July 21, 2010 Archives
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.
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.
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?
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.
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...)
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.
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?
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.
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?
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."