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July 18, 2010
Marty, thanks for kicking us off--and so provocatively, too! OK, I'll bite. As you well know, there's more than one way to affect a policy deliberation--and more than one kind of political capital. I would think that, if artists get into a head-to-head battle with Big Media in a smoke-filled-room, the chances are not good. But who says a frontal assault in a back room is the only feasible strategy? And who says artists have to go it alone? And who says Big Media's interests are monolithic, or entirely hostile to the public sector? And who says that at least some Big Money wouldn't welcome the arts as an ally, for mutual objectives?
In politics, like any other performance, it's usually a good idea to play to your strengths. Money is not a strength of the arts, I suspect we will all agree. Therefore, it's especially important to ask the questions, what strengths do artists and cultural workers bring to the political table, and how best can those strengths be leveraged?
How likely is it that arts and culture workers will have a real voice in policy deliberations, if their clout doesn't come down to cash? Celebrity, moral suasion and stats about economic impact are nice assets to deploy, but does anyone think they provide the kind of access or standing enjoyed by the oligopolies?
Many, many artists are fabulous activists and outspoken entrepreneurs when it comes to generating their own art world and bringing colleagues together. Their efforts are often beautiful, exciting, profound... but yet, self-referential. Their events are by and for other, often like-minded, artists and arts insiders. The creators and participants have a natural affinity for what's going on around them, and they feel good doing it. They're part of a team.
Appealing to someone's affinity is also one of the key ingredients for fund-raising efforts: the patron feels good being involved in something they like, in which they have a positive, helpful role. They're part of a team.
So how do we create an affinity in the minds of artists by which they'll want to participate in the non-artsy process that governs them? If what drives them is the endorphin-drenched joy of what they do in their daily creative lives, how can a message come across that by raising their voice and giving a little of their energy, they'll feel good? How do we make activism an appealing
We also know about today's reality: Funding for the arts is the first to be cut. The arts are seen as too abstract unless they are bundled with other enterprises such as science and business. Marketing firms in the private sector understand the value of art as promotional content. Politicians and government officials are less sensitive to the role art plays in everyday life. A lot of energy was expended to include art opportunities in the economic stimulus package. Arlene Goldbard compiled the activities in her essay, The New New Deal, Part 2 - A WPA for Artists: How and Why. Goldbard included NAMAC's call for a Digital Arts Service Corps.
So what's next?
We need to craft and disseminate more compelling rhetoric to encourage the government and the private sector to fund a nationwide public arts movement. We also need to use existing and emerging technologies to spread new and alternative messages to counter the social-political verbal gymnastics in the mainstream media. Words like "public" and "participation" have been given a negative connotation in the media (as part of big bad activism). Such messaging is deceitful and it does not allow the American public to get a clear perception of what needs to be done to effectively address their issues.
I envision a promotional package for the arts that can be tweeted/retweeted, posted as ads or mobile tags on Facebook, and downloaded as a mobile application for smart devices. More and more art institutions are using mobile technologies to enhance the museum/gallery experience. Ovation TV sponsored interactive artwork by artist John Baldessari that enables users to create their own still life on their iPhones or iPads. This is being used to promote Baldessari's retrospective, Pure Beauty, at LACMA. Rather than relegate gaming and mobile technologies to entertainment we could be launching a new arts movement using these emerging platforms.
I'll jump in with a direct response to Doug's opening question: "Do artists even know what the priorities are?" From my perspective as a cultural historian, the answer is decidedly NO--artists have never understood the relationship between creative output and creative control and they have always been at a loss as to how to access the means of production and distribution (economically speaking.) Is it a left brain/right brain thing? I don't think so. I think it's a cultural assumption turned aesthetic pressure--artists aren't supposed to be good managers or business savvy and, if they are, then they must not "really" be artists. Imagine, for example, how hard Mick Jagger has had to work over the years to mask the fact that he's actually a very steady, savvy, strategic business man.
Erin Potts from Air Traffic Control highlighted some research that indicated music affects the same part of the brain that governs optimism, and that music-related activism therefore helped convince participants their efforts could really make an impact.
Don't worry, I'm not suggesting that we get artists engaged in policy conversations by turning them into sing-alongs. But I do think it's a mistake to consider policy and process as something separate from/different than the act of creating. They're intertwined, and need to be addressed that way. That's why, though I recognize the phenomenon Lynne calls "the Jagger Effect,"hearing it phrased as something intrinsic to the artistic personality always makes me a little crazy. I think the effect has more to do with romantic notions of what being an artist is supposed to mean than it does with any effective way of actually being an artist.
Over 20 years in the music business has convinced me that the idea of creative geniuses tending only to their art while others figure out how to find it an audience, and then turn that audience into money, isn't just a myth, it's a pernicious lie. Moreover, it's a lie that folks on the business side have a vested interest in perpetuating.
It's nice to be told that you're a genius and needn't worry about the business side of things, or who's doing what with your website, or what's being decided in DC about your particular field. But when I hear artists repeat that, I tell them to stop being naive.
So, um, I guess my answer to Alex is two-fold: sing, and be a pest.
Let's just say, for example, that I am able to figure out what the heck it means to "protect the open internet" and want to get active. What can I do? I can go to the Public Knowledge website and tell my congressman to support the FCC's right to regulate broadband. If that's not a fun enough activity, I can tell my friend's to look at the site and tell Congress as well, and maybe make a donation.
Having fun yet? Addicted? The problem here is that this kind of activism is very un-rewarding and antithetical to the artistic impulse. Many artists today are using the power of digital technology to create very rewarding, often participatory experiences that are not just fun to share, but quite addictive. Gaming technology, social media, mash-ups and remix are informing culture in new ways, and guess what - the good ones go viral and get seen by millions. Like drugs, they are fun to share, and very hard to stop.
If we want to engage artists with advocacy, we need to embrace these tools - and give artists a way to use them as well. Nettrice Gaskins is correct - we need to launch a "new arts movement using these emerging platforms." It's very hard for artists to have much clout, as Marty suggests, without having cash. But it's equally hard for the media and the politicians to ignore a true groundswell of activity. We don't have that yet, because we haven't let artists make the message more engaging. Perhaps it's time for Games for Change to fund an artist to make the next Farmville for arts policy.
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.
Doug asks if there is any artist consensus on cultural policy issues. How can artists even begin the process of finding consensus if they are still unaware of policy issues that have the capacity to directly (and dramatically) affect them?
While one might counter that many arts service organizations (including Americans for the Arts) do their best to notify their constituents of pertinent legislative issues, there must be more that each of us -- artists, arts administrators, arts lovers, etc. -- can do to proactively raise awareness of the cultural policy issues threatening creativity today. It goes beyond simply sharing the message. What can we do to galvanize our sector of the citizenry?
Because one way I've found to galvanize people is to show them what's being touted as "the creators' position" by people who aren't, in fact, creators.
That often wakes people up.
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.?
I would argue, however, that these factors are not an excuse for giving up on making our case. In fact, I'd say the opposite.
Marty talks about the recent revelations about FCC leadership engaging in closed-door conversations with Captains of Industry (in this case, the Internet Service Providers). The purpose of these meetings (as well as some less "closed" discussions on the Hill) is to arrive at a consensus regarding proposed regulation to preserve the open internet.
Now, those of us to read the tea leaves for fun and non-profit would probably tell you that such consensus will be difficult if not impossible to achieve. What really bugs some folks about the FCC situation is that the Commission already has a pair of public proceedings about the aforementioned issue, and at least one on the National Broadband Plan. Doesn't this kind of go against the whole transparency thing?
Yes and no. It's not uncommon for policymakers to have direct conversations with representatives from the private sector, and it's not always a quid pro quo situation. It's actually a way for officials to hear potential concerns -- real or manufactured -- about proposed policies. The important thing is for these same policymakers to hear from us.
I'm not suggesting that just anyone from the arts community is going to be sitting across the table from the CEO of Comcast in a high-stakes horse trade. What I'm saying is that there are plenty of opportunities to articulate our concerns and those of the broader arts community -- we just need to get better at spotting and taking advantage of them.
