by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & Chicken and Egg, Maybe & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n a meeting with Dale Strom (of RAWK Northwest) and Erin Vincent (of Greater Spokane Inc.) last Friday, about the exploratory work Vincent had been doing to enliven the local all-ages music scene, talk turned to the problem of attracting and retaining young, hip, artistic people. (Talk is always turning to this topic.) Strom asserted his belief that we need to use our low housing prices to attract and retain artists and hipsters.
Playing the wet blanket, I replied something to the effect of: "Sure, poor artist kids flock to cheap housing prices. They flock more to places with the kind of art scenes that are buzzed about in dorm rooms a thousand miles away."
In order to attract an artist class, your town needs to be both cheap and hip. Either alone won't work, especially not the cheap without the hip. It ain't just the housing prices that keep skinny kids continuing to pack their bandanas and striped tank tops for cross-country trips to Portland. It ain't just housing that's packing hipsters into Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood -- bound by railroads, a freeway, Boeing Field and located scandalously close to the cultural wasteland that is Renton.
Having cheap rent doesn't make Spokane a rival for those cities. It makes us a rival for those portions of Mississippi not near the river and, you know, Flint, Michigan. We're missing the buzz. We got the chicken, I was saying, but where's the egg?
I may have stumbled upon it the next morning while interviewing recent L.A.- & eacute;migr & eacute; Hannah Reader (see story, right). She hated L.A. -- the town, the circumstances -- so much that it drove her to what she characterized as a "nervous breakdown." She moved to Spokane to live with her brother. Hoping for a respite, she found the music scene both accepting and challenging. We've been hearing this for the better part of a year now. Artists -- especially touring singer-songwriters -- are finding Spokane to be the home of some really great burgeoning acts. That's the first step to this city's becoming the kind of place that steals those kinds of acts from elsewhere.
Maybe it already is that kind of place. L.A., says Reader, is "such a cutthroat place. People think there's this community, but there's not.... I scroll through my phone and there's maybe one person I'd call." Then she added the kicker: "And she's moving up here."