Barack Obama’s historic victory and what Kulture Klash 3 really means 

New, Emerging, Growing, Young

Kulture Klash 3
Nov. 15, 7 p.m.-2 a.m.
$10-$20
10 Storehouse Row (Old Navy Yard)
2120 Noisette Blvd., North Charleston
(843) 568-7738
www.etix.com

Word is getting out. Kulture Klash 3 is going to be even bigger and better.

What began as an arts event that jammed together visual artists, deejays, hip-hop dancers, and beer has since evolved into a much-anticipated extravaganza likely to draw many hundreds, even from out of state.

Last spring's Kulture Klash drew roughly 1,300 people, most under the age of 30. It was an art exhibit, dance performance, deejay scratch off, and keg party all in one.

For this third installment, organizers expect even more people, as word-of-mouth and social-networking websites have rapidly spread the name of KK3 far and wide.

"It's taking different things and putting them together to see what happens," says Scott Debus, who, along with Gustavo Serrano (of B'Zar), Olivia Pool (ART Magazine), and Ambergre Sloan (Charleston's Most Unique), founded and runs Kulture Klash.

But is it more than an arts party (for details, see sidebar below)? Does it have anything to say to arts organizations struggling to attract younger audiences? What does it suggest about 21st-century attitudes about our experience of the arts?

'New, emerging, growing, tomorrow, young'

When we look back on it, Nov. 4, 2008, may be the day everything changed.

Well, the day we realized things had been changing; we just weren't aware of it.

That day, wrote conservative columnist David Brooks, in The New York Times, marked the end of a "generational era."

For 16 years, two baby boomers resided in the Oval Office. During that time, Presidents Clinton and Bush were largely consumed by the 1960s culture wars that formed them.

President-elect Barack Obama, however, is "a child of a child of the '60s." For people of his generation, Brooks wrote, "the great disruption" was a thing of the past by the time they reached adulthood.

Without the baggage of hippie history, Obama transcended race and class, appealing to white working-class men, Latinos, blacks, and even pro-Hillary Clinton soccer moms.

More importantly, Obama swayed the largest bloc of youth voters since exit polling began. He won a stunning 66 percent of voters between 18 and 30. That's 18 percent of all voters, 2 percent more than those over the age of 65. As journalist Timothy Egan wrote in a Times op-ed:

"See the trend: new, emerging, growing, tomorrow, young. Dormant for the darkest years of the Bush presidency, the oldest strain of American DNA is evident again."

'It's a movement'

Obama has changed future presidential campaigns, according to an array of news reports, by figuring out how young people understand and interact with the world.

He followed Howard Dean in understanding the political power of Web 2.0, using sites like YouTube and Facebook, which were beginning to emerge in 2004.

Obama's efforts likely made the difference in battleground states like Ohio, Colorado, Florida, and Indiana, where voting by college students rose by as much as 92 percent, making Obama's campaign, as Egan claimed, "the first real 21st century election."

For some, like Eric Greenberg, author of Generation We: How Millennial Youth Are Taking Over America and Changing Our World Forever, this election marks a "generational shift" away from the 40-year sociopolitical reign of the baby boomers and into an era marked by the sensibility of their children, 95 million so-called Millennials.

"This is more than a voting bloc," Greenberg said. "It's a movement. We are witnessing a new political epoch, a youth movement, and their call to restore the American dream."

Talking Millennials' language

Obama succeeded also because his sensibility mirrored those of young voters, whose own sensibility, in Greenberg's words, is socially tolerant, ethnically diverse, globally oriented, environmentally conscious, technologically savvy, and politically engaged.

They're culturally active, too. Unlike my generation, Gen-X (born 1965-1980), which grew up on TV, Millennials (born 1981-2000) grew up using the internet. First-time voters grew up on interactive and social media. In other words, the modes and ideals of Web 2.0 are familiar and normal.

