From The Archive

The Flight of the Creative Class

A Bohemian rhapsody

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Dear Mayor Billings:

Provo needs a premier literary magazine.

In order to succeed in the twenty-first century and flourish economically, cities today must attract and retain the vital group of individuals that experts call “cultural creatives.” Only by doing so can cities build a foundation for the high-tech industries and cutting-edge innovations that will dominate the future. A top-flight literary magazine is a vital part of that foundation—and the chance to get one to relocate to your area is a rare opportunity to guarantee robust growth.

The Bafflers stand ready to share their creative magic with another city.

I represent the editors and publisher of The Baffler, the award-winning literary magazine based in Chicago. For the past sixteen years, The Baffler has printed singularly invigorating takes on American business, economics, and history. Because of the skyrocketing costs of doing business in Chicago and an inept city government no longer attuned to their creative wavelength, The Baffler intends to move its offices, along with the entire Baffler team, to a metro area more interested in meeting creative people’s needs.

In the highly influential and best-selling book The Rise of the Creative Class, Dr. Richard Florida rightly points out that cities have for too long focused on the wrong economic development goals. City officials have tried to attract and retain Fortune 500 corporations, but the cost of courting big business, as you well know, is steep. Besides, growth never comes. This is because, as Dr. Florida demonstrates, such cities have the picture upside-down. They were wooing the wrong people. Florida’s groundbreaking discoveries make two things profoundly clear:

Creativity is the wellspring of competitive advantage, and

Cities must attract creative people, as their creativity is important.

Today’s cutting-edge cities don’t bother with big industrial corporation. Instead they are determined to attract highly talented, cutting-edge workers, men and women who design websites, develop new multivitamins and nutritional supplements, invent handy household devices, and dream up plans for fantastic machines like those robots with the arms, smart houses, jugs of milk that tell you when they’re nearly empty, artificial brains, synthetic muscles and ligaments, and clothing with computers inside them. These creative individuals create growth through their boundless creativity. At heart, they are born entrepreneurs and natural self-promoters. When they band together, they make new companies, sharing ideas and combining them, synthesizing them more easily than generations past. And in the process, creative people create new job opportunities, by employing other people to work as their personal assistants, drivers, nannies, housekeepers, gardeners, and pool cleaners. Even better, major manufacturers and Fortune 500 companies are well known to move to areas where the creative work is already being done, to tap into its energy, capitalizing on it.

Creative people do have certain needs, however. They require hip entertainment, organic street-level culture, and artistic environments—from restaurants serving mind-boggling fusions of world cuisines, like Thai and Tex-Mex or Indian and Australian, to experimental theaters, avant-garde galleries, and authentic coffee shops with mismatched cups and saucers and deteriorating couches. Creative people crave lively street scenes and late-night music venues serving up pricey energy drinks in test tubes. In short, creative people insist they lead the sort of lives that feed their creativity, inspiring them. Luckily, cities today can provide those needs on a fairly modest budget. Supporting a literary magazine, after all, is much less costly than attracting a manufacturer of transmissions.

My clients, The Baffler team members, know the value of their creativity and have seen the phenomenal results firsthand. I invite you to read the enclosed literature, “The Baffler Miracle,” an executive digest version of a feasibility report drafted by New Era. “The Baffler Miracle” will provide you with further details about how this exciting group of young people has worked their creative magic, and is ready to work it again, in their new home. I thank you for your time and look forward to speaking with you very soon about relocating The Baffler team to Provo.

Sincerely,

Edward Thomas

 

The Baffler Miracle

How a literary magazine transformed an American city

 

In 1988, an editor, a historian, and a pre-med student met at the former sharecropper’s cabin in Charlottesville, Virginia that they shared and discussed plans for their revolutionary publication, The Baffler. Acclaimed for their vision, these three creative individuals soon decided to partner with the city of Chicago, bringing their trademark blend of Southern gothic and Midwestern progressive literary traditions to the Land of Lincoln. That move proved fortuitous. When the Bafflers arrived, alternative rock blasting from their graffiti-covered cars, Chicago was gasping for its economic breath. It was a bleak relic of industrial America, a metropolis that just didn’t get it. Blue-collar workers toiled in rusting steel mills and came home to decaying neighborhoods, burned-out schools, and dilapidated playgrounds. Executives commuted from the suburbs to jobs at dinosaurs like Sears and USX and always left the city before nightfall.

