some of the city’s sharpest young organizers and artists, in its Detroit Summer program. One of them, the acclaimed rapper Invincible, has produced an eleven-minute video for her song “Locusts.” It serves not just as a fine documentary of the center’s work against gentrification and displacement or a profound meditation on the Motortown’s past but also as a defiant middle finger in the face of pessimists like [Richard] Florida, who all but wrote off Detroit in a recent Atlantic Monthly cover story.
Obama’s green-jobs-for-youth proposal emerged first from Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, where staffers tried to figure out how to make the environmental movement pay attention to the hip-hop youths coming into the center. On the other side of Oakland, the Eastside Arts Alliance helped revitalize the troubled city’s International District by serving as a haven for socially conscious artists, organizers and intellectuals, bringing together leaders of the Black Arts Movement with those of the hip-hop movement.
Deeply rooted in the communities that made Obama’s victory possible, these centers understand their work as transformational. Their communities are the most vulnerable to assaults on creativity, but they are also incubators of the most innovative ideas and movements of our time. This “creative communities” approach has created a vigorous and vital alternative to neoliberal and neoconservative versions of change.