Look, we already know that we can't match the lobbying power of multi-gazillion dollar corporations. But we can tell stories. We can offer real-life examples of how we benefit from access to technology and communications platforms that don't discriminate against smaller voices. We can remind policymakers that protecting these voices is an American virtue. And we can do this without name-calling, hyperbole or even gobs and gobs of cash.
If those of us in the arts community are truly concerned with the outcomes of today's policy debates, than we'll work even harder to have a voice in them. We're certainly allowed to be disappointed when our leaders fail to live up to expectations, but it's more productive to remind them of why we had those expectations in the first place.
They won't always listen. But if we don't speak, they'll never hear us at all.
The bedrock of any good campaign is a clear sense of : WHAT/WHO/HOW.
WHAT change are we trying to advocate for?
WHO has a stake in the outcome of this advocacy work (individuals, institutions and coalitions)?
HOW will this change be brought about (what levers of power must be persuaded and how will we persuade them)?
I would argue that most people, artists included, have a hard time getting behind advocacy campaigns that are not clear about the what/who/how. For example, I think you would find a high participation in the Obama campaign by artists--because the stakes and the mechanisms were clearly articulated.
I would argue that artists are not involved in most cultural policy fights because
There is not any kind of consensus on WHAT change artists should be advocating for...
There is no clear articulation of what the stakes are, and thus WHO has a stake is unclear....
Because we don't know what we want, and who else wants it, we don't know HOW to effectively fight....
Arts advocacy groups need to create clarity of messaging--and then use the power of that clarity to create momentum building messaging, exciting coalitions and ACTION....
Brian's Drug, Nettrice's app, Tim's singing pest, Shepard Fairey's change poster, will only work with these pieces in place.
But course this assumes, like Bill mentioned, that we know who the arts advocacy groups are......Is perhaps artist's lack of participation equally an issue of ineffective representation?
I agree strongly with Nettrice and Brian on the need to bring new tools and technologies into the mix, not because these elements are in themselves inherently more democratic, but because they offer an opportunity to destabilize profoundly some rigid structures currently in place both inside and outside academia (and why we see such resistance and trivialization of their use at times). The good news, sort of, is that alongside of what we see as an aesthetic divide is also a generational one. Many young artists within academia are already taking up these new strategies, technologies, and ideas despite a lack of consistent institutional support, enthusiasm, or interest in innovative art practices. I don't think we can afford to wait for change to happen via a generational turn over (since institutions do have a way of reproducing themselves ultimately when left to their own internal mechanisms). What we do need is to find a way to open up the conversation on these divides - including, especially, the academic/outside world divide. Brian's game suggestion is definitely a good place to begin. I understand and applaud Bill Ivey's call for Department of Cultural Affairs as a way to centralize the issues for the arts and artists, but I would also suggest a parallel external, perhaps virtual, organization, consortium, or think tank, that brings as many diverse perspectives into the mix as possible but with the umbrella goal of reshaping arts policy along more democratic lines (politically and aesthetically).
Barely a sip into my first coffee of the day, I started reading these posts. Big money. Big media. Lobbyists. Leveraging. Oligopolies! I thought I knew a thing or two about the policy issues on the table, but suddenly I was reminded again how ineffective and small my potential to influence them seemed.
I took a moment
to hide to catch up on the other items in my Google reader. Ah, a post commenting on a post about the trailer for the new Facebook movie. That seemed like safe viewing. But I couldn't escape the topic at hand. That haunting soundtrack it has featuring an all-girl choral version of Radiohead's "Creep." Lovely voices singing about not belonging but wanting to have control, while actors depicting real people yell at each other, first about their big, creative idea, and then later (and at a higher volume), about money and ownership of that idea. Lawyers are then involved. There are tears, discussions of copyright and privacy violations, and things are lit on fire.
In real life, of course, issues of creativity, cash, and control don't usually get such a dramatic arc and backing track. To bad, because that would make policy work more exciting.
If sports have taught some of us only one thing, it's that being on the defensive is generally not the position of power. That seems to be the position we're playing from, however. Take this as an example: Composer Mike Rugnetta recently pointed out his perception that "that NO ONE - including those who get PRO checks - understands how rights mgmt works...Myself included; I have NO idea. Obviously this is a very broken system." And that's just a single example in a stack of issues where artists find themselves frustratingly confused about how things function and who is influencing what and why. Artists have been empowered by new technologies to control more aspects of their own work and career trajectories, but absent a middleman representing them, this brave new world also means that they need a way to look out for the larger political and legal issues pertinent to their creative life. But how do you DIY a lobbying effort?
Artists are often the bravest and most audacious people I know, but current circumstances seem to indicate that we need some serious(ly creative) methods for directing action/education on what we can do as individuals, what organizations we can look to for help, and how--absent $ resources to get it done--we can help educate our confused colleagues. I appreciate Doug's concern that artists probably don't even all want to pull in the same direction, and his recommendation that at the very least we need to be loud and proud in our debates. Still, even if our house is a bit divided, can we influence more people with the power of our creativity/the networks of our fanbases than big media could buy with big cash if we develop better methods for directing where to lob it?
Thanks to three of my fellow blogerati here on this week's ArtsJournal-hosted discussion (Molly, Jean and Casey), I was the sole artist invited to testify last September at one of the FCC's public hearings to which Casey refers below in his post. The topics at hand were broadband access and digital piracy (details, and stories of my adventure can be found here). When the session wrapped up, I chatted at some length with one of the commissioners, who made it very clear that she wanted to hear from more artists and that they should feel free to be in contact.
The following week, I sat in a committee meeting in New York City that was attended by a good number of respected composers and publishers. After I reported on my D.C. experience, I repeatedly stressed to my colleagues that they, too, should add their voices and make their opinions known to the FCC. In fact, I think I stated this enough times that being hit over the noggin with a two-by-four might have been more enjoyable for those having to endure my impassioned entreaty.
To my knowledge, not one person in the room chose to follow up and contact the FCC. I would love to learn that I'm mistaken.
It's possible that some artists may view participating in the process to be intimidating. But they can calm their nerves by remembering that since the corporate and government world is not their world, they shouldn't feel as though they've got to be a polished expert to be worthy of being heard. Indeed, it's the lack of polish that often makes what we have to say most meaningful.
Look, we already know that we can't match the lobbying power of multi-gazillion dollar corporations. But we can tell stories.Artists have extraordinarily valuable insights that the business world does not. Our stories and our perspectives are important, and it's vital that people outside our field hear from those of us with the stories, since they're the ones signing policy suggestions into laws and regulations that will affect how our upcoming chapters unfold. U.S. citizens often forget how fortunate they are: despite turns of politics that may dismay, they still live in a Democracy in which much of the time their opinions can be voiced and registered.
I'm not suggesting that just anyone from the arts community is going to be sitting across the table from the CEO of Comcast in a high-stakes horse trade.Agreed. But I say to any fellow artists reading this, that if they want to be sitting at that table, it's not beyond the realm of possibility. I wasn't doin' no horse trading, but there I was, questioning the COO of Paramount Pictures. Intimidating? You bet! An addictive and enjoyable experience? Absolutely.
Me, we. (Supposedly the shortest quote in the English language delivered at a Harvard graduation.)" -- Muhammad AliFor some reason this quote by my hometown (KY) hero came to mind as I was skimming the page regarding a national cultural policy for Australia.
The cultural policy will be integrated into programs in universities, schools, local government, new media and longstanding media and cultural institutions in both settler and indigenous communities - creating a cultural infrastructure for the Australian economy and society, and building on the core activities in the arts and creative industries.Some of the major points of the proposal include,
- enabling innovation
- supporting and encouraging connections
- supportingt art & culture in education
- investing in new art forms and in the integration of investment in core cultural institutions
- supporting knowledge transfer and exchanges between academia and cultural institutions
- recognizing arts & culture in innovation policies through new products and services
- recognizing collecting institutions as a major resource in the Web 2.0 environment
What I especially like is the part about broadening "cultural policy from its foundation in arts policy." I wonder if we Americans could also build a discussion framework on culture - heritage, innovation, creation and expression while maintaining support for the arts. Inherent in this approach is the departure from the top-down approach of arts & culture programming.
