New creative models developed by youths
Por Néstor García Canclini
* Distinguished Professor from the Metropolitan Autonomous University and Emeritus Investigator from the National System of Investigators of Mexico.
– Translated by Christopher Clarke
Youths today are occupying new positions within social development, although some of these positions are signs of their disadvantages. In various European and Latin American countries, youth unemployment is double that of national unemployment: in Spain for example, 56% of people under 35 are jobless. Also, the majority of Latin American migrants are youths, and are also the majority in violent death statistics as either soldiers or victims of urban violence.
Already in a report produced in 2010, the Organization of Ibero-American Youth warned that in Latin America “youths are the most vulnerable when it comes to irregular jobs, with more penalized salaries” while in Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Panama, and Peru 50,3% of adults have informal jobs, this percentage among youths between the age of 15 and 29 rises to 82,4% (Calderón 2010: 6).
Martín Hopenhayn mentions the following paradoxes in a report prepared by ECLAC, which also presents similar data with regards to the educational development of youths: youths “have greater educational achievements than adults, measured above all by the number of years in formal education, however, they have less access to employment. They manage with great ductility the new mediums of information, but have less access to spaces for political deliberation, and are less affiliated to parties. They expand exponentially symbolic consumption yet do not do so with material consumption” (Hopenhayn, 2008: 53).
In other words “youths enjoy more education yet have less access to employment than the adult population. They have more years of formal schooling than previous generations; yet at the same time have double or triple the level of unemployment. In other words, they are more incorporated into processes renowned as acquisition of knowledge and formation of human capital, but more excluded from spaces where such human capital is practiced, namely, the work force and the main source of income for personal wellbeing” (Hopenhayn, 2008: 53).
Advances in Creativity
Some studies during recent years however, show that youths stand out when it comes to creatively using resources. This can be seen in two ways: on the one hand, for creating employment within the art world by developing independent editorials, conducting music festivals, and creating other innovative paths for spreading cultural content by using recent technology with greater intensity than previous generations. On the other hand, youths are those that transcend creative imagination by taking it beyond that of specialized areas (visual arts, literature, and scientific investigation), that is, urban design, graphics, communications and industries. This is also true in the recycling of objects and messages that circulate within alternative markets.
The importance of these activities for social and cultural development has led to the discussion of creative economies and cities. What balance can be made, after two decades of this line of experimentation on paper of creativity as a socioeconomic resource, in regards to the performance of youths in a work and consumption model that is different to that assigned by the reproduction of social order? Are we really passing, as sometime suggested, from the predominance of cultural industries to a creative economy? Is the era of books and paper and records’ giving in to the advances of public art, festivals, online communications and digital downloads?
It is difficult to answer these questions in Latin America, due to the lack of consistent statistics on creators, cultural audiences, and movements within the communication industry. There are not enough studies on ratings and what is seen and consumed today. We need, for example, quantitative records of the relationships between graduates from artistic university careers and professional achievements. We need to know the structure of the cultural offer compared with consumption habits of the population.
This drove us to investigate over the last three years the perception acquired in ethnographic studies that exist in many Latin American cities and that of thousands of youths similar to those in the United States, Great Britain, and other countries that are called trendsetters, due to their ability to establish trends. In Belgium, Spain, and France they are called entrepreneurs due to their ability to self organize outside institutions and large companies, while in France they are called indicators, alluding to their “continuous discontinuity” through which their “engagements and projects” take place (de Heusch, Dujardin y Rajabaly, 2011; Florida, 2010; Mc Robbie, 2007; Rowan, 2010).
Therefore, we went selecting through interviews and the snowball sampling technique, key figures from the visual arts, independent editorials, music and digital practices found in Mexico City. We found young people that practice non-conventional methods to situate themselves in a transforming cultural and socioeconomic landscape. They are a peculiar kind of worker, with no fixed salary and completely independent. They work on short-term projects without contracts or in unconventional conditions, passing from one project to the next, without any career structure. They frequently move their competencies and creativity among cooperative processes, each time in a different manner. They must adapt to different clients or diverse orders, to variations in equipment used, to different artistic and cultural professional meanings from various different scenes. Their limited income and the fragility of their performances, forces them to combine creative activities with secondary activities.
