To Marian and Andras...

By Bill Ivey, Director, Curb Center, Vanderbilt University

As I anticipated, the "doing" part of expressive life is jumping out as the dominant component of the idea.  Expressive life divides into "voice" and "heritage."  These two halves are basically in conflict, or at least in a continual negotiated conversation.  "Heritage" is the grounding, historical piece, encompassing shared values, historical practices, a sense of community, family, faith, and so on.  Creativity of the past is a container for heritage, and our democracy needs access to it, even if, say, what we're talking about are historical blues recordings that are simultaneously heritage and corporate asset.  "Voice," on the other hand, is more about autonomy, a sense of personal distinction, achievement, and independence.  My folklorist friends are especially fond of heritage, because it provides continuity and strengthens community ties.  On the other hand, global-perspecitive intellectuals like Anthony Appiah see heritage as an anchor that drags down individuals who want to achieve on a world stage; globalizers like "voice."  To me, the two need to be in balance within individuals, communities, and even nations.

Andras feels we should just reclaim, reinvent, or redefine our existing terms.  Good idea, but it's hard for me to see how that toothpaste will go back in the tube.  Also, I think we need to make things like media regulation and intellectual property law part of our policy conversation, and it's really hard to see how we can rework "art" and "culture" to be a container for an expanded policy realm that mainstream actors with corporations, government, and foundations will understand.

Attention to the rights of groups and individuals within a cultural frame has frequently been a conversation stopper.  "Is my tribe getting the appropriate share of money, attention, etc." is certainly a question that can be considered at some point...I'm just not certain it's the first thing.


January 25, 2010 6:28 AM | | Comments (1) |


To my mind, what the phrase "expressive life" does is open up the idea of what "counts" as the arts, and who is allowed to do it, and that is all to the good. Right now, we have turned creativity into a commodity -- a product that is created by "highly trained specialists" (don't try this at home, kids) and sold to passive consumers who are expected to sit still and be appreciative. As a result, we have disempowered the Average American, who instead of singing their own songs, telling their own stories, playing their own instruments, dancing their own dances now buy CDs, DVDs, and watch "Dancing with the Stars." Ultimately, this impoverishes the culture, and homogenizes the art, especially when the art scene becomes geographically centralized as it has over the past century. On the other hand, we have an increasingly participative culture in which people write encyclopedias, design software, post YouTube videos, and write blogs -- a trend which the arts ignore at their peril.

I look forward to following this conversation.


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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