...the "democratization of culture" is a top-down approach that promulgates certain forms of cultural programming that are deemed to be a public good. Clearly, such an objective is open to criticism for what is termed cultural elitism; that is, the assumption that some aesthetic expressions are inherently superior - at least as determined by a cognoscenti concerned with the acquisition of cultural capital. -- wikipediaI support a more participatory (or populist) approach in the definition and provision of cultural opportunities. I believe these approaches are mutually exclusive, perhaps even critical to creating arts & cultural in the U.S. that promotes a political democracy. Why can't we have diversified revenue streams with high levels of earned income AND a public culture that nurtures arts & cultural activities that contribute to individual self-worth and community?
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?
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.
But now I've read Vickie's insightful analysis of how this dynamic is perpetuated by art schools and universities, and Bill's observation that "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." And that all mirrors my experience in the business world: I spent the last 11 years working in online music, and every year I found myself giving a copyright 101 course to some new executive, explaining the difference between a composition and a sound recording, who controlled the rights for each, which ones were available at statutory rates and which ones had to be licensed directly from the owner, how one went about tracking down said owners, and the various consequences of failing to identify those owners correctly.
This stuff is neither easy nor intuitive, and most people (even very intelligent and successful businessmen and women) tend to throw up their arms in exasperation somewhere around the point where you highlight the difference between a mechanical royalty and a performance one and why the Harry Fox Agency collects the former and performance rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI collect the latter.
So maybe I should forgive artists for running in terror. But I can't let educational institutions off the hook. Someone has to teach the mechanics of all this, and it would help if that someone also devoted significant energy to analyzing why it gets so complicated so quickly: it turns out the tortuous copyright clearance process serves as a decent history of which institutions had the most political power whenever a new use for creative works emerged.
And it also serves as an ongoing saga of what happens when creators aren't involved in policy-making.
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.
This lie is perpetuated by the very schools that should be teaching their students not just the art, but also the business side of the equation. I've spoken to film school deans, however, who feel that they barely have time to teach their students what they need to become artists in the three years they have them. Yet it is the very rare artist who can make a living just by being a creative, but not also entrepreneurial, genius. Some attention to the larger issues of control would be a nice primer - because the policy debates now are often about re-assertion of control over the means of artistic creation, dissemination and enjoyment.
I don't think that the education situation will change anytime soon, but I do wonder if the larger service organizations could play a bigger role? Bill Ivey asked this as well, below, and I just spent a little time visiting the websites of many of these organizations. My very unscientific survey showed only about one quarter (1/4) had any mention of any policy issues or advocacy for such issues on their websites. I know they all have a lot on their hands, and very few resources to devote to any non-revenue-generating activity, but who else is going to help take the lead?
In the world of film, we used to have a very strong network of media arts centers around the nation. As foundations shifted priorities (and the NEA's support changed dramatically), however, many of these organizations have shut down or refocused energies to where the money is - social issue action, youth training or corporate support for large activities, like film festivals. When attending a Grantmakers in the Arts conference a couple of years ago, I was amazed that there was a group of funders upset that they couldn't get filmmakers active in the policy debate - but they had helped disband the very network that could have served to rally filmmakers around these issues.
From my perspective the large national service organizations are the only possible remaining section of the nonprofit sector that can take on this role. I thank NAMAC for helping put this conversation together as one part of that job. I'd love to see them banding together more often with Public Knowledge, Free Press, Future of Music (oh how I wish for a Future of Film....) and others. I imagine each of these organizations could use the collective support as well. I could also imagine a series of one-off training days going on tour of the art schools, supported by a grouping of these organizations. Or a national challenge to an artist to work with Games for Change (here I go again) on making advocacy fun. Or perhaps they could just create an Ipad app?
I want to take on Bill Osborne's comment that the premise of this blog is that artists are not involved in activism. They most certainly are, and I don't think that anyone here has said that they aren't, even though there's been much discussion about the extent of artists' roles in policy debates.
I'd also like to challenge his assertion that:
especially in the USA, the very act of trying to be a creative artist at all is close to being a form of activism, if not subversion, because it often challenges our nation's narrowly defined orthodoxy concerning the primacy of the marketplace.
This seems a bit over-dramatic to me (okay, a lot). We live in a time when more people than ever before are calling themselves artists. And indeed, with the availability of cheap digital tools, there's been a democratizing bubbling forth of creativity we may never have seen before. Kids are making movies, writing and recording music, mashing up the things they see (and hear) around them. In the physical world, record sales of musical instruments further attest to this. So to say that being an artist today is subversive is just not true.
It is the fact of this burgeoning expression that forces us to reevaluate the rules that have underpinned our systems of creative production. In June, Facebook users shared 25 billion pieces of content with one another. More and more people have an expectation that part of engaging the creative experience is being able to pass along pieces of experiences that were meaningful to them. Just this fact forces the need to reexamine the rules for passing along.
Bill's second assertion that:
The blog's second, and more specific premise, is that artists are not actively involved in the debates surrounding net neutrality, even though these policy decisions will strongly affect them. This second part of the statement is untrue.
This is also wrong. First, there's a big wide world beyond classical music for which issues about net neutrality have a big direct impact. If I'm a filmmaker and the free access to my audience is impacted that matters to me. There are a whole string of other content issues issues that play out beyond simple access and net neutrality that are of no small importance to artists.
Second: For classical musicians, net neutrality is not just about selling CDs(!) It's about operating equally in the cultural marketplace and the ability to build audiences and communicate work. Those traditional digital audiences might be small right now, but they're important. And behind the scenes and for educational purposes, having an open internet ought to matter deeply to you. Limiting bandwidth and allowing privilege to some content over others ought to matter to all artists.
Vicki, Bill, Brian and others are absolutely right in noting how dysfunctional the long-standing distaste within the academy for any sort of policy discussion/know-how has become (Though honestly, this shouldn't surprise anyone--keep in mind that colleges and universities are places where teachers refuse to discuss teaching or even to learn how to do it effectively.)
In my view it's a self-fulfilling problem: a majority of practicing artists were trained in university or college-based conservatories and come out of their programs primed to re-produce the self-referential elitism (read real-world insecurities) of their professors. But here's a rub to consider as this conversation moves forward: In the music, visual arts and film realms the commercial application (and thus the immediate ties to issues of copyright, creative control and regulatory legislation) are considerably more relevant than in the predominantly not-for-profit environment of theater and dance, where they are muted largely because there is so little commercial production and thus so little, economically speaking, at stake. It's hard to get artists interested in business issues when they see no business going on.
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..
Consider flipping that: perhaps the classical artists' world wouldn't be as vastly different, and they would be better remunerated by the marketplace, if the artists themselves were to take an interest in and educate themselves on matters of licensing of music on the web, copyright laws, and media consolidation. I don't argue that, with some exceptions, the new music world does not generate a comparable scale of income to that of the popular music world (I'm just guessin' that's why they don't call this popular music). But I absolutely believe that many artists could do better than they do professionally, were they to embrace a broader vision of entrepreneurship and business savvy that goes beyond grants and charitable support.
It's a little bit chicken-and-egg (or, Catch-22, take your analogous pick). If artists proceed with a negative attitude about their ability to generate income from their art, then it's more likely that such an attitude will become their reality, and only further perpetuate the frustrations they already experience. It's hard to make money when one is constantly transmitting a message that one can't make money.
We all appear to agree that educating artists is essential, and I look forward to more discussions here about how we can go about implementing that more effectively. I've observed that once artists understand the worth of their assets and how those can be used to benefit them in the marketplace, things tend to improve in their careers. The better we can read and understand the open sea of the non-arts world, the more capable we will be of successfully navigating through it! It's an enjoyable journey.
I believe so, because by embracing them, we automatically foster what I referred to in my initial post on this blog as "affinity." The more people who have their own hand in some form of art-making, the more people who will appreciate the making of art on all levels. And, quite possibly, be willing to spend money on art. This is also why arts education for kids is vital for creating future audiences (as well as future artists). Building affinity. But we all know that tune.
