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July 23, 2010
Amazingly, many arts organizations aren't keeping much of this data themselves - beyond basic membership lists. They often have to "spam" the world again and again to build their audience whenever they have a new project. This is a problem for bigger, for-profit entities as well - Warner Bros and Penguin both must re-build their fan base every time they release a new album, movie or book. While I like to call the media industry "blood-sucking beasts," there could be some common ground here on working together to get access to more of this data. When this data is kept, it is rarely shared, but there could be great power in knowing I want to see a show on Picasso whether it's at the Met or at the High, and organizations (and artists) will have a lot to figure out in terms of sharing this data across traditional boundaries. As artists, organizations and companies wake up to the importance of data, we're all going to wish we had started advocacy around it back when we were just focused on all the other policy issues.
Ok, I also believe that Net Neutrality and Copyright concerns are pretty important, and that we need to work on our relationships with and knowledge of our audiences, but this was one policy concern that I think about daily that has been curiously absent from the discussion. So has diversity and the interactions of all of this stuff internationally, but perhaps I should stop here. Thanks to Doug and all the writers here (in the comments as well), and thanks to the organizations who brought this conversation together.
Echoing Alex Shapiro, we at NAMAC realized at the beginning of the Obama administration that there is a great need to train media and art makers to attain fluency in policy issues NOW, and to be able to confidently participate and influence the great telecom and cultural policy debates of this moment. To that end, we are currently planning a Winter 2011 NAMAC Campaign and Policy Institute for media and arts leaders to learn about how to become policy influencers and train others -- especially artists -- across their own cultural networks.
The "idea exchange" that has taken place with Future of Music, Fractured Atlas and NAMAC has resulted in what I think is still a visionary outline for the issues that triggered this forum, and that we can be working on all together, our collaboratively created Green Paper on The Future of Digital Infrastructure and the Creative Economy.
Throughout this remarkable dialogue, I keep thinking of David Shield's new book Reality Hunger and this quote:
"In a regime of superabundant free copies, copies are no longer the basis of wealth. Now relationships, links, connection and sharing are. Value has shifted away from a copy toward the many ways to recall, annotate, personalize, edit, authenticate, display, mark, transfer and engage a work. Art is a conversation, not a patent office."Now, on to devising new ways to get financed and compensated for this vital work.
Changing the Creative Landscape
Also like Justin (and I promise that I won't reiterate everything he said because that would be redundant and may violate his intellectual property), Net Neutrality is my answer to Doug's challenge.
"The Internet has opened up a world of choices for artists that weren't present 20 years ago..." -- Yeah, it's a Justin quote. Sue me.There is a sequence in the recently released Christopher Nolan film Inception in which a young woman played by Ellen Page realizes that she is the architect of the dream and has the ability to reshape the laws of physics and recreate the landscape to her liking. The existence of an open, global Internet has awakened a creative fervor around the world and given creators the ability to reshape the laws of form, distribution, audience development, and more to fundamentally change the landscape of creative engagement. For a glimpse at how artists are using the Net in this manner, check out Scott Kirsner's book Fans, Friends & Followers: Building An Audience And A Creative Career in the Digital Age.
"In reality, our lack of public arts funding is a much more important issue and has a far worse effect on our cultural lives than any threats to Net neutrality." -- William OsborneWrong, wrong, wrong. While both issues are important, the protection of a neutral and unfettered system that has brought about such seismic shifts in creative expression and participation for everyone is simply more important in the grand scheme of our collective "dream" than cash infusion into any one sector. If we do not doggedly pursue this, we'll be singing that oft quoted song by the '80s hairband Cinderella...or is it Joni Mitchell?
Walking the Halls
"I never thought an experience like going on a variety of Capitol Hill visits to congressional/senate offices, and meeting with aides to talk about the kind of work artists are doing in their districts would be so interesting and meaningful." -- Helen DeMichielTo be honest, many citizens in the U.S. - regardless of which sector they work in - do not believe that their elected officials care about their thoughts or experiences. The idea of going to Washington like Mr. Smith and creating any sort of change sounds delusional to many of us who have witnessed the arts getting tied to the whipping post again and again.
"I think it would be pretty terrific if arts service organizations would place a greater emphasis on putting art-makers and policy-makers in the same room." -- Alex ShapiroEach spring, I teach a course on cultural policy and advocacy in the United States for Carnegie Mellon University's Master of Arts Management students - many of whom are also artists. After the course wraps, students attend Arts Advocacy Day organized by Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C. to meet with elected officials. This year, ten of my students attended several meetings with legislative staffers coordinated by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania.
In one meeting with a staffer for a Republican Congressman, twelve of us piled into the representative's waiting area and spoke with him about the importance of the arts and creativity for the welfare of our country. After a few moments, another staffer came in to say that the gentleman we were talking to was needed on the phone. It was very abrupt, and many of us felt that we were brushed off.
Just last week, the arts council announced that the Congressman decided to join the Congressional Arts Caucus as a result of that meeting with his staffer on Arts Advocacy Day. Not only did the news remind me of my own need to check my cynicism, it demonstrated to my students that it is possible to reach out beyond the choir and catalyze change. Did we change the world? In the grand scheme of things, probably not. This one conversation did change one legislator's viewpoint, however, and that has consequences.
From Spectators to Spectactors
"How do we create a new norm in which the audience is not object but subject?" -- Lynne ConnerThis question took me back to my days as a performance studies grad student, many moons ago, when we studied Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed, in which he emphasizes migrating the role of the audience from spectator to "spectactor." In a traditional theatre production, the audience is outside of the performance -- able to see the narrative unfold but unable to affect its trajectory or resolution. In Boal's work, audiences attending these politically charged performances were able to change the character's choices and even physically takeover the role of the character from the "actor."
Leapfrogging from Lynne to Boal and back to Washington, many of us in the creative sector have been taking a spectator role in politics -- watching it unfold, doing nothing to (try to) change it, then bitching about it to anyone who will listen. It's time to move from passively observing to acting.
Even if we're not policy-makers, we can be policy-influencers. To my U.S. artist colleagues reading this, I invite you to fearlessly call up the office of the policy-maker of your choice and schedule an appointment for a brief visit with them, either in your home state or in D.C. Tell the aide or assistant to whom you speak that you're a constituent (if this is an elected official- who you, as a taxpayer, employ). Or, if it's a commissioner or business leader, indicate that you want to say hello, introduce yourself, and just have a brief conversation about... fill in the blank. -- Alex ShapiroPreach it, Alex! I'll sing tenor in that choir any day.
For all our analysis and intellect, let's remember that ultimately, people experience the arts because they want to feel something. So, when we discuss just how to get them to support all these feeling-making activities, we benefit by approaching the solution from the loins of that same desire. Oooh!
Just like art itself: it comes from feelings and emotions, right? The intellect is just the part that kicks in to allow the artist to make sense of all those right-brain instincts. We're all mammals with pulses. When it comes to promoting art of any kind, thinking on the most visceral, base level will score us the most points because that's exactly what connects the artists' work with the audiences' interest: they all want to feel. Something.
People also want to be heard, and that's part of the profound connection made by art: it expresses for them that which they have no words to express for themselves (likewise, for the artist him or herself). Usually, the art that connects the most successfully is that which springs from the artist authentically and offers a glimpse of their uncensored, unfiltered heart.
It's rather like a productive psychotherapy session: we get the farthest when we talk openly about how something makes us feel. Now double this into couple's therapy: the more the two parties can talk to each other about their genuine emotions, the more successfully they'll be able to communicate and understand each other-even if they disagree. So if the couple in question here is the artist and the audience, given that both want to be heard, getting the dialog going on a very base level may be pretty rewarding.
Lynne's got it right when she describes our need to not only involve the audience to whom we look for support, but to reach them particularly directly by caring enough to ask, "how did [this art experience] make you feel?". Whether we're seeking funding, or just seeking attendance, we cannot expect the non-arts world to care about us just because we happen to believe we're valuable. Entitlement doesn't play well. What does come across wonderfully, however, is when we demonstrate that we actually care about the experience we're offering and its impact-or not-on the ears and eyes receiving it. Just like that couple in therapy.
To ward off any angry creative villagers now heading toward me with spears, let me say that with art, even if the impact is not the most, uh, positive one, in no way does that mean the artist should alter their work (unless they choose to do so) or hang it all up and get that veterinary degree after all. Nope. Artists can remain completely true to themselves while simultaneously showing that they take an interest in the feelings of those around them. Especially if they expect those around them to support what they do. File this under "being a good human."
So, the problem with that great therapy session, is when the third wheel-- and yes, it is one-- of policy, enters the room. Policy really has little business being there, and yet keeps showing up to interrupt the otherwise intimate relationship between the artist and the audience. Policy tends not to care very much about feelings because it's wrapped up in legal and technological issues that cause its left brain to swell to such a degree that the right hemisphere as well as the emotion-laden limbic system are terribly squished. I hope I'm amusing you. But take heart: while policy is unavoidable, it cannot be made without...
Mammals with a pulse, who feel.
My observation from lobbying experiences over the years in D.C. and elsewhere has been that a fair amount of the disconnect between the policy makers and the subject about which they are making policy, is due to a lack of enough contact with that subject on any personal, feeling-based level. To wit: most policy makers don't hang out a whole lot with artists. We are, after all, all in different worlds.
In response to Doug's challenge, I think it would be pretty terrific if arts service organizations would place a greater emphasis on putting art-makers and policy-makers in the same room, whether formally or, far better, socially. Non-artists really do derive a great deal of pleasure getting to spend a little time with those of us who do things that they love but cannot imagine being able to do themselves. Just as they might be a little bit foreign to us, we're a little bit exotic to them, and we fail to make enough use of this natural asset. Seeing someone light up when they get to talk about art after a whole week of talking about nothing other than business or legislative issues, is a real joy. Interacting with those in charge of the policies on an emotional, human level is one of the most effective things artists can do.
With all the excellent, potentially transformative, as Doug says, policy suggestions that have flooded these enpixelated pages, one of the most important transformative policies I can think of is that which takes place within ourselves: that of our perceptions. Many of this week's bloggers are themselves gifted artists (sorry to blow y'all's cover). I'm hoping that they're smiling as they read this. Technology has changed everything, and will only continue to do so. Policy battles will always exist. But thinking on a purely emotional level is something that will never, ever be altered no matter what the next paradigm shift may be, and emotion is what artists do beautifully. Let's use it!
Even if we're not policy-makers, we can be policy-influencers. To my U.S. artist colleagues reading this, I invite you to fearlessly call up the office of the policy-maker of your choice and schedule an appointment for a brief visit with them, either in your home state or in D.C. Tell the aide or assistant to whom you speak that you're a constituent (if this is an elected official- who you, as a taxpayer, employ). Or, if it's a commissioner or business leader, indicate that you want to say hello, introduce yourself, and just have a brief conversation about... fill in the blank. How has the internet indelibly affected your career? How have the latest hearings on C-SPAN inspired your latest piece of work? What is your life as an artist like, and what are the issues that are important to you? How about those Lakers? You don't have to know the scholarly details of anything, except of your own life. Because ultimately, it's your life that is going to be affected by their decisions. The more connected to artists those decision-makers can be, the more feeling and emotion that may, just possibly, infuse the framework of their policies. Let's appeal to the part that feels the best: they're all... human!
I want to strongly echo Lynne's thoughts on the biggest potential threat being our current lack of understanding about our audiences. While net neutrality and copyright are important, particularly for certain genres, in my little theatrical corner of the world, we're watch people pass by our lobby doors every day, heading to restaurants, sporting events, movies, friends houses, whatever. Advocacy-wise, we rely on generalized and relatively unengaging economic analyses about how much other business beside actual ticketsales our work creates, and when we speak to government officials we talk about artists livelihoods and neighborhood stability almost entirely in terms of dollars. This just isn't cutting it anymore. Casey's YouTube video post is informative in exactly this way (and this isn't anywhere near an original thought): they want stories, anecdotes -- the arts can change people. But I'm not sure just that will work either, though.
Lynne asks, "Ten years or so into the "Audience Engagement" era, have we actually stopped objectifying audiences (butts in seats)?" I don't think we have, and I think that's the capital-P Problem.
Which is why I'm so excited about the work of Alan Brown and others on the intrinsic impact of the arts -- actually putting on paper, in the same visual language as the economic analyses we're so comfortable with, the audience-reported intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and social impacts of the work they're seeing. Alan and his colleagues are currently working with us on a large, 5-city study of the impact of theatre over the course of a season on patrons and the development of a web-based tool that will make the protocols, theories and reports associated with this research a little or no cost. It's all heady, and it runs the risk of sounding superfluous, especially against concrete things like copyright, but making manifest something that is otherwise completely esoteric--the actual impact of art--may ultimately change everything about the conversation. Or at least I hope so.
This has been such fun -- thanks to Doug and all the other organizers. I really appreciate being involved!
(You can find out more about intrinsic impact at http://www.theatrebayarea.org/intrinsicimpact)
Two points before I get to Doug's challenge: First, it's been great to blog with a smart cohort that doesn't necessarily come from the traditional nonprofit mindset -- quite refreshing. Second, Sandra Gibson (Arts Presenters) sent me a nice note reminding me that APAP has weighed in on issues like IP and net neutrality. No surprise as presenters ("promoters" in the for-profit world) are very likely to encounter real world copyright, union, and licensing issues every day. She also noted that other service organizations haven't yet joined these policy fights.
Two things strike me as big problems, and they're related. As the recent Supreme Court decision on campaign finance reminded us, nearly a century ago corporations began to acquire the same legal rights as individuals. Once copyright and all related issues became attached to corporations and corporations began to reshape policy to suit corporate interests, the entire support system for art, information, and knowledge began to tilt away from public purposes. Corporations don't like an neutral Internet because it's harder to make money for shareholders in a neutral environment; corporations want a long (yes, Tim, even an endless) term for copyright, because it locks up a corporate asset; corporations want to impose ever-more-draconian penalties on those who intentionally or inadvertently infringe IP interests, and...well, I coould go on. We really need to return the conversation to the intent of the Constitution, that posited a limited right for individuals, and do our best to make the public understand that a corporation -- focused only on shareholder value and short-term earnings -- is simply incapable of supporting a nuanced approach to government and culture. The big IP-dependent industries hate the Creative Commons; they would hate a department of cultural affairs. In short, once an individual right like copyright was attached to corporations, the steady erosion of the public interest in cultural vitality was inevitable.
Second, this erosion has been gradual, akin to the frog metaphor (scalding slowly as the temp of his bathwater is gradually increased) made famous by Al Gore. Here's an old media example. Say Jane Q. Public walks into a Wal-Mart Superstore, intent on buying some new music. She makes her way to the back of the building, to a section that looks like it offers quite a few titles. But truth be told, a Superstore stocks no more than about 2500 compact discs, and no more than 500 of those will have been released in the past 12 months. Jane has no way of knowing, but about 34,000 CDs are released into some kind of distribution each year. Two decades ago, corporate efficiencies killed off mom-and-pop stores, and mall chains like Turtles couldn't compete with emerging big-boxers like Target, Wal-Mart, etc., and ultimately terrific outlets like Tower gave up the ghost. This happened over about 20 years, and while Wal-Mart has dictated low prices for music (9.99), the approach has severely limited choice. But the change has been gradual; Jane public may sense that it's impossible to browse in the old way (yes, I know, the Internet is great for buying things including downloads, but it's a very difficult place to shop), but this is mild discomfort and not the sort that will generate outrage. We've experienced the same gradual erosion in the scope of fair use, in the gradual increase in penalties for infringement, and in the proliferation of advertiser interests online.
So the big problem is to restore copyright and things related as an individual right, wrenching priorities away from corporations and their lobbyists, while trying to create a sense of public outrage in an environment that is worsening so slowing that too few really notice.
Lynne muses about Silent Spring and the 1960s environmental movement. I had hoped Arts, Inc. would "jump the fence" and create a stir with the general public. But so far, nearly two years out, that hasn't happened; the coversation generated has been pretty much inside the arts community.
Somebody on this blog needs to write another book!
Thanks to all.
Forgive me for waiting until the last day to chime in here. I've spent my time just reading and absorbing this fantastic discussion.
Doug: the answer to your challenge is Net Neutrality.
I say Net Neutrality because it is an issue currently on the table, but more generically, I'd call it "Unfair Legal Leverage for Strong Middlemen Whose Strength is at Least Partially Due to Prior and Often Continuing Public Support."
Chris uses the right word: leverage. The Benjamins and strong legislative support are two excellent forms of leverage, but they are not the only two and for many art makers, they are not the most important. The most valuable leverage is choice. Choice in subject, choice in discipline, choice in market, tools, techniques, collaborators, employer, choice in vendors. Choice is what gives us leverage over every organization, person and idea to which we are beholden.
The Internet has opened up a world of choices for artists that weren't present 20 years ago and as many again that weren't present 5 years ago: effectively free international marketing, cheap self-publishing, truly independent media distribution, active word-of-mouth marketing (aka social media), trivially easy market research, national market for vendors, etc., etc. It could do so because its open and global nature makes it possible to create niche businesses that focus on idea and technique instead of market.
Where there are more options to choose from, choice is a stronger lever. I'm not worried about ISPs service-fixing and rendering the entire Net biased towards certain technologies. Even if we lose this one, I expect that some enlightened ISP will begin marketing themselves as Net Neutral and clean up. But it will, I am certain, have a chilling effect on Net entrepreneurs and therefore on the leverage individual artists (and non-artists) gain through choice.
Unfortunately, it does look like Net Neutrality is going to be won or lost in the well-lit back room with the virtual cigar smoke piped in over government subsidized, privately owned fiber optic lines. And yeah, artists and their agents, unions and vendors and their audience need to stand up on this one and need to do so collectively. I am a firm believer in the power of artists, nerds and entrepreneurs to work around all manner of stupid barriers in law and business, but this one is tough. The Net has become as essential as power and water and it needs to be as fundamentally free in its use.
Thanks, all. As an online content creator not usually directly engaged with such policy work (aside from when an issue raises deep concerns in the field or when attending an FMC policy day), this week has been an education. I know my colleagues always wish there was more time for this type of advocacy, and hopefully now I'm armed with more ways/inspiration on the how/why side that I can share.
Sort of extending on what Doug just said re: potentially transformative initiatives, I'd add licensing. It seems to me that things like Creative Commons represent an important step in consumer education about rights issues (a.k.a. there's a lot of space between traditional copyright clearance and piracy). Still, there are dollars missing from that system that need funneled in. With so many people making and sharing content in that gorge between big profit and home movie, a system that doesn't require a team of lawyers and an extra day in the week to execute but that still spreads around revenue (many drops of micro-payment) efficiently would be a significant step forward.
Doug challenges us to identify "the biggest policy threat or potentially transformative initiative currently facing our culture." I keep coming back to Bill Ivey's meta question about the concept of cultural vibrancy as a public good. How do we create a new norm that encourages cultural rights for all? Jean and others note that cultural workers tend to talk only to (and listen only to and care only about the opinions of) their particular cohort--artists to artists, academics to academics, policy wonks to . . .
Where does that particular calculus leave the audience?
In my work studying audience behavior and facilitating audience engagement practices, the single most prevalent (and telling) audience commentary has to do with the excitement people feel when they are invited into the interpretive process. "You want to know what I think that dance (play, symphony, painting) means?" "You'll sit listen while I tell you how it made me feel?"
