Recently by Bill Ivey, Director, Curb Center, Vanderbilt University
Two points before I get to Doug's challenge: First, it's been great to blog with a smart cohort that doesn't necessarily come from the traditional nonprofit mindset -- quite refreshing. Second, Sandra Gibson (Arts Presenters) sent me a nice note reminding me that APAP has weighed in on issues like IP and net neutrality. No surprise as presenters ("promoters" in the for-profit world) are very likely to encounter real world copyright, union, and licensing issues every day. She also noted that other service organizations haven't yet joined these policy fights.
Two things strike me as big problems, and they're related. As the recent Supreme Court decision on campaign finance reminded us, nearly a century ago corporations began to acquire the same legal rights as individuals. Once copyright and all related issues became attached to corporations and corporations began to reshape policy to suit corporate interests, the entire support system for art, information, and knowledge began to tilt away from public purposes. Corporations don't like an neutral Internet because it's harder to make money for shareholders in a neutral environment; corporations want a long (yes, Tim, even an endless) term for copyright, because it locks up a corporate asset; corporations want to impose ever-more-draconian penalties on those who intentionally or inadvertently infringe IP interests, and...well, I coould go on. We really need to return the conversation to the intent of the Constitution, that posited a limited right for individuals, and do our best to make the public understand that a corporation -- focused only on shareholder value and short-term earnings -- is simply incapable of supporting a nuanced approach to government and culture. The big IP-dependent industries hate the Creative Commons; they would hate a department of cultural affairs. In short, once an individual right like copyright was attached to corporations, the steady erosion of the public interest in cultural vitality was inevitable.
Second, this erosion has been gradual, akin to the frog metaphor (scalding slowly as the temp of his bathwater is gradually increased) made famous by Al Gore. Here's an old media example. Say Jane Q. Public walks into a Wal-Mart Superstore, intent on buying some new music. She makes her way to the back of the building, to a section that looks like it offers quite a few titles. But truth be told, a Superstore stocks no more than about 2500 compact discs, and no more than 500 of those will have been released in the past 12 months. Jane has no way of knowing, but about 34,000 CDs are released into some kind of distribution each year. Two decades ago, corporate efficiencies killed off mom-and-pop stores, and mall chains like Turtles couldn't compete with emerging big-boxers like Target, Wal-Mart, etc., and ultimately terrific outlets like Tower gave up the ghost. This happened over about 20 years, and while Wal-Mart has dictated low prices for music (9.99), the approach has severely limited choice. But the change has been gradual; Jane public may sense that it's impossible to browse in the old way (yes, I know, the Internet is great for buying things including downloads, but it's a very difficult place to shop), but this is mild discomfort and not the sort that will generate outrage. We've experienced the same gradual erosion in the scope of fair use, in the gradual increase in penalties for infringement, and in the proliferation of advertiser interests online.
So the big problem is to restore copyright and things related as an individual right, wrenching priorities away from corporations and their lobbyists, while trying to create a sense of public outrage in an environment that is worsening so slowing that too few really notice.
Lynne muses about Silent Spring and the 1960s environmental movement. I had hoped Arts, Inc. would "jump the fence" and create a stir with the general public. But so far, nearly two years out, that hasn't happened; the coversation generated has been pretty much inside the arts community.
Somebody on this blog needs to write another book!
Thanks to all.
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?
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 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..
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.
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?
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.?
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.
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