Today, Chicago is a vibrant and diverse market for talented people from around the globe, a textbook example of the power of creative communities to fuel economic development. Executives there long ago abandoned soulless commutes and have instead plugged themselves into the robust cultural potpourri that pours forth from cafes and corner theaters.

Chicago owes its newfound vigor to an authentic, street-level scene vibrant enough to capture the top position on national surveys of creative hot spots in each of the last six years. Creative enough to make the city a magnet for experimental poets, rule-defying chefs, and avant-garde musical outfits searching for a place to perform—and an audience to appreciate—their accomplished blends of hip hop, salsa, and zydeco. Unique enough to bring to Chicago a large population of entrepreneur-minded individuals who, as experts now understand, are the secret to economic success in our new age.

At the epicenter of this kaleidoscope of creativity stands a magazine, The Baffler, which has evolved from a spunky South Side startup to a nationally renowned cutting-edge content provider. In addition to re-launching Chicago as a literary hub, The Baffler has nursed the city’s music scene, encouraging the work of pioneering drum-and-bass DJs and, at the magazine’s many funky street festivals, bringing their infectious beats to thousands of fans. The Bafflers supplied a catalytic spark to the city’s alt-radio community and remain staunch advocates of fusion cooking. From its headquarters in a battered brick structure that once served as a parking garage. The Baffler has become a symbol for the “zine” publishing revolution, an inspiration to thousands of poets, percussionists, and self-publishers hungry to join their zesty cultural movement.

Today the magazine serves as an incubator for local artists and entrepreneurs, sustaining their best work and focusing their collective efforts on dynamic economic growth. Some hold the magazine and its circle responsible for Chicago’s dramatic rise up Dr. Richard Florida’s Bohemian Index, a scientific ranking of the nation’s most entrepreneurial zones. It’s certainly easy to see why: original ideas and creative problem-solving are specialties of The Baffler staff.

And yet the Bafflers remain nonchalant about the changes they have wrought. At their office, revolutionary publications from around the world lie scattered amongst hand-me-down furniture, old concert posters. and brightly painted manikins (relics from a performance piece at last year’s Freedom and Growth Festival). For all their awards, the magazine’s creative leaders still blast alt-rock while driving around the city’s South Side. And while they may sport a few more tattoos, they approach life with the same philosophy that propelled them so far: Let the creative flourish!

Proven leadership in Building Creative Communities

During its storied life The Baffler has generated economic growth in all the places it called home, ushering in new eras of prosperity as predictably as rainfall brings life to parched prairies. Other cities have built nightlife districts, started music festivals, and created other top-down entertainment opportunities. The facts show why they failed, and why only a Baffler-caliber magazine can attract creative individuals and insure unparalleled growth.

The Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago, where The Baffler’s offices are located, has experienced total renewal since the staff moved in. A “no-go” area when they arrived, with unsafe streets, weed strewn lots, and abandoned houses, Woodlawn is now home to a dazzling array of professors, visionaries and artist/facilitators. Those blocks of decaying tenements: gone. Rickety elevated railway: also gone. Attractive single-family homes: now available. What’s more, real-estate prices are up, and expert, predict a retail renaissance in the next three years..

Baffler-sponsored readings at a Wicker Park coffee shop drew praise for their syncretic vision. While Wicker Park faced the familiar problems of urban blight, today it’s an urban success story, recognized around the world for high-end art festivals, “indie” record labels, and dizzying growth in residential space boasting both black granite countertops and Sub-Zero refrigerators. MTV paid Wicker Park the ultimate compliment by setting the “Real World” there, and a major motion picture studio released a film named after the neighborhood.

