July 2010 Archives

It's the end of the day for me, but my colleagues on the West Coast are theoretically still in the office, so I'm going to get a last post in anyway. Thanks to all for the stimulating conversation. I think for me, the most exciting policy development on the horizon is the ability of data to illuminate who we are and what we do. (Oops - just saw Brian's post - I guess I'm not the only one!) Our increasingly interconnected, networked world is generating huge reams of information too dense and extensive for any human to handle. But our technology has reached the point where batch processing of that information is almost trivial, and the real--and yes, creative--challenge posed to us is how to slice, segment, mash up, or otherwise arrange that data in ways that tell stories, that inform priorities, and that let us know how we're doing.

A few years ago, when I first went to graduate school, I was convinced that the arts were antithetical to data. I vividly recall a Thanksgiving conversation with my cousin in which we were talking about why I was so passionate about the arts. He was finishing up an MBA at the time, and as I waxed eloquent about the impact of arts activity on real estate, the relevance of the arts to innovation in business, etc., his ears perked up with clear interest. "But I would never say that's why the arts should be funded," I finally concluded. Surprised, he asked, "so why should they be funded?" "Because they're great," I responded definitively. But it was obvious I had lost him. And I didn't know how to get him back. He didn't have an arts background. How could I explain to him why the arts were so great when they hadn't been a formative part of his life experience? How could I ever convey to him the depth of that intensity in words, in a few minutes no less?

Now, a few years later, I have come to the conclusion that it's not quite so black and white. If the arts do, in fact, make our lives richer in ways other than money, there are means of figuring such things out. I'm really excited for the intrinsic impact work that Clay mentions because for the first time, this line of research attempts to delve into some of these "unmeasurable" ways that the arts give meaning to our lives. Other methodological innovations like these are bound to proliferate in the coming years, propelled forward by the increased access we'll have to more and more meaningful data. One area where I think our research could improve is more sophisticated segmentation of our subjects. I suspect a big part of the reason that some of the arts literature seems inconclusive is that it tries to lump people or activity or contexts together when it would be more interesting to look at a subset of cases. For example, there's a long tradition in our field of trying to universalize the arts: this idea that all of us have some hidden yearning to be creative and that our lives are forever impoverished by the lack of access to the symphony/theatre/museum etc. Yet my cousin's experience and those of many like him seem to belie this notion. He may not realize how much art is part of the background of his life, but he appears to be perfectly happy and fulfilled without it in the foreground. So what if it's the case that art is really important -- important enough to save lives -- but only for a minority of us? We'd have to figure out the policy implications later, but that would be important information to have. By the same token, most research in the arts that deals with events treats all arts events as the same - 1:1 equivalence. Yet any artist can tell you that the "impact" of one arts event to another can vary immensely, depending not just on the show/production but even from night to night. And even at the level of a single event, goodness knows people, even knowledgeable experts, can have incredibly divergent judgments as to the quality of the experience.

I mention this because I think our policy, and by the same token advocacy, similarly risks putting too many people in the same bucket. I take to heart Molly's example of the copyright views of the MIT scientist and the television writer being affected by how they each pay the rent. In a way, when we talk about "artists' creative rights," we're really talking about two different things that our copyright laws and systems have artificially mushed together: the right to control who gets to use your work, and the right to an opportunity to make a living as a creator. If we segment our interest groups by who depends on copyright to pay their daily bread and who does not, and open up the possibility of dealing with those groups differently, the path forward may become a lot clearer.
July 23, 2010 3:13 PM | | Comments (0) |
As you've probably guessed by now, I like hyperbole, but to me the most important policy issues for arts/artists for the next decade will be around data - who owns it, who has access to it, who you share it with and how these interactions are governed. Data is the new oil. We'll be entering pretty big battles soon, and have already seen a few, around privacy - and this impacts everyone, not just artists. Figuring out the right balance around privacy is going to be a huge issue. Just as importantly, however, is that we can now access a lot of data around our audiences, but most of this data is not shared with artists even when that might be fine with their audience. It is often owned by Facebook, or Google or even the Symphony's managers. Many artists I know are already working with engineers on data portability projects, open source projects to share data (with appropriate user, opt-in permission) and similar activities. They are realizing that the information about their audience - or just about how many songs they truly sold, is extremely valuable, but only if they have access to it. Likewise, as audiences/consumers, we have a lot to figure out about just how much of that data we want shared, and what control we might have over it at a later date.

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.
July 23, 2010 3:03 PM | | Comments (0) |
Let me first also add my thanks to Doug and all the contributors for a very stimulating week of conversation. It has been a bit overwhelming at times, but it is clear there are many people and organizations hard at work preserving and developing our cultural heritage. With respect to Doug's challenge for our final day, I think the most transformative initiatives must strive toward Lynne's "Rachel Carson effect," whereby we engage audiences but most importantly create community and civic engagement. Clay's link to research efforts, which discussed the "instrumental" and "intrinsic" impact of the arts was very interesting reading and serves as a reminder as in Alex's last posting, that we cannot separate policy -- or the political -- from the aesthetic questions. The artist and audience cannot communicate or extend a conversation if expression is restricted, censored, or sold only to highest bidder. That means no matter how "transformative" the art, if as Brian noted earlier it doesn't circulate or cannot be accessed, its power is limited. So like Brian and Bill, I would underline copyright and net neutrality questions as vital starting points to any discussion. Ultimately, I think we have to work on both sides of the equation - critical and creative - in an ongoing and relentless manner. To work across that divide is sometimes uncomfortable, but not always as difficult as entrenched forces and institutions would like us to believe. To bridge that divide across skill sets, we will have to at times collaborate, dialogue, and share - information, tools, and indeed emotion (as Alex notes so elegantly). To put this another way, the aesthetics of remix should be a model for a politics of remix.
July 23, 2010 1:37 PM | | Comments (0) |
Thank you David Dombrosky for more Capitol Hill Office anecdotes. Perhaps your Republican Congressman helped the Arts Caucus work towards the proposed 2.5 million increase to $170 Million for the FY2011 NEA budget.

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. 

July 23, 2010 1:31 PM | | Comments (0) |
Like Justin, I have spent much of this week absorbing the engaging conversation in this space.  Along the way, I have had a few intertextual incidents which have created a cacophony of resonant voices in my head (or personal echo chamber, if you will).  And now, I am going to share some of those voices with you.  Get ready, this might get will be lengthy.

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 Osborne
Wrong, 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 DeMichiel
To 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 Shapiro
Each 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 Conner
This 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 Shapiro
Preach it, Alex!  I'll sing tenor in that choir any day.
July 23, 2010 12:49 PM | | Comments (1) |
With the likely exception of the person penning this post, this blog has been filled with tremendously agile minds that offer brilliant and deeply held beliefs about how to keep the arts patient healthy. Thanks to Doug for hosting one helluva e-party. Can I have you all over for dinner next week?

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.

Or... not.

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!
July 23, 2010 10:49 AM | | Comments (0) |
Mike Copps, the heroic FCC Commissioner, often says, Whatever your number one issue is, make media reform your number two issue.  

I almost agree with him -- because without media reform (which includes Net Neutrality), it's way harder to do anything else you care about.

But another contender for that number two spot is campaign finance reform.  No wonder Larry Lessig turned from his work on the commons to the toxic impact of big money on Congress.  Without fixing that, the public's power to do anything is tragically circumscribed, and that public includes arts and culture workers, audiences and all the other people whose consent is supposed to be the constitutive principle of American government.

We're never going to be able to outspend or out-organize the oligarchs and lobbyists who grease the wheels.  And whatever storytelling gifts the cultural sector possesses, I see little chance of its displacing the narratives of paid media and "earned" media (i.e., Big Media), even in an age of producer-consumers, citizen-journalists and digital abundance.  

So here's to campaign finance reform, and the media reform that's entailed by it.  And here's to Doug for convening this rich, rich conversation.
July 23, 2010 10:12 AM | | Comments (0) |

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)

July 23, 2010 9:21 AM | | Comments (1) |

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.

July 23, 2010 9:16 AM | | Comments (0) |

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.

July 23, 2010 8:20 AM | | Comments (0) |

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.

July 23, 2010 7:50 AM | | Comments (0) |

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?

July 23, 2010 7:49 AM | | Comments (0) |
Doug has asked us to nominate the "biggest policy threat or potentially transformative initiative currently facing our culture," and has kicked things off with the specter of "endless assignable copyright."

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.)
July 23, 2010 7:35 AM | | Comments (3) |
There have been a lots of illuminating ideas and observations flying around this week on the blog, and I want to thank everyone for taking part (and apologize for my breakout pessimism in yesterday's post). But I'm wondering if I could challenge everyone in this last day to come up with their nomination for the biggest policy threat or potentially transformative initiative currently facing our culture. For my part, I'd nominate endless assignable copyright. Locking down creative work indefinitely takes it off the shelf for other artists to build on. We need better ways to pay artists. But we also need to ensure that our collective creativity is available to extend.
July 23, 2010 4:51 AM | | Comments (1) |
Briefly adding to Yolanda's excellent post:
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.
July 23, 2010 4:38 AM | | Comments (0) |

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.

July 22, 2010 11:42 AM | | Comments (1) |
I disagree very much with Bill Osborne's comments that have been mentioned here that "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. It's strange how silent you policy folks are about that." This is completely wrong.

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.
July 22, 2010 10:42 AM | | Comments (4) |
In the UK people in the streets are battling with police who want to prevent them from taking photos in public. Everyone's got cameras, so banning pictures is futile. The recording industry has tried (futilely) for years to stop file-sharing by suing downloaders. Hasn't worked. Attempts to control access to any kind of digital product are thwarted within hours (sometimes even minutes) of their release. Almost always, what technology makes possible can be overcome by other technology.

The point is, in the long run, rules don't ultimately mean much in the face of crushing contrary reality. But in the meantime rules can wreak ugliness in protection of outmatched systems.

If we had policy rules all worked out that could have imagined an internet world before it happened, I wonder if the internet world would have happened at all? Or if it would have looked anything like it is now. Could anyone 20 year ago have foreseen what the culture of the internet with all its democratization of access ooks like and actually planned for it? 

I guess my point is that in the great democratization of access and production of culture, we may be looking at "policy" and "rules" in ways that are too traditional; in ways that - just like the collapsing structures themselves - are not suited (or workable) for the new landscape. A big problem with many of the attempts so far to "save journalism" is that they're not aimed at saving journalism at all, but at saving the structures that supported journalism. Journalism itself will do fine; I have confidence that the enduring values of journalism will continue to assert and reassert themselves. 

I suspect this is true for the arts too. In the 90s we had the largest expansion of cultural infrastructure in the history of America. Now we're left invested in supporting this infrastructure along with funding structures and distribution structures and rights structures that are outdated because of changed audience expectations brought about by technology.

I wonder if we even have the skill yet to imagine workable policy that understands these changes well enough to keep up, let alone be visionary? I'm not arguing we should abandon advocacy (Hi Chris!) or attempts to organize or educate. But as Ian suggested earlier this week, perhaps we need to reimagine what it means to organize or advocate or represent. 

The other day I got an email asking me to join a campaign to "Save the Arts". Save the arts? Do the arts really need to be saved? I guess I'd be more worried if I saw the quality of music or movies or TV or books or theatre going down. But from where I sit, this isn't the case. 

One could even make an argument that the diversity and overall quality of our collective creative output is higher now than it has been. Is anyone willing to argue that they have less access to the cultural stew today than they did ten, 20, 30 years ago? Hardly. The complaint usually is that there's too much and it's too difficult to sort through it all. 

Now maybe we're a runaway train careening out of control and in a few years there will be a battlefield of cultural wreckage to sort through as our arts organizations and artists collapse. But I don't think so. It's truly humbling to move around the country and see the breadth of amazing artists and creativity at work.

