Seven creatives in seven cities around the world share what's great about their local culture


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Creativity as both an industry and a personal outlet continues to grow in importance as our societies attribute more cultural value to the intangible, such as aesthetics or experience. It provides a tool to express feelings of confusion and protest but it also establishes our identities and transforms the world around us. Nowhere is this more true than in our cities which provide a catalyst and a hub for creativity to thrive.

In these often tumultuous times, it is crucial to cultivate this creative landscape and support the internal heterogeneity of the cultural and creative communities. For 2017’s Review of the Year, we got in touch with seven creatives in seven cities from across our international network to find out more about the scene where they’re based. We asked them how the artists and designers of their city help to shape its personality in the hope that we can continue to champion creativity on a global scale.

George Wylesol, illustrator, on “a banner year” for Baltimore

Baltimore tends to catch people off-guard. A relatively small city, Baltimore often seems unconsidered in comparison to its closest neighbours: Washington DC, Philadelphia, and New York City. However, Baltimore is a city of its own making, with a distinct culture and personality that is hard to find in the bigger cities. Its residents are hard-working and supportive of each other, and its art scene reflects that same focused independence.

The talent here is real. Amy Sherald, a portrait painter recently in residence at the Creative Alliance, was commissioned to paint the official portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama, to hang in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Illustrator David Plunkert made a bold statement against the Trump Administration’s handling of the Charlottesville protests, with his piece Blowhard, which ran on the cover of the 28 August edition of the New Yorker.

In the galleries, MICA Alum Phaan Howng made waves with her trippy, psychedelic installation The Succession of Nature at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The Succession of Nature was a collaboration with Blue Water Baltimore to raise awareness about water pollution and environmental issues. Vibrant, tactile colour was front-and-centre in Dave Eassa’s mixed media show You Can’t Just Draw a Line in the Sand, at School 33. At Terrault Gallery, Alex Dukes and Liora Ostroff’s dual exhibition A Woven Thread mixed colourful work inspired by art history with themes of race, identity, and memory.

Miami Is Nice was a group show and performance series inspired by the Golden Girls and 1980s Miami, celebrating queerness and exploring the subversion of heteronormativity. The highlight and centrepiece of the installation was a legitimate wedding between two of the show’s artists, Zachary Z. Handler and Nick Horan. A standout in a year of excellent exhibits, Miami Is Nice ran at SpaceCamp from 7-28 October.

2017 has been a banner year for the Baltimore art community. High-profile commissions and groundbreaking gallery work have cast a national spotlight on a city that has long felt overlooked, highlighting Baltimore artists as a resilient, self-driven community of diverse talent.

Katya Dorokhina, illustrator, on “the development of comic book culture” in Moscow

Illustration is still somewhere in the middle of graphic design and fine art. Thinking about the last year in Moscow, there has been a visible progression of the perception of illustration as both a profession and art form.

One of the most important things for me, has been the development of comic book culture. Comic festivals, markets and self-publishing are rising up from the underground and becoming more popular. A particular festival of note is Boomfest which includes exhibitions, an educational program and guests. Every September artists from all over Russia meet in Saint Petersburg for a few days of the festival.

I should also mention some of the new publishers on the local Moscow scene. Sputnikat, a new comics press being one of them. This year I contributed to their latest book, Personaж 2. It is a collaboration between seven artists, creating work around a single character. I really like the fact that this medium is helping to blur the boundaries between countries – it provides the great opportunity to collaborate and create something on a new level. I was also happy to participate in Clubhouse Week, organised by Colorama for which I drew a comic for the Smoke Signal issue, curated by kušcomics.

Speaking about commercial work, there is a positive cooperation between illustration and the editorial world. Magazines such as Wonderzine, and Takiedela are actively highlighting social issues. Throughout 2017, I illustrated articles about harassment, family abuse, homophobia and religion. These commissions were important to me from both a professional and personal viewpoint and come with the huge responsibility of illustrating someone’s story. 

