a new angle

Arts Development in the Suburbs

Carolyn Bye, author
Sylvia Paine Lindman, editor

2002, 108 pages. The McKnight Foundation, 600 TCF Tower, 121 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402, 612-333-4220.

True or false?
• The suburbs have never been as homogenized as their reputation suggested
• Stereotypes about vapidity and uniformity in suburban communities have been left unchallenged
• Suburban arts resources need to expand to meet the needs of growing communities
• The need to enhance the livability of suburban communities hasn't been acknowledged as openly as it deserves
• Suburbs are homogeneous bedroom communities that have little or no cultural infrastructure and depend on the urban core

If you answered true to the first four statements and false to the last, then you would likely be in agreement with the conclusions reached in a new angle/Arts Development in the Suburbs, recently published by the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis.
McKnight, the largest private funder of the arts in Minnesota, presents a detailed philosophical and situational analysis of arts funding history, impact, and need in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. Author Carolyn Bye presents case studies of what communities, local activists, art performers, and presenters have been doing in the Twin Cities suburbs, to dispel the myth that real culture only occurs in an urban environment.

Included in the study is also an honest and revealing perspective from the executive director of the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, confessing to being swayed by suburban stereotypes to the point of having to explain to herself after moving “to the ‘burbs” that “I'm really an urban person who just likes a quiet place to sleep.” Her later conclusion, based on real life experiences, is that funding the arts in the suburbs is smart and the right thing to do. Potential audience members to reach? Two million people.

The publication is full of enough stories, anecdotes, charts, data, and personal, political, and professional observations to make it difficult to disagree. However, myths run deep, stereotypes often appear to contain a thread of truth, and how does a regional or statewide cultural policy that supports funding suburban arts, do so without abandoning pressing urban cultural needs?

Obviously, money, civic engagement, cultural participation, and honest dialogue all play a critical role in creating a balance between the two. a new angle, complete with fascinating profiles of nearly a dozen suburban towns close to the Twin Cities, also comes with the publication literally “cut” off at the top at a definite angle, suggesting at first sight that there is something different about the book and its contents.

If you're not quite sure what “culture” in today's suburb looks like or should be, this could very well provide you with a new definition.

Bruce Davis, Arts Council Silicon Valley