We proposed to investigate in Mexico what cultural and socio economic innovation creative practices consist of. Is it individuals and small creative groups capable of overcoming capitalist contradictions if they have sufficient initiative, capacity of association, a high level of understanding of advanced technologies, and can position themselves in privileged places?
- There are various characteristics of these young creative people that allow them to carry out their work in these spaces and circuits:
- Greater exposure to what is happening outside their own country, and most of the world;
- Willingness to be permanently connected, and therefore the ability to dilute the separation between work time and leisure time;
Ability to be an artist, a musician, and multitask as an editor; meaning that on the one hand, they simultaneously use different mediums and connections (they write on the computer while visiting social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, while also sometimes leaving the television on). On the other hand, this versatility can be seen when joining professions that were considered separate in the practice of traditional arts: the author of a music piece or work of visual art can take care of the design, publicity, and online promotion;
Greater abilities than previous generations in establishing social interactions and cooperative networks over long distances; in some cases, micro communities that expand the possibility of getting jobs and spreading results; passing from social capital such as unique spaces (neighbourhoods, schools, factories) to binding capital (Putnam), which allows for multiple insertions in diverse fields by changing the identification of which it values different capitals;
Interdisciplinary, intertextuality, and hyperlink habits: in the structure of their work, they incorporate procedures such as copy/paste, control zeta and bluetooth, showing their disposition for incessant exchange and transparency.
Versatility —among different professions, forms of collaboration and even language and country— is made easier through digital networks, but is also a requisite “normalized” by the flexibility of the work market and the uncertainty about future work.
The behaviour of these youths essentially shows a different way of facing the relationships between creativity, interdisciplinary practices, and cultural institutions. Before, interdisciplinary practices was an epistemological programme or an interrelation between artistic practices, languages and formats, with the intention of renewing works and knowledge, only practiced by minorities within the scientific or artistic field. Today this style of work can be seen in music sampling and remixing, the intertextuality in writing, the collaboration among disciplines and the combination of visual, literary, and technological discourses.
A consequence of this interdisciplinary restructuring for creators and diffusers, which moves either outside or among institutions, is a change in language. The notions of artistic field, editorial field, and musical field, so frequently used in sociology of the arts and literature inspired by Pierre Bourdieu, gives way for others. To describe the object of study or performance, youths talk of scene, environment, circuits and platforms, concepts that are more encompassing. While the notion of a field alludes to a specialized and self contained system with peculiar rules that articulate —for example, a musical field— composers, interpreters, concert halls, promoters and spectators, to speak of scenes and circuits on the other hand facilitates the inclusion of a more flexible method and wider diversity (and mix) of internal and external actors to what was previously referred to as a field.
The capacities of individuals and groups of young actors are not enough to act in current stages and surroundings. This must implicate changes in the institutions and companies that circulate goods and messages, as well as new dispositions by the public, spectators, or as whatever they prefer to be called according to the fusion between production, consumption, and prosumers.
In visual arts, creativity is redistributed from the emergence of curators and managers that not only establish the structure to assemble an exhibition but also the conceptual tone of an artist or the various tendencies that intervene in production, authorship, and diffusion.
In DJ music, sound engineers and others that post-produce from materials previously created by other artists, also modify places of production, circulations, and appropriation. Despite this characteristic derived from their DJ work, many are still defined as creators. They also change the interaction between the creative moment, before seen as solitary and individual, and scenes of communication, hearing, dance and celebration. As restaurants, banks, and design stores create a sense of art by exhibiting works, music created by youths is circulating less and less among record stores —even on records— and is instead mixed with activities taking place in cafes, audio-visual mediums, museums, multi-use cultural centres and above all internet sites and social networks. The meaning of an artists goods and value criteria is reformulated by these ever expanding scenes where fashion design also plays a role, as do gastronomic tastes, and values of speed and entertainment within cultural industries within more hipster areas of the city, such as the Condesa and Roma colonies and the Historical Centre of the Mexican megacity.
