Rocco Landesman's Plan to Revive the Creative Scene in Small Towns and Mid-Size Cities

The chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts is obsessed with place and culture.

“I don’t know if there’s a theater in Peoria, but I would bet that it’s not as good as Steppenwolf or the Goodman,” remarked Rocco Landesman, a man more familiar with the theater stage light than the political spotlight until that moment. Landesman’s August 2009 quote in The New York Times was referring to two well-known Chicago theaters, and the wager was hardly farfetched. But having recently been appointed by President Obama as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, let’s just say Peorians and citizens of similarly-sized cities were none too pleased.

Soon after, Landesman embarked on a make-it-right tour of American small towns and midsize cities, where he highlighted the arts and creativity as economic engines. It’s a message that Richard Florida had been promoting for years, principally with his 2004 blockbuster book, The Rise of the Creative Class. Especially apparent in our down economy, Florida’s theory is hardly a one-size-fits-all solution for struggling American cities, however. Florida also often seems to brush over the subtle nuances of place and culture—two things that Landesman has become obsessed with.

Unlike members of Florida’s creative class, Landesman isn’t easily categorized. He holds a Ph.D in drama from Yale, yet obsesses over not just theater, but baseball, country music, horse racing, and his hometown of St. Louis. He has taken DC by storm—reportedly referred to by the President and his cabinet as simply “Rocco.” Where Florida has the polished look and language of an academic, corporate suit, and DC bureaucrat blended into one, the straight-talking Landesman sports cowboy boots, a sly grin, rough beard, and gruff voice.

With the NEA’s budget under perpetual scrutiny, Landesman has taken to leveraging his agency’s small sum, rather than just complaining or begging for more. He has struck deals and forged partnerships with multiple other better-funded agencies, among them the EPA, HHS, and HUD, to name a few. Landesman best role is that of a convener; he recently enlisted the broader philanthropic sector to support what he and his team have coined the term “creative placemaking”—linking design and public space, with a focus on economic outcomes and jobs created. Creative placemaking is now the hallmark of a major funding consortium, called ArtPlace, comprised of the top foundations in the country, among them the Bloomberg, Ford, Rockefeller, and Kresge foundations.

From his perch at the University of Toronto, Florida may continue to preach the virtues of the creative class. And the good work that Landeman is championing and getting funded across the country give Florida something to point at, even in these tough times. Landeman’s creative placemaking agenda is not just good in theory, it's good in practice, both for communities and the economy. It’s perhaps summed up best in the NEA’s brilliantly simple new motto: “Art works.”

Photo via (cc) Flickr user mlinksva.

via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
"IMG_0846" by Adrienne Campbell is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In an effort to avoid a dystopian sci-fi future where Artificial Intelligence knows pretty much everything about you, and a team of cops led by Tom Cruise run around arresting people for crimes they did not commit because of bad predictive analysis; Bernie Sanders and other Democratic candidates have some proposals on how we can stop it.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

It's fun to go to a party, talk to strangers, and try to guess where they're from just by their accents and use of language. It's called 'soda' on the East Coast and 'pop' in the Midwest, right? Well, it looks like a new study has been able to determine where a Humpback whale has been and who he's been hanging out with during his awesome travels just from his song.

Keep Reading Show less
Governor Grethcen Whitmer / Twitter

In 2009, the U.S. government paid $50 billion to bail out Detroit-based automaker General Motors. In the end, the government would end up losing $11.2 billion on the deal.

Government efforts saved 1.5 million jobs in the United States and a sizable portion of an industry that helped define America in the twentieth century.

As part of the auto industry's upheaval in the wake of the Great Recession, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) made sacrifices in contracts to help put the company on a solid footing after the government bailout.

Keep Reading Show less
via Jimmy Kimmel / YouTube

Fake news is rampant on the internet. Unscrupulous websites are encouraged to create misleading stories about political figures because they get clicks.

A study published by Science Advances found that elderly conservatives are, by far, the worst spearders of fake news. Ultra conservatives over the age of 65 shared about seven times more fake information on social media than moderates and super liberals during the 2016 election.

Get ready for things to get worse.

Keep Reading Show less