Creative Cities

For the 2016-2017 academic year, the Stanford Arts Institute will embark on a new project called Creative Cities. Seeking to advance and understand the historical and future roles of art in cities, our project fosters research, conversation, and artistic projects in urban settings. Using the city as the stage for inquiry, the project will pose questions about the role of art in reimagining the urban sphere, creative economies, urban studies, the built environment, and more.

There are two main programmatic elements to this project: our year-long fellowship, and the Creative Cities Working Group.

Our year-long fellowship invites two scholars to Stanford to conduct research in this area, teach one class each, and further the campus conversation about creative cities. This year’s fellows are Andrew Herscher and Johanna Taylor. Each will have a public talk and event about their research – further details will be posted on this page as they develop.

The newly formed Creative Cities Working Group engages a broad array of Bay Area writers, thinkers, artists and curators who are engaging critical thought at the nexus of art and urban life.

Creative Cities Fellowship

Stanford Arts Institute hosts the Creative Cities Fellowship which brings together individuals with a strong record of scholarly research and/or creative work on the intersection of art and urban centers. Reaching across disciplines (such as economics, public policy, urban renewal) as well as artistic media, Fellows will examine the role of art in cities, conduct research, and teach an undergraduate course during their year on campus.

The Creative Cities Fellowship is supported by the Office of the President.

Current Fellows:


Andrew Herscher

Stanford Arts Institute will host Andrew Herscher during 2016-17 as an inaugural Creative Cities Fellow.

Related Courses

Winter 2016: ARTSINST 180Q, URBANST 180Q, CEE 131Q - How to be Governed Otherwise: Art, Activism, and the City

This course will introduce you to contemporary art’s engagement with political activism. This introduction will focus on the city as, at once, a field and target of activism – a space of public appearance, artistic intervention, and political action, as well as a target of claims to residence, livelihood, recognition, justice, and collectivity. We will pose activist politics, artistic intervention, and urban space as mutually imbricated, each shaping the possibilities, programs, and histories of the other – a perspective that offers insights into the spatiality, materiality, and visuality of political identity, agency, and action. Over the quarter, we will study some of the many artistic interventions that are encompassed by urban activism, from informal and everyday practices to protest, resistance, and occupation. Comparative case studies will be drawn from a global context. You will investigate these case studies through both research on urban activism and activist practice; the seminar will invite you to explore the militant possibilities of research, the research possibilities of activism, and the implications of each for the production of art.

This course also offers an optional spring break Arts Immersion trip through the Stanford Arts Institute, which will take place in Detroit from March 25 to April 1, 2017. More information below.


Spring Break 2017: ARTSINST 180A – Detroit Arts Immersion

This Arts Immersion trip is offered over the spring break and is organized by the Stanford Arts Institute. Students travel with Creative Cities Fellow, Andrew Herscher, for a weeklong immersive experience of contemporary art in Detroit. The focus is on the intersections between art, activism, race, and austerity politics. The course is open to all undergraduate students, with priority to those enrolled in ARTSINST 180Q: How to be Governed Otherwise: Art, Activism, and the City. For further details and application instructions, please visit the Arts Immersions page here.


Andrew Herscher is a Creative Cities Fellow at the Stanford Arts Institute and an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan with appointments in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Department of the History of Art, and Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. Trained as an architect and historian of architecture, he writes on the spatial politics of violence, humanitarian and human rights issues, exile and migration, and contemporary art and design. His research and writing is informed by his long-term participant-observation in Kosovo’s post-conflict environment, including work with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, and the Kosovo Cultural Heritage Project, a nongovernmental organization he co-founded and co-directed. During his time in Michigan, he has also been involved in a number of collaborative projects in Detroit, including the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency, an open-access platform for the study of urban crisis using Detroit as a focal point; Detroit Resists, a coalition of activists, artists, architects, and community members working on behalf of an inclusive, equitable, and democratic city; and the We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective. Among his publications are Violence Taking Place: The Architecture of the Kosovo Conflict, published by Stanford University Press in 2010, The Unreal Estate Guide to Detroit, published by the University of Michigan Press in 2012, and the forthcoming Displacements: Architecture and Refugee and Spatial Violence, co-edited with Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi. While at Stanford, he proposes to complete Creative Class Conflict, a book exploring the role of art in both the neoliberal restructuring of post-bankruptcy Detroit and activist resistance to that restructuring.


Johanna Taylor

Stanford Arts Institute will host Johanna Taylor during 2016-17 as an inaugural Creative Cities Fellow.

Related Course

Spring 2017: ARTSINST 182, URBANST 182, CEE 131F – Activating Urban Spaces

This course will look at how public urban spaces are structured with a particular eye to the involvement of art and artists, whether formally or informally, in shaping the built and social environment of the city. Throughout the course particular focus will consider the possibilities for engaging social justice outcomes through spatial intervention drawing on examples from around the world. Interventions in urban spaces enact local change by making art the language of civic engagement; in this way a mural or performance or reconceptualized public space can become a method to address issues of locally prioritized inequality. We will use Stanford University and the Bay Area as our local research sites, making trips into the field to analyze methods, approaches, and experiences of urban spaces in action as well as bringing experts who work in related fields into the classroom. Sites of study include parks, public art, and street festivals by looking at arts organizations, city projects, community groups, and individual artists. The class will operate as a hybrid seminar and collaborative studio workspace which supports students in using ethnographic, visual, mapping, historical, and participatory methods in developing projects that respond to a particular site of their choosing.