Among the spaces and circuits that were studied, music emerges as an area where the old concentrated structure of the cultural industry, (in this case managed by four gigantic majors), is least sustainable. From Napster bursting on the scene to the current proliferation of P2P networks, exchange prevails over economic gain. Collective authorship, cooperation among composers and the audience, collaborative creations and editions made over long distance between resident musicians from different countries are some of the frequent innovations seen in the music scene. In short, two consequences are particularly notable: a) the increased access to creation and communication, with less and less differentiation between the professional and the amateur, b) a change in horizon, not only of the rules, but the configuration of intellectual property.
Another example of dynamism within the transformations of the music scene is the need to distinguish, still within the arc of 20 to 35 years of age, three generations: the digital, formed by bands from the last decade, that use above all social networks and web platforms; the compilation, also participants of traditional industry rules, digital circuits, and self managed nature; and the generation of records, composed of musicians within the industry, some which negotiate, with the previous generations mentioned, their inclusion in digital networks.
How does the creative process and habits of the audience modify technological innovation? The composition on personal computers, the use of online platforms, and work in the cloud increases the already mentioned long distance collaboration and modifies the industrial notion of copyright, making way for licenses with partial freedom like creative commons. As in the visual arts and editorial work, digital technologies strengthen the access to information about cultural offers from ones own country and the world. We could say that radios and above all websites present a “curatorship of musical tastes”. This interactive audience, with such easy access and ability to recreate what is hear, is a selective and expansive diffuser: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs constantly increase music and video music circulation, and orient preferences and bring together those of similar taste.
We have passed from a period in which cultural development was conceived lineally (creator-intermediary-public) to another in which creation is reformed as programming, that is the creative managing of pre-existing materials and changes in circulation. Now, cultural creativity is as much in the gestation as it is in communication and reception that mixes in no specific sequential order.
From Careers to Projects
Another quite visible change when we compare cultural producers from 20 to 30 years ago with the present day is the transition from a society in which a career could be made, to another with scarce opportunities, that when achieved, are almost always temporary and insecure. Young artists and musicians are now accustomed to organizing themselves for short or medium term projects. Some continue their independent ventures through conviction, although the majority do so out of necessity. Creativity and innovation, two highly valued skills for employment opportunities, more so than lasting professional competencies, help give these activities this fragile periodization. The pressure of the instantaneous, what is discovered or informed today, reinforces this relation with the temporal speed of such biographies: everything is ephemeral, renewable and then obsolete, even groups that organize young people for work.
This transitional feeling behind these projects conspires against the performance of cultural practices, which require numerous investments and whose capacity for economic recovery is slow. The work and commercial patters of the editorial industry work, where production takes months and its sense is fed, in part, by a catalogue formed over years, clashes with intermittent jobs and the pressures of a market that favours incessant renewal and obsolescence.
An area particularly sensitive towards acceleration and uncertainty is the transition from paper editions to virtual circuits. On the one hand, international sources and declarations from editors speak of a possible substitution of books for digital circulation: we see a growing concern from editorials and bookstores to linger in a time of online content production and transmission. On the other hand, independent editorials that were interviewed hold on to projects on paper, opposing alarmism as part of a resistance to “the tyranny of the market”; they defend the production of books as being “conceived to read, and to last”. They value the artisan aspects of production (paper quality and design, typographic innovations and the qualitative sense of interpersonal communication and aesthetically justified reading).
For the last four years one of the centres in Mexico City dedicated to young art, the Carrillo Gil Museum has during the month of December opened a space for the exhibition, promotion, and analysis of independent editorials. In 2011 El Foro housed over sixty editors from various countries, occupying the entire floor of the museum. From the entrance the festive environment caught your attention, with the mix of magazines, fanzines, visual objects and publications related to movies, video, and of course, books: among many of these one could see artisan signs of work, such as visible hand stitched covers, covers with unique marks, artist books together with conventional looking editions but that indicate the desire to revitalize the editorial object starting from classic attributes. “The book is dead, long live the book” was the slogan of this year’s event. The future therefore does not seem to bring the substitution of paper for screens, but rather a coexistence and complex interaction between both.
How is this coexistence of various habits, forms of grouping, organisation and style of work happening? It is impossible for one to group all these different processes as if they were a group ticket towards a creative economy that encompasses everyone, and neither the catastrophic disappearance of cultural industries and types of communication that would make them hegemonic in the second half of the twentieth century.
