Recently by Adrian Ellis

The expressive life agenda feels as much to me like the stuff of a broad social movement as it does a framework for policy analysis. The head of steam required for the policy analysis, the honing of performance indicators  and the required assault on producer interests in policy-making is likely to occur only  if there is, to use Bill's comment,  'an environment that honors expressive life as a public good.'   

For this to happen, the agenda needs to be linked back to the debate  about what constitutes a fulfilled life, expressive or otherwise, and whether social institutions are generally arranged in a way that permits that life to be led and that gives us all some gentle nudges in that direction, particularly in our formative years. 

This - the good life, what it is and how you live it - was for centuries an overt topic of discussion and not just amongst philosophers  and framers of constitutions but  then sort of went underground a little under a century ago, resurfacing in self-help literature and a few academic books that were generally seen as eccentric and subjective within the value-neutral realm of social science (e.g. Tibor Skitovky's  The Joyless Economy or Robert Lane's The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies). The burgeoning literature of 'happiness studies' is attempting to bring this together and link issues of self-actualization back to public policy - health, education etc.  

But like the expressive life agenda with which it overlaps, the issue of how the long term interests of individuals are best promoted in a political economy that is dominated by producer interests is critical. It seems a long way from territory and nearer to that of adbusters but it's where Bill is taking us. It's what political parties used to be for ...

January 29, 2010 11:42 AM | | Comments (0) |

I am picking up Marian's point that we should not just leave the non profit institutional sector to flounder for a generation while we address the wider policy issues that Bill is rightly flagging, and Russell's last post. Here goes...

The institutionalized non profit cultural sector needs serious, disinterested (i.e. objective) attention by intelligent policy analysts. Its administrators' antics and self-importance may rile Bill but this sector is tasked with, as it should be, stewardship of the highest expressions of humanity, with its transmission to the next generation intact if not enhanced, and with ensuring the widest enjoyment and appreciation of these defining achievements by as many people as it can engage -  this mandate crosses material, visual, dramatic, literary and musical culture - voice and heritage.

There is much to criticize about how we are going about that task basic, and I suspect history will judge my generation harshly - we have probably been grabby and overbearing  in the dispatch of our duties -  just we will probably be judged harshly in many other respects, in our fiscal habits, our public morals and our civic passivity.  But these tasks of stewardship, transmission and illumination are vital and legitimate objects of public policy. 

The tragedy of so much cultural policy however is that it is, formally, bullshit  (c.f. Eleonora Belfiore's elegant analysis of Bullshit in Cultural Policy). Like bullshit in other areas of public discourse, rather than working through in good faith how these modest but vital responsibilities are best dispatched, cultural policy in the United States and Europe has tended to focus on how to stake a claim to more of the public agenda than these responsibilities, important though they are, can reasonably command, both for both the fun of it and for the funding of it. This tends to undermine the disinterested nature of the analysis.  Any serious attempt at policy, expressive or cultural, has to be re-grounded in a more objective ethos of policy analysis, if it's not simply to be lobby-fodder. Advocacy is essential but it is not policy analysis.

I am interested in the extent to which Bill's framework can help to ensure a closer congruence between the institutional structure of the cultural sector as conventionally conceived (which is a mess) and the efficient and sustainable execution of the voice- and heritage-related responsibilities that  are the sector's core responsibilities.  It may be that the mess is just what it is and, like democracy, better than the alternatives. But we seem to be at a cusp and a convergence of both acute fiscal mayhem  and chronic secular demographic, technological and other drivers. Together they have created a real (albeit slightly desperate) appetite amongst cultural decision makers and opinion formers to address the fundamental issue of the inadequate fit between the institutional infrastructure of the arts and sustainable aspirations for various (and as Andras, has emphasized, fluid)  art forms. 

I think there's a conference in Chicago at the moment on the future of symphony orchestras. Russell, you are there? I bet they are talking about this.  The AAMD met two weeks ago - I be they were talking about this too... The language may vary but it's THE issue for the expressive responsibilities that  the non profit institutional sector shoulders in return for for all the fiscal love it gets.

Addressing the mature execution of these responsibilities will take political will and collective action - neither of which are common in the cultural sector. But I would hope that the agenda that Bill is articulating can embrace and address this critical dimension of expressive life, simply because it's a big part of the totality. I feel this has to be said in a way that does not diminish other aspects of expressive life that he is rightly high-lighting as neglected. Here's a stab at encapsulating it: the ecology is unbalanced in part because many expressive social interests are under-articulated, and Bill has highlighted them and has suggested an agenda around them. It's an agenda that it is intellectually compelling but it is difficult to see how and by whom it will be pursued.  Meanwhile other agendas  are over-articulated: a move toward a balanced ecology requires us to address both issues.