Johanna Taylor believes that art is a catalyzing force in advancing justice. Through case studies of neighborhoods in two U.S. cities, her dissertation explores the unique role of art in creating new avenues for cooperation and political action. She received a PhD in Public and Urban Policy at The New School in New York in 2016 and MA in Arts Management at Carnegie Mellon in 2007. She has taught classes in community engagement, cultural policy, urban studies, socially engaged art, and research methods. As an arts administrator she has worked at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, BRIC Arts|Media, and A Blade of Grass among other organizations. At Stanford Arts Institute she is studying New Orleans, a hub for cooperative art projects that combat exclusionary divides towards equitable opportunities in the creative city.

Creative Cities Working Group

The working group on Creative Cities is an invited group of scholars, artists, and curators from across the Bay Area who will meet regularly throughout the academic year to further their research and examine the relationship between creativity and urban places from a broad array of disciplinary perspectives. Stanford Arts Institute Faculty Director Peggy Phelan has invited Michael Kahan, the acting director of the Program on Urban Studies at Stanford University, to lead these sessions. Additionally, SAI will partner with the Stanford Human Cities Initiative, who will co-host three of these sessions in the series as part of Just Placemaking: Arts and Community Development Towards an Equitable City.


Michael Kahan


Michael B. Kahan is the acting director (2016-2017) of the Program on Urban Studies at Stanford University, and a senior lecturer in Sociology. His interest in the historical transformation of urban space has led to publications on topics including the integration of streetcars in the 1850s, sanitation reform in the 1890s, the geography of prostitution in the 1910s, and redevelopment in California in the 1990s. He holds a B.A. from Yale and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, both in history.

Working Group Statement of Purpose

"Cities have been hubs of creative expression and innovation for millennia. As sociologist Howard Becker reminds us, art is a collective activity, and cities supply many of the social needs—audiences, patrons, suppliers, markets, capital – that enable the creation, distribution, and consumption of art. Of course, cities are not always nurturing environments for creative production. City governments may regulate, harass, and censor; city land prices may be too high for artists to afford. But for better or worse, cities are more than just a background or a setting for art; they actively shape the creation and reception of art in countless ways."

Continue reading full statement here.

Working Group Members

Aku Ammah-Tagoe
English, Stanford University

John Barton
Architectural Design, Stanford University

Neeraj Bhatia
The Urban Works Agency at The California College of the Arts
The Open Workshop

Jonathan Calm
Art Practice, Art & Art History, Stanford University

Sukanya Chakrabarti
Palo Alto Children's Theatre

Deland Chan
Urban Studies, Stanford University

Jeff Chang
Institute for Diversity in the Arts, Stanford University

Abby Chen
Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco

Robert Dawson
Art & Art History, Stanford University

Ala Ebtekar
Art & Art History and Institute for Diversity in the Arts, Stanford University

Steven Feld
Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University

Shelley Fisher Fishkin
English and American Studies, Stanford University

Thomas Hansen
Anthropology, Stanford University

Andrew Herscher
Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan
Creative Cities Fellow, Stanford Arts Institute

Betti-Sue Hertz
Curator, Arts Administrator, Writer and Educator

Melissa Kagen
German Studies, Stanford University

Janette Kim
Architecture, California College of the Arts and All of the Above

S. Topiary Landberg
Film & Digital Media, UC Santa Cruz

Derek Ouyang
Civil & Environmental Engineering, Stanford University

Grant Parker
Classics and African Studies, Stanford University

Peggy Phelan
English and Theater & Performance Studies, Stanford University
Denning Family Director, Stanford Arts Institute

Eric Rogers
Embassy Network and Immanent Urbanisms

Jacqueline Siapno
Independent Scholar/Musician, Member of Innovations in Peacebuilding

Johanna Taylor
Creative Cities Fellow, Stanford Arts Institute

Fred Turner
Communication, Stanford University

Tom Winterbottom
Iberian and Latin American Cultures, Stanford University

Working Group Schedule of Meetings

Participation in the Creative Cities Working Group is by invitation only, and is closed for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Upcoming Talks

Future sessions will be announced in the fall of 2017.

Recent Talks

May 18, 2017
Ala Ebtekar
"Art, Social Space, and Public Discourse"

May 4, 2017
Abby Chen, Betty Yu, and Tomie Arai
"Here to Stay: Using the Power of Culture to Fight Displacement" (co-sponsored with Human Cities Initiative)

April 27, 2017
Eric Rogers
"Immanent Urbanism(s) and Critical Hedonism(s)"

April 20, 2017
Joy Siapno
"Destruction/Reconstruction/Redestruction of Cultural Heritage Sites in Comparative Context"

March 2, 2017
Johanna Taylor
"Aesthetic Justice in New Orleans"

February 16, 2017
Moy Eng and Risa Shoup
"Leveraging Economic Growth for Cultural Vitality" (co-sponsored with Human Cities Initiative)

February 2, 2017
Andrew Herscher
"'The Architectural Imagination': Creativity, Austerity, and Political Violence in Detroit, 2015 - Present"

January 19, 2017
S. Topiary Landberg
"Exit Zero: San Francisco Freeway to the Future"

December 1, 2016
Neeraj Bhatia and Derek Ouyang
"Infrastructural Opportunism and Common Ground: Designing for Discovery, Empathy, and Equity"

November 3, 2016
Susan Moffat
"Nature, Art, and Homelessness at a Shoreline Landfill: The Albany Bulb" (co-sponsored with Human Cities Initiative)

October 20, 2016
Grant Parker
"Public History after Rhodes Must Fall"

October 6, 2016
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
"Hidden in Plain Sight: The Secret Literary Landscape of American Cities"