Another story on artists reviving a neglected urban area, in this case Butte, MT. They mention in the article that Butte has not suffered from the influx of tourists and second-house-buyers (i.e., rich Californians) that the other major cities in Montana have, which makes it a great place for artists to rehab and work. But they don’t mention the near-inevitable follow-on from artists inhabitating a neighborhood, which Sharon Zukin and others have noted so many times: gentrification. Where is the market for these people’s work; where is the market for the Butte Silver Bow Arts Foundation? I mean, it’s great that the downtown is being revitalized, and it’s great these artists have some place to produce their work. I’m just skeptical that it can last for more than 10 years before they’re priced out to Great Falls or wherever else is left.

On the other hand, there is one cool part of this urban renaissance that is unique to Butte:

“And there is hope for a kind of artistic reparation. An art collection amassed by William Clark, the copper tycoon, is in the Clark Wing that he financed at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington. The arts foundation would like to bring it to Butte, at least on temporary loan, after the gymnasium at the Y.M.C.A. is converted into a gallery to be called the Museum of Fine Arts Butte.

“For Mr. Clark to amass his collection cost Butte economic, cultural and environmental devastation,” Mr. Bodish said. “Butte has been sacrificed for America. Bringing part of this collection back temporarily is a gesture of their understanding how important Butte was in American history. It closes the loop.”

Amen. We talk in geography and other social sciences about “sacrifice zones”, places like Yucca Mountain or Hanford, WA, that are expected to suck it up and be polluted zones for decades or centuries or millenia. Butte in particular has long been a symbol of the devastation wrought by mining, not just in terms of the environmental effects, but the fact that because it’s a primary economic activity, there’s no value added in the community. They’re left with the arsenic and other poisons in the watershed, and the economic benefits go outside to the copper companies. It would be even better if William Clark’s wealth was going to clean up the Berkeley Pit, the largest Superfund site in the country, but at least this is a start.

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