Recently by Jean Cook, Director of Programs for Future of Music Coalition

Briefly adding to Yolanda's excellent post:
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.
I agree that some foundations have a capacity gap when it comes to knowing how they want to invest in the policy space - especially as it pertains to arts and culture or telecomm or media copyright etc.  Many are worried about appearing to spend too much time influencing legislation - which is a bright line we cannot cross in the 501c3 world.  I get that.  That's why folks like the Alliance for Justice exist in this world - to educate, inform, and otherwise help us navigate that scary terrain.
But just to be clear - very little of what I am talking about on this blog is about lobbying (or pursuing legislative change).  Sure congress has the power to pass laws and decide who gets appropriations. And that is very very important.  And FMC does a little bit of this kind of work - of course within the legal limits (which are actually quite generous).  But once legislators make those decisions, it's often up to the federal agencies to figure out things like: how do we spend this money we just got?  what kind of rules and processes should we put in place?  how do we enforce this law? - and the courts to figure out: how do we interpret the law?  The devil is in the details, and battles are rarely over once congress has done their part.

Most federal agencies have incredibly few gateways to help them to understand how the decisions they make impact our sector.  Without that kind of feedback they cannot develop, implement or enforce policies that will be beneficial to the arts.  There is a tremendous amount of positive work that can be done in this area by the nonprofit cultural sector: conducting research (beyond economic impact studies) for purposes of policymaking, shaping and amplifying strategic stories so they have an impact, building coalitions that can engage and partner with policymakers - and be a useful player in solving some really difficult problems along the way.

Here are two examples of this kind of work (I was going to come up with three, but like Nathan said - it's a busy week).

This last year the FCC has been asking the public how radio station ownership impacts them.  This proceeding is the perfect time to tell the FCC how losing a jazz radio station might impact a community, or the challenges to maintaining the commercial model for classical music.  Or even easier - anyone told the FCC that radio is the dominant form of consumption for classical audiences?

Wireless microphone users from the arts sector, who have recently had to bear the brunt of a costly equipment swap out because of spectrum reallocation by the FCC (and are currently under the threat of additional reallocation activity) could develop proactive strategies and form cross sector partnership with a goal of finding a new permanent home in a different area of the spectrum where they can operate in peace and quiet.

This is the kind of work that should be supported in our sector, not avoided.  I encourage anyone concerned about lobbying rules to spend 15 minutes on the Alliance for Justice's excellent site.
July 23, 2010 4:38 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) |
This post is inspired by Kevin Erickson's comment, which suggested

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.

July 21, 2010 4:37 PM | | Comments (0) |
Tim, Bill and Esther touch on very smart points when they ask about representation. 

In her post, Yolanda names some groups that are addressing copyright, internet and media issues.  But who is specifically representing the creative community's interests?

It's instructive to look at the public record.

Every four years the FCC asks the public to weigh in questions like - how many radio stations should a single company be allowed to own?  How does ownership impact the health of local communities, or diversity on the airwaves?  How are communities using radio?  Why is it important?  Of the 158 comments filed in the recently closed Media Ownership proceeding (#09-186) at the FCC, two organizations besides FMC talked about the impact of media consolidation on the creative community: the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Writers Guild of America.  Other groups traditionally speaking for our sector in this area also include the American Federation of Musicians (musicians union), the Recording Academy (Grammys), the Recording Industry Association of America (major record labels), and A2IM (independent record labels).

Now this is the part where you ask yourself three very important questions.

1. Do these organizations understand how this issue impacts your community?  Do you feel your interests are represented?
2. Do you disagree with the positions of any of these organizations?  Would you want to clarify your de facto tacit support of these groups?
3. Uh, where do I get the cliff notes for this?

The arts community government relations infrastructure is currently built to service five core issue areas:  NEA funding, arts education, visas, nonprofit governance, and tax issues.  There is a huge capacity gap between desire and actual ability of the arts community to engage outside this core.  Some of the capacity issues are because media ownership, net neutrality and copyright aren't black and white, like the core issue areas.  They're the vast and scary gray area.  You don't have to be a lawyer to understand these complex and nuanced issues, but you do have to be willing to do some serious detective work and put up with a lot of legalese to develop the same clarity of position outside the arts advocacy comfort zone.

While we struggle with this challenge, policymakers have to assume that the other "creative voices" speak for us.
July 20, 2010 5:04 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

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