As many have noted, the democratization of access brought on by digital technology has profoundly altered our "arts and culture" landscape. But what about the democratization of interpretation? Have we cultural workers really changed our behavior when it comes to listening to our audiences? I mean, really listening? Ten years or so into the "Audience Engagement" era, have we actually stopped objectifying audiences (butts in seats)?
How do we create a new norm in which the audience is not object but subject? Bill suggests that "perhaps we can learn some things from the environmental movement." I don't know much about biology, but I do know something about how Rachel Carson launched the environmental movement (I wrote a play about the process of writing Silent Spring). Carson changed the world by inviting the average citizen into her scientific process; she invented a narrative structure for Silent Spring (and her other books) that was both intelligible to lay readers and utterly emotionally engaging. Carson didn't conduct a literal dialogue with her audience, of course, but she did in effect "listen" to them.
Are we listening?
Wow. I tend to be pretty pessimistic when it comes to government and the arts, and I agree that our habit of continually lengthening the term of a copyright (the original term was just 14 years back in 1790, and now it's life of author plus another 70 freaking years) is a dangerous one that has the effect of making copyright owners spend more energy maximizing the value of existing works while inhibiting the creation of new ones (dont even get me started on all the art that has NOT been created since the Biz Markie ruling quashed the explosion of creative sampling that had been flourishing in the late-80s/early-90s).
But am I silly for thinking it's impossible to make the term endless, as Doug fears? I mean, it's right there in our Constitution that copyrights can only be secured for "limited Times." I sympathize with the argument that repeated extensions might as well mean copyrights are perpetual, but I also recognize it's just that -- an argument, not a fact, and one the Supreme Court unfortunately rejected.
So, while I concur that overlong copyrights are a big problem and well worth fighting, I don't know that they'd win my vote for Biggest Threat Ever, and even if they did I'd hesitate to market the problem as "endless copyright."
Here's why: I'm accustomed to the most impassioned advocates for a more equitable balance between public and private interests getting dismissed as naive cranks -- it happens to me weekly, and I only do this stuff in my spare time. And I don't want to give the other side any ammunition by overstating our concerns.
I felt a similar twinge when reading the part of Brian Newman's otherwise excellent post that warned how the corporations in control of our culture today are "vicious, blood-sucking beasts hell-bent on keeping their antiquated business models at any cost to society." I agree with the hell-bent part, and I endorse the passion, but that kind of verbiage strikes me as an excellent way to get ignored by the very people you want to influence.
The people who control our culture are not vicious, blood-sucking beasts. They are rational, if hyper-competitive, economic actors who will buy any advantage they can because they believe that's their job.
I want to change their minds, and if we can't do that I want to outbid or outmaneuver them for those advantages. And doing so successfully means being clear-headed about their motivations, and persuasive in our arguments.
(A quick addendum: if you Google "Tim Quirk" and the phrase "fucking stupid," you will find just one of many examples of me seeming to ignore my own advice, here. I mention this so it's clear I'm speaking from experience of trying it the other way, not from some school-marmish squeamishness.)
I'd argue that it's a chicken-and-egg problem. Without adequate funding, arts and public interest advocacy groups don't have the staff time to develop creative expressions about cultural policy, train cultural workers in advocacy tactics, engage their audiences, create strategic alliances, and all the other tactics that would increase their efficacy in shaping policy and public opinion.
I agree that some foundations have a capacity gap when it comes to knowing how they want to invest in the policy space - especially as it pertains to arts and culture or telecomm or media copyright etc. Many are worried about appearing to spend too much time influencing legislation - which is a bright line we cannot cross in the 501c3 world. I get that. That's why folks like the Alliance for Justice exist in this world - to educate, inform, and otherwise help us navigate that scary terrain.
But just to be clear - very little of what I am talking about on this blog is about lobbying (or pursuing legislative change). Sure congress has the power to pass laws and decide who gets appropriations. And that is very very important. And FMC does a little bit of this kind of work - of course within the legal limits (which are actually quite generous). But once legislators make those decisions, it's often up to the federal agencies to figure out things like: how do we spend this money we just got? what kind of rules and processes should we put in place? how do we enforce this law? - and the courts to figure out: how do we interpret the law? The devil is in the details, and battles are rarely over once congress has done their part.
