All Tomorrow's Parties

All Tomorrow’s Parties: Summoning Creativity in Shanghai

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Shanghai Studies Society, Rockbund Art Museum and NYU Shanghai present a series of conversations exploring urban creativity in Shanghai

The free events will take place as part of 2012-2013 Night@RAM program. They will be held on Friday evenings between 7 and 9 and/or Saturday afternoons from 3 to 6 at the Associate Mission Building, 169 Yuanmingyuan Road, 1st Floor.

“Every great burst of human creativity in history, is an urban phenomenon.”

Peter Hall

In his book Cities and Civilization, the great urban historian Peter Hall offers a history of the world as told through the creative potential of its cities. Hall zooms in on particular times and places – Athens in the 5th century, Florence in the 14th, Victorian London, Paris at the end of the 19th , New York in the mid 20th , Manchester at the beginning of the industrial revolution, Detroit, Memphis, Hollywood – places where an intense eruption of innovation occurred. These portentous revolutionary moments, whether in the arts, technology, or in methods of social organization have always happened in cities. “Every great burst of human creativity in history,” Hall argues, “is an urban phenomenon. “ 

The series of talks organized by the Shanghai Studies Symposium in collaboration with the Rockbund Art Museum and NYU Shanghai will bring together prominent theorists and practitioners to interrogate Hall’s notion of an urban ‘golden age’ in the context of contemporary Shanghai.

China’s largest, richest and most cosmopolitan city, Shanghai envisions itself as the next great global cultural hub, a key site of China’s ‘soft power.’ Having fully embraced the discourse of the creative industries, the city is busy converting heritage buildings into offices, boutiques and coffee shops: there are now close to 200 so called ‘creative clusters’ in Shanghai. These converted warehouses and factories pay homage to the city’s industrial past whilst recognizing that industrialization is no longer enough. China seeks to move beyond its position as the world’s workshop. In the past decade, a remarkable amount of infrastructure devoted to culture has emerged. Along with the plethora of creative clusters, Shanghai is also building a whole host of new museums, concert halls and galleries. Downtown, the new state of the art Shanghai Cultural Plaza brands itself as a Broadway venue. The North Bund area, which is still under construction, is following a blueprint to become a "Shanghai Music Valley”. At the former Shanghai Expo site, two giant buildings, including the former China Pavilion, will be converted into mega museums.

Yet, there is a deep ‘creative anxiety’ in Shanghai – to use the words of the prominent Sinologist Geremie Barmé – and a widespread awareness that the city’s creative content does not yet match its state-of-the-art infrastructure. Shanghai, goes the common cliché, has the hardware but not the software.  Many critics also warn that there remain numerous impediments to the flourishing of local creative and artistic practices. These include the loss of intellectual traditions and skills, censorship, disregard for and theft of intellectual property (IP), and a stifling educational system that encourages historical amnesia and conformism.

The aim of this seminar series is an exploration of the intellectual and cultural currents of this age and an investigation into Shanghai’s (new) cosmopolitanism and other novel ideologies and social and cultural practices. Some of the key questions that will be asked during the series are: Can artistic creativity and technological innovation be programmed or planned? Is the current ‘cargo-cult’ approach to the creative sphere effective or is it destined to ultimately fail? What forms might Shanghai’s particular inventiveness take? Will it make manifest the city’s unique imprint? In which ways might it root itself in the locale so that it can becomes the singular product of this time and place? Do novel theories and practices engage with earlier cultural traditions? Can a neo-traditionalism emerge that is also avant-garde and modern (the ‘shock of the new’)? What impact would radical urban innovation have on the politics and socio- economics of China?