Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Hos in the Garden: Staging and Resisting Neoliberal Creativity

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Hos in the Garden: Staging and Resisting Neoliberal Creativity

Article excerpt


This article takes up the challenge of extending and enhancing the literature on arts interventions and creative city policies by considering the role of feminist and queer artistic praxis in contemporary urban politics. Here I reflect on the complicities and potentialities of two Toronto-based arts interventions: Dig In and the Dirty Plotz cabaret. I analyse an example of community based arts strategy that strived to 'revitalise' one disinvested Toronto neighbourhood. I also reflect on my experience performing drag king urban planner, Toby Sharp. Reflecting on these examples, I show how market-oriented arts policies entangle women artists in the cultivation of spaces of depoliticised feminism, homonormativity and white privilege. However, I also demonstrate how women artists are playfully and performatively pushing back at hegemonic regimes with the radical aesthetic praxis of cabaret. I maintain that bringing critical feminist arts spaces and cabaret practice into discussions about neoliberal urban policies uncovers sites of feminist resistance and solidarity, interventions that challenge violent processes of colonisation and privatisation on multiple fronts.


Feminist geography, queer geographies, arts interventions, creative city, cultural policy, neoliberal urbanism


Over the past decade, public arts funding organisations and city boosters have deployed a range of 'creative city' (Peck, 2005) initiatives to catalyse investment in cities and neighbourhoods. Such strategies pressure community arts organisations and theatres to generate ticket sales and revitalise neighbourhoods. What kinds of feminist and queer women's artistic practice can these partnerships accommodate? What happens to such artistic practice when public funding apparatuses encourage theatres to program work that appeals to philanthropists and corporate partners? How are women artists carving out their own spaces of critical expression?

Feminist and queer scholars analysing neoliberal 'creative city' policies provide several critical pathways to answer these questions. Some contend that community arts organisations are finding ways to craft innovative feminist community development collaborations with businesses and community groups from within this regime. However, feminist critics argue that, as public arts funders pressure arts organisations into achieving financial self-sufficiency, arts organisations tend to instrumentalise queer and women artists to the exclusion of politicised, critical feminist and queer work (Harvie, 2013; McRobbie, 2011). They argue that creative city partnerships mobilise artists and grassroots arts organisations to 'clean up' neighbourhoods for investment (Deutsche, 1998; Levin and Solga, 2009). Moreover, as policy makers and city boosters value the arts for attracting capital and investment, feminist and queer critics charge that even counterhegemonic arts interventions become complicit in reproducing intersectional inequalities.

Meanwhile, feminist performance artist and theorist Moynan King contends that critical feminist and queer women artists are continually 'resurfacing again and again' (King, 2011: 201) from the margins to resist their erasure with the radical aesthetic and political praxis of cabaret. However, from these liminal spaces, women artists can become entangled in exclusionary creative city initiatives by providing entrepreneurialised arts organisations with edgy feminist and queer artistic fare (Cowan, 2012). In this article. I evoke Oswin's (2004: 84) claim that 'ambivalent and porous' sites of queer complicity present new opportunities for re-working and resistance. In the examples I discuss, I demonstrate how women artists are contesting inequalities and nurturing new solidarities within the contradictory space of feminist cabaret.

This article draws from and builds upon feminist and queer analyses of neoliberal creativity by analysing the complicities and potentialities of two Toronto-based arts interventions. …

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