The Creative Underclass

Youth, Race, and the Gentrifying City

Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: 10 illustrations Published: December 2019

Author: Tyler Denmead

Art and Visual Culture, Cultural Studies, Sociology > Urban Studies

As an undergraduate at Brown University, Tyler Denmead founded New Urban Arts, a nationally recognized arts and humanities program primarily for young people of color in Providence, Rhode Island. Along with its positive impact, New Urban Arts, under his leadership, became entangled in Providence's urban renewal efforts that harmed the very youth it served. As in many deindustrialized cities, Providence's leaders viewed arts, culture, and creativity as a means to drive property development and attract young, educated, and affluent white people, such as Denmead, to economically and culturally kick-start the city. In The Creative Underclass, Denmead critically examines how New Urban Arts and similar organizations can become enmeshed in circumstances where young people, including himself, become visible once the city can leverage their creativity to benefit economic revitalization and gentrification. He points to the creative cultural practices that young people of color from low-income communities use to resist their subjectification as members of an underclass, which, along with redistributive economic policies, can be deployed as an effective means with which to both oppose gentrification and better serve the youth who have become emblematic of urban creativity.


“Tyler Denmead offers a far-reaching look into the complexities of creative communities, implicating factors involving labor, economics, race, the arts, education, urban planning, and politics, all while joyfully, lovingly, and thoughtfully describing stories from young people's lives. Denmead describes these multiple perspectives and what young people taught him and his change of perception with humility. His book's credibility and power are even more compelling because of his capacity to comprehend and critique an institution he himself constructed. I'm in awe of all the intricacies and implications that Denmead has revealed.” — Rebekah Modrak, author of Reframing Photography: Theory and Practice

"Since the early 2000s we have regarded the creative class as those with the greatest access to capital, technology, and robust economic environments. Tyler Denmead reveals a portion of the creative class that is dynamic and generative and forgotten—low-income youth in underserved communities. This is a must-read for reimagining the creative talents of today's urban youth." — Gloria Ladson-Billings, Professor Emerita, University of Wisconsin–Madison

"[This] book is written in a personal, engaging style and peppered with conversations between Denmead and the youth who offer a sense of hope through their clever, observant and deeply cognizant understandings of structural injustice. . . . It is important reading for those working with youth, in urban centers and within the context of the 'creative industry.'" — Darlene E. Clover, International Review of Education

“For those who are interested in cultural policy and youth programmes, this book is an important awakening for those who uncritically accept the discourse of creativity as a force for good. This study destabilizes the taken-for-granted assumption about arts activities as ‘positive activities’ through which young people can ‘better themselves’. This book is a timely reminder that youth development programmes do not solve economic problems.”

— Frances Howard, Cultural Sociology

The Creative Underclass is a compelling example of how we can write about recent educational history without a detachment from the struggles of an author’s conscience…. For historians of education this book reminds us of the tensions and contradictions of philanthropic work across the past two centuries.”

— Lottie Hoare, History of Education


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Price: $24.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Tyler Denmead is University Lecturer of Arts and Creativity in Education at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow at Queens’ College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgment  ix
Introduction  1
1. Troublemaking  30
2. The Hot Mess  45
3. Chillaxing  76
4. Why the Creative Underclass Doesn't Get Creative-Class Jobs  96
5. Autoethnography of a "Gentrifying Force"  118
6. "Is This Really What White People Do" in the Creative Capital?  133
Conclusion  155
Notes  173
Biography  185
Index  197
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0659-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0593-3