Bet on the Future
December 23, 2008
The Rockefeller Center in New York is, in my opinion, one of the most inspiring buildings in the world.
Like most things, the inspiration comes not so much from the thing itself, but the stories that surround it - and like all the best stories [and yes, alright, go on then, brands too] it has many lovely little pieces that all, somehow, fit together.
John D Rockefeller leased the space from Columbia University in 1928 to build a venue for the Metropolitan Opera.
Then, in 1929, the biggest stock market crash ever happened, for reasons that no one can really explain, and the USA entered the Great Depression.
The Metropolitan pulled out of the project and Rockefeller faced a very serious decision.
He decided to push ahead as the sole financial backer of the biggest development project in the history of the world.
It gave thousands of people hope, and jobs, throughout the Depression.
Rockefeller had no promised tenants for the building, but happened to have an interest in an emerging technology called radio.
Thus 30 Rock became the bleeping heart of the America's mass media industry.
Rockefeller, by all accounts, hated popular music - he was into opera - but he gave the leg up needed for RCA and NBC and the beginnings of a popular mass culture.
He hired Samuel 'Roxy' Rothafel, an infamous silent film and show impresario, to conceptualise and open Radio City Music Hall.
[Roxy once said: Don't give the people what they want - give them something better.]
Rockefeller made one of the biggest bets in history, at the very beginning of the worst economic crash of modern times, on the future.
Next year is going to be hard. No denying it.
But we live at a time where the economics of cultural production are being radically decentralised - where never have so many had a voice in the history of humanity, nor social motivations been so empowered to create culture and effect change.
Where, fundamentally, economic motivations are no longer the only supposed driver of human activity, if ever indeed they were.
The beginnings of a new kind of culture, created bottom up by the many, not top down by the few.
I think that's pretty awesome.
I'm betting on the future.