I've always giggled at professionals who view "amateurs" who blindly plunk around in Garage Band or Photoshop as a threat to their livelihood. The essence of being an artist is that presumably, you're unique in what you have to communicate. People respond not to the number of academic degrees you possess, but to your personal take on the world as it relates to your heart and every other part of you. When non-professionals have access to tools that allow them greater self expression, this is a wonderful thing for them, and also for those of us who earn our living from the results of our own plunking.
Remember, boys and girls: "amateur" comes from the word "amare," "to love": amo, amas, amat, for those of us geeks who enjoyed years of Latin classes. Amat-eurs love what they are doing. And presumably, what we are doing, when we're doing what they love.
Am I detecting a theme here? I hope so, because there are a lot of ideas flying around, and it might be worthwhile to try and shoehorn a few of them.
Here's the "known unknowables," or "knowable unknowns," or just plain vexing conundrums.
We know the issues are complex, prone to tech-driven change, and consensus-resistant -- for all the reasons that my fellow bloggers have so eloquently articulated.
We also know that some of the institutions that arose to help shepherd the creative disciplines towards a more art-friendly future are having a hard time adapting to the sudden influx of complexity.
We're starting to understand that any number of government agencies that were previously in separate silos are all tangled up for many of the same reasons (technology chief among them).
Finally, we know that our education system isn't doing much as much as it could to prepare the next generation of artists, arts managers, arts presenters, arts advocates and rodeo clowns (just seeing if you were paying attention) to navigate this shifting terrain.
Maybe we can break potential solutions into chunks, too. If for no other reason, than because everything looks better bulletpointed.
The following rubrics are pretty basic, and aren't meant to ignore or downplay the tensions and difficulties within each. But they may provide some points of focus. Or not.
- Education: We all know that early arts education in schools is among the first things to be cut when the economy goes pear shaped. That's going to be a tough one to fix. Maybe we should enter from the other end of Education Alley? I talk to university professors in the music and business worlds on a semi-regular basis, and they often tell me their frustrations about how there aren't any programs that make connections between the new tools for arts creation, distribution and promotion and the structures that determine how, where -- or even if -- we get to use these tools. To a large degree, policy determines access, availability and economic possibility. Our academic institutions should make this explicit, or else we're doing our young minds a disservice.
To put it plainly, the upcoming generation of artists and arts leaders need to know more than just how to use technology to produce and market art. They also know how to create more efficient systems, manage information and disseminate it to partners, peers and policymakers. This would help strengthen the field in general, and go a long way towards removing the artificial barriers between disciplines and agendas. (Some of these ideas are expanded on in a white paper Future of Music Coalition put together with Fractured Atlas and NAMAC.)
- Communication: I thought what Yolanda said about a lack of resources was very apt. So how do might we conjure up additional capital and capacity? Well, first of all, we have to come up with more compelling ways to make our case to not only to our traditional supporters but also to potential new champions who don't yet know why they should be on our team, but might if we spoke more of their language. We also should consider how we're listening: to our supporters, representatives and, most importantly, each other. Are we missing something important? Can we clear some mental space to better hear what others are really saying? Might prove informative, perhaps even galvanizing.
If we got better at this, we'd be further along in preparing ourselves for the real fights ahead of us; the ones that require dedicated cross-field advocacy. Even if we're not always able to come to a consensus on every single priority, surely there are a few issues with which we share clear common ground. Knowing how to communicate is the key to preparation for any situation, from individual fundraising to all-in advocacy.
- Representation: Who speaks for us? Are we able to effectively speak for ourselves? What do we need to be informed self-advocates on the issues that affect us? As I mentioned at the start of this rambling post, this stuff gets really complicated really quickly. Are there folks in our networks who can assist us in getting up to speed on what we need to? This takes trust, and trust takes communication. It's not about speaking with one voice, or submitting to a command-and-control construct (although I am pretty fond of Bill Ivey's idea of a Department of Cultural Affairs, which is hardly the same thing.) What we need to do is look for more opportunities to make our voices heard en masse, via the most appropriate ambassadors in our ginormous tent, or in strategic -- and even ad hoc -- coalitions that can apply the right pressure at the right time in the right place.
When things seem impossibly complicated, broad concepts can help organize specific goals and ideas. Maybe not these broad concepts, per se. But, you know, something to help focus our efforts, hone our communication and amplify our shared ideals. Because we do share some, right?
Fighting on the policy front is not the only way for artists (or "creators" going forward) to maintain and expand their creative rights in our communications system.
I'm going to argue that there are many points of intervention when it comes to the evolution of technology in society, that artists are already taking the lead on these other fronts (in addition to policy), and that recognizing and leveraging creators' strengths outside of policy-focused strategies will make the policy battles go much better for us.
Why am I doing this? I have spent a few years fighting the good policy battle in the media and communications sectors. As one of the wonkier NAMAC board members, I still do. I can't argue with a lot of what's already been said...
Policy is hard. Check.
Big money tends to win in Washington. Check.
The groups working on cultural and communication policies for the public benefit need more resources. Check.
Representing and empowering "artists" in policy debates is a non-trivial proposition. Check.
However, I see at least two problematic trends in the conversation so far. First, I don't want us to get stuck on what I would call policy determinism. The idea that "getting the policy right" will make the world a better place for creators doesn't always work. As the political is the art of compromise, no one wins 100% of what they want out of a policy debate. Reforms come with new loopholes baked in (see campaign finance). The result of government action are never predictable (see, ARPANET). Regulators are captured by the industries they were meant to oversee (see, well, any regulator).
The bottom line is that policy changes are not the sole (or often the most important) mechanisms shaping the structure and impact of any technology or industry.
Second, I'm afraid we could run in endless circles trying to find the magic bullet that would strengthen the creator's voice in the policy debate. I hope we have some great ideas, but we're up against several limiting factors.
Leaders in every policy change effort are trying to get everyone, including creators, involved in their thing. As I sat down to write this piece, I got an email asking me to help involve artists in the climate change fight. There's only so much activism time in the day.
So what happens to this concept mapping in what I'm calling, somewhat cheekily, the post-copyright digital era? If the democratization of 21st century culture is underway largely because of an open-source ethos and the dismantling of the professional/amateur binary (which itself didn't actually get going with any real traction until well into the Renaissance), what exactly does it mean to "author" a work of art for the next generation of artists? The historian in me needs to understand how this changing etymology affects (and perhaps negates?) existing strategies of action so that we don't get stuck in Nathaniel's "policy determinism."
A big +1 to Nathaniel's points, and especially to the insight that change happens in architecture, markets, and social norms, as well as policy. Tim's subsequent post suggests we branch out to those other domains as well, but I want to go even further, and suggest we quit talking about lawmaking altogether, for now.
If I read the other posters accurately, the reluctant consensus here is that the arts community is in no real condition today to affect the outcomes of current policy making, and won't be for years to come, at best. According to the various postings, the understandings are lacking, the institutions are lacking, and the motivation is lacking: none of these is a quick-fix problem, and any one of them alone is lethal to effective activism.
So 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?
Of the four constraints, artists individually and the arts collectively are at their strongest and most passionate when striving to change social norms, and at their second-strongest when changing the social architecture. Moreover, as our panelists all seem to agree, the arts are not over-funded even in their areas of comparative strength. So, if an artist, arts organization, or philanthropy has a marginal dollar to spend on securing the future of the arts and is interested in maximizing its social return on that investment, policy activism may well be the worst of the four constraints on which to spend it. The same dollar is likely to go a lot further if it is spent on creative work to change one or more social norms that shape the way lawmakers think about cultural policy, or to fund an arts-tech project that incrementally changes the social architecture in a direction favorable to the support of creative expression.
What, then, should these holders of marginal dollars fund? For instance, even if you had the money and other resources needed, would you really want to spend them to try to reverse the political-economic trends in arts education nationwide? Your "solution" would just start unraveling again the moment you stopped spending, because the underlying constraints (architecture, markets, norms, policies) would not have changed much. Or would you rather use the same resources to try to change the social architecture and norms vis a vis participation in art-making, so that every child is immersed in a culture of creativity that radiates into, not out from, the school? If you prefer the latter approach, what aspects of the architecture and what norms would you (as an artist, not a policy maker) want to tackle first, or hardest?