I believe in net neutrality, in Creative Commons and sharing and transparency and giving away things not because they seem like cool concepts, but because they seem like good common sense business strategy. Good business strategy, by the way, that puts more control in the hands of the individual.
July 22, 2010 9:41 AM | | Comments (4) |
At the end of his comment on Tim's entry "Blurry Lines and Cultural Norms," Bill Osborne says, "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. It's strange how silent you policy folks are about that." Interestingly, I agree with Bill - I'm not nuts about Net neutrality (as a topic, not a concept), and find advocacy for funding a much more comfortable place, but I also feel like it's important to note that (1) much of the conversation has actually wandered away from Net neutrality issues and (2) we can't simply say the problem of public funding of the arts is unrelated to Net neutrality. Bill Ivey's request for ideas on how to convey value, Chris' appeal that we shift our attention away from strict advocacy and towards a larger canvas, even the entry on which Osborne was commenting - they're all about making the conversation larger, about conveying public value, which is at the core of the European funding model, and which is sorely lacking in the U.S. Advocacy is, as Chris points out, a long and often frustrating process, but it also happens in many many ways, from audience education to participation to mash-up references leading to familiarity to traditional lobbying, public promotional exercises like the Big Read and Free Night of Theater, etc. Audience enjoyment like Tim's example is crucial, despite the various copyright infringements, because it provides a familiar perch for those cruisegoers, which lets them have a happy memory of that show on that cruise ship, which lets them think about how their kids or grandkids might really like that musical downtown, which lets arts into the lives of new people, which ultimately, if we do it right, yields more public support, more funding, and more relevance in a landscape where, lets just be honest, we're competing against anti-smoking campaigns, poverty, sick kids, fatal diseases, etc etc. Where it gets touchy, I think, is that depending on the formulation, the discussion of artists digital rights is either an argument about the freedom of creativity to proliferate on the web and generate new converts, or it's about the agents of artists (advocates, unions, movie studios, recording companies, etc) or artists themselves attempting to restrict the disbursal of authored art without what they deem proper reimbursement - a totally valid cause much of the time that often unfortunately sits counter to the instant, zeitgeist-oriented culture that is pervading online. There's a fascinating TED Talk floating around out there with a big wig at You Tube talking about how those same big scary corporations are learning that it is often the wrong idea to pull down an infringing video because it generates ill will, stymies a public spontaneous response that is worth more than the money they're losing on copyright, and can ultimately engender long-term good feelings in a population that is notoriously unresponsive to traditional advertising. It's not altruistic, certainly, but it's smart, and it has the strong benefit of taking into account longer term benefits over short term losses.
July 22, 2010 8:58 AM | | Comments (1) |

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? 

July 22, 2010 8:09 AM | | Comments (0) |

Yolanda, I'm not the policy Philistine you seem to think :-)

I was suggesting that we (participants in this blog) stop talking about direct-advocacy strategies that would take years to mature, if ever, given the present-focused scope of the topic Doug set for us. I wasn't dissing advocacy in general, much less suggesting that we (those currently engaged in advocacy) should disengage. If you look back, I even included an indirect plea for those involved in advocacy to work harder to make their activities cumulative, rather than scattergun. That would be a valuable step, and one that I hope some funders would encourage.

Advocacy is important work, and it's important that many types of arts service institutions (perhaps not all) be dedicated to advocating for the arts as part of their missions. It's not easy work, in part because artists are so hard to organize for all the reasons that others have highlighted, in part because arts organizations aren't any easier to organize than are their constituents, and in part because, even when organized, the arts operate at a financial disadvantage as major political players, especially when compared to the competing interests against which they are presently arrayed. As you know even better than I, the difficulties that arts advocates face in securing reliable, large-scale constituent or financial support put a severe crimp in the outcomes they can realistically hope to achieve. But the fact that it's hard work doesn't mean it's worthless.

I'll stand by my point about the marginal dollar, though. Precisely because advocacy is such hard work, it's imperative that arts advocacy be rigorously, even ruthlessly scrutinized for both value and feasibility. Limited resources should be concentrated in places where they can accomplish something. When something else generates greater returns-on-mission than advocacy, we should take the money out of advocacy and put it there. Anything less is irresponsible to those who provide the funds and unfaithful to the missions of the arts and the artists that advocacy is intended to serve.

Advocates should continue to make the most effective cases they can to their sponsors regarding why their work should be supported. But those who hold the purse-strings should be equally diligent in making sure that they're spending each dollar where its impact will be the greatest. Tactically wise spending on advocacy is imperative, but most of the time, I suspect, the best location for the next marginal dollar will be nowhere near advocacy.

That's why I wanted to talk about something else: I want someone (who isn't already a policy wonk) reading this conversation to go away thinking about something she or he can do today to bring about a more arts-friendly world. To that end, I do think it's more valuable for an artist or nonprofit leader to read more here about changing architecture and norms than about changing legislative markup.If we want to have a conversation about how to help advocacy organizations become more effective, I'm game for that, too--but I suspect that conversation has a much more limited audience.

July 22, 2010 5:59 AM | | Comments (0) |
The issue of funding and resources has come up quite a few times already as potential barriers to participation in policy work.  I have three buckets of thoughts - here's the first.  It responds to Chris.

perhaps we should stop talking about creative rights as lawmaking or political activism altogether, and instead talk more in-depth about changing the constraint(s) at which the arts have a comparative advantage?

First, I disagree that the arts don't have an advantage in the policy space.  Chris, you asked in your first post, what can we leverage?  It's been suggested throughout and I agree with others that the arts community has compelling stories to tell

Maybe that sounds silly outside the beltway.  But the rights stories have power in Washington.  They can capture the imagination and gracefully express the intent of good policymaking.  Pick any speech that a policymaker will give when they try and drum up support for an initiative.  Each of those examples comes from stories told to that policymakers staff.  Sometimes they are our stories

I don't know if you've ever heard a big money lobbyist speak, but you'd be shocked at how uninteresting they can be.  Staffers have to meet with thirty of those guys.  Every day.  Day after day.  The arts have an incredible, charismatic advantage here.  That's something others have to pay big money for.  Lets not take that lightly.
July 22, 2010 3:57 AM | | Comments (1) |
I want to keep the thread about blurring the lines between artist and audience going, partly because I am an unreconstructed indie rocker and that once meant you couldn't tell the difference between the two except for the 30 to 90 minutes the artists were onstage (and, frankly, sometimes not even then), but also because I have been posting from a cruise ship somewhere in the Atlantic, and something has been happening each night on this ship that feels like a metaphor for what we're discussing.

There's a theater on board where passengers are variously entertained by dancers, musicians, singers, comedians, and magicians (I will refrain from commenting on the quality of these performers, beyond saying that some of them would make excellent indie rockers). Before each performance, after warning the audience that they should not cross the stage because all the shows use live pyrotechnics, the emcee informs them that no photography or videotaping is allowed, "due to international copyright law."

What's funny about this announcement is that, even as the emcee says it, passengers gleefully snap photographs of him, and the flashbulbs continue to go off throughout each show, with zero consequences at all.

I'm not sure where someone would hang a picture of six dancers wearing costumes inspired by the movie All That Jazz doing choreography we all saw on a recent episode of Glee which itself borrowed liberally from an old Paula Abdul video while a karaoke recording of an old Journey song plays, but that's not the  only thing the whole phenomenon left me wondering.

I wondered exactly which "international copyright law" was being invoked. I wondered which artists in that Escher-like experience were supposedly being protected, and how their rights might be infringed by a snapshot of the proceedings. I wondered what it meant that much of the audience clicked away regardless, and that whoever was in charge felt it was important to say, "Don't," but not important enough to do anything more.

As I said, the whole thing felt very metaphorical: copyright being invoked vaguely, the "artist" undefined beyond being some kind of dividing line between who was performing and who was watching, and everyone pretty much doing what they felt like, regardless.
July 22, 2010 3:56 AM | | Comments (1) |

What a delight for a cultural policy geek like me to read all the brilliant discussion generated by this braintrust.


Among the thoughts I have swirling, many are constructive and complimentary.  But the most visceral (and perhaps the least constructive) is to shout "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" in response to Chris's post, which suggests we stop investing altogether in the goal of expanding involvement of the arts community in policy advocacy. 

All due respect to Chris, (and to Nathan, who I believe would agree with everything I'm about to say), that's a really bad idea.  

Consider the results If the arts and public interest community were to pull out of  the key cultural policy advocacy efforts of today.  No doubt we'd see disastrous effects as the media industries that lobby for deregulation would get their way, and arts appropriations for a politically inactive constituency would certainly be sliced.  We'd see:

Local music and film with no audience at all as monopoly owners block independents from radio and TV

Arts of all kind with no online audience as an Internet controlled by gatekeepers with the authority to censor blocks or or slows down whatever web sites the Internet providers don't like or whatever they find competitive with their own content offerings

Reductions in quality, quantity, and scale of independent artistic product as federal, state, and local funding for arts is cut

Abolition of arts programs in public schools when the policy mandates to keep them in curricula disappear

Disappearance of rural and low-income communities from the arts as public subsidies (and Internet connections) that once brought them to traditional and online arts spaces fade away

And the list goes on....

The simple fact is that there are lobbyists working smart and hard on behalf of telecom/cable industry supremacy and on behalf of budget-slashing and, in general, on the other side of every issue we care about.  So if arts and culture advocates aren't there to counter their arguments and remind policy makers of the constituency that supports creativity and cultural expression, well... we'll loose most of what we've gained so far in the past decades through policy advocacy as well as other efforts in cultural/market/technology change.  

Sure, advocacy is hard work.  Sure, there are challenges.  But crying "it's too hard" doesn't feel like a good reason to just hand our nation's communications infrastructure over to the control of profit-hungry industries.

Chris makes the point -- with which I whole-heartedly agree -- that artists and the arts sector can best employ their talents at working to change social norms and social architecture, and that resources would be well-spent on creative work to change the way lawmakers or the public think about cultural policy.  

Nobody is suggesting that we should force every painter and breakdancer and sitar player and web developer to abandon their craft in order to spend the rest of their years walking the marbled halls of Congress in a three-piece suit (Though Helen's post is great to read.)  What we're suggesting is that artists, arts administrators and culture lovers should be made aware of how policy decisions impact their lives, and they should be encouraged and assisted in lending their voices (or paintbrushes, or sitars) in those debates, either directly with decision makers or in public opinion, in whichever ways are most strategic for their role. 

At their best, these education and advocacy efforts rely on the work of organizers, communicators and policy wonks to track laws & regulations, distill them into layperson's terms, create messages, educate and organize their arts & audience constituencies.  And at their best, those efforts require resources to pay people to do the work.  While Chris may argue that " the arts community is in no real condition today to affect the outcomes of current policy making," 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.  

The type of sweeping policy and cultural change we'd all like to see is possible through strategic, creative work over a long period by many individuals, grassroots and national organizations working in coordination.  We just need a bigger arsenal. These days, we're sending our heroic advocates to battle heavy artillery with slingshots and paperclips.  (The Media Democracy Fund, a foundation collaborative supporting many of these efforts, can unfortunately attest).

I'd love to see what kind of seismic shifts the arts and public interest sectors could do around cultural policy if given the resources --and the encouragement -- to really give it a try.  

For sure, regulations and legislation ain't the only way to bring about change.  But they are far from inconsequential.  We should be talking about these strategies as Both/And propositions, not Either/Or.  

July 21, 2010 6:26 PM | | Comments (1) |
This post is inspired by Kevin Erickson's comment, which suggested

It's important that as we try to make our system more nuanced and more public-purpose-oriented, we make sure that our description of present reality is appropriately nuanced as well.
The bloggers and commenters in this conversation are bringing vastly different experiences to the table - academia, philanthropy, government, journalism, organizing for example.  We're hearing a wide range of opinions and ideas from the nine musicians, filmmakers, composers, and new media artists (by my count) who have chimed in.  And the conversation is rich and inspiring. 

It also reminds me just a little of one of my favorite stories about the blind people and the elephant.

I think we've all seen it before.  When academics mostly only talk to academics, or funders to other funders, beltway insiders to other beltway insiders etc - their many shared experiences can often become unspoken understandings, that over time if unchallenged can start to feel a lot like obvious truths

Echo chambers are powerful because what resonates usually sounds  fairly reasonable.  And that's why beltway insiders can get away with speaking for the grassroots, why academics often speak for artists, and funders speak for the field.

It's refreshing to see this group challenging each other in these potential echo chamber moments.  I have always learned the most about problems, ideas, and potential solutions in conversations when you take smart people OUT of their bubble.  When you put beltway insiders WITH grassroots folks, academics WITH artists, funders WITH the field, you see which arguments stand up, which ideas might be worth pursuing, and possibly discover new and sometimes unexpected paths for potential solutions.

So, yay us.

And one minor clarification.  I greatly admire Bill Ivey and have agreed with nearly everything he has said so far this week.  Except this:

I really think our "service organizations" have let their memberships down by not being at the table in IP and media policy debates.  Jean argued this well and I agree.

While I agree with Bill and Brian that service organizations you describe (APAP, the League, Americans for the Arts) are well positioned to fill the gap that you and I agree exists, I was not actually making an argument that they are letting their constituents down in my note.  There are plenty of well informed players who chose not to comment in that particular docket, which was happening at the same time as a number of high priority proceedings at the FCC. 

This would also be an appropriate time to give props to Americans for the Arts, Performing Arts Alliance (which includes the League, Opera America, Dance USA, Arts Presenters, and Theater Communications Group), American Composers Forum, American Music Center, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, Fractured Atlas, and NAMAC, who are all hardcore nonprofit arts service organizations that have gone on the public record and also reached out to their members on the Net Neutrality issue in the last year.

I'm going to try to further clarify my thoughts (because Bill wasn't the only one to intuit an unintentional jab between my lines):

1. The creative community is being represented.  Many of the groups I mentioned have ties to our community, though we may not think of them that way because they work with both artists and creative groups that traverse both ends of the commercial-noncommercial spectrum.

2. You may disagree with how these organizations (like, perhaps the RIAA) go about their business when they claim to represent you, and that's OK.  But unless you decide to file in that proceeding, or put in your own amicus brief in the court, or show up to the hearing, or tell your representatives how you feel - you're not participating in the process, and you're not going to be counted. 

I hear Corey when he suggests that it's a little unfair that the system is so complicated.  But faced with a choice between fighting to make things easier for artists and delaying action during a critical policy window - what can I say?  Them's the rules.  You can't bend them unless you agree to play the game.  And I'm in.

July 21, 2010 4:37 PM | | Comments (0) |

A panel discussion I was part of a couple years ago at the Conference on World Affairs included a really enlightening (and only slightly tense) mixed-field copyright discussion. I found it especially provocative because it got things out of the music-only ghetto I'm usually sitting in. An MIT researcher sat at one end of the table--I believe they had arranged us along a spectrum based on how liberal our position on the issues at hand--and at the other extreme a writer for shows like HBO's Band of Brothers. Though the conversation was admittedly much more nuanced than I'm about to distill it down to, in brief, Mr. MIT wanted his work freely shared because he didn't feel the material could move forward and gain value without peer input and he personally didn't need it locked down in order to generate enough $$ to eat, put shoes on children, etc. That's how his field was designed, in fact. How "ready for the 21st century" of them. The TV copy writer felt exactly the opposite: when his work was shared, it was devalued, his children left barefoot. His field lived or died by such protections, he explained. After the panel was over, the TV writer and I had a side bar during which he patiently explained to me why I would feel differently about copyright when I was older.

As the Times quoted Christgau this morning: "If I've learned anything from cyberpunk fiction, and I've learned plenty, it's that worlds do not end, they change." I think there are also a few good songs about that. Recent cultural trends have shown a rise in people's interest in the quality and environmental impact of the food they consume and the products they buy. And if there's an upside to the downturn, it's perhaps that people are re-evaluating how they spend their time vs how much time they spend on earning that paycheck, leaving more room to pursue their true passions. I know we're all nervous about livelihoods and allowing talented individuals the space to train and create, but I wonder if the pro-am shifts that technology is facilitating in many areas may be shifting general public perceptions about the arts faster than those of us entrenched deeply in the pro fields even realize. If we're looking at the spectrum of who is a professional, who is an amateur, and who is pulling in the same direction on a lot of the creative rights issues before us, I suspect that for most the biggest sorting factor will come down to simply how the rent is currently getting paid. Will that end up being a problem? What current problems might that help solve?

July 21, 2010 2:52 PM | | Comments (0) |

It is astonishing to watch all the idea sparklers twirl around the AJ blog.  As a filmmaker and arts organization leader, I am amazed at how much I continue to learn from my own simple, but fascinating real life experience around policy issues and advocacy in the public interest domain. 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.   


And they were interested too!  They want to hear from us about how artist/innovators are working in communities, using new technologies and experimenting with new modes of communication.  In one instance, I talked to Congresswoman Doris Matsui's aide about a beautiful and deeply resonant multimedia-internet project created in her district called Saving the Sierra and how the project connected to net neutrality and the National Broadband Plan.  The aide lit up and took copious notes.  They hear so much from industry lobbyists smoothly performing their talking points, that when they meet an actual creator who can articulate a connection to their districts or state, it is so powerful and memorable.  Time and again, we hear that we need to visit legislators and explain how the work we do fits into policy and "workforce development" objectives - so, why not make it into an intentional inquiry and project? This kind of approach could shift the dialogue space and open it up to the first steps towards a "win."


And we can work locally.  John Killacky writes movingly in NAMAC's latest publication, Leading Creatively , how important it was for him to become involved on behalf of the arts, in Minneapolis city politics during the 90s culture wars era when his programming was being directly attacked. Sometimes it is hard to remember that we can build powerful relationships with local congressional offices, and just to stay connected with them around a few key issues that matter to us.


My own creative and organizational work is being transformed by participating in media and cultural policy activities on the ground -- walking the corridors of Capitol Hill, talking to people who work in totally different arenas than me, but who want to know more about my work in media and the arts and how it relates to the larger issues they are struggling with -- health care, the economy, jobs/national service, energy/the environment, the future of media, etc.  In this populist moment I find it is really important to turn our values into grounded and strategic actions.


From my experience now I see it is critical to: Collect stories.  Get a cluster of arts people together, meet to figure out the agenda for a local district meeting with your congressional representative's staff, do the meeting, blog to your social network about it, and plan a follow-up visit.  Collect more stories and report to potential funders about what you are doing.  Put together a local group that can request travel and training grants from funders to visit representatives on Capital Hill.  Stay connected to local, regional and national arts organizations and lobby them to find more funding to bring artists and new arts leaders to Washington to visit Congress. Make a case for why artists and arts leaders need to be trained to become effective spokespeople and become involved in policy education and advocacy. These may be first steps, simple steps, but they are ones so many artists have yet to experience, and it is one of many ways to start Hacking the Policy Space.

July 21, 2010 1:09 PM | | Comments (0) |
Shifting the ground to questions of "norms" and "cultural rights" as several posters have done is incredibly useful as it helps us think about who are our potential partners for engagement strategies that expand creative expression/rights. The critic/historian/artist, Norma Klein, spoke at UW-Milwaukee a few years back about the need for all of us to see ourselves as "cultural workers." In essence, Klein was noting both that everyone has a stake in and responsibility to the arts and that blurring the artist and audience divide (which numerous posts here have discussed) was a necessary first step toward expanded cultural/creative freedoms.  Within academia over last few years, I have been fortunate to work in environments at both UW-Milwaukee and USC's Institute of Multimedia Literacy that worked to develop a new generation of cultural workers by initiating curriculum that focused on theory/practice intersections. Some courses were more successful than others on transforming our old models of artist/audience, but what was most effective in both cases was a linking of creative expression, critical insights, and community partnerships (extending the class outside the university). In other words the deep connections between our daily life, our communities, expression, and citizenship was enacted in classes. The point was not so much about a specific policy - although that often was explicitly addressed - but about initiating conversations, making connections, and building community across diverse groups. The tools of digital world and social media specifically facilitated this conversation, but the challenge is to build this across more areas of the university as well build this out from the localized setting.
July 21, 2010 12:40 PM | | Comments (0) |

Lynne, Chris, and Nathanial mention "norms" and "cultural rights," which encourages me to shift the conversation away from the standing or condition of artists toward consideration of broad norms and how they might support a cultural rights argument as a way of advancing a vibrant expressive life as a public good.  In my book, Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights, I advance six citizen rights that can ground the cultural system in public purposes.  The two most-important cultural rights, to me, are the Right to Heritage and the Right to a Creative Life.  The first is about access and ownership (Who "owns" Louis Armstrong's classic "West End Blues," Sony Music or the American people?); the second about arts learning and access to the tools of personal creative practice.

Of course, as Chris would agree, there is currently no norm to support this set of rights.  Cultural engagement is seen as an amenity, something to take up when all material needs have been addressed (we never get to that point!).  Perhaps we can learn some things from the environmental movement that facilitated the creation of a norm back in the early 1960s?  Obviously, "clean air" or "save the earth" are at first blush more compelling than "culture and a high quality of life," but I believe we can begin to talk about access to heritage and access to personal creative practice as essential elements of quality of life in a post-consumerist democracy.  The environmental movement began a process that ended with legislation, an environmental council, and ultimately a government reorganization that gave us the EPA.  With cards played patiently, we might just get to that department of cultural affairs.

However we proceed, toward a norm or as advocates for cultural rights, I think it's important to remember that our arguments must advance on behalf of citizens, not only artists.  After all, good health policy is not just about the needs of doctors, nor is transportation policy only about structural engineers and roadbuilders.  Ultimately the best system of media ownership, Internet openness and access, copyright, and public media is a good one because it serves all citizens, not just practitioners.

And, while I concur with Nathanial that "getting the policy right" won't automatically produce positive change, we already have plenty of accumulated evidence that getting the policy wrong can do real damage.

What do you think?  How can we advance cultural vibrancy as a public good?  (And I don't mean economic impact...)


July 21, 2010 8:55 AM | | Comments (2) |
The posts here are really getting pretty amazing. I'm gonna print out Nathaniel and Tim's entries and put 'em on my wall for motivation. Right next to the poster of the kitten dangling from a tree with the caption, "Hang in there: it's almost Friday!"

I'm not trying to be the philosophical chowderhead in this series, but I wanted to go wide (again) for just a sec.

Everyone's been talking about policy and legal frameworks, which is great, but I still think that resources are a major concern. In an economy like this, everyone's cutting back and pinching pennies. But this doesn't have to be the end of the world.

One thing that the for-profit universe has down pat is cutting expenses and shifting resources around. Of course they do this mostly by getting rid of personnel, mergers and consolidation -- none of which we're particularly fond of. The flexibility is impressive, if even if the results aren't. Maybe we could try less destructive ways to conserve. This could help us shore up important resources on the road to solving all of our issues (if that's even possible).

Simplicity vs. Austerity

There's a lot of chatter lately about "austerity measures" -- many of us are experiencing the phenomenon to some degree. But the arts community (and nonprofits in general) needn't resemble a Soviet breadline. Perhaps we can pursue simplicity instead of austerity and achieve a more workable result.

In my mind, this requires a clear assessment of what we're currently doing. Is it effective? How much of it is simply automatic functioning -- in other words, we've been doing it for so long, we might not remember why we started. Have conditions changed? Is a particular battle winnable, or is that even the goal? If  the answer is "no," it might be a good time to reevaluate how much time and treasure we're devoting to it. By identifying ways to simplify our process, we conserve energy and open up more space for critical thinking.

I'm not suggesting that anyone radically alter their mission statements or give up on their core issues. I'm merely offering that there might be a way for us to redeploy some of these resources towards efforts that can actually produce some of the change we're itemizing here.

Just a thought.

July 21, 2010 8:16 AM | | Comments (4) |

Perhaps it's because I come out of theatre, where many (artists and administrators) have been struggling to figure out how to harness new media for audience development within very strict strictures imposed by the unions that limit sharply the amount of actual artistic content that can go online without fees, but I worry a little at all of this conversation about artists' creative rights without any discussion of how protecting those rights, at least thus far (and really, particularly in theatre) has hobbled theatre companies' (and theatre as a field's) abilities to present themselves and their staged work in a virtual space as dynamically and freely as other fine arts media.

It's a hard point, particularly since I work for a service organization that serves both companies and individuals--how do we protect (in the case of theatre) the rights of many artists, from actors to playwrights to directors to scenic and lighting designers, who are worried about the unfair proliferation of their work online without correct compensation, while also moving forward with the argument that not effectively representing work online is damaging our ability to develop audiences on a larger, more long-term, more company- or possibly even whole-community-level?

I'm not necessarily talking about producers' rights -- although it can seem that way. I think instead I'm trying to sort out a view of the artistic process, and the development of audiences to partake in that process (not to mention the development of artists), that is sometimes larger than the particular, short-term financial outlay to the creator(s). In a grand way, perhaps I'm asking that in this conversation about artists' rights we also talk about audiences' rights--or future audiences' rights. Ultimately, it's all one big circle.

How can advocacy for individual artists' creative rights (here specifically in relation to direct marketing and development of audiences, as opposed to say, the Gilbert and Sullivan example Lynne mentioned, which is really just stealing) more harmoniously interact with the new type of outreach that is inherent in the slew of new audience development tools, from Project Audience to Audience Engagement Platform to Kickstarter, that essentially will rely on some level of proliferation of place-based arts in the virtual sphere?

