Getting Down To It...

By Bill Ivey, Director, Curb Center, Vanderbilt University

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

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

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

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

July 20, 2010 1:23 PM | | Comments (1) |


There were three responses to my last comment posted by the bloggers. I will try to respond to them in this one post. It’s true, Doug, that millions of children and adult amateurs are digital artists, at least in a sense. If we want to define art that way, it’s definitely not subversive. On one hand, we don’t want to be unnecessarily elitist, but if we define artists in terms that include almost everyone, confusion and a lack of agreement are bound to ensue. Arguments like these are common, but seem evasive and specious to artists who have spent their lives in hardship because they have had to live outside the economic norms of society. As a Juilliard trained pianist, I have no doubt you know what I’m talking about.

If administrators and journalists want artists to join them in unified activism, I think they might need to develop more discerning and differentiated views about what constitutes an artist. The hi-lo leveling of orthodox postmodernism is often degrading to people who have devoted their entire lives to artistic pursuits. Even if amateur and professional artists are both outside the marketplace, there is often a very big difference between the two. Effective arts policy has to reflect this understanding.

Part of the “admin-heaviness” that has evolved in the arts often includes this kind of condescending view of artists. Administrators are viewed as rare business types who should receive very high salaries, but any and everyone is an artist. Deborah Borda, the business manager of the LA Phil, makes 1.5 million a year, while the orchestra’s elite musicians have a base pay of around 100k per year – 1/15th as much. This has become the norm for our major orchestras and similar trends are found even in the visual arts. If we are looking for unity, these dichotomies do not bode well.

Bill Ivey mentions the highly commercial atmosphere of gallery art, but fails to acknowledge that the performing arts function under entirely different economic models. You can’t compare a painter to the 400 people necessary to run a fully functional opera house. A gallery can be a commercial enterprise, but an opera house cannot. Artists will not unify with administrators when they make these sorts of arguments.

Mr. Ivey also fails to acknowledge that even the visual arts have strong distinctions between commercial and non-commercial forms. I live in Taos, NM which is a very old arts colony. There are over 80 galleries in a town of 5000 people. They are the backbone of the town’s economy, but almost all of them sell rather kitschy “Cowboy and Indian art.” The many painters and sculptors here who strive toward more meaningful forms of expression often face serious financial problems. The Agnes Martins (she lived here) are the very rare exceptions. If you want to engage artists in this discussion, you cannot brush obvious issues like these to the side. Rightly or wrongly, we quickly assume that you are not really on our side and that our hopes for unity are misplaced.

We also need to be clear about what aspects of net neutrality we are discussing (myself included.) For example, even if there is some overlap, the issue of corporations receiving privileged pricing for their bandwidth is fairly different from issues involving licensing and royalties. Privileged pricing for corporate customers affects us all (and to be clear I should have noted that,) but the issues involving licensing and royalties do not. (Those ten million kids making digital art on YouTube aren’t looking to make money with their work.) Public arts funding is a far more relevant public policy issue than licensing on the Internet, but American administrators treat public funding like a taboo topic. Here too, there is a disconnect between administrators and artists (though of course I wouldn't claim to speak for all artists.)

Unity in activism begins with clearly defining our concerns and addressing them in good faith. On the positive side, I think that is something being achieved through these discussions -- even if the absence of artists is notable.

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