The dark side of ‘placemaking’

Backwoods Banjo

Source: Flickr user artemis6c

KCRW’s ‘The Business’ offers a fascinating conversation (beginning at 22:44) on the more complex and nuanced aspects of ‘creative placemaking,’ challenging the assumption that it’s always good for everyone. The place, in this case, is Rabun County, Georgia, where the movie Deliverance was filmed 40 years ago. And while the film continues to bring visitors, and business, and attention to the community. It also still brings pain and sadness.

Documentary filmmaker Cory Welles discusses her visit to Rabun County to discover the legacy of the film, which features rape and other violence at the hands of backwoods citizens. Deliverance encouraged a successful film commission in the state (still among the most successful in attracting productions), the construction of large vacation homes on the riverside, and millions of dollars in river tourism. But it also created anger and disillusionment among the locals for its portrayal of their community (not to mention decades of cruel jokes and ridicule).

Obviously, Deliverance is an extreme example of ‘placemaking,’ the use of artistic and expressive activities to bring energy and attention to a community. But it also suggests how careful and caring we should be as we seek to ‘make’ a place through art.

Art isn’t only about happy and positive and uplifting. Art can also explore and express the darkest corners of the human condition. If the expression is compelling, it has the power to endure over decades, and attach itself to a place and a people.

That kind of power demands respect and humility as we unleash it toward other ends.



  1. says

    Interesting. I could never sit through Deliverance, and had no idea it was filmed in Rabun County. My family vacationed there often when I was young; my mother appreciated the fine arts and crafts produced in the area. Many years later I was drawn to an artists’ colony in Rabun and felt I’d come home; I’ve returned to that colony three times to write, always picking up a wonderful basket or piece of pottery, a token of fruitful experience. For me, Rabun’s local art-making trumps Deliverance, which could have been set in most any deep South backwoods. I miss north Georgia, just thinking about it. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Chen yang says

    This is absolutely true!
    In line with this idea, the power of arts shouldn’t be underestimated in the international arena as well. From cultural diplomacy perspective, art is a powerful channel of placemaking for the country it originates. We need to be careful in using arts for trade or political purposes. For example, U.S. arts and culture are not just about blockbusters, Pixar productions, broadway musicals, or pop and country music. This country also has jazz, off-off-off broadway productions, native american prints, African American paintings etc. China also have a broad spectrum of artistic creations on top of the renowned martial arts and dragon dance. The stereotypes of certain countries’ culture and people have been significantly developed and reinforce through out the cultural products that are created and presented overseas.