In other words, is the most powerful strategy available to the arts world to make the artist a better salesperson for certain policies--or is it, just perhaps, to make the next generation of policy salespeople better artists? If the latter, what do artists today need to be doing now, and what resources do they need to do it?
Go read the whole thing. I'll wait...
OK, done? Nathaniel referenced Lawrence Lessig's model of four arenas or "modes" within which a system can be affected:
* Architecture: the "code" or design of the system.
* Markets: the interplay of choice and competition within a system.
* Norms: how people act upon and within the system.
* Law: what the government wants the system to do.
While the fourth one, Law, is mostly what we're discussing this week, we should indeed spend some time addressing how Law is reacting to or otherwise affecting those other three.
Nathaniel listed some positive examples of work being done in each of the other three modes. I'm interested to hear more, and will toss in one of my own under Markets.
In the music realm, an entire industry seems to be evolving before our eyes around direct-to-fan marketing, and I think that's profoundly positive news for artists. Topspin is one of many innovative companies in this space (disclosure: I'm a Topspin client; I mention them because I use and love them): they provide a platform and a suite of tools that enable musicians to distribute their art directly to their audience, and manage the relationship with each and every one of those fans forever afterward.
The important thing about direct-to-fan is that it's supplemental: it's not a replacement for more traditional means of reaching an audience or the businesses that already do so (labels, radio stations, online music stores ad subscription services, etc.). It's a market response to a phenomenon that has always existed but can only now be fully exploited: your music is worth different amounts to different people. All kinds of musicians have been experimenting with what that means, from Jill Sobule inviting super fans to join her in the studio to Josh Freese auctioning off playdates involving hallucinogens, to countless bands raising the money to record their next work from fans willing to pay for it before it exists.
All of them give artists greater ability than ever before to fund their own work, and therefore retain control of their copyrights.
I very much look forward to the day when "creator" and "copyright owner" actually are the synonyms too many mistake them for today.
Perhaps it's because I come out of theatre, where many (artists and administrators) have been struggling to figure out how to harness new media for audience development within very strict strictures imposed by the unions that limit sharply the amount of actual artistic content that can go online without fees, but I worry a little at all of this conversation about artists' creative rights without any discussion of how protecting those rights, at least thus far (and really, particularly in theatre) has hobbled theatre companies' (and theatre as a field's) abilities to present themselves and their staged work in a virtual space as dynamically and freely as other fine arts media.
It's a hard point, particularly since I work for a service organization that serves both companies and individuals--how do we protect (in the case of theatre) the rights of many artists, from actors to playwrights to directors to scenic and lighting designers, who are worried about the unfair proliferation of their work online without correct compensation, while also moving forward with the argument that not effectively representing work online is damaging our ability to develop audiences on a larger, more long-term, more company- or possibly even whole-community-level?
I'm not necessarily talking about producers' rights -- although it can seem that way. I think instead I'm trying to sort out a view of the artistic process, and the development of audiences to partake in that process (not to mention the development of artists), that is sometimes larger than the particular, short-term financial outlay to the creator(s). In a grand way, perhaps I'm asking that in this conversation about artists' rights we also talk about audiences' rights--or future audiences' rights. Ultimately, it's all one big circle.
How can advocacy for individual artists' creative rights (here specifically in relation to direct marketing and development of audiences, as opposed to say, the Gilbert and Sullivan example Lynne mentioned, which is really just stealing) more harmoniously interact with the new type of outreach that is inherent in the slew of new audience development tools, from Project Audience to Audience Engagement Platform to Kickstarter, that essentially will rely on some level of proliferation of place-based arts in the virtual sphere?
I'm not trying to be the philosophical chowderhead in this series, but I wanted to go wide (again) for just a sec.
Everyone's been talking about policy and legal frameworks, which is great, but I still think that resources are a major concern. In an economy like this, everyone's cutting back and pinching pennies. But this doesn't have to be the end of the world.
One thing that the for-profit universe has down pat is cutting expenses and shifting resources around. Of course they do this mostly by getting rid of personnel, mergers and consolidation -- none of which we're particularly fond of. The flexibility is impressive, if even if the results aren't. Maybe we could try less destructive ways to conserve. This could help us shore up important resources on the road to solving all of our issues (if that's even possible).
Simplicity vs. Austerity
There's a lot of chatter lately about "austerity measures" -- many of us are experiencing the phenomenon to some degree. But the arts community (and nonprofits in general) needn't resemble a Soviet breadline. Perhaps we can pursue simplicity instead of austerity and achieve a more workable result.
In my mind, this requires a clear assessment of what we're currently doing. Is it effective? How much of it is simply automatic functioning -- in other words, we've been doing it for so long, we might not remember why we started. Have conditions changed? Is a particular battle winnable, or is that even the goal? If the answer is "no," it might be a good time to reevaluate how much time and treasure we're devoting to it. By identifying ways to simplify our process, we conserve energy and open up more space for critical thinking.
I'm not suggesting that anyone radically alter their mission statements or give up on their core issues. I'm merely offering that there might be a way for us to redeploy some of these resources towards efforts that can actually produce some of the change we're itemizing here.
Just a thought.
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...)
It is astonishing to watch all the idea sparklers twirl around the AJ blog. As a filmmaker and arts organization leader, I am amazed at how much I continue to learn from my own simple, but fascinating real life experience around policy issues and advocacy in the public interest domain. I never thought an experience like going on a variety of Capitol Hill visits to congressional/senate offices, and meeting with aides to talk about the kind of work artists are doing in their districts would be so interesting and meaningful.
And they were interested too! They want to hear from us about how artist/innovators are working in communities, using new technologies and experimenting with new modes of communication. In one instance, I talked to Congresswoman Doris Matsui's aide about a beautiful and deeply resonant multimedia-internet project created in her district called Saving the Sierra and how the project connected to net neutrality and the National Broadband Plan. The aide lit up and took copious notes. They hear so much from industry lobbyists smoothly performing their talking points, that when they meet an actual creator who can articulate a connection to their districts or state, it is so powerful and memorable. Time and again, we hear that we need to visit legislators and explain how the work we do fits into policy and "workforce development" objectives - so, why not make it into an intentional inquiry and project? This kind of approach could shift the dialogue space and open it up to the first steps towards a "win."
And we can work locally. John Killacky writes movingly in NAMAC's latest publication, Leading Creatively , how important it was for him to become involved on behalf of the arts, in Minneapolis city politics during the 90s culture wars era when his programming was being directly attacked. Sometimes it is hard to remember that we can build powerful relationships with local congressional offices, and just to stay connected with them around a few key issues that matter to us.
My own creative and organizational work is being transformed by participating in media and cultural policy activities on the ground -- walking the corridors of Capitol Hill, talking to people who work in totally different arenas than me, but who want to know more about my work in media and the arts and how it relates to the larger issues they are struggling with -- health care, the economy, jobs/national service, energy/the environment, the future of media, etc. In this populist moment I find it is really important to turn our values into grounded and strategic actions.
From my experience now I see it is critical to: Collect stories. Get a cluster of arts people together, meet to figure out the agenda for a local district meeting with your congressional representative's staff, do the meeting, blog to your social network about it, and plan a follow-up visit. Collect more stories and report to potential funders about what you are doing. Put together a local group that can request travel and training grants from funders to visit representatives on Capital Hill. Stay connected to local, regional and national arts organizations and lobby them to find more funding to bring artists and new arts leaders to Washington to visit Congress. Make a case for why artists and arts leaders need to be trained to become effective spokespeople and become involved in policy education and advocacy. These may be first steps, simple steps, but they are ones so many artists have yet to experience, and it is one of many ways to start Hacking the Policy Space.