Across the illustration industry over the last year, I have to mention how much it has grown through new media, forms and technologies. The environment may not be friendly, but there is huge motivation from within the community of Moscow to dispel the myth that illustration is just beautiful pictures – it is journalism, art and power. 

Darren Oorloff, graphic designer, on “the blossoming music scene” in Melbourne

Melbourne is a relentlessly progressive city devoted to the arts and music. Being so far removed from the rest of the world, we “Melbournians” have a rare opportunity to carve out our own path and develop our own cultural identity. As a young city, we aren’t tethered by preconceived notions or expectations of who we are. This forms the perfect breeding ground for new ideas and in turn propels our creatives to international success.

Having an open-minded council and not being restricted by the lock-out laws implemented in neighbouring cities, Melbourne has developed a blossoming nightlife culture. This unrestrained freedom fuels the creative energy of an eclectic range of artistic minds and has made for a strange and colourful 2017. Blessed with the opportunity to work closely with some of Melbourne’s most dynamic record labels, event promoters and artists, I’ve witnessed the conception of a unified creative force in this city – generating some truly unique events and experiences.

Early this year the entire city was mapped with projections for White Night, the organisers of which also hosted a rave in the Old Melbourne Gaol. We’ve seen festivals that pioneer total sensory immersion by bringing together art and music, such as Sugar Mountain, Dark MOFO, Paradise and Vivid. We hosted the hyper-glamourous work of David LaChapelle (my favourite photographer) in an unassuming regional country town probably totally perplexed by the ensuing stampede of hipsters.

The biggest highlight is a truly mind-boggling affair, and whoever got around the red tape deserves an award. The organisers of Melbourne Music Week managed to hire out St Paul’s Cathedral, one of Melbourne’s most revered, decadent, heritage buildings for a week of raucous techno parties – hosting the likes of DJ Hell and Jacques Greene just to name a few!

Yota Yoshida, photographer, on “the expansion and redevelopment” of Tokyo

As many people know, Tokyo is one of the most advanced cities in the world. This means that it holds an important position in terms of economics, technology, culture, art, and fashion. It could be said that the history of the city (as it is only 400 years old) is limited compared to other Japanese cities such as Kyoto (1200 years) or Nara (1300 years). Despite this, Shinjuku and Shibuya, which were only small villages about 120 years ago, are now well known. This city, which was systematically created based on Chinese Geomancy, has continued to grow and expand, despite many disasters as well as damage from war.

2011 was the year of the great earthquake in East Japan. Although the damage in Tokyo was relatively small, many buildings had to be rebuilt and redevelopment is now progressing in highly populated areas. It also overlaps with the redevelopment of infrastructure, to support the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

Many photographers are now observing these changes to Tokyo. Most of them focus on the process of building, but Takeshi Hyakutou has a completely different approach. Takeshi is becoming one of the most important photographers in the Japanese contemporary art scene. His images consist of slightly strange landscapes involving industrial waste, workers and the suburbs.

This year, he held an exhibition entitled do the Kaipon in a small secondhand book store called Honkbooks, which is owned by Natsumi Aoyagi. The contrast between the content of his series The Residues of Cities and Civilisation, and the surroundings of a secondhand book shop is what made the exhibition particularly interesting to me.

Currently, Takeshi Hyakutou is still only known to specific people in the Japanese art scene, and is also nearly entirely unknown in Europe and America. However, I am confident that many people will know his name in the near future – it’s only a matter of time.

Ibrahim Nehme, editor and writer, on “how young people are seeking refuge in imaginary worlds” in Beirut

I live in Beirut, but I could also say that I live on the road, in the world, all over. I’m very much like a nomad, drifting from one place to the next, which is good, in a way, because creativity and motion go hand in hand. I could also say that I live in cafes, on trains, in my imagination. “The books I’m writing are houses I build for myself,” once wrote Etel Adnan, a Lebanese poet and painter. I feel the same.

