More Czars Than There Are in Heaven

By Nihar Patel
If a culture czar or czarina, and those under their management, represent a diverse, eclectic group of Americans, I don't see the mark of elitism as being much of a problem. Well, let me rephrase, anymore then it already is.

I do think our current President has enough czars for the time being, and more will just be written of as big government liberalism. A centrist Republican, a Bloomberg type, is the ideal champion if we're talking about the federal government.

The worry is no central authority will make a habit of defending or funding work that some will find offensive. Maybe the right to express it will be defended, but the work itself wont be embraced. Which really gives this authority no real currency with artists. Perhaps this central authority functions more like the MPAA, a lobbying group with industry, not government funding. Though even with the MPAA, that relationship between public and private is too cozy for some filmmakers.

What if this central authority's main purpose is simply to seed this notion of an expressive life into the soil of America. That seems like a more realistic goal. Education first, not oversight, evaluation, or management. That may mean no grants, no awards, just outreach and communication. Can you imagine the Ad Council producing posters and TV commercials promoting a concept like the expressive life? Maybe they already do, but it's just not as funded as anti-smoking campaigns.

I guess the question is, what are the goals here, and what's priority one? To convince millions of Americans that arts and culture, learning to express yourself creatively, are worthwhile pursuits? Are we seeing the current landscape dominated by corporate interests and new technological realities, and we're struggling to make sense of it all? Or are we fighting to make arts a priority in American education in the same way athletics is, hoping the next generation will pick up the baton for us? Ok, enough, Doug and Bill get to ask the questions.
January 28, 2010 6:16 PM | | Comments (2) |

2 Comments

I had thoughts similar to Nihar's - while we may want/need a more centralized voice, will it just be seen as more big government liberalism, perceived as creating new regulations and restrictions even if it's commenting on new policies or proposed changes? Not that that should be a reason not to, but it is definitely something to consider in framing how such a thing could be done.

Until we have that go to think tank, we'll have to continue to spread things organically to our networks. As such, I'm passing along this blog link that makes a very compelling case that the jobs bill President Obama mentioned in the State of the Union Address should go to arts, culture, history and heritage organizations because it would not only support/create jobs, but help improve the quality of life of a wide variety of people. I hope you'll pass this along to your State Senators and Representatives as well as the President: http://artsmarket.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/a-modest-jobs-proposal-to-congress-and-the-president-arts-culture-history-and-heritage/

All week I've been trying to pin down why this conversation -- as thoughtful and valuable as it is -- seems a little airy and has occasionally made me impatient. I think it's because the topic here is (pardon the oversimplification) what the arts say about themselves rather than what they do. Not that framing and language are unimportant. But no message about the traditionally-defined arts speaks louder than what happens, or doesn't, inside a concert hall or art museum, etc. Whether we're talking about advocacy at the level of the field or marketing at the level of an individual organization, those overt messages we spend so much time and care articulating are only a small part of the total signal we're sending. And sometimes there's a disconnect between what we say about our value (and values) and how our offerings actually look and feel to the audiences and communities we're trying to engage.

So advocacy and framing are, I would argue, arts management challenges, innovation challenges, even artistic challenges. When we find better, more intimate, more participatory, more colloquial, more diverse ways of connecting with people, the arts will half frame themeselves. Then a conversation like this one can do the rest.

In the meantime, maybe we should think about a parallel conversation about how best to advocate for new ways of presenting the arts and construing our audiences. And the target audience for that framing effort would be ourselves.

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This Conversation Are the terms "Art" and "Culture" tough enough to frame a public policy carve-out for the 21st century? Are the old familiar words, weighted with multiple meanings and unhelpful preconceptions, simply no longer useful in analysis or advocacy? In his book, Arts, Inc., Bill Ivey advances "Expressive Life" as a new, expanded policy arena - a frame sufficiently robust to stand proudly beside "Work Life," "Family Life," "Education," and "The Environment." Is Ivey on the right track, or more

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