A panel discussion I was part of a couple years ago at the Conference on World Affairs included a really enlightening (and only slightly tense) mixed-field copyright discussion. I found it especially provocative because it got things out of the music-only ghetto I'm usually sitting in. An MIT researcher sat at one end of the table--I believe they had arranged us along a spectrum based on how liberal our position on the issues at hand--and at the other extreme a writer for shows like HBO's Band of Brothers. Though the conversation was admittedly much more nuanced than I'm about to distill it down to, in brief, Mr. MIT wanted his work freely shared because he didn't feel the material could move forward and gain value without peer input and he personally didn't need it locked down in order to generate enough $$ to eat, put shoes on children, etc. That's how his field was designed, in fact. How "ready for the 21st century" of them. The TV copy writer felt exactly the opposite: when his work was shared, it was devalued, his children left barefoot. His field lived or died by such protections, he explained. After the panel was over, the TV writer and I had a side bar during which he patiently explained to me why I would feel differently about copyright when I was older.
As the Times quoted Christgau this morning: "If I've learned anything from cyberpunk fiction, and I've learned plenty, it's that worlds do not end, they change." I think there are also a few good songs about that. Recent cultural trends have shown a rise in people's interest in the quality and environmental impact of the food they consume and the products they buy. And if there's an upside to the downturn, it's perhaps that people are re-evaluating how they spend their time vs how much time they spend on earning that paycheck, leaving more room to pursue their true passions. I know we're all nervous about livelihoods and allowing talented individuals the space to train and create, but I wonder if the pro-am shifts that technology is facilitating in many areas may be shifting general public perceptions about the arts faster than those of us entrenched deeply in the pro fields even realize. If we're looking at the spectrum of who is a professional, who is an amateur, and who is pulling in the same direction on a lot of the creative rights issues before us, I suspect that for most the biggest sorting factor will come down to simply how the rent is currently getting paid. Will that end up being a problem? What current problems might that help solve?
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.
What a delight for a cultural policy geek like me to read all the brilliant discussion generated by this braintrust.
Among the thoughts I have swirling, many are constructive and complimentary. But the most visceral (and perhaps the least constructive) is to shout "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" in response to Chris's post, which suggests we stop investing altogether in the goal of expanding involvement of the arts community in policy advocacy.
All due respect to Chris, (and to Nathan, who I believe would agree with everything I'm about to say), that's a really bad idea.
Consider the results If the arts and public interest community were to pull out of the key cultural policy advocacy efforts of today. No doubt we'd see disastrous effects as the media industries that lobby for deregulation would get their way, and arts appropriations for a politically inactive constituency would certainly be sliced. We'd see:
• Local music and film with no audience at all as monopoly owners block independents from radio and TV
• Arts of all kind with no online audience as an Internet controlled by gatekeepers with the authority to censor blocks or or slows down whatever web sites the Internet providers don't like or whatever they find competitive with their own content offerings
• Reductions in quality, quantity, and scale of independent artistic product as federal, state, and local funding for arts is cut
• Abolition of arts programs in public schools when the policy mandates to keep them in curricula disappear
• Disappearance of rural and low-income communities from the arts as public subsidies (and Internet connections) that once brought them to traditional and online arts spaces fade away
And the list goes on....
The simple fact is that there are lobbyists working smart and hard on behalf of telecom/cable industry supremacy and on behalf of budget-slashing and, in general, on the other side of every issue we care about. So if arts and culture advocates aren't there to counter their arguments and remind policy makers of the constituency that supports creativity and cultural expression, well... we'll loose most of what we've gained so far in the past decades through policy advocacy as well as other efforts in cultural/market/technology change.
Sure, advocacy is hard work. Sure, there are challenges. But crying "it's too hard" doesn't feel like a good reason to just hand our nation's communications infrastructure over to the control of profit-hungry industries.
Chris makes the point -- with which I whole-heartedly agree -- that artists and the arts sector can best employ their talents at working to change social norms and social architecture, and that resources would be well-spent on creative work to change the way lawmakers or the public think about cultural policy.
Nobody is suggesting that we should force every painter and breakdancer and sitar player and web developer to abandon their craft in order to spend the rest of their years walking the marbled halls of Congress in a three-piece suit (Though Helen's post is great to read.) What we're suggesting is that artists, arts administrators and culture lovers should be made aware of how policy decisions impact their lives, and they should be encouraged and assisted in lending their voices (or paintbrushes, or sitars) in those debates, either directly with decision makers or in public opinion, in whichever ways are most strategic for their role.
At their best, these education and advocacy efforts rely on the work of organizers, communicators and policy wonks to track laws & regulations, distill them into layperson's terms, create messages, educate and organize their arts & audience constituencies. And at their best, those efforts require resources to pay people to do the work. While Chris may argue that " the arts community is in no real condition today to affect the outcomes of current policy making," 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.
The type of sweeping policy and cultural change we'd all like to see is possible through strategic, creative work over a long period by many individuals, grassroots and national organizations working in coordination. We just need a bigger arsenal. These days, we're sending our heroic advocates to battle heavy artillery with slingshots and paperclips. (The Media Democracy Fund, a foundation collaborative supporting many of these efforts, can unfortunately attest).
I'd love to see what kind of seismic shifts the arts and public interest sectors could do around cultural policy if given the resources --and the encouragement -- to really give it a try.
For sure, regulations and legislation ain't the only way to bring about change. But they are far from inconsequential. We should be talking about these strategies as Both/And propositions, not Either/Or.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Wow. I tend to be pretty pessimistic when it comes to government and the arts, and I agree that our habit of continually lengthening the term of a copyright (the original term was just 14 years back in 1790, and now it's life of author plus another 70 freaking years) is a dangerous one that has the effect of making copyright owners spend more energy maximizing the value of existing works while inhibiting the creation of new ones (dont even get me started on all the art that has NOT been created since the Biz Markie ruling quashed the explosion of creative sampling that had been flourishing in the late-80s/early-90s).
But am I silly for thinking it's impossible to make the term endless, as Doug fears? I mean, it's right there in our Constitution that copyrights can only be secured for "limited Times." I sympathize with the argument that repeated extensions might as well mean copyrights are perpetual, but I also recognize it's just that -- an argument, not a fact, and one the Supreme Court unfortunately rejected.
So, while I concur that overlong copyrights are a big problem and well worth fighting, I don't know that they'd win my vote for Biggest Threat Ever, and even if they did I'd hesitate to market the problem as "endless copyright."
Here's why: I'm accustomed to the most impassioned advocates for a more equitable balance between public and private interests getting dismissed as naive cranks -- it happens to me weekly, and I only do this stuff in my spare time. And I don't want to give the other side any ammunition by overstating our concerns.
I felt a similar twinge when reading the part of Brian Newman's otherwise excellent post that warned how the corporations in control of our culture today are "vicious, blood-sucking beasts hell-bent on keeping their antiquated business models at any cost to society." I agree with the hell-bent part, and I endorse the passion, but that kind of verbiage strikes me as an excellent way to get ignored by the very people you want to influence.
The people who control our culture are not vicious, blood-sucking beasts. They are rational, if hyper-competitive, economic actors who will buy any advantage they can because they believe that's their job.
I want to change their minds, and if we can't do that I want to outbid or outmaneuver them for those advantages. And doing so successfully means being clear-headed about their motivations, and persuasive in our arguments.
(A quick addendum: if you Google "Tim Quirk" and the phrase "fucking stupid," you will find just one of many examples of me seeming to ignore my own advice, here. I mention this so it's clear I'm speaking from experience of trying it the other way, not from some school-marmish squeamishness.)
Doug challenges us to identify "the biggest policy threat or potentially transformative initiative currently facing our culture." I keep coming back to Bill Ivey's meta question about the concept of cultural vibrancy as a public good. How do we create a new norm that encourages cultural rights for all? Jean and others note that cultural workers tend to talk only to (and listen only to and care only about the opinions of) their particular cohort--artists to artists, academics to academics, policy wonks to . . .
Where does that particular calculus leave the audience?
In my work studying audience behavior and facilitating audience engagement practices, the single most prevalent (and telling) audience commentary has to do with the excitement people feel when they are invited into the interpretive process. "You want to know what I think that dance (play, symphony, painting) means?" "You'll sit listen while I tell you how it made me feel?"
As many have noted, the democratization of access brought on by digital technology has profoundly altered our "arts and culture" landscape. But what about the democratization of interpretation? Have we cultural workers really changed our behavior when it comes to listening to our audiences? I mean, really listening? Ten years or so into the "Audience Engagement" era, have we actually stopped objectifying audiences (butts in seats)?