July 21, 2010 7:45 AM | | Comments (0) |
Because it's long, and most of the good news is hidden after the jump, I just want to encourage everybody to read Nathaniel James' post, which details three other arenas (besides policy) where creators can and are expanding their rights.

Go read the whole thing. I'll wait...

OK, done? Nathaniel referenced Lawrence Lessig's model of four arenas or "modes" within which a system can be affected:

    * Architecture: the "code" or design of the system.
    * Markets: the interplay of choice and competition within a system.
    * Norms: how people act upon and within the system.
    * Law: what the government wants the system to do.

While the fourth one, Law, is mostly what we're discussing this week, we should indeed spend some time addressing how Law is reacting to or otherwise affecting those other three.

Nathaniel listed some positive examples of work being done in each of the other three modes. I'm interested to hear more, and will toss in one of my own under Markets.

In the music realm, an entire industry seems to be evolving before our eyes around direct-to-fan marketing, and I think that's profoundly positive news for artists. Topspin is one of many innovative companies in this space (disclosure: I'm a Topspin client; I mention them because I use and love them): they provide a platform and a suite of tools that enable musicians to distribute their art directly to their audience, and manage the relationship with each and every one of those fans forever afterward.

The important thing about direct-to-fan is that it's supplemental: it's not a replacement for more traditional means of reaching an audience or the businesses that already do so (labels, radio stations, online music stores ad subscription services, etc.). It's a market response to a phenomenon that has always existed but can only now be fully exploited: your music is worth different amounts to different people. All kinds of musicians have been experimenting with what that means, from Jill Sobule inviting super fans to join her in the studio to Josh Freese auctioning off playdates involving hallucinogens, to countless bands raising the money to record their next work from fans willing to pay for it before it exists.

All of them give artists greater ability than ever before to fund their own work, and therefore retain control of their copyrights.

I very much look forward to the day when "creator" and "copyright owner" actually are the synonyms too many mistake them for today. 
July 21, 2010 7:40 AM | | Comments (2) |

A big +1 to Nathaniel's points, and especially to the insight that change happens in architecture, markets, and social norms, as well as policy. Tim's subsequent post suggests we branch out to those other domains as well, but I want to go even further, and suggest we quit talking about lawmaking altogether, for now.

If I read the other posters accurately, the reluctant consensus here is that the arts community is in no real condition today to affect the outcomes of current policy making, and won't be for years to come, at best. According to the various postings, the understandings are lacking, the institutions are lacking, and the motivation is lacking: none of these is a quick-fix problem, and any one of them alone is lethal to effective activism.

So perhaps we should stop talking about creative rights as lawmaking or political activism altogether, and instead talk more in-depth about changing the constraint(s) at which the arts have a comparative advantage?

Of the four constraints, artists individually and the arts collectively are at their strongest and most passionate when striving to change social norms, and at their second-strongest when changing the social architecture. Moreover, as our panelists all seem to agree, the arts are not over-funded even in their areas of comparative strength. So, if an artist, arts organization, or philanthropy has a marginal dollar to spend on securing the future of the arts and is interested in maximizing its social return on that investment, policy activism may well be the worst of the four constraints on which to spend it. The same dollar is likely to go a lot further if it is spent on creative work to change one or more social norms that shape the way lawmakers think about cultural policy, or to fund an arts-tech project that incrementally changes the social architecture in a direction favorable to the support of creative expression.

What, then, should these holders of marginal dollars fund? For instance, even if you had the money and other resources needed, would you really want to spend them to try to reverse the political-economic trends in arts education nationwide? Your "solution" would just start unraveling again the moment you stopped spending, because the underlying constraints (architecture, markets, norms, policies) would not have changed much. Or would you rather use the same resources to try to change the social architecture and norms vis a vis participation in art-making, so that every child is immersed in a culture of creativity that radiates into, not out from, the school? If you prefer the latter approach, what aspects of the architecture and what norms would you (as an artist, not a policy maker) want to tackle first, or hardest?

In other words, is the most powerful strategy available to the arts world to make the artist a better salesperson for certain policies--or is it, just perhaps, to make the next generation of policy salespeople better artists? If the latter, what do artists today need to be doing now, and what resources do they need to do it?

July 21, 2010 5:41 AM | | Comments (1) |
Building on Alex's, Bill's and Nathaniel's points, I'm interested in exploring the root system of the concept of "cultural rights."  How do we, for example, map the relationship between the emergence of the "single author" (the named composer, playwright, choreographer, painter) in the western tradition and the (perceived) dilemma over artists' agency in the re-mix digital era?  The idea that a single artist could "own" his or her aesthetic output is slippery historically: Sophocles was a named playwright but his Oedipus Rex was essentially community property; two thousand years later Shakespeare was identified and to some extent celebrated as the sole author of Hamlet but shared the production rights with the other shareholders of the Lord Chamberlain's Men and with every drama poacher in London (the Pit was reportedly filled with people scribbling down the good bits).  In 1879 and without the benefit of an operational international copyright law, Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert were forced to premiere The Pirates of Penzance in New York rather than London in order to protect their royalties from the real pirates of the day--the scores of American production companies producing G & S operettas without buying the rights.  A lesser known but very instructive example of the trajectory of cultural tension over aesthetic rights is the case of the early modern dancer Loie Fuller, creator of the Serpentine Dance and its attendant craze during the early 1890s.  Fuller was a brilliant inventor-artist who had had the foresight to copyright the dance.  But despite her efforts, a judge in the New York Circuit Court threw out her suit to stop imitators, noting that dance movement cannot be the subject of copyright because it "can hardly be called dramatic."  In other words, it took a long time for the wider culture to settle into a collective understanding about the nature of authorial control.

So what happens to this concept mapping in what I'm calling, somewhat cheekily, the post-copyright digital era?  If the democratization of 21st century culture is underway largely because of an open-source ethos and the dismantling of the professional/amateur binary (which itself didn't actually get going with any real traction until well into the Renaissance), what exactly does it mean to "author" a work of art for the next generation of artists?  The historian in me needs to understand how this changing etymology affects (and perhaps negates?) existing strategies of action so that we don't get stuck in Nathaniel's "policy determinism."

July 21, 2010 4:30 AM | | Comments (2) |
At the risk of being accused of changing the subject, or worse, heresy, I want to offer the following:

Fighting on the policy front is not the only way for artists (or "creators" going forward) to maintain and expand their creative rights in our communications system. 

I'm going to argue that there are many points of intervention when it comes to the evolution of technology in society, that artists are already taking the lead on these other fronts (in addition to policy), and that recognizing and leveraging creators' strengths outside of policy-focused strategies will make the policy battles go much better for us.

Why am I doing this?  I have spent a few years fighting the good policy battle in the media and communications sectors.  As one of the wonkier NAMAC board members, I still do.  I can't argue with a lot of what's already been said...

Policy is hard. Check.
Big money tends to win in Washington. Check.
The groups working on cultural and communication policies for the public benefit need more resources. Check.
Representing and empowering "artists" in policy debates is a non-trivial proposition. Check.

However, I see at least two problematic trends in the conversation so far.  First, I don't want us to get stuck on what I would call policy determinism.  The idea that "getting the policy right" will make the world a better place for creators doesn't always work.  As the political is the art of compromise, no one wins 100% of what they want out of a policy debate.  Reforms come with new loopholes baked in (see campaign finance).  The result of government action are never predictable (see, ARPANET).  Regulators are captured by the industries they were meant to oversee (see, well, any regulator).

The bottom line is that policy changes are not the sole (or often the most important) mechanisms shaping the structure and impact of any technology or industry.

Second, I'm afraid we could run in endless circles trying to find the magic bullet that would strengthen the creator's voice in the policy debate.  I hope we have some great ideas, but we're up against several limiting factors. 

Leaders in every policy change effort are trying to get everyone, including creators, involved in their thing.  As I sat down to write this piece, I got an email asking me to help involve artists in the climate change fight.  There's only so much activism time in the day.
July 20, 2010 9:44 PM | | Comments (1) |
I completely agree with Alex that artists in the fine arts -- many of whom work in a nonprofit environment -- can strengthen their careers by understanding the system of payments, rights, licenses, and contracts that frames any career.  However, I take exception to the assumption that underlines the assertion that "...with some exceptions, the new music world does not generate a comparable scale of income..."  Truth be told, with some exceptions, the popular music world does not generate a significant scale of income.  Remember, there are no grants, faculty appointments, or commissions for indie rock bands, and Placido Domingo never has to bring his own players or stage sets!  Just show up and sing.  There is no Big Rock Candy Mountain out there for any artist, and no category is a safer haven than any other.  We need a firm, warm handshake across the boundary separating our arts categories if we're going to grow a powerful advocacy community.  We are all really in the same boat, although some vessals are decorated differently...
July 20, 2010 4:19 PM | | Comments (6) |

Am I detecting a theme here? I hope so, because there are a lot of ideas flying around, and it might be worthwhile to try and shoehorn a few of them.

Here's the "known unknowables," or "knowable unknowns," or just plain vexing conundrums.

We know the issues are complex, prone to tech-driven change, and consensus-resistant -- for all the reasons that my fellow bloggers have so eloquently articulated.

We also know that some of the institutions that arose to help shepherd the creative disciplines towards a more art-friendly future are having a hard time adapting to the sudden influx of complexity.

We're starting to understand that any number of government agencies that were previously in separate silos are all tangled up for many of the same reasons (technology chief among them).

Finally, we know that our education system isn't doing much as much as it could to prepare the next generation of artists, arts managers, arts presenters, arts advocates and rodeo clowns (just seeing if you were paying attention) to navigate this shifting terrain.

Maybe we can break potential solutions into chunks, too. If for no other reason, than because everything looks better bulletpointed.

The following rubrics are pretty basic, and aren't meant to ignore or downplay the tensions and difficulties within each. But they may provide some points of focus. Or not.

  • Education: We all know that early arts education in schools is among the first things to be cut when the economy goes pear shaped. That's going to be a tough one to fix. Maybe we should enter from the other end of Education Alley? I talk to university professors in the music and business worlds on a semi-regular basis, and they often tell me their frustrations about how there aren't any programs that make connections between the new tools for arts creation, distribution and promotion and the structures that determine how, where -- or even if -- we get to use these tools. To a large degree, policy determines access, availability and economic possibility. Our academic institutions should make this explicit, or else we're doing our young minds a disservice.

    To put it plainly, the upcoming generation of artists and arts leaders need to know more than just how to use technology to produce and market art. They also know how to create more efficient systems, manage information and disseminate it to partners, peers and policymakers. This would help strengthen the field in general, and go a long way towards removing the artificial barriers between disciplines and agendas. (Some of these ideas are expanded on in a white paper Future of Music Coalition put together with Fractured Atlas and NAMAC.)

  • Communication: I thought what Yolanda said about a lack of resources was very apt. So how do might we conjure up additional capital and capacity? Well, first of all, we have to come up with more compelling ways to make our case to not only to our traditional supporters but also to potential new champions who don't yet know why they should be on our team, but might if we spoke more of their language. We also should consider how we're listening: to our supporters, representatives and, most importantly, each other. Are we missing something important? Can we clear some mental space to better hear what others are really saying? Might prove informative, perhaps even galvanizing.

    If we got better at this, we'd be further along in preparing ourselves for the real fights ahead of us; the ones that require dedicated cross-field advocacy. Even if we're not always able to come to a consensus on every single priority, surely there are a few issues with which we share clear common ground. Knowing how to communicate is the key to preparation for any situation, from individual fundraising to all-in advocacy.

  • Representation: Who speaks for us? Are we able to effectively speak for ourselves? What do we need to be informed self-advocates on the issues that affect us? As I mentioned at the start of this rambling post, this stuff gets really complicated really quickly. Are there folks in our networks who can assist us in getting up to speed on what we need to? This takes trust, and trust takes communication. It's not about speaking with one voice, or submitting to a command-and-control construct (although I am pretty fond of Bill Ivey's idea of a Department of Cultural Affairs, which is hardly the same thing.) What we need to do is look for more opportunities to make our voices heard en masse, via the most appropriate ambassadors in our ginormous tent, or in strategic -- and even ad hoc -- coalitions that can apply the right pressure at the right time in the right place.

When things seem impossibly complicated, broad concepts can help organize specific goals and ideas. Maybe not these broad concepts, per se. But, you know, something to help focus our efforts, hone our communication and amplify our shared ideals. Because we do share some, right?