Chicago’s a hot spot for talented, globally-minded nonconformists, making it a natural choice for corporate relocation officers. Aerospace giant Boeing, McGraw-Hill, UGN Inc., and Preferred Freezer have all moved there. The secret is out.

Bohemias Don’t Just Happen . . .

Bohemias are fragile ecosystems requiring complex planning, strategic partnering and, of course, incentivizing. Creative people like the Bafflers won’t move to a city because they like the sound of its name; there must be a catalyst, a leader who assures them, “Dude, this place rocks.”

The Bafflers stand ready to share their creative magic with another city. Whatever city the magazine adopts will see an immediate and substantial jump in Dr. Florida’s Bohemian Index and enjoy the creative revitalization that Chicago experienced during what have come to be called its Baffler years.

Let Us Now Praise The Baffler

In 1985, when I moved to Chicago, it was all right, I mean, it was okay, but there was no nightlife apart from these neighborhood bars that had been there since like the 50s. Post-Baffler, I guess you could say, there’s a lot more to do. People starting magazines, throwing parties, making music, having fun. Chicago’s finally a great place to live.

Daniel Burdock, age 38

Account executive/tribal drummer

***

Do I agree with everything The Baffler writes? No, I do not. Do I respect The Baffler? I do. Look, a lot of the writing in there sounds like high-pitched whining to me, but I don’t know. I’m not really the literary type or whatever. The thing is people read the thing, and they talk about it. And that’s why I read it. It brings the city’s young professionals together into a big conversation, like a town meeting except really cool. Now a lot of the people who read it, I don’t like personally, but whatever. I still really respect how the magazine brings people together. That’s powerful, and I must abide by that.

Alessandro Cortazar, age 24

“Banker/home-brewer

***

After college, my parents told me I could move wherever I wanted to and they’d buy me an apartment so I could work on my films and live. I chose Chicago straightaway, without hardly even thinking about it. My older brother, Jason, went to Northwestern for journalism school and, one year, I was visiting him and he and his girlfriend at the time took me to one of the Baffler’s street festivals. It was so great. I think it was Rock Rock Weekend. Either that or Freedom and Growth, I can’t remember now. I was seventeen or sixteen though, and I was like, “This is it, man. This is it!”

Ryan Holliwell, age 21

Independent Filmmaker

***

I met last girlfriend reading The Baffler. We were both on the El or I had just got on, and she was already there. Anyway, she was reading The Baffler, and I said to her, “Hey, new Baffler, where did you get that?” We struck up a conversation and talked the whole way. How cool is that? We were together six months. I think.

Melanic J. Blackman, age 30

Financial consultant/screenwriter

***

Lots of times my friends and I find out about some new fusion restaurant or a local gallery selling handicrafts by indigenous peoples from an advertisement in The Baffler. We think we’ve heard of every place. We’ve been to eat everywhere. We’ve done everything. But then a new issue will come and these will be all these ads for new places to go, and that’ s where we’ll all go, to check them out for ourselves.

Peter Giullio, age 32

Lab technician/sci-fi author

***

A lot of editors and writers from The Baffler buy their used books from me or one of the other clerks. They also sell their review copies here. They’re never in a rush. They’re all pretty much approachable. I talk to them about books all the time. They’re pretty smart. I told them to write more about the art world, but they haven’t started doing that yet.

John Abol, age 19

Used bookstore employee/conceptual artist

Thomas Frank is a political analyst, historian, journalist and columnist for Salon. He is a former columnist for the Wall Street Journal, authoring “The Tilting Yard” from 2008 to 2010, and a founding editor of The Baffler. He is the author of a number of books, most notably What’s the Matter with Kansas? (2004). His newest book is Listen, Liberal.

Paul Malisewski is the author of Fakers, a book of essays, and Prayer and Parable, a collection of stories. "Bcc: Dridge," a story written with J. Wagner, appeared in The Baffler no. 24.

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