Off Center: Art Careers in Peripheral Places
Shaw, Samuel Clayton
Visual artists benefit from resources historically concentrated in few urban “centers.” This dissertation uses ethnographic observation and 76 in-depth interviews with visual artists and related professionals in two “off-center” cities to question how artists navigate opportunities and constraints in places where resources for career mobility are relatively lacking, in Portland, Oregon and Nashville, Tennessee. Artists’ careers are analyzed in domains of exhibition, networking, and work strategies, their understandings of their cities and local scenes, and their definitions of success. Portland and Nashville are similar in size, but are very different in their professional artist populations and population-trends. By comparing artists’ careers in these two different cities, I induce a theory of place and cultural production that extends a Bourdieuian field perspective to a 21st century, global context. I find that artists are dually embedded in local scenes and a global field in which cities themselves become multidimensional, dynamic positions that shape, and are shaped by, artists’ careers. A typology of cities is derived from artists’ descriptions along dimensions of markets, scenes, and the place-based resources. A series of propositions characterize artists’ careers as uniquely translocal. The type and variety of resources existing in any given place mediates the strategies through which artists may go about overcoming local constraints and accumulating opportunities in the larger global field.