The Neighborhood in Cultural Production: Material and Symbolic Resources in the New Bohemia



Drawing on an extended case study of the Chicago neighborhood Wicker Park, this article examines the role that neighborhood space plays in organizing the activities of young artists, showing how an urban district can serve as a factor in aesthetic production. The tendency of artists and fellow travelers to cluster in distinctive (usually older) urban neighborhoods is well known. While in recent decades many scholars have recognized that these creative congregations contribute to residential gentrification and other local patterns of increased capital investment, the benefits that such neighborhoods offer for aspirants in creative pursuits are generally assumed, not explained. I use the Wicker Park case to show how the contemporary artists' neighborhood provides both material and symbolic resources that facilitate creative activity, particularly in the early stages of a cultural producer's career. I further connect these observations to the production of culture as a commodity, showing how select neighborhoods fill quasi-institutional roles in the flexible webs that characterize contemporary culture industries.