Where's the Action?

By Marian Godfrey
Great arguments have been made for both "expressive life" and "creativity" (creative vitality, creative capital, creative community...) as the best descriptor of a vibrant culture, with no consensus.  But what are the verbs that will call either the creative/expressive individual or policy makers to action?  Bill focuses us on the big policy problems threatening creative life:  the potential loss of net neutrality, and of the fair use doctrine in copyright law, for two.  I think it is difficult for the culture sector to get traction on these issues not only because big institutions don't see them as "their" issues, but also because advocates have not yet succeeded in making them kitchen table issues for the general public.  When we are talking about the importance of the creative or expressive capacity of the individual, how should we be talking TO that individual about what she or he has to gain and has to lose?  Does it work to say that if net neutrality is lost, big business will be able to suppress your ability to share your creative activities with your friends/network?  Can we inject some urgency into the situation through the language of action?  And by imagining we are talking to individuals, rather than about them, can we clarify the relative effectiveness of our terms?  For example I find it easier to use "self-expression" in such a sentence than "expressive life," but the problems with "self-expression" have been discussed. 

My nieces and nephews tell me they are more apt to think about their own "creative" life and activities than their "expressive" life, so I'm going with that one.  They also express a lot of self-reliance about their ability to pursue their creative activities--they don't see any entitlement to or need for outside support of the kind provided by our current subsidy-oriented arts policies.  But if they are informed that if big media succeed in suppressing net neutrality or fair use. and consequently they will lose the ability to access and share both information and creative expression, and if they are given something to do about it through an advocacy campaign, I believe they will act.
January 27, 2010 4:28 AM | | Comments (1) |


Speaking of young people, could a share a story that relates to this? Back in the late 1990s, when I was an administrator in the College of Fine Arts at Illinois State University, I was in charge of the Illinois High School Theatre Festival, which brought 3500 arts-oriented HS students from around the state to our campus for a 3-day festival. During the year preceding the festival, festival reps (all HS teachers) would visit various high schools to see their productions and invite them to perform at the festival. One year, a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" had been chosen to perform at the festival. The school was thrilled, the students and parents were jazzed. But when they tried to get the rights from Rodgers and Hammerstein, they were denied because a professional touring production was going to be performing the play 60 miles away in Peoria two months later. When I called R & H to question this decision, I mentioned that there was a chance that the press in the HS's town might look into why the kids were being prevented from performing, and that wouldn't look very good for R & H. "Are you threatening me?," the R & H rep demanded. "Because if something like that happens, we could make it so that this HS never gets the rights to do an R & H musical ever again." The students didn't perform.

While this is not the same situation as Bill is discussing as far as IP issues are concerned, it is an example of how IP issues can have a very direct impact on the ability for young people to be creative. The theatre they were going to perform in held 300 people, all registered conferees, mostly HS students from far away, so the overlap with the potential audience in Peoria would have been almost non-existent, but it didn't matter. And R & H were willing to kill a HS drama program's future opportunities to protect its property.

The important word in the discussion isn't whether it is "expressive" or "creative," but rather "life."


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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