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Creativity in Tough Times

February 2, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

An image of the "malignantly beautiful" Braddock, PA

Safe to say the economy is the predominant force shaping our cultural conversation right now. And it’s interesting to watch the opposing currents of gloom-and-doom-hell in a handbag and yes-we-can-refresh-everything duke it out in popular discourse.  I’m especially intrigued by the message cropping up somewhere between these two extremes about how great creativity arises in times of economic hardship.  I’m inspired by that, and hungry to see examples of it in practice.  After all, it’s hard to turn creativity from words into deeds when you’re trying to stay focused on the basics — which is priority #1 for anyone in business at the moment. 

Still…desperately seeking inspiration! Which I found in the NY Times this weekend, in a piece on “distressed municipality” Braddock, PA and what Mayor John Fetterman is doing to turn the blighted community around.    Maybe it’s because I’m a Pennsylvania girl and feeling particularly tender towards my home state post-Superbowl, but I was blown away by the story of Braddock and its maverick mayor.  Fetterman sees poetry in the ruins of his “malignantly beautiful town,”  and wants you to be part of its transformation. So he creates a website with his own money and puts out a call to action:

Large enough to matter. Small enough to impact. An unparalleled opportunity for the urban pioneer, artist or misfit to be part of a new, experimental effort.

Fetterman is on a mission to attract outside energy to his bankrupt town in hopes they’ll see it as a cheap, accessible laboratory for urban renewal.  This guy is a maniac, and I mean that in all the best ways — bold, committed, visionary, passionate. Maybe a little insane — look at his arm and you’ll find the dates that Braddock citizens were murdered during his watch  tatooed into his flesh.  He’s also Harvard-educated and by the way,  gets the power of well-designed website.  In this image from www.15104.cc (the town site, named for the Braddock zip code), ruined row houses assume an almost gothic gravitas:

Ghost houses of Braddock

Ghost houses of Braddock










Talk about creativity borne of hardship.  Makes my stupid writer’s block /inertia in face of looming client memo deadline seem pretty insignificant.  Maybe I should tatoo client logos into my left arm, to stay focused and motivated? 

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