Most federal agencies have incredibly few gateways to help them to understand how the decisions they make impact our sector. Without that kind of feedback they cannot develop, implement or enforce policies that will be beneficial to the arts. There is a tremendous amount of positive work that can be done in this area by the nonprofit cultural sector: conducting research (beyond economic impact studies) for purposes of policymaking, shaping and amplifying strategic stories so they have an impact, building coalitions that can engage and partner with policymakers - and be a useful player in solving some really difficult problems along the way.
Here are two examples of this kind of work (I was going to come up with three, but like Nathan said - it's a busy week).
This last year the FCC has been asking the public how radio station ownership impacts them. This proceeding is the perfect time to tell the FCC how losing a jazz radio station might impact a community, or the challenges to maintaining the commercial model for classical music. Or even easier - anyone told the FCC that radio is the dominant form of consumption for classical audiences?
Wireless microphone users from the arts sector, who have recently had to bear the brunt of a costly equipment swap out because of spectrum reallocation by the FCC (and are currently under the threat of additional reallocation activity) could develop proactive strategies and form cross sector partnership with a goal of finding a new permanent home in a different area of the spectrum where they can operate in peace and quiet.
This is the kind of work that should be supported in our sector, not avoided. I encourage anyone concerned about lobbying rules to spend 15 minutes on the Alliance for Justice's excellent site.
OK, so this isn't meant to be self-aggrandizing, but I thought you might wanna have a look at what some prominent Hill staffers had to say about hearing from the arts and cultural community.
I also think maybe we all could use a little break from text. I'll draw the line at cute kitten videos.
This panel took place at FMC's recent DC Policy Day on May 25, 2010.
Yes, it would be great to have more public funding for the arts and it is one important policy issue. I've shown up to advocate on behalf of this at the Federal and State level more times than I care to count, but to me it is practically irrelevant today. The reality is that in my lifetime, this is not going to change for the better, only for the worse. Every government you can point to as funding the arts well is starting to copy the US and cut this funding. We will continue to see this worldwide, and I've had a revolving door of arts, especially media arts, people coming through my office saying "we need to start copying how you do things in America, because our system is disappearing." In the US, the short term economic problems are imperiling even the notion of nonprofits - many states are batting around ideas to end nonprofit status for not just the arts but entire segments of the field. We can advocate until we are blue in the face, but sad to be the one to report - it ain't gonna get better anytime soon.
But this statement is also wrong for other reasons - it won't matter how much public funding for the arts we have if I can no longer find your work online. Or share my own. I'm not saying all art and culture is or should be found online. But, in a society increasingly mediated by technology, it is often the case that if it can't be experienced in some fashion online it doesn't exist to broad swaths of the public. Second, while I am as anti-consumerist as anyone here, I'm not sure if you've noticed, but we've moved on from the church supporting the arts, the patron supporting the arts, the government supporting the arts - we're in a very late-capitalist society and many artists are making their living very much from working with advertising, corporate support, etc and this is only growing. I'm not saying I like it, but that's where things are going/have been for some time. In my sector, we haven't been able to make a film from government support alone for decades, if ever, and successful filmmakers are piecing together their living through for-profit investment, working with major companies and even with brands. They're also connecting directly with their fans, online, and a few are even making a living by working directly with their fans (as Tim mentioned with Jill Sobule, Josh Freese, etc.). To many of these artists, public support would be great, but for now, it's irrelevant to their lives, but take away their Net (or just the freedom they have now) and their careers would be ruined.
