July 20, 2010 Archives
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.
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?
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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.