July 19, 2010 Archives
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?
Me, we. (Supposedly the shortest quote in the English language delivered at a Harvard graduation.)" -- Muhammad AliFor 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
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. -- wikipediaI 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?
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.
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?
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).
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?
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.
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.?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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