What's In, What's Out, What's the System

By Bill Ivey, Director, Curb Center, Vanderbilt University

I think Steven Tepper is correct about the way expressive life can be the umbrella for different policy realms.  To me things like IP law, media regulation, corporate archival preservation policies, revenue streams that flow to the arts industries and other elements are the "system" that defines the character of expressive life.  We can ask questions like "Will an extended copyright term enhance the expressive life of consumers and/or artists?  Does local newspaper ownership enhance the expressive life of a community?  Will the approval of a merger between two major motion picture studios improve or inhibit access to heritage film?  And expressive life can be home to a number of advocacy efforts that are now disconnected -- arts funding, fairness in media, Internet access, free speech, the Creative Commons, etc., etc.  The new whole might be greater than the current sum of these parts.

Adrian Ellis is right to ask about what's in and what's out.  His list -- hair dressing, mud-wrestling, chess, would to me mostly be out.  But frying an egg might fit if it were part of serious chefing, and home design or fashion would fit even if pursued by amateurs, and certainly things like social dancing would be in.  More problematic for me is political speech -- probably has to be in -- and religion...Can we accept music and visual art and great sermons but leave the dogma itself to that other realm, religious life?  It will be challenging and fun to figure out the contents of expressive life; there will probably never be agreement as to what fits along the margins but we can probably end with agreement on a solid core.

Andras asks what a vibrant expressive life would look like.  Good question.  Part of the solution is just access; everybody must have access to the materials of cultural heritage and to the tools of personal creativity.  That formulation means that a record company that won't reissue an old disc is inhibiting expressive life, as is the fact of limited penetration of the Internet and related hardware and software in poor communities.  The woman with a vibrant expressive life would be engaged with art and art making from the past, and would possess the skill set required to sustain her own creative practice.  Much of the work of securing a vibrant expressive life will be the process of eliminating barriers, many of which are secured by powerful market forces, while critiquing policy in relation to access.  Eliminate barriers so the system makes connecting and doing easy.

This is about community as well as individuals, and while much of this is pretty abstract, the creation of new, low-power FM broadcast licenses in urban areas is the kind of policy that could be discussed in relation to its impact on expressive life.

Lewis Hyde's question about timing has me wondering.  Hmmmm.  Americans for the Arts did launch their new National Arts Index last week, and it uses 76 indicators (such as the number of bookstores and movie screens) that go far beyond the uses counting of nonprofits.  Maybe the arts sector itself is ready to engage a new idea and be part of a bigger frame.  Interesting question

January 25, 2010 3:36 PM | |


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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