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The Curating City: A Functional Account of the Agglomeration of Creative Industries


This study discusses the importance of curation in the contemporary economy, particularly in cities. Curators facilitate choice among symbolically-differentiated products either by directly choosing products on behalf of clients or otherwise lowering choice costs. Demand for curation is accelerating in sectors where symbolic differentiation is a source of value, including cultural products, finance, and research. This is both because these sectors command a greater share of economic activity and because digital technologies have dramatically expanded the available supply of symbolic products. Here, the focus is on how professional curation is organized within symbolic/creative industries and across space. Curation is said to resemble a relay wherein the decisions/outputs of some curators are incorporated as inputs into curation decisions downstream. As product sets are passed through this system, the number of products under consideration is lowered along with the level of uncertainty surrounding each product’s value. Because curation systems require continuous information exchange, they should realize benefits from localization. Five types of agglomeration economies are identified: the superiority of face-to-face communication, the ability to form information cascades, coordination of ‘consideration sets’, the ability to determine what the market values, and provenance effects. Two empirical analyses support these propositions. A small study of the US labor force finds that curating occupational categories agglomerate at higher levels. A detailed analysis of major music festival programming between 2017 and 2019 shows that previously curated acts are more likely to be selected to festivals, that festival programmers are more likely to select acts from their local environment, and that acts from prominent music scenes are more likely to be selected to major festivals, controlling for quality. LA, New York, Nashville, and London are said to export 37% of music festival acts to major festivals, at least in part, because musicians in these places have better access to curation systems. These results as well as the theory of curation presented here suggest that the ability of ‘creative cities’ to unearth or determine product value may be currently understated.

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