January 27, 2010 Archives

Great analysis, Adrian. You should be a consultant. (:~>) I know this will sound self-serving as a researcher, but what gets measured is often what really matters, particularly in the eyes of dispassionate authorizers. All I know for sure is that we need a new outcome rubric for arts and culture, one that re-balances 'heritage' and 'voice,' and one that every community can buy into. That, and a well-funded champion for cultural policy, and we're off to the races - at least the races where everyone doesn't bet on winning horses.

Seriously, maybe the moment is right now for an expressive revolution, given the tidal wave of interest in personal creative expression that is sweeping our country. But whenever I start talking with large budget producing organizations about making more connections to the inventive and interpretive modes of engagement, I get blank stares and hear an undertone of hostility about being taken 'off mission.' What should be made of the recent finding from an Irvine Foundation study that a third of adults in some regions of California want to take dance lessons? There is no infrastructure, nonprofit or commercial, to accommodate even a fraction of that demand. Nor does the dance field seem to care about it. Whose job is it to respond to this sort of public demand, much less detect it?

Only a couple of disruptive changes might actually shift the locus of power, and one would be to introduce a new measurement system for "expressive life" or "creative capital." As Bill has said, "policy accretes around bodies of data." If we can develop commonly accepted metrics for characterizing expressive life, then we stand a better chance of influencing policy. You can't win the game if you don't know the score. And, if no one else is keeping score, then you get to design the rules and thereby change the game.

I hate to bring this up, but Richard Florida's scorekeeping rubric for creative economies changed the conversation amongst civic leaders, in part because he produced a quantitative measurement system that policymakers could believe in, and that motivated them to 'win the game.' It tapped into a competitive streak amongst communities. Whether or not you agree with his premise, Florida changed the policy conversation. I envision a time, maybe 10 or 15 years from now, when communities across the country strive to increase their 'creative capital' in order to be competitive. The National Arts Index is a good step forward, but we need to press forward on this front much more vigorously.

A better framework for assessing the public value of arts and cultural programs and facilities might also help create a more objective basis for considering policy alternatives, as Adrian suggests. How does one weigh the value of seeing a great work of art in a museum against the value of seeing a cheap reproduction of the same work every day for twenty years over the kitchen sink?

January 27, 2010 11:58 PM | | Comments (2) |

I am picking up Marian's point that we should not just leave the non profit institutional sector to flounder for a generation while we address the wider policy issues that Bill is rightly flagging, and Russell's last post. Here goes...

The institutionalized non profit cultural sector needs serious, disinterested (i.e. objective) attention by intelligent policy analysts. Its administrators' antics and self-importance may rile Bill but this sector is tasked with, as it should be, stewardship of the highest expressions of humanity, with its transmission to the next generation intact if not enhanced, and with ensuring the widest enjoyment and appreciation of these defining achievements by as many people as it can engage -  this mandate crosses material, visual, dramatic, literary and musical culture - voice and heritage.

There is much to criticize about how we are going about that task basic, and I suspect history will judge my generation harshly - we have probably been grabby and overbearing  in the dispatch of our duties -  just we will probably be judged harshly in many other respects, in our fiscal habits, our public morals and our civic passivity.  But these tasks of stewardship, transmission and illumination are vital and legitimate objects of public policy. 

The tragedy of so much cultural policy however is that it is, formally, bullshit  (c.f. Eleonora Belfiore's elegant analysis of Bullshit in Cultural Policy). Like bullshit in other areas of public discourse, rather than working through in good faith how these modest but vital responsibilities are best dispatched, cultural policy in the United States and Europe has tended to focus on how to stake a claim to more of the public agenda than these responsibilities, important though they are, can reasonably command, both for both the fun of it and for the funding of it. This tends to undermine the disinterested nature of the analysis.  Any serious attempt at policy, expressive or cultural, has to be re-grounded in a more objective ethos of policy analysis, if it's not simply to be lobby-fodder. Advocacy is essential but it is not policy analysis.

I am interested in the extent to which Bill's framework can help to ensure a closer congruence between the institutional structure of the cultural sector as conventionally conceived (which is a mess) and the efficient and sustainable execution of the voice- and heritage-related responsibilities that  are the sector's core responsibilities.  It may be that the mess is just what it is and, like democracy, better than the alternatives. But we seem to be at a cusp and a convergence of both acute fiscal mayhem  and chronic secular demographic, technological and other drivers. Together they have created a real (albeit slightly desperate) appetite amongst cultural decision makers and opinion formers to address the fundamental issue of the inadequate fit between the institutional infrastructure of the arts and sustainable aspirations for various (and as Andras, has emphasized, fluid)  art forms. 

I think there's a conference in Chicago at the moment on the future of symphony orchestras. Russell, you are there? I bet they are talking about this.  The AAMD met two weeks ago - I be they were talking about this too... The language may vary but it's THE issue for the expressive responsibilities that  the non profit institutional sector shoulders in return for for all the fiscal love it gets.

Addressing the mature execution of these responsibilities will take political will and collective action - neither of which are common in the cultural sector. But I would hope that the agenda that Bill is articulating can embrace and address this critical dimension of expressive life, simply because it's a big part of the totality. I feel this has to be said in a way that does not diminish other aspects of expressive life that he is rightly high-lighting as neglected. Here's a stab at encapsulating it: the ecology is unbalanced in part because many expressive social interests are under-articulated, and Bill has highlighted them and has suggested an agenda around them. It's an agenda that it is intellectually compelling but it is difficult to see how and by whom it will be pursued.  Meanwhile other agendas  are over-articulated: a move toward a balanced ecology requires us to address both issues.

Whoa! That was way too long. Sorry, Doug.



January 27, 2010 9:16 PM | |
I have just watched an interview with Elizabeth Warren, who chairs the oversight committee on TARP.  An outstanding thinker from Harvard who took on what has to be the most thankless job in Washington right now, Dr. Warren stated unequivocally tonight that ignoring the need for regulatory counterbalancing of unchecked corporate interests will undermine the stability of our economy for the next 50 years.  Sobering stuff from a scholar not given to hyperbole, and not unrelated to the conversation we are having on this blog.

Although we are talking about what to call the broad field of endeavor in which we all toil, the larger question being posed is a policy question, as others have said.  I suggest that the questions are: Why don't we have a cultural policy, who would develop it, promote it, and defend it, and what's the point of having one at all?  Bill Ivey has defined the expressive life as being partly about "voice" and our conversations are also about voice, about giving voice to the needs of millions of people to be involved in creative and expressive activities, some of which but by no means all are included in the work of the nonprofit arts organization.  This voice would be a counterbalance to the natural (some would say) predatory instincts of corporate interests which have been given unnatural (others would say) free reign over the past 20 years.

It seems to me that there are several barriers in our way, and the language question that Bill has raised is almost certainly one of them insofar as it symbolizes a narrow definition of creativity and culture that divides and weakens a broader range of constituents. This larger group, made up of all of the commercial and noncommercial cultural players already listed by others and one whose work centers on more than just the profit motive,  would benefit from coalescing around commonalities rather than continuing to delineate themselves as warring tribes with diminishing returns for all concerned. 

Another barrier to a more unified and effective voice protecting the interests of the many over the interests of the few is that many in this field have a rudimentary understanding of policy -- what one looks like, why you have them, and what you do with one when you do have it.  The territoriality of the various service organizations is exacerbated by their need to stake out boundaries that will differentiate them for funding purposes, and I suspect but don't know that Americans for the Arts are resisting Bill's blandishments for the bigger push because they (entirely properly) don't want to be seen as building an even bigger empire in our tiny, fragmented sector.  Educating ourselves about the purpose and limits of policy development would help us all. 

A third barrier is that in the press of struggling for survival (in the case of nonprofit arts organizations), competing for markets (in the case of all creative organizations), and trying to earn a living (in the case of the vast majority of Americans) sifting through all the noise to understand what is actually happening in the broader picture and how it affects you as an individual is just plain hard work.  The Ticket Master monopoly is a worrying decision, but how many arts organizations have the time to look beyond the decision to what happens in ten years when all the restrictions that have been laid down if a merger goes ahead lapse?  And who else finds it worrying that Liberty Media is now moving ahead to gain controlling interest of the new company if the merger proceeds, given that Liberty owns the Starz channel and QVC, among other interests?  How long will it take before the limited number of gatekeepers to all cultural experiences is as small as that predicted by Jeremy Rifkin several years ago? 

