Let's Switch to "Expressive Life!"
I met with hundreds of congressmen (and women) back when I was NEA chairman, and while I was mostly soliciting support for my agency, inevitably the conversations turned on the importance of the arts in a more general way. In just about all my meetings with government leaders, and with leaders in the corporate and foundation worlds, these talks convinced me that the terms we use -- "Art;" "Culture" -- are so burdened with assumptions and multiple meanings, and the policy arena they denote so unclear, that our key words are actually barriers holding back a meaningful connection between heritage and creativity and public purposes. Just about everybody assumes "Art" is painting and sculpture, or maybe "The Fine Arts" generally; "Culture" can be "the sum of all human behavior" or just "the political tilt of a state or region:" read "The Culture Wars" or "Red-state/Blue-state" voting. The implied policy frame is either way to big or, more frequently, much too narrow. From a mainstream policy perspective, the terms are marginalizing; "The Arts" end up as an amenity that you get around to addressing after you've "fixed" sectors like health care, the environment, and public education.
In my book "Arts, Inc." I advanced "Expressive Life" as both a fresh descriptive term and a new framework for policy conversation. I hope Expressive Life eliminates the dismissive, eye-rolling assumptions that now attach to "The Arts," and that the phrase implies up a zone of issues and possible engagements that can stand proudly beside "Family Life" and"Work Life." To me, from now on, whether engaging research, advocacy, or analysis, we should be talking about "the condition of America's Expressive Life in the 21st Century."
Using an expressive life frame will force us to do more than worry about the funding, artist, and nonprofit priorities that have dominated to instead think about things we don't much address -- 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. But carving out a more robust sector for ourselves, and moving out from under the marginalizing assumptions attached to current language will enable us to be "big" enough to secure cultural vibrancy ("a vibrant expressive life") as a key component of our democratic market democracy.
Adrian Ellis; Alan Brown; Andras Szanto; Andrew Taylor; Bau Graves; Douglas McLennan; Ellen Lovell; Bill Ivey, William James; James Early; Jim Smith; Lewis Hyde; Marian Godfrey; Martha Bayles; Nihar Patel; Russell Taylor; Sam Jones; Steven Tepper
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