Recently by Ian David Moss, Research Director, Fractured Atlas

It's the end of the day for me, but my colleagues on the West Coast are theoretically still in the office, so I'm going to get a last post in anyway. Thanks to all for the stimulating conversation. I think for me, the most exciting policy development on the horizon is the ability of data to illuminate who we are and what we do. (Oops - just saw Brian's post - I guess I'm not the only one!) Our increasingly interconnected, networked world is generating huge reams of information too dense and extensive for any human to handle. But our technology has reached the point where batch processing of that information is almost trivial, and the real--and yes, creative--challenge posed to us is how to slice, segment, mash up, or otherwise arrange that data in ways that tell stories, that inform priorities, and that let us know how we're doing.

A few years ago, when I first went to graduate school, I was convinced that the arts were antithetical to data. I vividly recall a Thanksgiving conversation with my cousin in which we were talking about why I was so passionate about the arts. He was finishing up an MBA at the time, and as I waxed eloquent about the impact of arts activity on real estate, the relevance of the arts to innovation in business, etc., his ears perked up with clear interest. "But I would never say that's why the arts should be funded," I finally concluded. Surprised, he asked, "so why should they be funded?" "Because they're great," I responded definitively. But it was obvious I had lost him. And I didn't know how to get him back. He didn't have an arts background. How could I explain to him why the arts were so great when they hadn't been a formative part of his life experience? How could I ever convey to him the depth of that intensity in words, in a few minutes no less?

Now, a few years later, I have come to the conclusion that it's not quite so black and white. If the arts do, in fact, make our lives richer in ways other than money, there are means of figuring such things out. I'm really excited for the intrinsic impact work that Clay mentions because for the first time, this line of research attempts to delve into some of these "unmeasurable" ways that the arts give meaning to our lives. Other methodological innovations like these are bound to proliferate in the coming years, propelled forward by the increased access we'll have to more and more meaningful data. One area where I think our research could improve is more sophisticated segmentation of our subjects. I suspect a big part of the reason that some of the arts literature seems inconclusive is that it tries to lump people or activity or contexts together when it would be more interesting to look at a subset of cases. For example, there's a long tradition in our field of trying to universalize the arts: this idea that all of us have some hidden yearning to be creative and that our lives are forever impoverished by the lack of access to the symphony/theatre/museum etc. Yet my cousin's experience and those of many like him seem to belie this notion. He may not realize how much art is part of the background of his life, but he appears to be perfectly happy and fulfilled without it in the foreground. So what if it's the case that art is really important -- important enough to save lives -- but only for a minority of us? We'd have to figure out the policy implications later, but that would be important information to have. By the same token, most research in the arts that deals with events treats all arts events as the same - 1:1 equivalence. Yet any artist can tell you that the "impact" of one arts event to another can vary immensely, depending not just on the show/production but even from night to night. And even at the level of a single event, goodness knows people, even knowledgeable experts, can have incredibly divergent judgments as to the quality of the experience.

I mention this because I think our policy, and by the same token advocacy, similarly risks putting too many people in the same bucket. I take to heart Molly's example of the copyright views of the MIT scientist and the television writer being affected by how they each pay the rent. In a way, when we talk about "artists' creative rights," we're really talking about two different things that our copyright laws and systems have artificially mushed together: the right to control who gets to use your work, and the right to an opportunity to make a living as a creator. If we segment our interest groups by who depends on copyright to pay their daily bread and who does not, and open up the possibility of dealing with those groups differently, the path forward may become a lot clearer.
July 23, 2010 3:13 PM | | Comments (0) |
In a post earlier today, Clay Lord calls attention to the admin-heavy nature of the arts field, both in economic terms and (as others have noted) in policy conversations with government officials and others in direct position to shape the landscape for the arts in this country. As he points out, one reason for this is that "the relative entropy of a thousand individual artistic voices" is not always the most helpful context in which to communicate with regulators and suits. The way in which our field has historically addressed that entropy is through national service organizations (by which I mean both the usual suspects such as the ones Bill mentions but also the unions, trade groups, etc.). Yet I'm not convinced that this structure constitutes the best means of expressing artists' concerns to the people that need to hear them. For one thing, even this strategy of centralizing the voices of various subsectors of the arts field is still highly decentralized. On an issue like copyright, for example, you have hawks such as the RIAA and ASCAP purporting to represent artists' interests at the same time that an organization like Future of Music Coalition, representing the same constituency, might be more open to alternative models. For another, I question how effective the feedback loops are between the people who determine policy positions for national service organizations and the artist communities who fall under their organizations' umbrellas. Most artists, as has been pointed out, don't necessarily have the time or inclination to research policy issues in depth for themselves, so the primary information they have about a particular issue is often what the national service organization chooses to tell them. Moreover, even that's only true for the artists who are members of that service organization--yet we know that there are thousands upon thousands of unaffiliated artists who either choose not to join service organizations or don't even know about them. Who is in a position to speak for them?

