Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Place at the Smart Cities Tables

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on................."

Happy Thanksgiving.  Despite the past year being difficult and heartbreaking - the devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Florida and Houston, and the horrific fires in Northern California; the genuinely frightening attacks on a free press, secularism and democracy here, and across the globe; and the personal challenges and tragedies that are part of life for many people each year -- there is still much to be thankful for.  Me?  I'm thankful I am still alive.  And you should be thankful you are alive too - for life truly is an extraordinary gift, full of highs and lows yes, but full too of wonder, beauty and sheer enjoyment at each day's dawning.  So I wish you and your family and friends a very Happy Thanksgiving.

The Bill Gates Smart City
Last week came news that one of Bill Gates investment companies paid eighty million dollars for a large tract of barren land near Tonopah Arizona, with a plan to develop a smart city complete with residences, schools, parks and commercial space - all with a high tech component including sophisticated communications, transportation and other cutting edge high tech offerings.  Of course, nowhere in the brief press release was any mention of the role of the arts.

We are going to see more of these kinds of projects in the very near future - promulgated and supported by governments - local, state, federal and even by other countries, and by private enterprise and the philanthropic community.  And the arts absolutely must be at the tables where these projects are conceived, developed and implemented.

While it is unclear the extent to which Gates and / or Microsoft will be directly involved in this effort, and it will likely be some time before any plans are formalized - this is the time for us to begin to demand that the arts are, as a matter of course, included.  We cannot afford to be an afterthought or an add-on in the future. We need to be there from the inception of the idea.

So how do we do that?  Local arts agencies, be they county, city or state need to make a connection with the owners / planners of the smart cities projects,, and make the case for their inclusion in the decision making process.  We need to provide strong evidence of our value, and, more than that, make a case with media and the public that no city without an arts component in both the planning and execution is truly "smart" in any sense of the word.  This can't be some meek request on our part -- we need to insist and make noise if we meet any resistance.  We need to actively and assiduously keep track of these efforts, and move decisively early on to include us.  The bar ought to be that the arts are essential to any effort to realize smart cities.

But this is also something the NEA should take on.  They have the imprimatur of being a national agency, and they have more of a chance to get phone calls returned and sympathetic ears for our rationale.  They need to take ownership of insuring we are part of the process of the future, and should be joined by a strong coalition of our philanthropic supporters and partners.  We need to enlist supportive City Council and Board of Supervisor officials, along with Mayors, members of state legislators and of Congress to carry our banner.

We also need to reach out and form a national Blue Ribbon committee with arts people joined by a cachet of highly recognized players from the high tech industry, bankers, the media, and private companies involved in culture to spearhead our efforts and give those efforts a public face that will command attention.

There is too much at stake for the future for us to be timid. We don't just need to be at these tables, we have to be.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit