Vienna v. Vegas

Located smack in the middle of the European continent, Vienna is an old-world cultural center, a city of music and dreams and belle époque decadence—of imperial balls, piano concerti, and chocolate cake, of Arnold Schönberg, psychoanalysis, and art nouveau. Its historic center is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the city has also ranked first in the world (in 2007 and 2008) for its culture of innovation on the Innovation Cities Index and consistently high on all the global “livability” scales. Yet a “culture of innovation” does not necessarily entail cultural innovation in the 21st-century city—something that a critical new generation of Viennese arts professionals are working to nourish.

Las Vegas is too young to have seen the collapse of an empire or even the advent of modernism; a massive resort town in the Mojave Desert, it became famous for excess and permissiveness—not unlike Vienna in its prime. The 20th-century market for escapism and glamour—of extreme wealth and luxury, or at least the promise of those things— seems to have plateaued; no adult adventure can last a lifetime, after all. In post-Great Recession America, Las Vegas, too, must evolve, and recent initiatives have looked hopefully to the arts as means of creating a city with roots beneath the kitsch.

This Spring 2018 ART PAPERS considers two cities whose strategies for growth and sustainability are entwined with the future of their culture industries.