At Fractured Atlas, as a national service organization ourselves, we're starting to think about arts advocacy in a new way. Since our focus is on using technology to build infrastructure for the arts field, naturally we see the future in that frame. What if there were a way for artists to engage with policy issues directly rather than through the intermediary of a service organization with which they might or might not have any meaningful relationship? What if there were a way for them to obtain crucial, unbiased information about their own communities, their own representatives, and how the arts fit in? What if there were a way for them to organize themselves around that information, determine their own agendas and priorities, and create email/social media/grassroots campaigns centered around specific actions? What if there were a way for them to hold elected representatives accountable for their decisions by easily and conveniently tracking legislative outcomes, whether at the national, state, or local level? What if there were a way for them to actually play a role in drafting legislation itself, in collaboration with their peers?

We've been laying what could prove to be the groundwork for a system like this as part of a project I'm currently working on in the San Francisco Bay Area called the Bay Area Cultural Asset Map (BACAM). BACAM is a one-year pilot effort to create a suite of tightly integrated, map-based web applications that collectively aggregate, analyze and publicize data on the Bay Area cultural sector. Commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Performing Arts Program, the short-term vision for BACAM is a tool that will enable the foundation's staff to make better funding decisions and track progress against their outcomes.  One of BACAM's innovations is that it employs a modular design that allows the same information to be reused and repurposed for several different applications. So, for example, the high-quality database of cultural activity that the foundation uses to understand the impact of its own grantmaking will sync up with the database of performing arts spaces that we're building in collaboration with two local service organizations. This hub of centralized public knowledge can then be put to use in all sorts of contexts, even potentially by third-party developers (rather like a Facebook or Twitter app).

One of the tools we're developing for BACAM as part of this pilot is something we're calling the Advocacy Module. In this first year, the Advocacy Module is going to focus primarily on aggregating and displaying data, both in map form and in reports that can be shared with others on the web or in print. If all goes well, our intention is to build it or a variation of it into a platform looking much more like what I described above: an interactive, flexible, social-network-driven tool to empower individual artists and arts advocates to learn about the issues that matter, mobilize others, and take action.
July 20, 2010 9:40 AM | | Comments (0) |


This Blog Arts and culture are a cornerstone of American society. But arts and culture workers are often left out of important policy conversations concerning technology and creative rights even though the outcomes will have a profound impact on our world. Is it benign neglect? Or did we... more

This blog is a project of... the Future of Music Coalition, the National Alliance for Art Media + Culture, Fractured Atlas, and more

Our Bloggers We have 22 bloggers taking part in this week's conversation. They are... more

Contact us: Click here to send us an email... more

Recent Comments

Alex Shapiro commented on All You Need is Love: As you already know from my post, I do not share your views on this point, ...

Stefan Kac commented on Bridging the Creative/Critical Divides: Any time ArtsJournal adds a new blog, you can bet there will also be new ad...

Stefan Kac commented on All You Need is Love: I am frequently amazed at audiences' contentedness with musical products th...

Brian Newman commented on Doug's Challenge: Glad to see Bill and I can agree on some things. But, I think the three of ...

William Osborne commented on My Own Not-So-Private Echo Chamber: This blog is about Net neutrality and the members were chosen accordingly. ...

William Osborne commented on Doug's Challenge: I think the most common thread of this entire discussion is that we live in...

William Osborne commented on "Have we actually stopped objectifying audiences?" Nope - and that's the Problem.: Perhaps the problem is not only a lack of knowledge about audiences, but th...

Anu Kirk commented on Doug's Challenge: The letter of the law might be "life plus 70" now, but the reality is that ...

Jesus Pantel commented on A challenge for this last day: My corollary question would be where/how do we find out what the biggest po...

Casey commented on Stories Are A Resource: So true! If I might add: Number one rule when dealing with decisionmakers...

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
State of the Art
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
The Unanswered Question
Joe Horowitz on music

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary