Citizen creative placemaking: my personal backstory


When I was an undergraduate college student, I took a class that changed the focus of my life.

This is a pretty broad brush to paint on a set of morphing decisions I’d been making for years, but bear with me – I’ve got a point to make.

I started out my college career as a clarinet performance major at Northwestern University. This lasted (formally) for two years before I finally declared a major in Communication Studies, but I’d been fishing for a new major for about a year before I made the switch. Long story for another day.

The final, deciding event in this major declaration was taking my first class with Professor Paul Arntson who seemed like something of a rockstar to me (remember this was the 1980s), who came to class to teach in blue jeans and cowboy boots. Our class was called Professional-Client Communication, and I recall that many of the students in the class were pre-college teachers renewing their teaching licenses. So here I was this nineteen year old kid trying to figure out my major surrounded by adults.

You’re thinking – so was being in this class what changed things? Sort of. And, what does this have to do with creative placemaking?

Two things happened: first was my discovery that professors could be laid back and brilliant all at the same time (which was transformative for me, but in a different way), but second – and more importantly – Arntson defined the three concepts that would underlie our course, and which I have applied to everything I’ve done ever since: client, consumer, and citizen.

Here’s how I remember his definitions of these terms (and remember that I learned these ahem ahem ahem years ago so I give many disclaimers about the precision and accuracy of my memory):

A client is someone who goes to an expert to fix things for him or her. This client takes no responsibility for the decisions about what is done – they are passive accomplices to whatever the expert/professional says. A good example of client mentality is kids with their parents when the kids aren’t in “no” mode.

A consumer is someone who shops around for the best expert their money can buy. They might research that expert and would certainly critically evaluate the effectiveness of the expert, but in the end it is the expert/professional they hold accountable for the results of whatever it is they’ve been hired to do. For example, when you hire a builder to design and build a house, you hold the builder accountable for how the house comes out once it’s built (no matter how many impractical things you’ve insisted they include in the house, or how unrealistic your demands are).

A citizen is someone who researches expertise and learns the limits of what an expert can do. This person hires that expert with the mindset that they have hired that person and are therefore equally accountable for whatever transpires from the thing they’ve asked the expert to do. An example of this is small ‘d’ democracy – the idea that individual members of a community come together to make decisions and take responsibility for the outcome of those decisions.

As my professor (I think) intended, I came away from his class pretty committed to being a citizen, rather than a consumer. I think about this in most aspects of my life – not just in choosing my next dentist, but in how I do my job, and in the ways I live with my cats or deal with my recycling. I’m certainly not perfectly consistent, but I am pretty mindful of my personal footprint in the world so I’d like to think I’m reasonably predictable.

Creative placemaking, in my view, can have similar impacts. This is a way that folks in the arts writ large can engage responsibly with their communities and as citizens take responsibility for making their world a sustainable place where all community members can live a little better.

This post is the first in a series taking on Jeff Goins’ 30 Day Challenge. (We’ll see how I do.)

Thinking about the role of music


So I haven’t posted in a while. Okay, since March (!). But it’s been a busy busy time – I started a new position a year and a half ago and we’ve been developing a new office. It’s taken more time than even I would have anticipated. Great times! I may at some point blog about it here, but I’ve been posting a few entries on my office’s blog (here, and here) that speak to the nuts and bolts of what I study – on the real life aspects of how performers navigate the cultural and economic world around them.

Today I just wanted to share an article I came across that lives in another part of my research life: the role of music in political protest I came across during my regular perusal of music writing. This is a really interesting piece on the intersections of feminism and music making as radical speech, published in Pitchfork’s “The Pitch” section last week that is well worth a look.

As for the header image? Well, since I’ve written about John Lennon’s Imagine, it seemed appropriate; but with this article I’m sharing today I wanted to make sure Yoko’s role as part of this duo’s political identity didn’t get lost.

Chuck Berry -curating sounds and memories

Update: (okay, it took less than a couple of hours to get to this, but you knew I would). I have to include this wonderful retrospective by Peter Guralnick about his interview with Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino in New Orleans in 2011. (You think of trying to interview them as a group!).


I started doing this last year with a post on the impact of David Bowie. Far too many artists – musical artists (hey I’m a musician and music scholar – I have preferences and this is my blog) left us last year and the loss of Mr. Berry is yet another hit. While he was 90 at the time of his death this past Saturday, nonetheless it’s a shock to this girl from Detroit to lose a living piece of pop culture history.

My goal with this post is to honor his legacy. I’ll be adding recordings and articles to it over the coming weeks – please do feel free to respond and share items you’ve been particularly moved by.