How do we create a new norm in which the audience is not object but subject? Bill suggests that "perhaps we can learn some things from the environmental movement." I don't know much about biology, but I do know something about how Rachel Carson launched the environmental movement (I wrote a play about the process of writing Silent Spring). Carson changed the world by inviting the average citizen into her scientific process; she invented a narrative structure for Silent Spring (and her other books) that was both intelligible to lay readers and utterly emotionally engaging. Carson didn't conduct a literal dialogue with her audience, of course, but she did in effect "listen" to them.
Are we listening?
Thanks, all. As an online content creator not usually directly engaged with such policy work (aside from when an issue raises deep concerns in the field or when attending an FMC policy day), this week has been an education. I know my colleagues always wish there was more time for this type of advocacy, and hopefully now I'm armed with more ways/inspiration on the how/why side that I can share.
Sort of extending on what Doug just said re: potentially transformative initiatives, I'd add licensing. It seems to me that things like Creative Commons represent an important step in consumer education about rights issues (a.k.a. there's a lot of space between traditional copyright clearance and piracy). Still, there are dollars missing from that system that need funneled in. With so many people making and sharing content in that gorge between big profit and home movie, a system that doesn't require a team of lawyers and an extra day in the week to execute but that still spreads around revenue (many drops of micro-payment) efficiently would be a significant step forward.
Forgive me for waiting until the last day to chime in here. I've spent my time just reading and absorbing this fantastic discussion.
Doug: the answer to your challenge is Net Neutrality.
I say Net Neutrality because it is an issue currently on the table, but more generically, I'd call it "Unfair Legal Leverage for Strong Middlemen Whose Strength is at Least Partially Due to Prior and Often Continuing Public Support."
Chris uses the right word: leverage. The Benjamins and strong legislative support are two excellent forms of leverage, but they are not the only two and for many art makers, they are not the most important. The most valuable leverage is choice. Choice in subject, choice in discipline, choice in market, tools, techniques, collaborators, employer, choice in vendors. Choice is what gives us leverage over every organization, person and idea to which we are beholden.
The Internet has opened up a world of choices for artists that weren't present 20 years ago and as many again that weren't present 5 years ago: effectively free international marketing, cheap self-publishing, truly independent media distribution, active word-of-mouth marketing (aka social media), trivially easy market research, national market for vendors, etc., etc. It could do so because its open and global nature makes it possible to create niche businesses that focus on idea and technique instead of market.
Where there are more options to choose from, choice is a stronger lever. I'm not worried about ISPs service-fixing and rendering the entire Net biased towards certain technologies. Even if we lose this one, I expect that some enlightened ISP will begin marketing themselves as Net Neutral and clean up. But it will, I am certain, have a chilling effect on Net entrepreneurs and therefore on the leverage individual artists (and non-artists) gain through choice.
Unfortunately, it does look like Net Neutrality is going to be won or lost in the well-lit back room with the virtual cigar smoke piped in over government subsidized, privately owned fiber optic lines. And yeah, artists and their agents, unions and vendors and their audience need to stand up on this one and need to do so collectively. I am a firm believer in the power of artists, nerds and entrepreneurs to work around all manner of stupid barriers in law and business, but this one is tough. The Net has become as essential as power and water and it needs to be as fundamentally free in its use.
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.
I want to strongly echo Lynne's thoughts on the biggest potential threat being our current lack of understanding about our audiences. While net neutrality and copyright are important, particularly for certain genres, in my little theatrical corner of the world, we're watch people pass by our lobby doors every day, heading to restaurants, sporting events, movies, friends houses, whatever. Advocacy-wise, we rely on generalized and relatively unengaging economic analyses about how much other business beside actual ticketsales our work creates, and when we speak to government officials we talk about artists livelihoods and neighborhood stability almost entirely in terms of dollars. This just isn't cutting it anymore. Casey's YouTube video post is informative in exactly this way (and this isn't anywhere near an original thought): they want stories, anecdotes -- the arts can change people. But I'm not sure just that will work either, though.
Lynne asks, "Ten years or so into the "Audience Engagement" era, have we actually stopped objectifying audiences (butts in seats)?" I don't think we have, and I think that's the capital-P Problem.
Which is why I'm so excited about the work of Alan Brown and others on the intrinsic impact of the arts -- actually putting on paper, in the same visual language as the economic analyses we're so comfortable with, the audience-reported intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and social impacts of the work they're seeing. Alan and his colleagues are currently working with us on a large, 5-city study of the impact of theatre over the course of a season on patrons and the development of a web-based tool that will make the protocols, theories and reports associated with this research a little or no cost. It's all heady, and it runs the risk of sounding superfluous, especially against concrete things like copyright, but making manifest something that is otherwise completely esoteric--the actual impact of art--may ultimately change everything about the conversation. Or at least I hope so.
This has been such fun -- thanks to Doug and all the other organizers. I really appreciate being involved!
(You can find out more about intrinsic impact at http://www.theatrebayarea.org/intrinsicimpact)
For all our analysis and intellect, let's remember that ultimately, people experience the arts because they want to feel something. So, when we discuss just how to get them to support all these feeling-making activities, we benefit by approaching the solution from the loins of that same desire. Oooh!
Just like art itself: it comes from feelings and emotions, right? The intellect is just the part that kicks in to allow the artist to make sense of all those right-brain instincts. We're all mammals with pulses. When it comes to promoting art of any kind, thinking on the most visceral, base level will score us the most points because that's exactly what connects the artists' work with the audiences' interest: they all want to feel. Something.
People also want to be heard, and that's part of the profound connection made by art: it expresses for them that which they have no words to express for themselves (likewise, for the artist him or herself). Usually, the art that connects the most successfully is that which springs from the artist authentically and offers a glimpse of their uncensored, unfiltered heart.
It's rather like a productive psychotherapy session: we get the farthest when we talk openly about how something makes us feel. Now double this into couple's therapy: the more the two parties can talk to each other about their genuine emotions, the more successfully they'll be able to communicate and understand each other-even if they disagree. So if the couple in question here is the artist and the audience, given that both want to be heard, getting the dialog going on a very base level may be pretty rewarding.
Lynne's got it right when she describes our need to not only involve the audience to whom we look for support, but to reach them particularly directly by caring enough to ask, "how did [this art experience] make you feel?". Whether we're seeking funding, or just seeking attendance, we cannot expect the non-arts world to care about us just because we happen to believe we're valuable. Entitlement doesn't play well. What does come across wonderfully, however, is when we demonstrate that we actually care about the experience we're offering and its impact-or not-on the ears and eyes receiving it. Just like that couple in therapy.
To ward off any angry creative villagers now heading toward me with spears, let me say that with art, even if the impact is not the most, uh, positive one, in no way does that mean the artist should alter their work (unless they choose to do so) or hang it all up and get that veterinary degree after all. Nope. Artists can remain completely true to themselves while simultaneously showing that they take an interest in the feelings of those around them. Especially if they expect those around them to support what they do. File this under "being a good human."
So, the problem with that great therapy session, is when the third wheel-- and yes, it is one-- of policy, enters the room. Policy really has little business being there, and yet keeps showing up to interrupt the otherwise intimate relationship between the artist and the audience. Policy tends not to care very much about feelings because it's wrapped up in legal and technological issues that cause its left brain to swell to such a degree that the right hemisphere as well as the emotion-laden limbic system are terribly squished. I hope I'm amusing you. But take heart: while policy is unavoidable, it cannot be made without...
Mammals with a pulse, who feel.
My observation from lobbying experiences over the years in D.C. and elsewhere has been that a fair amount of the disconnect between the policy makers and the subject about which they are making policy, is due to a lack of enough contact with that subject on any personal, feeling-based level. To wit: most policy makers don't hang out a whole lot with artists. We are, after all, all in different worlds.
