Nonprofits and Powerbrokers...

By Bill Ivey, Director, Curb Center, Vanderbilt University

I appreciate Marian Godfrey's concern about our current crop of cultural nonprofits; they're in trouble and, quite apart from any talk about expressive life, they seem to be getting pushed to the margins.  While I've never viewed the idea of broadening our frame of reference as a strategy to increase support for any part of the arts spectrum, it does seem that, if there's a bigger discussion about the importance of all of expressive life to quality of life, all boats should rise.

Think about the environment.  Let's say thirty years ago a smart cluster of advocates began to gather support for wetlands preservation.  They would have had some success over the decades; duck hunters would have weighed in, and probably some birdwatchers, but my guess is that the wetlands preservation movement would have hit the upper limits of financial support and policy engagement pretty quickly.  On the other hand, wetlands as a part of a larger environmental-movement frame has much greater standing and can get its share of a very big whole.  You get my point; I don't think our traditional fine-arts organizations can advance in the current economy and policy frame unless they're part of a big idea that is powerful enough to stand beside health care, education, and even the environment.  But it will be challenging for a sector that has claimed most of the conversation "on the way up and down" (to paraphrase Adrian Ellis), to step back and be part of something bigger in order to advance expressive life as a marker of a healthy democracy.

We need to test Nihar Patel's idea that "expressive life" is too close to "free expression" for comfort.  I know the phrase tilts us away from heritage, but if the very term "expression" is too hot for policy leaders to handle, we need to keep thinking...

January 26, 2010 8:59 AM | |


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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