July 20, 2010 2:18 PM | | Comments (0) |
Brian asks, "Can we have greater success by embracing the creatives formerly known as amateurs?"

I believe so, because by embracing them, we automatically foster what I referred to in my initial post on this blog as "affinity." The more people who have their own hand in some form of art-making, the more people who will appreciate the making of art on all levels. And, quite possibly, be willing to spend money on art. This is also why arts education for kids is vital for creating future audiences (as well as future artists). Building affinity. But we all know that tune.    

I've always giggled at professionals who view "amateurs" who blindly plunk around in Garage Band or Photoshop as a threat to their livelihood. The essence of being an artist is that presumably, you're unique in what you have to communicate. People respond not to the number of academic degrees you possess, but to your personal take on the world as it relates to your heart and every other part of you. When non-professionals have access to tools that allow them greater self expression, this is a wonderful thing for them, and also for those of us who earn our living from the results of our own plunking.

Remember, boys and girls: "amateur" comes from the word "amare," "to love": amo, amas, amat, for those of us geeks who enjoyed years of Latin classes. Amat-eurs love what they are doing. And presumably, what we are doing, when we're doing what they love. 
July 20, 2010 2:17 PM | | Comments (2) |
William Osborne wrote in a comment, "The simple fact is [artists] don't share those concerns [of licensing of music on the web, copyright laws, and media consolidation] because our world is so different."

Consider flipping that: perhaps the classical artists' world wouldn't be as vastly different, and they would be better remunerated by the marketplace, if the artists themselves were to take an interest in and educate themselves on matters of licensing of music on the web, copyright laws, and media consolidation. I don't argue that, with some exceptions, the new music world does not generate a comparable scale of income to that of the popular music world  (I'm just guessin' that's why they don't call this popular music). But I absolutely believe that many artists could do better than they do professionally, were they to embrace a broader vision of entrepreneurship and business savvy that goes beyond grants and charitable support.

It's a little bit chicken-and-egg (or, Catch-22, take your analogous pick). If artists proceed with a negative attitude about their ability to generate income from their art, then it's more likely that such an attitude will become their reality, and only further perpetuate the frustrations they already experience. It's hard to make money when one is constantly transmitting a message that one can't make money.

We all appear to agree that educating artists is essential, and I look forward to more discussions here about how we can go about implementing that more effectively. I've observed that once artists understand the worth of their assets and how those can be used to benefit them in the marketplace, things tend to improve in their careers. The better we can read and understand the open sea of the non-arts world, the more capable we will be of successfully navigating through it! It's an enjoyable journey.
July 20, 2010 2:06 PM | | Comments (0) |

I agree with Lynne that given the way artists are trained, and the number who become teachers, the lack of engagement with relevant policy is self-perpetuating.  Lynne also introduces the thought (which is also addressed by Doug's response to Bill Osborne) that the nonprofit arts world is somewhat outside the nasty realm of intellectual property and so on.  True, there are nuanced differences between the for-profit and nonproft legal, contractual, and regulatory regimes, but there are more similarities than differences.  Nonprofit dance is not exempt; I'm sure, for example, many were startled when the Graham Company couldn't use its founders choreography because of an intellectual property dispute.  And as for nonprofit theater...Just why does the Broadway community partner with nonprofits?  Could it be that, in part, the nonprofit setting is cheaper because it is less-heavily unionized and thus the motivation to partner is purely commercial?

And as for Bill Osborne's assertion that any art making in the US is automatically advocacy because such art flies in the face of commercialism; what art is he talking about?  Surely it's not painting, which functions in the highly-commercial environment defined by galleries and patronage -- placing a painting or sculpture in a gallery is scarcely an act of political insolence.  And visual art is totally dependent on copyright protection to secure a painter's right to control first sale, and to exploit her artistry through licensing reproductions and other derivative uses.

The truth is all artists and arts organizations are in this together; Arena Stage and Pixar swim in the same pool of licensing agreements, contracts, unions regulations, and copyright.  When it comes to law and regulation, and to the courtroom consequences of ignorance, there is no significant difference between artistry hatched and distributed in the commercial and nonprofit worlds.

Finally, on reflection, I really think our "service organizations" have let their memberships down by not being at the table in IP and media policy debates.  Jean argued this well and I agree..  

July 20, 2010 1:23 PM | | Comments (1) |
Doug's last post really hit something important to me - art making is becoming a much broader activity. As he notes, more people than perhaps in any time now consider themselves artists - making films, music, mash-ups, machinima, games, photography, etc not to mention sharing their more "traditional" arts online. The rise of the crowd is here, and the distinctions between professional and amateur are blurring and have often been destroyed. The artist/amateur divide is increasingly irrelevant online and we'll be much more successful if we point out that all creative activity - from LOLCats to Rush and even "fine arts" - are impacted by the policy debates raging now. While I understand the notion that by broadening the base, we might be diluting the message, but on the other hand, more people would identify with the movement if we spoke to the importance of their creative lives as much as those of "Artists" with the capital A. Can we have greater success by embracing the creatives formerly known as amateurs?
July 20, 2010 1:18 PM | | Comments (1) |

Vicki, Bill, Brian and others are absolutely right in noting how dysfunctional the long-standing distaste within the academy for any sort of policy discussion/know-how has become (Though honestly, this shouldn't surprise anyone--keep in mind that colleges and universities are places where teachers refuse to discuss teaching or even to learn how to do it effectively.)

In my view it's a self-fulfilling problem: a majority of practicing artists were trained in university or college-based conservatories and come out of their programs primed to re-produce the self-referential elitism (read real-world insecurities) of their professors. But here's a rub to consider as this conversation moves forward: In the music, visual arts and film realms the commercial application (and thus the immediate ties to issues of copyright, creative control and regulatory legislation) are considerably more relevant than in the predominantly not-for-profit environment of theater and dance, where they are muted largely because there is so little commercial production and thus so little, economically speaking, at stake. It's hard to get artists interested in business issues when they see no business going on.

July 20, 2010 12:52 PM | | Comments (0) |
In a post earlier today, Clay Lord calls attention to the admin-heavy nature of the arts field, both in economic terms and (as others have noted) in policy conversations with government officials and others in direct position to shape the landscape for the arts in this country. As he points out, one reason for this is that "the relative entropy of a thousand individual artistic voices" is not always the most helpful context in which to communicate with regulators and suits. The way in which our field has historically addressed that entropy is through national service organizations (by which I mean both the usual suspects such as the ones Bill mentions but also the unions, trade groups, etc.). Yet I'm not convinced that this structure constitutes the best means of expressing artists' concerns to the people that need to hear them. For one thing, even this strategy of centralizing the voices of various subsectors of the arts field is still highly decentralized. On an issue like copyright, for example, you have hawks such as the RIAA and ASCAP purporting to represent artists' interests at the same time that an organization like Future of Music Coalition, representing the same constituency, might be more open to alternative models. For another, I question how effective the feedback loops are between the people who determine policy positions for national service organizations and the artist communities who fall under their organizations' umbrellas. Most artists, as has been pointed out, don't necessarily have the time or inclination to research policy issues in depth for themselves, so the primary information they have about a particular issue is often what the national service organization chooses to tell them. Moreover, even that's only true for the artists who are members of that service organization--yet we know that there are thousands upon thousands of unaffiliated artists who either choose not to join service organizations or don't even know about them. Who is in a position to speak for them?

At Fractured Atlas, as a national service organization ourselves, we're starting to think about arts advocacy in a new way. Since our focus is on using technology to build infrastructure for the arts field, naturally we see the future in that frame. What if there were a way for artists to engage with policy issues directly rather than through the intermediary of a service organization with which they might or might not have any meaningful relationship? What if there were a way for them to obtain crucial, unbiased information about their own communities, their own representatives, and how the arts fit in? What if there were a way for them to organize themselves around that information, determine their own agendas and priorities, and create email/social media/grassroots campaigns centered around specific actions? What if there were a way for them to hold elected representatives accountable for their decisions by easily and conveniently tracking legislative outcomes, whether at the national, state, or local level? What if there were a way for them to actually play a role in drafting legislation itself, in collaboration with their peers?

We've been laying what could prove to be the groundwork for a system like this as part of a project I'm currently working on in the San Francisco Bay Area called the Bay Area Cultural Asset Map (BACAM). BACAM is a one-year pilot effort to create a suite of tightly integrated, map-based web applications that collectively aggregate, analyze and publicize data on the Bay Area cultural sector. Commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Performing Arts Program, the short-term vision for BACAM is a tool that will enable the foundation's staff to make better funding decisions and track progress against their outcomes.  One of BACAM's innovations is that it employs a modular design that allows the same information to be reused and repurposed for several different applications. So, for example, the high-quality database of cultural activity that the foundation uses to understand the impact of its own grantmaking will sync up with the database of performing arts spaces that we're building in collaboration with two local service organizations. This hub of centralized public knowledge can then be put to use in all sorts of contexts, even potentially by third-party developers (rather like a Facebook or Twitter app).

One of the tools we're developing for BACAM as part of this pilot is something we're calling the Advocacy Module. In this first year, the Advocacy Module is going to focus primarily on aggregating and displaying data, both in map form and in reports that can be shared with others on the web or in print. If all goes well, our intention is to build it or a variation of it into a platform looking much more like what I described above: an interactive, flexible, social-network-driven tool to empower individual artists and arts advocates to learn about the issues that matter, mobilize others, and take action.
July 20, 2010 9:40 AM | | Comments (0) |

I want to take on Bill Osborne's comment that the premise of this blog is that artists are not involved in activism. They most certainly are, and I don't think that anyone here has said that they aren't, even though there's been much discussion about the extent of artists' roles in policy debates.

I'd also like to challenge his assertion that:

especially in the USA, the very act of trying to be a creative artist at all is close to being a form of activism, if not subversion, because it often challenges our nation's narrowly defined orthodoxy concerning the primacy of the marketplace.

This seems a bit over-dramatic to me (okay, a lot). We live in a time when more people than ever before are calling themselves artists. And indeed, with the availability of cheap digital tools, there's been a democratizing bubbling forth of creativity we may never have seen before. Kids are making movies, writing and recording music, mashing up the things they see (and hear) around them. In the physical world, record sales of musical instruments further attest to this. So to say that being an artist today is subversive is just not true. 

It is the fact of this burgeoning expression that forces us to reevaluate the rules that have underpinned our systems of creative production. In June, Facebook users shared 25 billion pieces of content with one another. More and more people have an expectation that part of engaging the creative experience is being able to pass along pieces of experiences that were meaningful to them. Just this fact forces the need to reexamine the rules for passing along. 

Bill's second assertion that:

The blog's second, and more specific premise, is that artists are not actively involved in the debates surrounding net neutrality, even though these policy decisions will strongly affect them. This second part of the statement is untrue.

This is also wrong. First, there's a big wide world beyond classical music for which issues about net neutrality have a big direct impact. If I'm a filmmaker and the free access to my audience is impacted that matters to me. There are a whole string of other content issues issues that play out beyond simple access and net neutrality that are of no small importance to artists. 

Second: For classical musicians, net neutrality is not just about selling CDs(!) It's about operating equally in the cultural marketplace and the ability to build audiences and communicate work. Those traditional digital audiences might be small right now, but they're important. And behind the scenes and for educational purposes, having an open internet ought to matter deeply to you. Limiting bandwidth and allowing privilege to some content over others ought to matter to all artists.

July 20, 2010 8:31 AM | | Comments (0) |
Marty's post and William Osborne's comment on Bill's post together highlight a discord between artists and advocacy groups.  There's a perception on many artists' parts that they are, in fact, doing advocacy, that much of the work created today comes from some level of advocating impulse, and that building that energy is enough.  Often, however, that advocacy is very specifically directed based on the personal motivations of the artist, and more coordinated effort is difficult both because of the extremely specific motivations and because of more mundane issues like time, money, and energy. On the other side, as Marty notes, is the impulse to try and coalesce that energy effectively through organizations, whether it's to affect political change or build audiences.  The danger here, of course, is that when you spend too much time trying to aggregate, you end up with a watered down version of many viewpoints, and potentially a less effective message motivating a less impressed artistic and political core.  I've had long arguments with friends about the admin-heaviness of arts institutions, the predominance of administrators in a world where artists don't make living wages, and while there are surely pros and cons to the current structure, I think one thing it does continue to provide is a level of institutionalized collaboration (or at least conversation) that might otherwise be swallowed up by the relative entropy of a thousand individual artistic voices. 
July 20, 2010 7:35 AM | | Comments (4) |
The training issue is a big one, and one which gets right to the heart of what Tim stated earlier - that "the idea of creative geniuses tending only to their art while others figure out how to find it an audience, and then turn that audience into money, isn't just a myth, it's a pernicious lie. Moreover, it's a lie that folks on the business side have a vested interest in perpetuating."