I think Bill's conspiracy theoritis may be contagious. . .

The point is that a lack of understanding and incomplete information are two barriers to us acting in our best interests, and more importantly acting in a way that we believe benefits millions of others who have a right to access an expressive life.  If we don't have an organization that is correctly positioned and neutral enough to get traction quickly, then perhaps we should create one. (NB:  I am not volunteering for anything by suggesting this.)  Perhaps an expansion of the work of the group the Curb Center has already convened is called for, provided it has a "Move On" type of activity that deciphers the meaning of random events and alerts people to their implications in a way that motivates them to act.  And I do like the lists that we are compiling on this blog, from Lewis Hyde and others, about what the concerns and activities of that organization should be.  I hope and pray I am not describing a lobbying organization with all that this implies.

Whatever the language, the underlying need is pressing, even acute.  Without an intelligent, reflective and inclusive approach to demonstrating in a relentless manner the value that creativity or the expressive life offers to all, we may find ourselves surprised to awaken from our sleepy state, anesthetized by our ignorance of what the implications of all these seemingly disparate changes are, to discover that while we were fiddling in this corner, there was something burning over there.
January 27, 2010 7:27 PM | |
Bill: it's not that I'm worried we'll be out of our depth or get it wrong if we expand the frame. It's that I think the weight of history is against it. You might not want to play the conspiracy tinfoil.jpgtheorist, but I'm happy to call it out. Yes, I do think that it's easy to marginalize the arts in the broader culture by setting aside a token underfunded agency and then letting artists fight over the scraps. As I have heard you say, the real cultural public policy decisions on media ownership, copyright, trade policy etc, are largely made outside of the NEA's gaze. And these issues have enormously more impact on the culture than the few millions dangled in front of the NEA.

I think a big part of the struggle here is to figure out how citizens can have more of a voice in these public policy issues. This is far more important than the small grant funding the NEA has at its disposal (though of course I don't want to minimize the value of that direct support for art). Right now the default winners on cultural policy are companies like Disney, who own issues such as copyright. As you so shockingly point out, a great deal of our cultural heritage is under the lock and key of private interests and we (artists or audience) don't necessarily have access to it.

But here's my problem. We're in the midst of a revolution in the ways culture is produced and distributed. A very big part of this revolution is the breakdown of traditional channels and institutions, the empowerment of individuals to be more creative and find audiences for that creativity. The traditional powers of centralization are being overtaken by more efficient dynamic network effects. The fragmentation and the constant rewiring of that fragmentation, it seems to me, increasingly resists attempts to generalize or common-ize the validation of culture.

Many of us are still thinking of culture or information or communities in terms of centralizing places like websites or institutions. But I see culture and communities atomizing and networking in organic ways that make sense for the moment or the place, then melting away and reforming around the next idea that makes sense. This is the power of the creative revolution that gives artists the power to create and distribute in ways they never were able to before.

So. Any list you might make of expression would necessarily have to be fluid and ever-evolving. It might be unworkable. Better, I think, to take up the suggestion below of tackling costs, barriers, and access. In these at least, there are some principles that could be articulated for the public good. But how sexy is this? How do you create and rally a constituency around them?
January 27, 2010 1:55 PM | |
I'm drawn by Adrian's entry below ('Pushing On...') and in focusing on that, I don't want at all to distract from the points made in other entries, or to introduce new things that confuse. 

Several entries have talked about definitions, 'What's in' and so forth. I think that's one of the real values of the idea of expressive life itself: its capacity to connect seemingly different activities, strands of policy and - for want of a better phrase - what people actually get up to.

A couple of years ago, I did some work at Demos on conservation, making the point that conservation is about caring for the material world, and hence the physical manifestations of things and objects that symbolise concepts like identity and community.  We produced a short video to accompany the pamphlet.  It features professional conservators talking about their work. Alongside this, we asked a graffiti artist to talk about his art (expression).  As we interviewed him, he began to talk with sadness about how the history of his peers (his heritage) gets whitewashed and painted over.  I accept, graffiti can be controversial - I don't want to make an argument about its pros and cons here. The point is that the graffiti artist was talking about heritage in exactly the same way as the conservators we interviewed for the film. Here, we had two worlds coming together around the values of expression.

What really appeals to me about the idea of 'expressive life' is the constructive challenge that it poses to professional self-conception - what actually is a cultural form and why are we showing it, collecting them, selling them, listening to them and so on.  In particular, it helps make links that might not otherwise be apparent.  My fear was that some of the conservators with whom I was working would look at the video with horror. They didn't.  Instead, many said that they looked at graffiti anew.

So, when Adrian asks 'Where do we go from here? Who are the agents who will press this cause?', my answer is that thinking about expressive life is a means by which seemingly disparate groups can find common ground.  To take this wider, it would be great to hear other bloggers and readers comment the role of cultural organisations and professionals in encouraging public debate about expressive life (by that I mean beyond policy) and what implications the idea has for education. 

January 27, 2010 12:38 PM | |

One organizing idea of Bill's book Arts, Inc. is that our default conceptions of "art" and "culture" leave us blind to and powerless before many of the forces that in fact affect expressive/cultural/artistic life.  Bill and others have offered examples in these posts:  the consolidation of radio stations, the merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation, the Supreme Court's ruling on corporate money in politics...  

To make a list of these things is to come at "expressive life" from the substantive rather than linguistic end of the puzzle.  What are the problems that might be solved, or at least better enjoined, if we could get beyond our default conceptions?  

To continue the "what's in and what's out" thread, then, might we generate a more formal list of the topics or policy areas that Bill and others hope to see come into focus?  Bill's initial post offered a starter set:  

intellectual property, broadband penetration, amateur art practice, media regulation, the vitality of for-profit arts companies, non-school arts learning, Fair Use, union policies, and access to cultural heritage.

A later post adds a few more:  "media regulation, corporate archival preservation policies, revenue streams that flow to the arts industries...."  Russell Taylor suggests we look at "what role an expressive life should have in a developing democracy" and consider the idea that "our ... adherence to 'star' hierarchies in the arts contributes actively to social and economic inequalities, just as in the realm of sports."  

My own list would include:  

*  Claiming the fair use doctrine for all realms of expression.  As many of you know, good work has been done in this realm by documentary filmmakers.  I myself have tried to start up a project for teachers and artists in higher education.  (Funders:  please call soon!)  There's much to be done here.  

*  Designing online libraries to maximize the circulation of knowledge, consistent with current law.  Specifically there are serious issues at stake in the Google Book Search Settlement that is now before a Federal Court.  The disposition of that lawsuit will shape our expressive ecology for a generation to come and yet much of what is about to transpire seems to me invisible to the "arts & culture" community.  

What other topics belong in this list?  
January 27, 2010 11:26 AM | |
This discussion seems to have moved on from reflections on how our self-descriptions shape our impact to what that impact should be.  What kind of world does the field formerly known as Arts and Culture want to construct?  And what kind of systems will need to be created to move beyond our current state of fragmentation?

A recurrent theme also seems to be a perceived need to protect our expressive lives from rapacious corporate dominance or carelessness.  In mid-conversation the Supremes change the game by ruling that the corporate voice has been unduly restrained.  In this morning's Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page cites the irony that the 14th Amendment, intended to ensure freedom and citizenship for slaves, has provided the legal basis for corporate personhood and the steady amplification of corporate power, since 1886.  That feels totally germane to this discussion -- and also hopelessly beyond the scope of a week-long blogathon amongs arts types.  What steps can we take that are within our existing, mostly-strained, capacity?
January 27, 2010 9:02 AM | |

Andrew Taylor might be right that our best step might be to avoid trying to craft the perfect language.  Andras is also right that language alone won't change behavior, especially the behavior of those in power.  

Expressive life is not just a framework for talking; it is framework for thinking and for action (which I believe is the challenge Marian Godfrey sets out for us in her post).  

 I am compelled by Bill's simple formulation:

"Will policy x enhance the expressive lives of individuals and communities by making heritage and the tools of creativity more available, or will the policy increase costs, erect barriers, or limit access?"  Costs, barriers, access.   In some ways, what expressive life recaptures is a more robust notion of "freedom of expression."  Rather than think narrowly about how our freedoms are constricted by the authoritarian force of government and censorship, we should consider all of the ways in which corporations, government, and nonprofit institutions restrict the freedom of ideas to flow between citizens.  

 Costs, barriers, access.  This formulation does indeed broaden the frame and it clarifies who the allies are - it is not slow food advocates (as much as I like their cause and feel their goals are sympathetic to a vibrant expressive life), but rather media reform, free expression, localism, media literacy, IP, etc.  In fact, I think nonprofits can regain their status if they defend themselves as critical institutions for generating access to and exchange of ideas for and between citizens (especially in light of Adrian's late capitalism - which runs roughshod over such concerns).  They -nonprofits - can be key nodes in the expressive life grid.   

January 27, 2010 8:49 AM | |

Yes, yes, the air is thin up here.  At the conclusion of a meeting I chaired here at the Curb Center a few years ago, the participants, at meeting's end, presented me with a sweatshirt embazoned with "Captain Macro."  Alan has correctly nailed me as hopelessly addicted to the Big Picture.

A few quick bullets about points from Alan, Marian, Adrian, and Andras:

   *  It feels as if "creativity" in all its permutations pushes us toward "voice" and "awakening the imagination."  It's difficult to bring heritage into creativity, I think, and the awakening the imagination stuff, through important, is also pretty easy for mainstream power to trivialize.

   *  Alan is right about "culture;" in policy conversation it's mostly used to invoke identity politics and that starting point is often unhelpful.

   *  Andras indicates that expressive life will (or does) produce "blank stares."  To me this might be a good thing as we are afforded an opportunity to fill in those blanks.  The problem with "art" and "culture" is that too many people think they already know exactly what the terms mean and that pre-sets the limits of any conversation.

   *  Adrian's question about who or what can actually carry a new policy frame forward identifies a huge problem.  It's quite astonishing that in a society with such a vigorous and varied expressive life there's no single voice speaking for the public interest in relation to the whole.  There are some scattered allies -- advocacy groups dealing with Internet access, and similar groups advancing fairness in media, localism in broadcasting, and so on.  Also there are several organizations that advocate on behalf of a more-nuanced copyright/IP regime, and they would also be natural partners.  But there exists no single entity that can walk into the office of a governor, member of congress, or FCC commission and say "We are the group that works to insure that America's expressive life is aligned with public purposes."  I keep pressing our friends at Americans for the Arts to inch toward this role, and their National Arts Index certainly is based on many indicators that imply a broadening of their policy lens, but AFTA hasn't yet stepped out to claim this broader territory.  Just as advocacy on behalf of nonprofit and artist funding would benefit if we were part of a larger policy sector, I think media and IP advocacy would also benefit through a connection with the nonprofit arts.

A quick anecdote to suggest the small ways in which public interest policies affecting expressive need to advance in the current environment.  The Curb Center runs the Arts Industries Policy Forum in DC; it's funded by Ford, has 66 members, and brings together career staff from Commerce, Judiciary Committee, FCC, NEA, State -- many, many of the entities that work with legislation or regulation that shapes the US cultural system -- for bipartisan, policy neutral seminars on cultural topics.  One Forum member, an FTC attorney, co-authored a paper arguing that, in the case of "three-to-two-mergers" in industries like health care and media, the effect of the merger on "consumer choice" should be as important as assessing the impact on "price."  Now, this is a very specific recommendation and a bit arcane, but such a new policy would target mergers of, say, record companies, and would also help inflence big issues like access to heritage.  If consumer choice had been taken into account by the Dept. of Justice and the FTC, would the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger been approved?  Some day, a la the environmental movement, there might be one grooup that would make the case for expressive life and the public interest within our democracy.  In the short run, we need to find ways to cobble together a network of interested parties who focus on media, art, IP, trade, and international engagement.

I'm so pleased Ellen Lovell brought up the recent Supreme Court decision.  Let's talk about it!



January 27, 2010 7:43 AM | | Comments (1) |

     I'm sorry to come so late to the conversation. Over the past five days I've spent three in board meetings and two on the road. My expressive life has taken two forms: governance rituals (well-choreographed meetings, dancing around issues, singing the praises of staff) and sheer delight in what our modern digital technologies render accessible to the bored and delayed traveler (Ute Lemper singing Kurt Weill is the perfect companion while navigating TSA airport security).

     These quick queries about the uses of the term "expressive life" should have come earlier in the conversation. They were what I was pondering when the rumpus began.

     Is "expressive life" intended as a term for gaining wider popular traction in our political discourse (wider than such arid and conventional expressions as "arts policy" or "cultural policy")? 

     Is "expressive life" a term designed primarily to widen the aperture through which we view policy issues, among other things expanding our concerns beyond the nonprofit arts sector and its financial travails?

     Is "expressive life" a means for embracing a greater range of artistic and cultural forms, some of which acknowledge the creative activities intrinsic to our daily lives, some of which are made possible with new technologies?

     Is "expressive life" a way of reaching toward and defining an explicit policy aim, setting a public goal? This suggests a slight variation on Bill's aim a decade ago in setting out a cultural bill of rights.

     I offer this late intervention rather blindly, grasping at threads after only a quick scan of what has obviously been a rich and varied conversation. I shall return.

January 27, 2010 6:50 AM | |
In the spirit of getting more specific, back to those fried eggs for a second. 

The artist Rirkrit Tiravanija makes art that consists of cooking food and offering it to people. I well remember an exhibition of his involving cooked eggs, as it happens (people could eat them or throw them against a wall, as I recall). The "work" was cooking eggs. As such, based solely on the tangible attributes, it might well fall beyond an enumerative listing of activities that comprise the sphere of the "expressive life." Herein lies a problem. Art theory has long ago moved beyond such intrinsic definitions. We recognize that it is not the nature of an activity that might qualify it as art, but, at least in part, an institutional definition. This is relevant to the undertaking here, since many posts thus far have been about drawing up lists of what's in and what's out. In fact, we need to get up to speed with the evolution of art itself and recognize that anything can be art (not to mention culture) and that we will lose any game that's about setting boundaries. That reduces policy to politics: a power struggle about whose definition wins. 

It so happens, in addition, that Tiravanija's important artistic actions, now widely recognized as milestones in contemporary art, happened in a venue that falls almost completely outside the purview of traditional American cultural policymaking (such as it is)--a commercial art gallery. That underscores the need to set our sights wider, much wider, than the narrow confines of the nonprofit sphere, which, as Adrian and others suggest, is only too happy to reduce the conversation to how funders can keep high-art 501c3 institutions lubricated with grant dollars. 

What I take away from the conversation so far is that cultural policy must engage a wider set of issues and infrastructural sites than until now. Intellectually, that's unassailable. I have two specific concerns based on reading the posts up till now. One is that a widening of perspective--a "reframing"--can happen with a new term, perhaps, but there is no reason why it couldn't happen under the old terms. The problem is not the language, but the mindset. We may be placing too much faith in linguistics if we believe that by invoking a new name we can blast away decades of narrow-minded thinking habits. If getting people to say "expressive life" is a quicker path to making them realize that IT and IP are part of arts policy, Amen. I have my doubts. 

Ultimately, the most important and very specific issue is this: Who are the people who hold the keys to the resources and what's in their heads? In my personal experience, even trying to advocate the very basic idea that the news media and arts journalism are vital to the health of arts and culture (sorry, the expressive life) tends to draw blank stares accompanied by heavy nodding, but little else. In short, broadening the frame may have less to do with the words we use than with who is doing the speaking.   


January 27, 2010 6:30 AM | |
Marian, Adrian, and Alan nudge us toward a more applied conversation about getting something done. Thanks for that. I'm easily distracted by abstract ideas and symbolic wordplay. I'm an academic...abstractions are my Gummi Bears.

I keep scrolling back to Steven Tepper's discussion of reframing, when it's effective, and how it can be made more effective. Particularly, this point:

You can "extend" the frame by connecting it to other frames or other issues where there are natural allies/constituents who might be sympathetic to your frame but currently view the world through a different lens.
Odds are that different partners on the path will have different words that move them. Alan identified some of these with his focus groups. Marian found others with her nieces and nephews. And perhaps our best step is NOT to craft the perfect language, but to use the most resonant and productive language for a specific task. Remember the ''Clean Air Act''? The ''Patriot Act''? Brilliant nuggets of symbolic sleight of hand.

My experience has been that the folks now camped in the ''arts and culture'' frame are among the most difficult to move, and the most reluctant to partner with industries or advocates that live in a different camp.

I continue to like ''expressive life'' as a way to organize my thoughts, and to give me space to use multiple paths to explain my meaning. But perhaps it's a term for inside baseball.
January 27, 2010 6:15 AM | |

Thought experiment: we have a policy framework - expressive lives - and we apply it to a specific area - in this case increasing concentration of ownership in the music business - and we conclude that it looks like a bad thing because on balance it reduces opportunity for voice and access to heritage.  Where do we go from here? Who are the agents who will press this cause?

A fundamental challenge is the imbalance between producer interests in the broad domain under discussion and those of consumer/individual participants.  Whether we are talking about traditional 501(c)(3) land or the broader territory staked out by Bill, there is very little by way of infrastructure or organized capacity through which to pursue the agenda he describes. This is, of course, why that agenda has not been pursued.  I am interested to know who the natural allies are and how one might create a collation of interest around the expressive life.  Is this like the rambling associations in nineteenth century Britain who opened up rights of way in closed rural estates to working class walkers; or the Slow Food movement who have sought to reclaim quality of life around conviviality? Who are the natural advocates of the expressive life agenda (or whatever name resonates most effectively)?  Whoever it is, there is a struggle ahead, as late capitalism a l'Americaine, marked by high concentrations of wealth, ownership and political power,  seems arranged in a way that is antithetical to the agenda.

This is not of course a reason for setting the agenda aside - in many ways it makes it all the more urgent, as so many market and social forces encourage cultural passivity and an a-historical perspective. But it does make me want to look around other areas or people and groups with whom the expressive lifers could make common cause.

January 27, 2010 4:54 AM | |
Great arguments have been made for both "expressive life" and "creativity" (creative vitality, creative capital, creative community...) as the best descriptor of a vibrant culture, with no consensus.  But what are the verbs that will call either the creative/expressive individual or policy makers to action?  Bill focuses us on the big policy problems threatening creative life:  the potential loss of net neutrality, and of the fair use doctrine in copyright law, for two.  I think it is difficult for the culture sector to get traction on these issues not only because big institutions don't see them as "their" issues, but also because advocates have not yet succeeded in making them kitchen table issues for the general public.  When we are talking about the importance of the creative or expressive capacity of the individual, how should we be talking TO that individual about what she or he has to gain and has to lose?  Does it work to say that if net neutrality is lost, big business will be able to suppress your ability to share your creative activities with your friends/network?  Can we inject some urgency into the situation through the language of action?  And by imagining we are talking to individuals, rather than about them, can we clarify the relative effectiveness of our terms?  For example I find it easier to use "self-expression" in such a sentence than "expressive life," but the problems with "self-expression" have been discussed. 

My nieces and nephews tell me they are more apt to think about their own "creative" life and activities than their "expressive" life, so I'm going with that one.  They also express a lot of self-reliance about their ability to pursue their creative activities--they don't see any entitlement to or need for outside support of the kind provided by our current subsidy-oriented arts policies.  But if they are informed that if big media succeed in suppressing net neutrality or fair use. and consequently they will lose the ability to access and share both information and creative expression, and if they are given something to do about it through an advocacy campaign, I believe they will act.
January 27, 2010 4:28 AM | | Comments (1) |

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Jesus Pantel commented on More Czars Than There Are in Heaven: I had thoughts similar to Nihar's - while we may want/need a more centraliz...

Scott Walters commented on Do We Need Central Authority in Arts & Culture?: I agree with you, Bill. Your description here and in "Arts, Inc." of how wi...

Peter Linett commented on More Czars Than There Are in Heaven: All week I've been trying to pin down why this conversation -- as thoughtfu...

Dalouge Smith commented on Scorekeeping, by whom?: The problem isn't just a lack of think tank and data collection infrastruct...

AJ Blogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off

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