July 22, 2010 Archives

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) |

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