This lie is perpetuated by the very schools that should be teaching their students not just the art, but also the business side of the equation. I've spoken to film school deans, however, who feel that they barely have time to teach their students what they need to become artists in the three years they have them. Yet it is the very rare artist who can make a living just by being a creative, but not also entrepreneurial, genius. Some attention to the larger issues of control would be a nice primer - because the policy debates now are often about re-assertion of control over the means of artistic creation, dissemination and enjoyment.

I don't think that the education situation will change anytime soon, but I do wonder if the larger service organizations could play a bigger role? Bill Ivey asked this as well, below, and I just spent a little time visiting the websites of many of these organizations. My very unscientific survey showed only about one quarter (1/4) had any mention of any policy issues or advocacy for such issues on their websites. I know they all have a lot on their hands, and very few resources to devote to any non-revenue-generating activity, but who else is going to help take the lead?

In the world of film, we used to have a very strong network of media arts centers around the nation. As foundations shifted priorities (and the NEA's support changed dramatically), however, many of these organizations have shut down or refocused energies to where the money is - social issue action, youth training or corporate support for large activities, like film festivals. When attending a Grantmakers in the Arts conference a couple of years ago, I was amazed that there was a group of funders upset that they couldn't get filmmakers active in the policy debate - but they had helped disband the very network that could have served to rally filmmakers around these issues.

From my perspective the large national service organizations are the only possible remaining section of the nonprofit sector that can take on this role. I thank NAMAC for helping put this conversation together as one part of that job. I'd love to see them banding together more often with Public Knowledge, Free Press, Future of Music (oh how I wish for a Future of Film....) and others. I imagine each of these organizations could use the collective support as well. I could also imagine a series of one-off training days going on tour of the art schools, supported by a grouping of these organizations. Or a national challenge to an artist to work with Games for Change (here I go again) on making advocacy fun. Or perhaps they could just create an Ipad app?
July 20, 2010 7:33 AM | | Comments (0) |

Marty is right about the need to organize and the inevitable problems that will arise as internal differences are encountered and engaged.  And what organization can serve as the umbrella?  Jean underlined the rather pitiful arts weigh-in on media consolidation, and was dead on in identifying the narrow "arts advocacy comfort zone" of the nonprofit community.  Tim has a right to be depressed!

I've been bothered for years by the sight of some accomplished artist -- a songwriter, actor, etc. -- positioned as an advocate for some policy change that really only benefits IP-dependent corporations.  The notion that artists and companies share the same values when it comes to the character of our arts system is a crock.  Companies worry about the theft of assets; artists worry about obscurity.  These two concerns overlap at times, but often they don't.  What's the real benefit to an artist of copyright protection that reaches beyond three-quarters of a century?  What's the real benefit to an artist if your publishing company or record company uses licensing fees to prevent your composition from being sampled. or prevents your film clip from being part of a documentary.  We need to begin the organizational conversation Marty envisions by figuring out what an artist-oriented regime of laws and regulations would look like.  The last thirty years have certainly provided us with more than we wanted to know about how culture works when the footprint of copyright is enlarged, when media is consolidated, and when the Internet gets chopped up into something that looks like old-time late-night TV.  A more nuanced, public-purpose-oriented arts system is possible, but we need that Marty-style conversation to see where all the parties agree, where we can't come together, and how we might organize.

And I also think we need to engage the public at large.  The "system" ultimately shapes the way America interacts with information, with cultural heritage, with political speech and personal creativity.  Just as the environmental movement was ultimately about everybody, the character of our nation's expressive life is important to us all.

July 20, 2010 7:10 AM | | Comments (1) |
Activism 101 emphasizes unity: it's hard to exert pressure if you're internally divided.  If arts and culture workers embrace the idea of a grand coalition in order to affect public policy, they'll of course need to figure out and endorse the positions that unite them.  Paradoxically, that may also require confronting the fissures, fault lines and flat-out disagreements they have -- not disagreements about broad goals, or tactics to get there, but rather about where their real interests actually lie.  For example, is the arts/culture community pretty much in agreement about fair use and public domain, or are there camps with significant (though sometimes unacknowledged and unarticulated) differences?  This isn't an apple of discord that I'm tossing.  I'm just wondering whether the power of a interest group depends in part on the muscle it acquires when its members wrestle with their disagreements.  
July 20, 2010 5:59 AM | | Comments (0) |
OK, now I'm getting depressed. I had always assumed this ridiculous idea that artists are delicate otherworldly creatures who can't and shouldn't concern themselves with prosaic business or policy matters was being fed to them (along with other helpful notions, such as being a drunk or an addict is all part of being creative) by malicious middlemen and mendacious media.

But now I've read Vickie's insightful analysis of how this dynamic is perpetuated by art schools and universities, and Bill's observation that "things like intellectual property, media policy, unions, performance rights, and so on not show up in art schools or music conservatories, they have precious little traction in arts management programs." And that all mirrors my experience in the business world: I spent the last 11 years working in online music, and every year I found myself giving a copyright 101 course to some new executive, explaining the difference between a composition and a sound recording, who controlled the rights for each, which ones were available at statutory rates and which ones had to be licensed directly from the owner, how one went about tracking down said owners, and the various consequences of failing to identify those owners correctly.

This stuff is neither easy nor intuitive, and most people (even very intelligent and successful businessmen and women) tend to throw up their arms in exasperation somewhere around the point where you highlight the difference between a mechanical royalty and a performance one and why the Harry Fox Agency collects the former and performance rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI collect the latter.

So maybe I should forgive artists for running in terror. But I can't let educational institutions off the hook. Someone has to teach the mechanics of all this, and it would help if that someone also devoted significant energy to analyzing why it gets so complicated so quickly: it turns out the tortuous copyright clearance process serves as a decent history of which institutions had the most political power whenever a new use for creative works emerged.

And it also serves as an ongoing saga of what happens when creators aren't involved in policy-making.
July 20, 2010 5:38 AM | | Comments (0) |
Tim, Bill and Esther touch on very smart points when they ask about representation. 

In her post, Yolanda names some groups that are addressing copyright, internet and media issues.  But who is specifically representing the creative community's interests?

It's instructive to look at the public record.

Every four years the FCC asks the public to weigh in questions like - how many radio stations should a single company be allowed to own?  How does ownership impact the health of local communities, or diversity on the airwaves?  How are communities using radio?  Why is it important?  Of the 158 comments filed in the recently closed Media Ownership proceeding (#09-186) at the FCC, two organizations besides FMC talked about the impact of media consolidation on the creative community: the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Writers Guild of America.  Other groups traditionally speaking for our sector in this area also include the American Federation of Musicians (musicians union), the Recording Academy (Grammys), the Recording Industry Association of America (major record labels), and A2IM (independent record labels).

Now this is the part where you ask yourself three very important questions.

1. Do these organizations understand how this issue impacts your community?  Do you feel your interests are represented?
2. Do you disagree with the positions of any of these organizations?  Would you want to clarify your de facto tacit support of these groups?
3. Uh, where do I get the cliff notes for this?

The arts community government relations infrastructure is currently built to service five core issue areas:  NEA funding, arts education, visas, nonprofit governance, and tax issues.  There is a huge capacity gap between desire and actual ability of the arts community to engage outside this core.  Some of the capacity issues are because media ownership, net neutrality and copyright aren't black and white, like the core issue areas.  They're the vast and scary gray area.  You don't have to be a lawyer to understand these complex and nuanced issues, but you do have to be willing to do some serious detective work and put up with a lot of legalese to develop the same clarity of position outside the arts advocacy comfort zone.

While we struggle with this challenge, policymakers have to assume that the other "creative voices" speak for us.
July 20, 2010 5:04 AM | | Comments (0) |

Vicki made the very important observation that "issues concerning public policy are almost completely absent from arts school curriculum."  Not only do things like intellectual property, media policy, unions, performance rights, and so on not show up in art schools or music conservatories, they have precious little traction in arts management programs.  I suspect that faculty view consideration of systemic policy questions as an unworthy distraction undermining artistic growth, but of course that is wrong-headed.  But arts training programs remain an excellent place in which to insert engagement with policy affecting the arts system as an aspect of professional behavior.

But we must be realistic in assessing the relative power of individual artistic voices raised against the lobbying power of major industries that are dependent on a favorable legal and regulatory environment.  Despite the good efforts of advocacy groups committed to advancing public purposes or the needs of artists, the last thirty years (the era of Reagan/Thatcher deregulation) has witnessed a steady shift in the arts system away from public purposes and toward the interests of the marketplace.  This trend has been exacerbated by the shift away from the legislative arena into courts, where the cost of litigation makes it very hard for individuals and small groups to play.

We need to work on conservatory and art school leadership on this.  Also, why don't the big service organizations that deal with the nonprofit sector -- the League of American Orchestras, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Americans for the Arts, etc. -- take on these policy issues that are so critical to the work of their member institutions?

July 19, 2010 6:58 PM | | Comments (1) |
Me, we. (Supposedly the shortest quote in the English language delivered at a Harvard graduation.)" --  Muhammad Ali
For some reason this quote by my hometown (KY) hero came to mind as I was skimming the page regarding a national cultural policy for Australia.

The cultural policy will be integrated into programs in universities, schools, local government, new media and longstanding media and cultural institutions in both settler and indigenous communities - creating a cultural infrastructure for the Australian economy and society, and building on the core activities in the arts and creative industries.
Some of the major points of the proposal include,

  • enabling innovation
  • supporting and encouraging connections
  • supportingt art & culture in education
  • investing in new art forms and in the integration of investment in core cultural institutions
  • supporting knowledge transfer and exchanges between academia and cultural institutions
  • recognizing arts & culture in innovation policies through new products and services
  • recognizing collecting institutions as a major resource in the Web 2.0 environment
Well... I like it!  In my opinion this proposal is sufficiently broad enough and inclusive.  I could see artists/creatives as nodes in an expanding knowledge network of arts & culture (social, online, etc.).
What I especially like is the part about broadening "cultural policy from its foundation in arts policy."  I wonder if we Americans could also build a discussion framework on culture - heritage, innovation, creation and expression while maintaining support for the arts.  Inherent in this approach is the departure from the top-down approach of arts & culture programming.

...the "democratization of culture" is a top-down approach that promulgates certain forms of cultural programming that are deemed to be a public good. Clearly, such an objective is open to criticism for what is termed cultural elitism; that is, the assumption that some aesthetic expressions are inherently superior - at least as determined by a cognoscenti concerned with the acquisition of cultural capital.  -- wikipedia
I support a more participatory (or populist) approach in the definition and provision of cultural opportunities.  I believe these approaches are mutually exclusive, perhaps even critical to creating arts & cultural in the U.S. that promotes a political democracy.  Why can't we have diversified revenue streams with high levels of earned income AND a public culture that nurtures arts & cultural activities that contribute to individual self-worth and community?
July 19, 2010 5:36 PM | | Comments (2) |
Today's posts have been wonderful, and for the moment I want to comment on Casey's contribution a short screen scroll down.

Thanks to three of my fellow blogerati here on this week's ArtsJournal-hosted discussion (Molly, Jean and Casey), I was the sole artist invited to testify last September at one of the FCC's public hearings to which Casey refers below in his post. The topics at hand were broadband access and digital piracy (details, and stories of my adventure can be found here). When the session wrapped up, I chatted at some length with one of the commissioners, who made it very clear that she wanted to hear from more artists and that they should feel free to be in contact.

The following week, I sat in a committee meeting in New York City that was attended by a good number of respected composers and publishers. After I reported on my D.C. experience, I repeatedly stressed to my colleagues that they, too, should add their voices and make their opinions known to the FCC. In fact, I think I stated this enough times that being hit over the noggin with a two-by-four might have been more enjoyable for those having to endure my impassioned entreaty.

To my knowledge, not one person in the room chose to follow up and contact the FCC. I would love to learn that I'm mistaken.

It's possible that some artists may view participating in the process to be intimidating. But they can calm their nerves by remembering that since the corporate and government world is not their world, they shouldn't feel as though they've got to be a polished expert to be worthy of being heard. Indeed, it's the lack of polish that often makes what we have to say most meaningful.

Look, we already know that we can't match the lobbying power of multi-gazillion dollar corporations. But we can tell stories.
Artists have extraordinarily valuable insights that the business world does not. Our stories and our perspectives are important, and it's vital that people outside our field hear from those of us with the stories, since they're the ones signing policy suggestions into laws and regulations that will affect how our upcoming chapters unfold. U.S. citizens often forget how fortunate they are: despite turns of politics that may dismay, they still live in a Democracy in which much of the time their opinions can be voiced and registered.

I'm not suggesting that just anyone from the arts community is going to be sitting across the table from the CEO of Comcast in a high-stakes horse trade.
Agreed. But I say to any fellow artists reading this, that if they want to be sitting at that table, it's not beyond the realm of possibility. I wasn't doin' no horse trading, but there I was, questioning the COO of Paramount Pictures. Intimidating? You bet! An addictive and enjoyable experience? Absolutely. 
July 19, 2010 2:55 PM | | Comments (0) |

Barely a sip into my first coffee of the day, I started reading these posts. Big money. Big media. Lobbyists. Leveraging. Oligopolies! I thought I knew a thing or two about the policy issues on the table, but suddenly I was reminded again how ineffective and small my potential to influence them seemed.

I took a moment to hide to catch up on the other items in my Google reader. Ah, a post commenting on a post about the trailer for the new Facebook movie. That seemed like safe viewing. But I couldn't escape the topic at hand. That haunting soundtrack it has featuring an all-girl choral version of Radiohead's "Creep." Lovely voices singing about not belonging but wanting to have control, while actors depicting real people yell at each other, first about their big, creative idea, and then later (and at a higher volume), about money and ownership of that idea. Lawyers are then involved. There are tears, discussions of copyright and privacy violations, and things are lit on fire.

In real life, of course, issues of creativity, cash, and control don't usually get such a dramatic arc and backing track. To bad, because that would make policy work more exciting.

If sports have taught some of us only one thing, it's that being on the defensive is generally not the position of power. That seems to be the position we're playing from, however. Take this as an example: Composer Mike Rugnetta recently pointed out his perception that "that NO ONE - including those who get PRO checks - understands how rights mgmt works...Myself included; I have NO idea. Obviously this is a very broken system." And that's just a single example in a stack of issues where artists find themselves frustratingly confused about how things function and who is influencing what and why. Artists have been empowered by new technologies to control more aspects of their own work and career trajectories, but absent a middleman representing them, this brave new world also means that they need a way to look out for the larger political and legal issues pertinent to their creative life. But how do you DIY a lobbying effort?

Artists are often the bravest and most audacious people I know, but current circumstances seem to indicate that we need some serious(ly creative) methods for directing action/education on what we can do as individuals, what organizations we can look to for help, and how--absent $ resources to get it done--we can help educate our confused colleagues. I appreciate Doug's concern that artists probably don't even all want to pull in the same direction, and his recommendation that at the very least we need to be loud and proud in our debates. Still, even if our house is a bit divided, can we influence more people with the power of our creativity/the networks of our fanbases than big media could buy with big cash if we develop better methods for directing where to lob it?

July 19, 2010 1:57 PM | | Comments (0) |
I want to chime in on Lynne's "Jagger Effect" as this is huge problem that I have seen within the academic context and directly impacts the bigger question of creative rights and artists.  The notion that art and artists are separate from more prosaic activities and being is still one very much in place in educational, especially art schools but indeed most university, environments.  That is, art is seen as a specialized and isolated, or as Alex noted earlier, "self-referential," act.  The supposed divide between critical and creative skills is not only in play but deeply engrained within much of our arts and humanities schooling.  The implications, then, regarding the possibilities for the who and how of expression or any sort of larger conversations around the arts are enormous. Issues concerning public policy are almost completely absent from art school curriculum and while questions of social justice do emerge (often with disdain from many artists/educators who do not see this as part of the artist's mission) the practicalities of engagement are typically quite local and rarely link up with larger policy questions, goals, or groups.  Indeed at times obvious links are not even made across an individual campus.  The question becomes then how to connect and build on the larger liberatory impetus in much creative and scholarly work.>

I agree strongly with Nettrice and Brian on the need to bring new tools and technologies into the mix, not because these elements are in themselves inherently more democratic, but because they offer an opportunity to destabilize profoundly some rigid structures currently in place both inside and outside academia (and why we see such resistance and trivialization of their use at times).  The good news, sort of, is that alongside of what we see as an aesthetic divide is also a generational one.  Many young artists within academia are already taking up these new strategies, technologies, and ideas despite a lack of consistent institutional support, enthusiasm, or interest in innovative art practices.  I don't think we can afford to wait for change to happen via a generational turn over (since institutions do have a way of reproducing themselves ultimately when left to their own internal mechanisms).   What we do need is to find a way to open up the conversation on these divides - including, especially, the academic/outside world divide.  Brian's game suggestion is definitely a good place to begin.  I understand and applaud Bill Ivey's call for Department of Cultural Affairs as a way to centralize the issues for the arts and artists, but I would also suggest a parallel external, perhaps virtual, organization, consortium, or think tank, that brings as many diverse perspectives into the mix as possible but with the umbrella goal of reshaping arts policy along more democratic lines (politically and aesthetically).

July 19, 2010 1:18 PM | | Comments (1) |
Bill and others on this thread are correct that it's critical to have collective bodies aggregating the concerns of artists on issues like copyright, IP, open Internet protections,  Internet accessibility, broadcast censorship, broadcast media ownership, etc. Bill mentioned in his earlier post that there are some advocacy groups "nibbling away" at these issues. 

While I can't agree more that this field must be larger, stronger, and better resourced, we'd do an injustice to neglect to acknowledge the heroic work of this savvy field of public interest advocates, lawyers and organizers who spend their days fighting for fairness in our media system. 

National organizations like the Future of Music Coalition, Public Knowledge, Center for Media Justice, Media Access Project and Free Press do brave battle on behalf of artists, audiences, nonprofit organizations and citizens against an extraordinarily powerful telecommunications and media industry lobbies. Arts service organizations like Americans for the Arts, Fractured Atlas and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture are also beginning to prioritize advocacy agendas. 

While we can rightly describe the challenges of organizing and advocating around cultural policy (it's technocratic and unsexy, the targets are diffuse and opque, etc.), it is really a lack of resources more than a lack of strategy, interest, or passion that keeps this field from generating the level of awareness and strength of constituency needed to adequately represent the interest of the arts in these critical debates. 

It's not an overstatement to say that the future of arts, media and culture is riding on the work of a perilously under-resourced field.  Yet few philanthropists are informed or engaged in media policy, and even fewer are funding it. Can funders of the arts to make an additional investment in the advocacy efforts needed to promote creativity and culture in the digital era?

Ford Foundation president Luis Ubiñas, in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy opinion, called on foundations of all kinds to promote Internet access alongside their normal funding areas.  While Ford's $50 million investment is significant, it is seed money rather than a solution.  The field needs and deserves much more support.
July 19, 2010 1:18 PM | | Comments (0) |
Doug's opening of question "Do artists even know what the priorities are?"  is an apt one and David is right to point out that folks are being "notified," but its important to be clear that notification is not the same as effective messaging or effective activism.

The bedrock of any good campaign is a clear sense of : WHAT/WHO/HOW.

WHAT change are we trying to advocate for?

WHO has a stake in the outcome of this advocacy work (individuals, institutions and coalitions)?

HOW will this change be brought about (what levers of power must be persuaded and how will we persuade them)?

I would argue that most people, artists included, have a hard time getting behind advocacy campaigns that are not clear about the what/who/how. For example, I think you would find a high participation in the Obama campaign by artists--because the stakes and the mechanisms were clearly articulated.

I would argue that artists are not involved in most cultural policy fights because

There is not any kind of consensus on WHAT change artists should be advocating for...

There is no clear articulation of what the stakes are, and thus WHO has a stake is unclear....

Because we don't know what we want, and who else wants it, we don't know HOW to effectively fight....

Arts advocacy groups need to create clarity of messaging--and then use the power of that clarity to create momentum building messaging, exciting coalitions and ACTION....

Brian's Drug, Nettrice's app, Tim's singing pest, Shepard Fairey's change poster, will only work with these pieces in place.

But course this assumes, like Bill mentioned, that we know who the arts advocacy groups are......Is perhaps artist's lack of participation equally an issue of ineffective representation?

July 19, 2010 1:03 PM | | Comments (1) |
Marty Kaplan brings up some good points in his post, "All About the Benjamins." It can be dispiriting to see worthwhile agendas compromised, thwarted, or, worse yet, ignored by policymakers. It's particularly discouraging when you have high expectations of (and an affinity for) certain leaders. No one would disagree that money affects our politics. And I'm personally inclined to agree that the Citizens United decision doesn't do democracy any favors.

I would argue, however, that these factors are not an excuse for giving up on making our case. In fact, I'd say the opposite.

Marty talks about the recent revelations about FCC leadership engaging in closed-door conversations with Captains of Industry (in this case, the Internet Service Providers). The purpose of these meetings (as well as some less "closed" discussions on the Hill) is to arrive at a consensus regarding proposed regulation to preserve the open internet.

Now, those of us to read the tea leaves for fun and non-profit would probably tell you that such consensus will be difficult if not impossible to achieve. What really bugs some folks about the FCC situation is that the Commission already has a pair of public proceedings about the aforementioned issue, and at least one on the National Broadband Plan. Doesn't this kind of go against the whole transparency thing?

Yes and no. It's not uncommon for policymakers to have direct conversations with representatives from the private sector, and it's not always a quid pro quo situation. It's actually a way for officials to hear potential concerns -- real or manufactured -- about proposed policies. The important thing is for these same policymakers to hear from us.

I'm not suggesting that just anyone from the arts community is going to be sitting across the table from the CEO of Comcast in a high-stakes horse trade. What I'm saying is that there are plenty of opportunities to articulate our concerns and those of the broader arts community -- we just need to get better at spotting and taking advantage of them.

Look, we already know that we can't match the lobbying power of multi-gazillion dollar corporations. But we can tell stories. We can offer real-life examples of how we benefit from access to technology and communications platforms that don't discriminate against smaller voices. We can remind policymakers that protecting these voices is an American virtue. And we can do this without name-calling, hyperbole or even gobs and gobs of cash.

If those of us in the arts community are truly concerned with the outcomes of today's policy debates, than we'll work even harder to have a voice in them. We're certainly allowed to be disappointed when our leaders fail to live up to expectations, but it's more productive to remind them of why we had those expectations in the first place.

They won't always listen. But if we don't speak, they'll never hear us at all.
July 19, 2010 12:25 PM | | Comments (0) |

Yes, what you don't know or what you don't choose to learn about or participate in can absolutely hurt you.  Just ask a symphony orchestra that's tried to put performances online, or a documentary filmmaker who finds herself hit with a hefty licensing fee because an interview accidentally picked up some music from a radio in the background.

Historically, it's been unions that have brought the concerns of individual workers into the policy realm.  But, arts unions are historically weak and small, and are especially so today.  Where do we go to find the collective bodies that can aggregate the concerns of artists as they relate to IP, Internet, music licensing, etc.?

July 19, 2010 11:56 AM | | Comments (0) |
David asks, "What can we do to galvanize our sector of the citizenry," and while I think the specific answers will vary by sector, one answer they should all have in common is pointing out what happens when other entities claim to be speaking on behalf of artists while the artists aren't paying attention.

Because one way I've found to galvanize people is to show them what's being touted as "the creators' position" by people who aren't, in fact, creators.

That often wakes people up.
July 19, 2010 11:52 AM | | Comments (0) |
While I am in complete agreement with Brian, Nettrice and others in their assessment of the need to provide artists with engaging (even addictive) channels for participating in cultural policy activism, how do we raise artists' awareness of the stakes?  Most of the people I know (both in and outside the cultural sector) have no idea what net neturality is, how it is currently at risk, or what the ramifications of its loss would be for the creative sector.

Doug asks if there is any artist consensus on cultural policy issues.  How can artists even begin the process of finding consensus if they are still unaware of policy issues that have the capacity to directly (and dramatically) affect them?