In response to Doug's challenge, I think it would be pretty terrific if arts service organizations would place a greater emphasis on putting art-makers and policy-makers in the same room, whether formally or, far better, socially. Non-artists really do derive a great deal of pleasure getting to spend a little time with those of us who do things that they love but cannot imagine being able to do themselves. Just as they might be a little bit foreign to us, we're a little bit exotic to them, and we fail to make enough use of this natural asset. Seeing someone light up when they get to talk about art after a whole week of talking about nothing other than business or legislative issues, is a real joy. Interacting with those in charge of the policies on an emotional, human level is one of the most effective things artists can do.
With all the excellent, potentially transformative, as Doug says, policy suggestions that have flooded these enpixelated pages, one of the most important transformative policies I can think of is that which takes place within ourselves: that of our perceptions. Many of this week's bloggers are themselves gifted artists (sorry to blow y'all's cover). I'm hoping that they're smiling as they read this. Technology has changed everything, and will only continue to do so. Policy battles will always exist. But thinking on a purely emotional level is something that will never, ever be altered no matter what the next paradigm shift may be, and emotion is what artists do beautifully. Let's use it!
Even if we're not policy-makers, we can be policy-influencers. To my U.S. artist colleagues reading this, I invite you to fearlessly call up the office of the policy-maker of your choice and schedule an appointment for a brief visit with them, either in your home state or in D.C. Tell the aide or assistant to whom you speak that you're a constituent (if this is an elected official- who you, as a taxpayer, employ). Or, if it's a commissioner or business leader, indicate that you want to say hello, introduce yourself, and just have a brief conversation about... fill in the blank. How has the internet indelibly affected your career? How have the latest hearings on C-SPAN inspired your latest piece of work? What is your life as an artist like, and what are the issues that are important to you? How about those Lakers? You don't have to know the scholarly details of anything, except of your own life. Because ultimately, it's your life that is going to be affected by their decisions. The more connected to artists those decision-makers can be, the more feeling and emotion that may, just possibly, infuse the framework of their policies. Let's appeal to the part that feels the best: they're all... human!
Changing the Creative Landscape
Also like Justin (and I promise that I won't reiterate everything he said because that would be redundant and may violate his intellectual property), Net Neutrality is my answer to Doug's challenge.
"The Internet has opened up a world of choices for artists that weren't present 20 years ago..." -- Yeah, it's a Justin quote. Sue me.There is a sequence in the recently released Christopher Nolan film Inception in which a young woman played by Ellen Page realizes that she is the architect of the dream and has the ability to reshape the laws of physics and recreate the landscape to her liking. The existence of an open, global Internet has awakened a creative fervor around the world and given creators the ability to reshape the laws of form, distribution, audience development, and more to fundamentally change the landscape of creative engagement. For a glimpse at how artists are using the Net in this manner, check out Scott Kirsner's book Fans, Friends & Followers: Building An Audience And A Creative Career in the Digital Age.
"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." -- William OsborneWrong, wrong, wrong. While both issues are important, the protection of a neutral and unfettered system that has brought about such seismic shifts in creative expression and participation for everyone is simply more important in the grand scheme of our collective "dream" than cash infusion into any one sector. If we do not doggedly pursue this, we'll be singing that oft quoted song by the '80s hairband Cinderella...or is it Joni Mitchell?
Walking the Halls
"I never thought an experience like going on a variety of Capitol Hill visits to congressional/senate offices, and meeting with aides to talk about the kind of work artists are doing in their districts would be so interesting and meaningful." -- Helen DeMichielTo be honest, many citizens in the U.S. - regardless of which sector they work in - do not believe that their elected officials care about their thoughts or experiences. The idea of going to Washington like Mr. Smith and creating any sort of change sounds delusional to many of us who have witnessed the arts getting tied to the whipping post again and again.
"I think it would be pretty terrific if arts service organizations would place a greater emphasis on putting art-makers and policy-makers in the same room." -- Alex ShapiroEach spring, I teach a course on cultural policy and advocacy in the United States for Carnegie Mellon University's Master of Arts Management students - many of whom are also artists. After the course wraps, students attend Arts Advocacy Day organized by Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C. to meet with elected officials. This year, ten of my students attended several meetings with legislative staffers coordinated by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania.
In one meeting with a staffer for a Republican Congressman, twelve of us piled into the representative's waiting area and spoke with him about the importance of the arts and creativity for the welfare of our country. After a few moments, another staffer came in to say that the gentleman we were talking to was needed on the phone. It was very abrupt, and many of us felt that we were brushed off.
Just last week, the arts council announced that the Congressman decided to join the Congressional Arts Caucus as a result of that meeting with his staffer on Arts Advocacy Day. Not only did the news remind me of my own need to check my cynicism, it demonstrated to my students that it is possible to reach out beyond the choir and catalyze change. Did we change the world? In the grand scheme of things, probably not. This one conversation did change one legislator's viewpoint, however, and that has consequences.
From Spectators to Spectactors
"How do we create a new norm in which the audience is not object but subject?" -- Lynne ConnerThis question took me back to my days as a performance studies grad student, many moons ago, when we studied Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed, in which he emphasizes migrating the role of the audience from spectator to "spectactor." In a traditional theatre production, the audience is outside of the performance -- able to see the narrative unfold but unable to affect its trajectory or resolution. In Boal's work, audiences attending these politically charged performances were able to change the character's choices and even physically takeover the role of the character from the "actor."
Leapfrogging from Lynne to Boal and back to Washington, many of us in the creative sector have been taking a spectator role in politics -- watching it unfold, doing nothing to (try to) change it, then bitching about it to anyone who will listen. It's time to move from passively observing to acting.
Even if we're not policy-makers, we can be policy-influencers. To my U.S. artist colleagues reading this, I invite you to fearlessly call up the office of the policy-maker of your choice and schedule an appointment for a brief visit with them, either in your home state or in D.C. Tell the aide or assistant to whom you speak that you're a constituent (if this is an elected official- who you, as a taxpayer, employ). Or, if it's a commissioner or business leader, indicate that you want to say hello, introduce yourself, and just have a brief conversation about... fill in the blank. -- Alex ShapiroPreach it, Alex! I'll sing tenor in that choir any day.
Echoing Alex Shapiro, we at NAMAC realized at the beginning of the Obama administration that there is a great need to train media and art makers to attain fluency in policy issues NOW, and to be able to confidently participate and influence the great telecom and cultural policy debates of this moment. To that end, we are currently planning a Winter 2011 NAMAC Campaign and Policy Institute for media and arts leaders to learn about how to become policy influencers and train others -- especially artists -- across their own cultural networks.
The "idea exchange" that has taken place with Future of Music, Fractured Atlas and NAMAC has resulted in what I think is still a visionary outline for the issues that triggered this forum, and that we can be working on all together, our collaboratively created Green Paper on The Future of Digital Infrastructure and the Creative Economy.
Throughout this remarkable dialogue, I keep thinking of David Shield's new book Reality Hunger and this quote:
"In a regime of superabundant free copies, copies are no longer the basis of wealth. Now relationships, links, connection and sharing are. Value has shifted away from a copy toward the many ways to recall, annotate, personalize, edit, authenticate, display, mark, transfer and engage a work. Art is a conversation, not a patent office."Now, on to devising new ways to get financed and compensated for this vital work.
Amazingly, many arts organizations aren't keeping much of this data themselves - beyond basic membership lists. They often have to "spam" the world again and again to build their audience whenever they have a new project. This is a problem for bigger, for-profit entities as well - Warner Bros and Penguin both must re-build their fan base every time they release a new album, movie or book. While I like to call the media industry "blood-sucking beasts," there could be some common ground here on working together to get access to more of this data. When this data is kept, it is rarely shared, but there could be great power in knowing I want to see a show on Picasso whether it's at the Met or at the High, and organizations (and artists) will have a lot to figure out in terms of sharing this data across traditional boundaries. As artists, organizations and companies wake up to the importance of data, we're all going to wish we had started advocacy around it back when we were just focused on all the other policy issues.
Ok, I also believe that Net Neutrality and Copyright concerns are pretty important, and that we need to work on our relationships with and knowledge of our audiences, but this was one policy concern that I think about daily that has been curiously absent from the discussion. So has diversity and the interactions of all of this stuff internationally, but perhaps I should stop here. Thanks to Doug and all the writers here (in the comments as well), and thanks to the organizations who brought this conversation together.
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