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.