Readings for “Planning in the Pacific Northwest” -October 26th

Thanks for inviting me into the “Planning in the Pacific Northwest” course.

Dr. Seltzer defined the course as  one that would “get our students better acquainted with the Pacific Northwest as a place, especially in light of the fact that they might one day be intervening in the territory through their work.” He further said that it is “less about planning institutions and laws, and much more about planning, planners, and cultural landscapes… understanding their work in the context of place and sense of place.”

I might easily rephrase his statement to refer to musicians instead.  How do we intervene in the territory through our work?  How do we understand our work “in the context of place and sense of place.” These are questions I have been thinking a lot about for the past few years and look forward to talking with you about.  I see this as a chance for us to share ideas and think I have as much to learn from you and your field as you may from mine.

In preparation for the class I have posted some links to music and writings that can fuel our discussion.  I also pose  3 assignments.



This Public Radio Exchange piece on Alaskan composer John Luther Adams

An sample of John Luther Adams’ music

A clip from Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen. On this album he explores the genesis of his own universe: Strjon is the medieval name of Henriksen’s home town– it roughly means “streaming water,”  Drawing from a wealth of home-taped sounds from his youth in Stryn.


Native American Jazz saxophonist Jim Pepper’s anthem Witchitato. This song has become almost a spiritual emblem of the Pacific Northwest.  It has been recorded probably 100 times by groups from all genres & countries.

Gil Scott Heron- The poet of the African America 70’s  – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Marvin Gaye-Ditto for the African American 1960s- Inner City Blues


This particular example of economic transformation of place, driven by artists intrigues me.  I want to know if we can  plan for this kind of change. Further more can we seed and cultivate it?

Musical application of conservation ecology by ethnomusicologist Jeff Todd Titon.  Titon is the biggest influence on my thinking about music and it’s relationship to sustainability & place.   I’m curious to know how the ideas in these 3 posts might relate to the planning environment.

Theses on Sustainability- I have been using the idea of cultural sustainability (#7) as fuel for my work around the sustainability of music.  How does it relate to your field?

Writings by John Luther Adams- Especially “Resonance of Place” and “The Indigenous Context”


Assignment #1- Find a piece of music that you feel is evocative of place.  Not the place you were when you heard it, but a place the seems to come from the music itself. Try to describe what it is about the music that gives this sense of place.

Assignment #2- Give me an idea or an example of how you as planners might engage with musicians to shape a vision of a place.

Assignment #3  Give me your take on how Jeff Titon’s ideas  might resonate in the planning environment.   Can you think of your planning environment as an ecology?


The Way Forward

Alan Levine

I heard an interview that struck home on NPR this morning with French-Algerian guitarist Camel Zekri.

When I think about the kind of musician I want to be and the kind of musicians I want to encourage my students to be, his story resonates with me.  Both his thoughts about musical categories:

“Jazz is a word — it’s not the music,” he says. “Why not salsa? Why not bossa nova? Reggae? You can’t say this is not jazz. It’s an encounter of people who have given us music. It’s not one person who has given us this music. It’s a meeting of different people and cultures.”

Even moreso, his desire to connect with people through music.

That’s what interests Zekri — human encounters. Like so many children of immigrant families, he found it hard to bridge the cultural divisions within himself until his own guitar taught him how. He set aside classical technique. He changed the placement of his hands. He expanded the scale to encompass Arabic, Berber and African sounds.

To me its the model of the musician’s role. To quest after mastery,  to resist definitions, to courageously seek a personal vision, and to embrace the power of music to connect.

This is the way forward.

I recently came across an organization in my town called Colored Pencils that is seeking to create these kinds of encounters through art in our community

You can read and listen to the rest of the interview and see more videoclips of Zekri here.

How important is Art? Try giving it up.

Ruth Boraggina

How important are the arts?

Plato famously said about music that it is “a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything.”

Are the arts a necessity?  Some, like Chris Ashworth, argue not.

The arts are not necessary.

Yeah, I went there: Not necessary. Water? Necessary. Food? Necessary. Medical care when we’re sick? Necessary. Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck? Not necessary. Awesome play, but not necessary.

At least, not necessary in a way that anyone has ever been able to make clear. Even when really smart people try really hard, the most they can say is that the arts might provide some instrumental benefits sorta kinda like other things that probably do the job better, but we’re not really sure.

Most of my life I’ve wanted the arts to be necessary. I had it in my little American heart that, since all necessary things are also worthwhile, all worthwhile things must also be necessary. That’s a big mistake. For deeply worthwhile human activity (like the arts), it obligates one to build arguments that may not be true, in order to prove the connection back to “necessary”. At the very least, it puts you in the unforgiving position of pitting the necessity of the arts against the necessity of, say, roads.

You can read the rest of his article here

One of the challenges of cultural sustainability or cultural preservation or cultural conservation is that while we are used to thinking in those terms with the cultures of indigenous populations, or displaced populations, or other people-not-like-us , it is entirely another matter to think about our  institutions of the majority culture in those terms.  Of course we need to somehow save the wonderful folkloric singing of the native island people of such and such? Maybe in a heritage museum, or a theme park.  But not as a living, breathing, capital intensive, hand-wringing, ever school child must experience it kind of thing.

Yet when  questions such “do we need symphony orchestras? or  “Should Jazz Be Saved?” are raised we are at a loss for definitive answers.

So how important is art?  Here’s an YouTube video about a family who decided to test the premise.

You can read more about this concept at

The Big Picture-Cultural Policy

tinou bao

Say we wanted to start from scratch.

How would we build a neighborhood, city, metropolitan area, state, country, world where the arts permeated the place?

Can we think bigger than a non-profit organization, or even an arts council?

How do we work on the cultural policy and urban planning level?

Can we sit the artists side by side with the policy makers and the planners from the first meeting?

What might things look like then?

Some links to peruse:

The Motherlode – Compendium, a country by country look at cultural policy in Europe.  You could write a dissertatation on the stuff in this site.

Look just a little bit under the surface there and you can check out:

National Cultural Canons as a Cultural Policy Response to Globalisation? (Does Portland have a cultural canon?  That would sure be  one way to establish a “Portland Sound”)

Interested in decentralization as a theme in Governmental policy?  See Norway ” During the 1970s major efforts were made to decentralise the cultural policy and administration system in Norway. Cultural affairs committees were established in most municipalities, and the municipal authorities gradually appointed directors and secretaries of cultural affairs. A similar system was developed at the county level and new grant schemes were introduced. In this way, substantial responsibilities were decentralized in order to bring decision-making closer to the general population.”

Could that work in the states?

Or how about the way France went about it.

I like the term “devolution” to describe making smaller, more purpose-driven agencies out of big conglomerated ones.

There’s more here I’m sure, but this seems like a good place to start digging.

Julie’s Bicycle-Serious about greening the arts

Nishanth Jois

My friend Binnie Brennan, a classical musician and children’s book author from Halifax sent me this link.

Julie’s Bicycle is a broad coalition of music, theatre and scientific experts committed to making our industry green. Our ambition is global, our main operations UK. Almost everything we do is relevant to other creative industries and other global territories.

Great place to see what is already happening at the confluence of sustainability, policy and (not just) music. The site has resource tools, essays,  and data.

Here’s a link to their Green Music blog.  Just one example of the wealth of info here.