Why Tacoma is not a destination, TAKE ONE.

Is it not true that the City of Tacoma wants more than anything else to attract white upper-classers from Seattle and move them into condominiums? Can you not see the yuppification and “beautification” of downtown Tacoma and diasporan Hilltop? But no one is really flocking to the city, as I see it, and as many others see it. How come?

For starters, traditional methods of beautification don’t work. The artists realize this. In Tacoma, art clean-up, homeless person eradication, racial profiling, and building pointless highways have gotten the city nowhere. No one wants to put their feet on the street, (if that was ever the goal,) and the city is even shittier because now there’s more condos and cops and very few small business districts.

Even though they hire professionals from community development corporations (CDCs) and consultants to tell them where they got it wrong. Someone should have listened to the consultant Lars Gemzoe who came all the way from Copenhagen to say that pedestrians in Tacoma are “invisible in the planning process.” He said that “people, life, and vitality are the biggest attractions of a city.” But instead of hearing out the wisdom from the public art architect, someone is taking their advice from fascist mayors like Rudy Guliani and bankers who think they can be like the Medici family – moneymen of the Italian Renaissance – by only funding “high art” for the rich and famous. Bourgeois history tends to forget what happened to the proletariat in Florence when the Medici were making so much money.

Lars was right. “People, life, and vitality” are the biggest reasons why most people even want to travel at all, or get out of the house, or explore new cities.

I was excited to go to San Francisco again last week because of the people, life, and vitality there. Nobody complains that the weeds are overgrown in Golden Gate Park. In fact, the vegetation is half the charm. The ganjaweed dealers sell drugs out in the open and the cops just watch. Adults must be “accompanied by children” in order to step foot on the kids’ playground. The kids know best. People from all over the city come to the park to enjoy the day.

Tacoma’s parks, sadly, are like golf courses. It’s amazing anybody wants to come out of their offices for their lunch break. An antiwar demonstration this March was not allowed to cook food in the park. They either had to have a business license or $1,000,000 in insurance to do this.

What does “art” mean to a city? What about to a City Council? It seems that, in just about every city, art is separated from everything else. Art has a department. It’s someone’s responsibility to make sure it happens. But it’s not everyone’s responsibility. And it’s not something you can do because you want to do it. It must not interfere with commerce, unless it is commerce. You cannot have a big BBQ in the park unless you’re a business. You can’t paint on a wall unless you’ve got a grant from the city.

The recession is causing an exodus in the Tacoma art community. Artists say want to live in cities like Portland where their work is appreciated. In Tacoma city employees claim to “work with the community” to solve problems (like cleaning up art by the railroad tracks), but I have never seen any of these people, and I work with the community too. They don’t advertise these community groups, why? The message to everybody in the community is: art is not welcome here. In the words of artist Chip Van Gilder in the Tacoma Volcano:

“I‘ve pretty much dropped out of the artist community. I found a minimum-wage day job… I put a few years effort into getting my work out there and helping others, but the foundation didn’t produce any long lasting results. My personal feeling is that the good ole boy society of the Tacoma business has done everything it can to eradicate art as a culture in Tacoma.”

Tacoma eradicated art as a culture. A wall in Portland says, “Art fills the void.”