What we found, in turn, is that industrial and post-industrial (digital) forms of the production and circulation of goods and messages interact with old community habits, forming new communities and types of businesses. It is a taste for widespread culture with “new” forms of artisan work, the collective search for innovative solutions and ways of sharing expertise. More than substitute one system for the other, these ventures of youths practice multiple learning’s, relationships of friendship, together with the collaboration of large institutions, competence, self-employment and the imaginative insertion into pre-existing networks.
The study of versatile actors creates questions about the type of society that gave birth to these unstable and discontinuous projects. Testimonies from some of the people interviewed showed the ambivalent nature towards these changes. A visual artist would say to me that they work sometimes as cultural producers while other times as digital designers:
“Between my undergraduate and masters degree I studied for nine years. I know English and French and am able to perform in various areas. But I cannot find work that lasts: I give classes, do temporary work, and between one and the other I can potentially live without income for three months. I cannot wait for a loan to buy a car nor for a licence if I get pregnant”.
One must also value, together with extended creativity, the consequences of this social and economic reorganization of cultural production and the sense of living together. Although this way of working on projects and the hiring and firing people, allows for certain freedoms from routine and the ability to innovate in various fields, it might inject new energy into the economy, but it also harms many people. In the words of Richard Sennett, it corrodes character and weakens social solidarity. What does he mean when saying this? It especially corrodes “those aspects of character that unite human beings and give each one a sense of sustainability” (Sennett, 2000: 25).
The difficulty of medium term sustainability within this form of work, according to projects rather than by a career, is seen in economic analysis as in anthropological analysis of Mexican youths. A team of economists with which we conducted this study, directed by Ernesto Piedras, established that visual artists, independent editors, musicians and multimedia artists only receive from their creative activities 23% of the income needed to survive. They acquire the remaining resources through scholarships, family assistance, and temporary jobs as teacher’s or in video companies, movie theatres, and publicity, although frequently in activities far away from creative projects.
In anthropological research on visual artists, Carla Pinochet Cobos and Verónica Gerber looked into what scope could visual arts have, analysing it as a creative industry, and inquiring into which way the projects of these creators was quantifiable. Certain productions are paid, some are part of the market, participate in commercial art fairs and stimulate cultural tourism of urban circuits. Yet when attention is given to the qualitative nature of these creative experiences, of these living spaces, collaborations and community participation, although considered unrewarding practices they become significant as they satisfy and give meaning. The artistic work shows indications of sub employment and precariousness similar to those of the young population in Mexico City. However, although the ways of resolving economic needs, such as earning a salary and consuming, are submitted to unstable pressures and the demand for working in “whatever shows up”, their usage of technology and their exchange of goods and information give artists a peculiar outlook on both the present and the future. We find that they do not completely agree with what is happening in the creative economy, the micro level of domestic economy, and group and individual logic.
Technological innovations in cultural processes represent a greater alteration in the ties between the economy and culture. Digital reconversion of companies, technological changes in the way that books are produced and circulated, in the graphic and industrial design, constructed organization of work, emergence of new professions and the fall of others are some of the changes assigned to the protagonism of young techsetters. The apparently privileged place that these highly educated young people with the skills required for current forms of work and business does not allow them to break away from the rest of the young world and the shortage of work contracts and fixed salaries, of social lending and security that is beyond the short term. However, Enedina Ortega Gutiérrez writes that their fluid use of networks opens up a universe where connections are valued, are required by coolhunters, and allows them to enjoy certain autonomy in the choice of their work and in the distribution of their time. Their ability to cross boundaries and cultural surroundings disorganizes regular categories in quantitative studies. It is not enough for example to know how many have access to Internet at home (in Mexico City, 42,3%). One has to find out how many have access in all other environments (friends, internet cafes, schools) and what the different logical uses are: what subjects or pages interest them and what professional needs of association or of play they use them for.
As for the future, there is only short and medium term. Only half of young entrepreneurs and university students actually think of retirment or of the long-term. Young techsetters that act from their individual creativity and participatory culture constitute a moment in Mexican society. But the digital and demographic bonus that these youths represent is somewhat vague in a society where innovation is left to private companies, with no digital policy, and no state agenda or legislation that channels cultural movements and their creative action.
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