The Expressive Life Grid

By Steven J Tepper

For me, one important challenge facing cultural policy is the constant debate and emphasis on "content." Most of our policies and institutions are set up to advance, in one way or another, varying views of "good content" verses "bad content."  Like aspects of food policy, we are seeking ways to make sure more people eat "good food" - leading to better nutrition, which is considered a public good. But, we don't have any evidence that when we engage "good culture" (the opera verses Family Guy), that we necessarily have better health.  

Instead, I think cultural policy must try to be content neutral (which flips our entire paradigm on its head).  In terms of cultural participation, I have argued that this means thinking about the types of "experiences" that produce the outcomes we care about (reflection, deliberation, efficacy, understanding, pride, solidarity, etc.) and then orienting our support and policies around ANY form of content that can produce those experiences.   In the larger cultural policy debate, that means focusing on an outcome that is independent of content, such as the flow of creative expression between citizens.  

If we think about our "expressive life" infrastructure, we can imagine a grid (like the energy grid) that allows culture to flow freely between citizens (back and forward across time - encompassing both heritage and voice).  There are many things that get in the way of such communication or conversation (as Andras would put it) - intellectual property laws, restrictive corporate practice and narrow gates, media consolidation, lack of minority owned media, rules against low frequency radio, a shortage of presentation venues for live performing arts, the decline of local journalism, etc.   

The Expressive Life frame helps me think about a content-neutral frame that can focus on public interest concerns related to the quality of our expressive life "grid."  Where are the tolls, bottlenecks, dead ends, and one way streets in our collective cultural lives?  Can policy address these structural problems?  

January 25, 2010 7:29 AM | | Comments (1) |

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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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