Local culture is an important part of our identity. We all remember fondly where we grew up, what High School we attended, and who were our good neighbors and who were the bad. We remember our place, whether from a large or small City. Many Cities across the world do not have an adequate reflection of their local cultural identity. We do have a sense of our National identity, in many cases our ethnic identity, but usually we do not think too often outside of our experience, in reflection of local identity, unless we are from a major metropolis that blurs the line between National identity and Local Identity.
I was born and raised in Erie, PA. Thanks to the efforts of local funders, educators, and historical societies, I know something of my City’s history. For example, I learned that Erie was in a competitive battle with Cleveland to refine the significant oil production in the Western part of the State of Pennsylvania. Standard Oil chose Cleveland instead of Erie, at least according to the amateur historian who gave this lecture, because local economic developers failed to invest into the refining economy as Cleveland investors bought in. This seemingly trivial fact of Erie History helped me understand Erie’s Economy in its historical context, generally risk adverse and lacking a longer-term vision, but possessing the capability to punch above its weight in the National business conversation.
I also learned about another economic development mishap, perhaps the largest in the Erie area, the failure of Erie’s “Inland Port” initiative. A series of bad business relationships led a municipal authority to go bankrupt losing Millions in taxpayer Dollars with seemingly little oversight. Don’t get me wrong, Erie has had some success in economic development, its not all bad, but any honest account would recognize these few major blunders.
We learn about our culture and heritage from media and creative pursuits such as books or novels, poetry, television, film, and fine art. They teach us who we are and where we come from. Even if the work is fantasy or science fiction, we learn about our shared cultural values and beliefs.
Many local economies do not have independent entertainment, media, or cultural industries despite the best efforts of these areas to establish viable creative industries. Without successful creative industries, these cities lose out on their cultural identity. Residents lose out on the important stories that shape the history of their cities and their peoples. For example, I know very little about the Eriechronon people, the Native American people whose namesake Erie reflects. I would love to learn more about their history, at the very least, so that I could show just a little bit more respect for their sacred cultural heritage.
I would also love to know more about the shared values of Erie’s residents as reflected through fictional works such as poetry, music, and novels. I know vaguely what makes an Erieite, one who posses grit and perseverance, one who is a touch shy of success, one who has an extraordinary manufacturing history. Growing up I would have felt more comfortable in Erie and even more proud of my City if I had been exposed to local, homegrown culture.
This is a shame because many creators are working locally to incorporate themes from their hometowns into their work, they simply do not have the resources, such as distribution and practical know-how, to make their art commercially successful.
Let’s build a creative economy for local artists! Accessing one’s cultural identity is an essential part of growing up, especially for those who might feel otherwise disconnected from their cultural identity in an increasingly globalized society. How can we seed the creative industries outside of major Cities?
From the standpoint of the private sector, we can work toward two goals. First, we can establish business models that thrive at the local level. Recognizing that a major barrier to local artists is the sum market size to distribute their work, we can initiate creative membership solutions that increase the desire to spend regularly within local art markets. Second, we can take a greater interest in the local artist. If you are an affluent resident, consider curating your home art collection or reading a “hyperlocal” novel from a small to medium-sized City. Take it upon yourself to discover, nurture, and support new talent. We can build local art markets in the private sector instead of relying solely on regranting opportunities from local Foundations.
While Erie has struggled in their economic development efforts historically, there is one cultural memory that shines above all else, in my book. A local basketball standout made it big in Hollywood. His name was Marc Blucas. I will forever remember the impact his acting career had on my hometown pride because he starred in one of my favorite television shows growing up called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not only did he star in Buffy, but he was Sarah Michelle Gellar’s love interest. It showed that one can ascend any ranks, even if they are from Erie. I identified with Marc because I also played Basketball, and I also dreamed of moving to Hollywood. I never moved to Hollywood, and probably couldn’t take Blucas on the court, he was that good, but I still felt like he was a kindred spirit and positive role model. The wholesome values of Buffy seemed that much more real to me living in Erie, PA.
Blucas recently returned to Erie with a local director, financed by the local private sector, to film an Indie horror ‘flick’ about fracking. As a Libertarian, my politics don’t align, and I’m sure that neither Marc’s nor the filmmakerss politics align either, but it still warms my heart that a real local economic and political issue is now part of our region’s broader cultural identity. There are few things more important to local economies, societies, and cities, than our cultural identity, history, and heritage.
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