Over 90 percent of teenagers, in fact, use the internet for social interaction, according to a recent Pew study. Nearly 65 percent of them create content for others to experience (blogs, music, videos, games, software).

And they're civically active. Virtually all teenagers (97 percent) play video games. Of those who play with others in the same room (not alone or online), 65 percent seek out digital information about politics and social issues, 64 percent have raised money for charity, and 64 percent are committed to civic participation.

When Obama in his victory speech said he'd be everyone's president and that he needed our help to fix America, he was talking the Millennials' language.

These are the people who are, for the most part, going to Kulture Klash. They want to innovate as individuals while being a part of something bigger than themselves.

Ideals of Web 2.0

Creativity is a part of their lives. Millennials don't just dream it. They be it. Kulture Klash's website tells why the event matters: "For the sake of art and community."

"We want everyone to have a voice, everyone to get involved," says Gustavo Serrano. "If we can tap into everyone's imagination, who knows what will happen?"

The idea of a bottom-up, idealism-based community of creative types, like Kulture Klash, goes back to the ancient Greeks.

Today, it can be found in knitting circles, jazz ensembles, open-source technology like Linux, crowdsourced knowledge consortiums like Wikipedia, community arts projects like the recent The Future Is on the Table art exhibit at City Gallery, and even in pick-up games of basketball (which is, because of its reliance on the integrity of individual players, Barack Obama's favorite pastime).

These have characteristics that challenge the old guard of established arts professionals whose minds were galvanized, like Clinton and Bush, by "great disruption" of the 1960s. These characteristics include participation over presentation, collaboration over competition, amateurism (in the best sense of the word) over professionalism, and process over product.

Grassroots creativity is an old idea (Walt Whitman exulted the inventive potential of diversity), but the difference now is scale.

Ninety-five million Americans are applying the ideals of Web 2.0 to the real world, including their approach to the arts.

This can be troubling to institutions like art museums, says Nina Simon, a consultant and author of Museum 2.0 (www.museumtwo.blogspot.com). In trying to serve what MIT media professor Henry Jenkins has aptly called the emergence of "convergence culture," museums are increasingly afraid of "losing control."

Museums, like other arts organizations, can and should meet the challenges posed by the end of one generational era and the beginning of another, Simon argues. They can do this by getting creative, and indeed, by converging, all without giving up authority or expertise. It sounds like there's much to learn from events like Kulture Klash.

Besides, the times are a-changin'.

"[Obama's election] initiates the transmission of power from baby boomers who have for so long consumed the nation's assets and attention," wrote sociologist Orlando Patterson in a Times op-ed, "to a younger generation from whom so much has already been taken."


What's at Kulture Klash 3?

• Visual art exhibit featuring over 40 different artists, some well-known, some still unknown.

• 50 custom-designed skateboard decks, each from a different artist. The decks were provided by Earth.

• Print-on-demand, one-night-only Sharpie Tees designed by Kevin Taylor, Julio Cotto, Nathan Durfee, Johnny Pundt, Scott Debus, Wolfkid, and Charlie McAlister

• Mobile skate park presented by Earth

• Laser graffiti light show presented by Street Level Lab and Spaced Invaders

• Aerial acrobatic troupe from Asheville

• Live glass-blowing by Ganesh Glass

• Photo booth by Walter Pinckney

• Live music by DJ Jake B, Lip Service, and Rocky Horror

• Food and drink by Fuel, The Sprout, Magic Hat, Social Wine Bar, and Red Bull

• Shuttle service from John Street (downtown) to 10 Storehouse Row ($10 roundtrip) by Lowcountry Environmental Education Program (LEEP). Shuttles begin at 9 p.m. and return downtown every half hour until 2 a.m.

• If you don't want to wait in line at the door, tickets can be purchased in advance at B'Zar, Suite Sole, or online at www.etix.com or at www.kultureklashcharleston.com

• Admission and round-trip shuttle rides are $10 each, and an additional $20 gets you unlimited beer and wine for the evening


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