I could also say that a lot of my fellow Lebanese creatives feel the same, especially at a time when the political situation remains uncertain, borders continue to be drawn, and the spaces of freedom and expression grow tighter. Within this context, a lot of young people have taken to making art as a way of finding meaning, of seeking refuge in imaginary worlds, as the real world becomes too small to contain the exploding universes within them. In this light, making art is akin to going back home, and, in some way, is a form of peace-making in a place that so longs for peace.

Claire Hentschker, visual artist, on “a thriving creative scene, somewhere between the old and new” in Pittsburgh

Two self-driving Ubers pull up to a bar. While this sounds like the start of a futuristic joke, it’s actually an entirely plausible scenario that might have occurred on a Friday night in Pittsburgh in the year 2017. Pittsburgh, once the steel capital of an industrialising North America, is in the process of reinventing itself for a post-industrial world, encouraging the development of emerging technologies, like autonomous vehicles, in its streets. But somewhere between the old and the new, a creative scene is thriving. This year I have been hugely inspired by the number of creative people in this city finding space to make interesting things happen.

Highlights of 2017 for me included: Standing in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Architecture (a huge room that houses the country’s largest collection of historic architectural plaster casts) and gazing through a headset at a show curated completely in virtual reality. Getting covered in mud dancing in the rain at Schenley Park at a volunteer-run, donation-based brass band concert that featured spirited musicians from all over the country. Eating popcorn in the Braddock Carnegie Library, a historic national landmark, while watching an experimental all-ages circus performance complete with homemade sets and costumes. Descending into a limestone mine to experience a series of subterranean, site-specific artworks and music performances that were part of a (literally) underground arts festival. Sweating it out with friends to talented DJs at a downtown bathhouse turned after-hours night club.
Pittsburgh feels special because – unlike some of the cars – the creativity in this city is always driven by the people.

Gracey Zhang, illustrator, on “the vibrant, immersive, force of nature” that is Rio De Janeiro

For a month and 5 days I lived in Rio de Janeiro for an artist residency with Despina Studio. Named after a border city between two deserts in Italo Calvin’s Invisible Cities, it served as my introduction to the vibrant, immersive, force of nature city that is Rio.

During the period of my stay, Rio faced the brunt of political and economic instability. There were many protests calling for the removal of Michel Temer. The violence in protests shown on the news didn’t reflect the exuberant energy of the marches I saw in the streets from the studio. There was a strange parallel to witness Rio during these times while also knowing and reading about the political turmoil and protests back in New York right after the 2016 elections. 

In spite of uncertain times the energy of the city is reflected in the warmth of the people. Rio has museums and creative centres abundant, though many cultural institutions have been closed due to lack of funds because of the current economic situation. I remember an afternoon where the orchestra, dancers, and singers of the Theatro Municipal who had been unpaid for two months, gave one last performance to the public. They carried a banner saying “A culture é a alma de uma nação” – “Culture is the soul of a nation.”

There are many places to explore in Rio. The MAC Niteroi, designed by Oscar Niemeyer; Moviola, a small cafe with live jazz and craft beer; Comboio, a fabric store that serves all your canvas and textiles needs with shopkeepers that give you the best discount; Tempeh, a vegetarian buffet-style restaurant with a discount after 2pm that one takes full advantage of, and many art museums and places that could be recommended to you by most people in Rio. 

It’s difficult, however, to recommend specific places of arts and culture when it breathes throughout the very fibre of the city. If anything it’s the people striving to carve out a space for themselves in a time where it feels like bureaucracy is trying to push them out that speaks to the spirit of Rio.

Supported by Google

Google is proud to support It’s Nice That in championing a broad and inclusive creative community with its annual Review of the Year. We believe that design is critical to building great products and experiences, and we’re committed to fostering best-in-class results with efforts like Material Design, a unified system combining theory, resources, and tools to help designers and engineers craft beautiful, digital experiences, as well as through our cooperative efforts at Google Design.

From producing original articles and videos, to hosting creative and educational partnerships and events, Google Design’s goal is to connect, support, and inspire designers and design thinkers. Sign up for the Google Design Newsletter to learn more.

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.

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