A couple of posts to start off with:

    • The New York Times obit has a nice brief video retrospective by Jon Pareles, as well as a slideshow touching on some iconic images across his career (this one’s not comprehensive)
    • CNN’s coverage of his death

That’s enough reading. Let’s get on to some music. One recording from his prime, and one that’s just a master presenting his craft. These sort of tell the tale. I had to choose from all sorts of options to display all the folks who played with him, but – I want to honor him on his own today.


Live in Concert: 1972


The AVO sessions in 2007


Total randomness – how else to deal with this year’s Oscars?

I’m a fairly rabid reader of The New Yorker, for what it’s worth. And today’s article on the glitch in the Best Picture Awards at the Oscars this year struck me as one of those moments where we create our own soundtrack.

Since I’ve been posting on this blog more regularly lately, I thought I’d share this slightly surreal experience. Maybe I only go there because I’m a popular culture/ethnomusicology/performance studies scholar? I don’t know. But it seems the thing to do today.

So, read the article. And while you’re doing that, hit “play” below.

RIP Clyde Stubblefield

There are far too many losses to the music world, this year, and every year – maybe last year just sensitized me to it or maybe we’re getting to that generational shift?

Either way, today I’m sharing the soundtrack that’s guiding my morning and a brief obit from Digital Music News.

Let the Funky Drummer drive your morning!

Remembering Al Jarreau

Just a quick post today. Al Jarreau was one of the voices of my childhood and teen years – one of the happy, beautiful voices that countermanded all the emotional art rock I consumed at the same time.

This tribute was put together by Wisconsin Public Radio – there’s a request by his family to contribute to the Wisconsin Foundation for School Music – you can see the details here on his obit from Digital Music News.

Al, you are missed. Rest in peace.

Thinking about protest music, the Women’s March, and Joan Baez

Rolling Stone published an interview with Joan Baez yesterday about the Women’s March and protest music. While I strongly recommend reading it, there are a couple of highlights I’m thinking about.

  1. There’s a lack of music as a positive, uplifting (Baez’s word) force right now – protests are focused on anger. This movement needs an anthem.
  2. Protesters right now are being reactive, not proactive (me interpreting her words). I’ll quote her here, because she says this so succinctly: “You know, their strategy’ s working when they have us spinnming so fast we don’t know which thing to latch onto… I’d say just keep your eyes on the prize.”

That’s it for the moment, but I want to leave you with some music because that’s just who I am.

On protest music in the current age 1.28.17

I’ve renewed an old research interest – protest music. Not terribly a shocking interest for an ethnomusicologist in the crazy times we’re seeing, but it’s been a recurring theme in my toolkit of research subjects.

John Mellencamp (whose work I don’t normally look at) just released a really interesting song that takes on inequality, protest movements, oppression (and, interestingly, it was released the day before the new POTUS was sworn in).

I hear him, vocally, channeling a Tom Waits-like raspiness in his delivery. I’m waiting to see how my own read on this song evolves, but Rolling Stone has an interesting piece on it here.

I do see a resurgence in protest musics (I’m not special here) and talk about dystopian futures. Uncertainty does breed this, yes?

One thought: a brief conversation I had this morning got me doing some research online – I spoke who a colleague who referenced an old quote with the words (I’m paraphrasing here) that “uncertainty breeds fear.” Doing a little research (as in, I googled it) I found consistent references to this idea. It’s not something new.

What struck me as I looked to make lemonades out of lemons was the additional idea I came across, that uncertainty also creates conditions for creativity.

Let’s all work to make that constructive creativity.

In the meantime, I’ll keep investigating what happens as music intersects with protest movements.

Mourning 2016 Musicians – Glenn Frey

This is just a brief post but I anticipate more of these to follow – every one of the artists I miss deserves a post of his/her own.

So I’m still not over last year’s losses. And by that I mean the musicians lost to the world when they died last year. For me this is about musicians and performers from all genres, but today I’m talking about a musician from my hometown, Detroit. I wanted to share Bob Seger’s tribute to Glenn Frey and the write-up in Rolling Stone about it.

A guest blog from my new housemates

I broke down this week and did something I avoid – I went to the local animal shelter (because I can’t go without bringing home new friends). Even worse, I went into the kitten room and was immediately accosted by two small feline persons who informed me in no uncertain terms that I was taking them home with me.

As you can see, they didn’t take long to settle in – this was the first evening at home.Marlowe and Bowie on day 1 at home

If you’re wondering, the orange tabby is Bowie (yes, note my curated post from last winter) and the black and white tabby is Marlowe. I’ll leave it to you if he’s the poet/playwright or the detective. And no he’s not named after a sportscaster. I’d never even heard of that Marlowe until after I’d named him.

Since this is a departure from my usual pop culture/ethno posts, I’ll leave it at this, but I will say that I debated naming them (respectively, right to left) Walter and Benjamin. Unfortunately, Marlowe is just definitely a Marlowe, and Bowie is not a Benjamin. They’re cats – they told me this. 😉