Naming and Constructing the Frame

By Bill Ivey, Director, Curb Center, Vanderbilt University

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 still mulling over the term expressive life and I seem to understand it better now - it took me awhile to get beyond that blank stare and wrap my head around what you were talking about. I'm going to think about it some more before I make any more comments on that aspect.

But I finally see what you're saying and if AFTA won't be the voice, then how about the Arts Industries Policy Forum? Just because they're bipartisan and policy neutral does not mean that they can't inform people (legislators and citizens) about the issues. They may not be able to take a position now, but has that changed with the new Supreme Court ruling on free speech for corporations? Even if they still can't advocate for a certain position, they can still let people know when there are proposed changes in the law, a la the Ticketmaster and LiveNation merger, that could affect their future in how they participate and interact with art, culture, and expressive life. Set up e-advocay e-mails and a website, contact various news groups and blogs. Then the word is getting out both as advocacy and as general publicity/news.

As implied in other posts, let's not worry so much about semantics and instead concentrate on what we can do with our current resources.


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

Our Bloggers

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


Contact us Click here to send us an email... more

Archives: 61 entries and counting


Recent Comments

Jesus Pantel commented on Naming and Constructing the Frame: I'm still mulling over the term expressive life and I seem to understand it...

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

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