Sunday, April 24, 2011

Creative economy: It's a rhizome, not a tree root.

Reading this morning about the Travellers, Irish nomadic people that little has been written about. They may be descendants of the Tinkers, or a much older population of religious peoples (some even tell a version of the Wandering Jew story of the metalworker who fashioned the nails for Jesus' cross) , or conversely, rise from the more recent Famine times.
In any case, author Rebecca Solnit went to find them in the 90s while in Ireland and reviews their clash with the settled people of Ireland in her "A Book of Migrations." Much like the Gypsies, laws have been designed to stop them and altercations with settled citizens recorded by officials when the Travellers attempt to stay or send their children to settled schools for a short time. Travellers do not want to stop. As one of their activists told Solnit, "Just as settled people remain settled people even when they travel, Travellers remain Travellers even when not traveling."
She sees how this would rankle those rooted citizenry and how the Travellers are lumped into a pillaging, roving mass whenever there was trouble during their stay, even when it was an isolated case or had nothing to do with a Traveller.

The following analogy struck me (as tropical gardeners will understand): "The French theorists Deleuze and Guattari declare that the hierarchical model of the tree has dominated too much of Western thought and offer in its place the rhizome, the loosely structured, horizontally spreading root system of plants such as the strawberry." Horizontal roots are the visual patterns that work best for creative economy structure. Allowing the rooted citizenry to hold their traditions and mores and flourish with their own growth while welcoming nomadic tribes to camp and offer a sidelong culture is an example of that. Even though people use the term gutter punks quite loosely, they are not the totality of young people in New Orleans, nor are the opportunistic carpetbaggers that come in the city's various moments of weakness and then go with our gold, the sum of the entrepreneurs. The ARK and Recycle For the Arts and Iron Rail Collective Library and Plan B (for example) were designed with the involvement of tribes of nomadic people, many who have since left, never to return.
No better example exists than those who came in March of every year from their own alternative lives and stayed until June, building, running and breaking down our New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in its glory days. Those tribes are mostly gone, replaced by corporate and professional festival designers, but not forgotten.

When the ARK was closed down, or when the Eris parade was stopped, statements of literate, progressive neighbors and friends went like:
I hate the gutter punks/everyone has to follow the same rules/troublemakers are not artists/who started it/I need a permit, why don't they/they're not from here/
What I hear in that tone is what was said about the Travellers:
Nomads are literally unsettling for sedentary populations. People are uncomfortable with traditions not being melded.

But the port (al) that is New Orleans needs vibrant people that create rather than extract. And defining the extractors as all of "those who will not stay" will not do.
New Orleans' creative economy should be welcoming and as diffused as light through a thick, wavy old piece of glass, with its source of energy is as collective and mysterious as the sun itself.

1 comment:

Orange Poppy said...

This is great, I love your blog. Keep fighting the good fight!
Orange Poppy