So this brings me to Doug's recent post. Doug is correct that we have a greater diversity of creative output than any time previous - at least in our current history. The problem is that this diversity is imperiled by the policy decisions being debated now - and by the architecture, etc being developed. Many of the same things you champion - such as giving away things - might disappear as a result of these battles. It's not a stretch to say that the internet as we know it might go away. Truly. You'll probably still be able to share your indie film with your fans, for free or pay, but you might have to do it at a slower speed, or you might even have to do it on a "darknet." All of this choice is great to me and you and everyone we know...except those of us who are losing control over culture. They have big wallets, and as I say over and over again - they are not aging dinosaurs, they are vicious, blood-sucking beasts hell-bent on keeping their antiquated business models at any cost to society and they will use their power, their money and their influence to keep control of (the media, the art, the culture, insert term here) and they seem to be better at it than any of us.
This is why the policy and advocacy fight remains important even in this age of cultural excess. It's why nonprofits who claim to help artists need to be involved in the fight. They aren't the only ones, and as I've said below, we need to broaden our base - it's not just about nonprofits or the "professional" artist, but about all people's creativity. My parents, to use a simple example, couldn't care less about arts policy. But if you tell them that their grandkid might not be able to keep making machinima mash-ups from his favorite games and share them with his friends online, they will get mad as hell and join our fight. We need to broaden our base and our message or we will fail. Period.
That said, everyone who has said we need to think beyond policy is correct. We are definitely thinking of this too much in "old world" terms. If all we get from this new digital stuff is a fancy Ipad that can download any movie (or performance, etc) ever made and share it with our friends, we'll have failed. As Jaron Lanier argues in his recent book, You are Not a Gadget, we are in danger of lock-in - where the possibilities of the future are diminished by coding them under the rubrics of today. Unless artists are part of this conversation, and are helping to innovate the tools of tomorrow, we will fail. So, I'm not arguing that we shouldn't keep our eye's on all four bullet points that Lessig mentioned in Code. These are all important pieces of the puzzle and they will all add up to a portrait that spells doom if we don't help influence where all this stuff goes.
That to me is why we need to take the offensive, as opposed to defensive, position and start putting out a better story about the possible future(s) of creativity. We need to stop just demanding net neutrality and add demands that go for something even better. While I don't think nonprofits should stop being advocates, I don't think they'll be as effective in the long run as other, newer approaches to the issues. I'm not going to pretend I have the answer to what this might be, but I hope we can start to articulate it together here.
What we've been seeing online lately, is that people can build incredible movements online. They can self-aggregate when given the means, and do get active around a big enough story. Save the Arts doesn't cut it, as Doug mentioned. We need a better story - and I bet we have some, though we never seem to tell our stories well for a bunch of storytellers....I could imagine a pretty cool story being crafted, however, that points out the interconnection of all this great, creative stuff we are doing online, together pro and am- alike, and how that is threatened by some pretty stiff suits. They aren't too popular today, by the way. The story could also point to some possible futures that are threatened - you know, imaginary stuff that people like to dream about (and tell stories about). This story, if told creatively might bring more of us to the cause than (just) the dry policy paper, and if enough of us are telling this story, those in power will have to listen.
There is a gravitational pull that seems to take us back to discussing advocacy in relation to nonprofits. I took our charge to be about policy engagement around things like IP, media ownership, and openness and access in relation to the Internet. In that regard I like Yolanda's list...She highlights problems that affect everybody, not just artists or nonprofits. The simple truth is that the domination of market interests in shaping arts-related policy over the past 30 years has handed Americans a high-priced "permission culture" in which every piece of information, art, or entertainment is a vehicle for somebody's rights and revenue streams. It may be that artists and nonprofits are too busy with pressing issues of funding, endowments, etc. to divert attention to these matters that haven't been on the radar screen in the past. But if not us who? At the very least we should think of ways to convince the larger society that cultural vibrancy matters, and that access to things like cultural heritage, to political speech, to and open internet and to the tools of personal creativity are critical to the quality of life our democracy can deliver. The nonprofit arts may feel exempt from these forces, but they are not. If the National Association of Broadcasters (fully abetted by NPR) can strangle low-power FM radio, community life is diminished. Access and openness are being nibbled away on many fronts. Who do we think has the time, energy, and smarts to lead?
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