While one might counter that many arts service organizations (including Americans for the Arts) do their best to notify their constituents of pertinent legislative issues, there must be more that each of us -- artists, arts administrators, arts lovers, etc. -- can do to proactively raise awareness of the cultural policy issues threatening creativity today.  It goes beyond simply sharing the message.  What can we do to galvanize our sector of the citizenry?
July 19, 2010 9:54 AM | | Comments (0) |

Late in my tenure as NEA chairman I awakened to the truth that our cultural system had been profoundly reshaped in the '90s by copyright extension, the DMCA, the demise of the USIA, and the 1996 Telecom Act, and no one from the "arts community" (save a few librarians) had been engaged in the runnup to these legislative, regulatory, and administrative transformations.  What had passed for policy work in the arts during the Clinton administration had been about re-energizing the Arts Endowment, and while it was good to see the NEA budget grow again, the lack of interest in the system in which art gets created, distributed, consumed, and preserved was, to say the least, alarming.

Two reasons jump out at me: First, the policy arenas that define the US cultural system -- intellectual property, union agreements, media ownership, fair use, Internet openness and access, licensing agreements, music performance rights, mergers within arts industries, the promotion of American entertainment products abroad, trademark, name-and-likeness rights -- are legalistic, technical, complex, and take both artists and the nonprofit community into territory where few feel at ease.  Also, I suspect that many fine arts nonprofits have viewed laws and regulations that define our cultural system as a slightly-distasteful necessity generated by the nasty "commercial sector": thus hands off.

Second, when it comes to effective advocacy, there's no policy hub, no "there-there," to push against.  With copyright housed in the Library of Congress, trademark in its own department, mergers approved by the Dept. of Justice and the FTC, movies and recordings promoted abroad by the Office of the US Trade Representative, nonprofit funding in the NEA, broadcasting with the FCC, the Internet with...Well, you get my point.  We've evolved some very capable advocacy groups around specific issues (several are on this blog), but at the end of the day, they can only nibble away at their singular focus.  In the big picture no single entity in the arts has emerged to speak for the American people in addressing the overarching need to to balance marketplace forces against the public's legitimate interest in a vibrant, open cultural scene.  Old friends of mine on this blog will not be suprised to see me state again that the US needs a department of cultural affairs.  Until we have this central hub consolidating issues affecting America's expressive life the way the EPA centers environmental debate, we'll be punching pillows the the big dogs of the marketplace will rule.

July 19, 2010 9:24 AM | | Comments (0) |
How do we make activism an appealing drug that artists want to take? Great question Alex, but to answer it, we need to take this thought experiment a bit more seriously. What makes drugs appealing? They are addictive, they give you a very raw, visceral effect and they are usually easy to share. In fact, they are often fun to do with others. None of this can be said about most activism around policy issues today (as opposed to some other forms of activism, like protest, which can be addictively fun). Many artists don't know "what the priorities are" because figuring out these priorities is a decidedly un-fun activity and even if one takes the time to sort these out, participation is a very un-rewarding experience.

Let's just say, for example, that I am able to figure out what the heck it means to "protect the open internet" and want to get active. What can I do? I can go to the Public Knowledge website and tell my congressman to support the FCC's right to regulate broadband. If that's not a fun enough activity, I can tell my friend's to look at the site and tell Congress as well, and maybe make a donation.

Having fun yet? Addicted? The problem here is that this kind of activism is very un-rewarding and antithetical to the artistic impulse. Many artists today are using the power of digital technology to create very rewarding, often participatory experiences that are not just fun to share, but quite addictive. Gaming technology, social media, mash-ups and remix are informing culture in new ways, and guess what - the good ones go viral and get seen by millions. Like drugs, they are fun to share, and very hard to stop.

If we want to engage artists with advocacy, we need to embrace these tools - and give artists a way to use them as well. Nettrice Gaskins is correct - we need to launch a "new arts movement using these emerging platforms." It's very hard for artists to have much clout, as Marty suggests, without having cash. But it's equally hard for the media and the politicians to ignore a true groundswell of activity. We don't have that yet, because we haven't let artists make the message more engaging. Perhaps it's time for Games for Change to fund an artist to make the next Farmville for arts policy.
July 19, 2010 7:29 AM | | Comments (1) |
I actually learned the answer to Alex's question, "How do we make activism an appealing drug artists want to take?" at an artist activism retreat a couple months ago.

Erin Potts from Air Traffic Control highlighted some research that indicated music affects the same part of the brain that governs optimism, and that music-related activism therefore helped convince participants their efforts could really make an impact.

Don't worry, I'm not suggesting that we get artists engaged in policy conversations by turning them into sing-alongs. But I do think it's a mistake to consider policy and process as something separate from/different than the act of creating. They're intertwined, and need to be addressed that way. That's why, though I recognize the phenomenon Lynne calls "the Jagger Effect,"hearing it phrased as something intrinsic to the artistic personality always makes me a little crazy. I think the effect has more to do with romantic notions of what being an artist is supposed to mean than it does with any effective way of actually being an artist.

Over 20 years in the music business has convinced me that the idea of creative geniuses tending only to their art while others figure out how to find it an audience, and then turn that audience into money, isn't just a myth, it's a pernicious lie. Moreover, it's a lie that folks on the business side have a vested interest in perpetuating.

It's nice to be told that you're a genius and needn't worry about the business side of things, or who's doing what with your website, or what's being decided in DC about your particular field. But when I hear artists repeat that, I tell them to stop being naive.

So, um, I guess my answer to Alex is two-fold: sing, and be a pest.
July 19, 2010 6:27 AM | | Comments (0) |

I'll jump in with a direct response to Doug's opening question: "Do artists even know what the priorities are?"  From my perspective as a cultural historian, the answer is decidedly NO--artists have never understood the relationship between creative output and creative control and they have always been at a loss as to how to access the means of production and distribution (economically speaking.)  Is it a left brain/right brain thing?  I don't think so.  I think it's a cultural assumption turned aesthetic pressure--artists aren't supposed to be good managers or business savvy and, if they are, then they must not "really" be artists.  Imagine, for example, how hard Mick Jagger has had to work over the years to mask the fact that he's actually a very steady, savvy, strategic business man. 


July 19, 2010 5:28 AM | | Comments (0) |
We know about the WPA: In the 1930s hundreds of thousands of works of art were commissioned and millions were employed to carry out and operate large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.  Subsequent generations, including mine, greatly benefited from this until the late 1970s and early 80s.

We also know about today's reality: Funding for the arts is the first to be cut.  The arts are seen as too abstract unless they are bundled with other enterprises such as science and business.  Marketing firms in the private sector understand the value of art as promotional content.  Politicians and government officials are less sensitive to the role art plays in everyday life.  A lot of energy was expended to include art opportunities in the economic stimulus package.  Arlene Goldbard compiled the activities in her essay, The New New Deal, Part 2 - A WPA for Artists: How and Why.  Goldbard included NAMAC's call for a Digital Arts Service Corps.

So what's next?

We need to craft and disseminate more compelling rhetoric to encourage the government and the private sector to fund a nationwide public arts movement.  We also need to use existing and emerging technologies to spread new and alternative messages to counter the social-political verbal gymnastics in the mainstream media.  Words like "public" and "participation" have been given a negative connotation in the media (as part of big bad activism).  Such messaging is deceitful and it does not allow the American public to get a clear perception of what needs to be done to effectively address their issues.

I envision a promotional package for the arts that can be tweeted/retweeted, posted as ads or mobile tags on Facebook, and downloaded as a mobile application for smart devices.  More and more art institutions are using mobile technologies to enhance the museum/gallery experience.  Ovation TV sponsored interactive artwork by artist John Baldessari that enables users to create their own still life on their iPhones or iPads.  This is being used to promote Baldessari's retrospective, Pure Beauty, at LACMA.  Rather than relegate gaming and mobile technologies to entertainment we could be launching a new arts movement using these emerging platforms.

Just sayin'.
July 19, 2010 4:47 AM | | Comments (0) |
Doug's topic-du-week is important, because we need to speak openly about the disconnect between so many artists and the world in which they are making their art and their living. Complacency is not creative, it's passive. But art-making is a hopeful, purposeful act, and so is activism. How can we appeal to that optimistic spark in our colleagues and encourage them to apply it to realms beyond their own studios? Just as artists are indeed often left out of important government policy discussions, they are also just as often responsible for choosing not to participate. Ouch.

Many, many artists are fabulous activists and outspoken entrepreneurs when it comes to generating their own art world and bringing colleagues together. Their efforts are often beautiful, exciting, profound... but yet, self-referential. Their events are by and for other, often like-minded, artists and arts insiders. The creators and participants have a natural affinity for what's going on around them, and they feel good doing it. They're part of a team.

Appealing to someone's affinity is also one of the key ingredients for fund-raising efforts: the patron feels good being involved in something they like, in which they have a positive, helpful role. They're part of a team.

So how do we create an affinity in the minds of artists by which they'll want to participate in the non-artsy process that governs them? If what drives them is the endorphin-drenched joy of what they do in their daily creative lives, how can a message come across that by raising their voice and giving a little of their energy, they'll feel good? How do we make activism an appealing drug team artists want to take join? 
July 19, 2010 2:47 AM | | Comments (0) |
I don't know why it's so difficult to get arts people to focus more on public policy about culture. Sure, I get that policy is boring and making art is so much more interesting. And I understand that there is a sense of futility in thinking artists can affect cultural policy when, as Marty said, getting right to the point:

How likely is it that arts and culture workers will have a real voice in policy deliberations, if their clout doesn't come down to cash?  Celebrity, moral suasion and stats about economic impact are nice assets to deploy, but does anyone think they provide the kind of access or standing enjoyed by the oligopolies?

But rules about what art you can use and how you can use it are about as important as it gets for artists. And right now, those rules are made for the most part without the input of artists. And, as Marty points out, the policy always seems to come out in favor of those who have the most money to lobby for their point of view. 

It's even more complicated, because there doesn't seem to be much agreement among artists about what kinds of creative rights are necessary and how they ought to be deployed. This suggests to me it's even more important to be debating these issues vigorously and in public, so at least people are aware of what's at stake. So artists don't have much of a voice in cultural policy. But is there any artist consensus on cultural policy issues? Or is this fated to be a low-traffic blog?
July 18, 2010 11:02 PM | | Comments (1) |
The latest NEA report to come out of the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation, notes that "people who engage with art through media technologies attend live performances or arts exhibits at two to three times the rate of non-media arts participants."  While the report can't make a causal link, it's still quite the correlation.  According to the report, about 20% of people surveyed have used the non-live media (internet, TV, etc) to consume an arts performance.  Of particular note to me (since I primarily do audience engagement work for theatre), non-white audiences for musicals and straight plays are substantially higher (scroll down to see the table with percentages) when viewing them through non-live media, including the internet, than when viewing them live.  When we're discussing creative rights, the rights of artists, the need to examine ownership and the nature of physical and place-based art, we also very much need to be discussing the audiences we're reaching and not reaching, and the roadblocks big and small that the virtualization of art helps tear down.  From decentralizing and democratizing the critical response to work to encouraging creation and consumption at a much lower cost, the web and related new technologies hold the promise of possibly making the fine arts, with which I'm particularly concerned and around which there's so much fear about increasing irrelevance, into something that everyone who wants to can participate in, albeit in a way that some may deem less-than, and others may find unsettling.
July 18, 2010 10:24 PM | | Comments (0) |

Marty, thanks for kicking us off--and so provocatively, too! OK, I'll bite. As you well know, there's more than one way to affect a policy deliberation--and more than one kind of political capital. I would think that, if artists get into a head-to-head battle with Big Media in a smoke-filled-room, the chances are not good. But who says a frontal assault in a back room is the only feasible strategy? And who says artists have to go it alone? And who says Big Media's interests are monolithic, or entirely hostile to the public sector? And who says that at least some Big Money wouldn't welcome the arts as an ally, for mutual objectives?

In politics, like any other performance, it's usually a good idea to play to your strengths. Money is not a strength of the arts, I suspect we will all agree. Therefore, it's especially important to ask the questions, what strengths do artists and cultural workers bring to the political table, and how best can those strengths be leveraged?

July 18, 2010 10:09 PM | | Comments (0) |
The Obama-appointed FCC chair has been working out the Administration's policy on net neutrality in closed-door meetings with Big Media lobbyists.  No public interest reps have a seat at the table.  Everyone in the room doles out millions in PAC money (and, thanks to the Roberts court, corporate political spending as well) to the all the players on the Hill.  This is what happens when, presumably, the good guys are in power.  How likely is it that arts and culture workers will have a real voice in policy deliberations, if their clout doesn't come down to cash?  Celebrity, moral suasion and stats about economic impact are nice assets to deploy, but does anyone think they provide the kind of access or standing enjoyed by the oligopolies?
July 18, 2010 8:45 PM | | Comments (0) |
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