Whoa! That was way too long. Sorry, Doug.



January 27, 2010 9:16 PM | | Comments (0) |

Thought experiment: we have a policy framework - expressive lives - and we apply it to a specific area - in this case increasing concentration of ownership in the music business - and we conclude that it looks like a bad thing because on balance it reduces opportunity for voice and access to heritage.  Where do we go from here? Who are the agents who will press this cause?

A fundamental challenge is the imbalance between producer interests in the broad domain under discussion and those of consumer/individual participants.  Whether we are talking about traditional 501(c)(3) land or the broader territory staked out by Bill, there is very little by way of infrastructure or organized capacity through which to pursue the agenda he describes. This is, of course, why that agenda has not been pursued.  I am interested to know who the natural allies are and how one might create a collation of interest around the expressive life.  Is this like the rambling associations in nineteenth century Britain who opened up rights of way in closed rural estates to working class walkers; or the Slow Food movement who have sought to reclaim quality of life around conviviality? Who are the natural advocates of the expressive life agenda (or whatever name resonates most effectively)?  Whoever it is, there is a struggle ahead, as late capitalism a l'Americaine, marked by high concentrations of wealth, ownership and political power,  seems arranged in a way that is antithetical to the agenda.

This is not of course a reason for setting the agenda aside - in many ways it makes it all the more urgent, as so many market and social forces encourage cultural passivity and an a-historical perspective. But it does make me want to look around other areas or people and groups with whom the expressive lifers could make common cause.

January 27, 2010 4:54 AM | | Comments (0) |

So we are frustrated with the imprecision of the terms 'arts' and 'culture' when used in the context of public policy, and we are frustrated with the confining policy perspectives that have developed around these terms. They encourage us to focus overly on the public funding of 501(c)(3) arts organizations and to under-emphasize other policy domains (private sector, unincorporated organizations, individuals, etc.) and policy levers (legislation, regulation, exhortation etc.). These levers, if used, have a potentially positive impact on our quality of life. The result of our collective myopia is that the cultural ecology of the United States is unbalanced and the potential contribution which that ecology can make to the richness of our lives is both underexplored and imperfectly understood.

There is therefore a linguistic issue and a substantive issue. The linguistic one I am personally agnostic about. Hopefully, by the end of the week I won't be. 'Expressive life' is an attempt to coin a phrase and maneuver it into use in policy discussions - ambitious task in itself, but I am also slightly unclear about the definitional contours: what's in there exactly? Arts and crafts as traditionally understood at amateur and professional levels. Sport? Hair-dressing? Mud-wrestling? Motor-cycle maintenance? Chess? Climbing mountains? Choosing walk to work? Cooking a cordon bleu meal? Frying an egg? Recreational sex? All of these present challenges for art and culture definitions but they seem to for 'expressive life' too. And do 'voice' and 'heritage' overlap too heavily to be distinct? Improvisation over a blues or standard song form, for example ...isn't one person's voice another person's heritage? Wouldn't a concerted effort at widespread adoption of the term just throw us into the same definitional quagmire that Bill sees 'art' and 'culture' floating in?

The substantive issue he raises though, however, is wholly on point. Cultural policy in the United States is anemic in content and circumscribed in scope in part because big, noisy, self-interested organizations have pre-empted so much of the 'issue space'. They did it on the way up and they are going to do it on the way back down. They should clearly have some of that space - and I suspect that Bill and I may differ on how much - and their current distress in adapting to changing circumstances is going to require public policy to sort it out . But they are just intermediaries and the criterion for judging their efficacy is how well they act as mechanisms for supporting artistic and cultural engagement (pre-Iveyian terminology) or transmitting heritage and encouraging voice (Iveyian).

The problem I see ahead is that this specific debate encourages us to side-step rather than to tackle a more essential debate to which is should lead: what heritages and voices should be the object of cultural policy, which like all policy is about the distribution of scarce resources and therefore requires allocative decisions to be made. That does not necessarily mean ' which art forms' - it can mean a la Tepper what social states (deliberation, solidarity etc.). But the debate about the legitimate and appropriate ends and means for cultural or expressive policy is the one that needs to be had and I need to see more clearly how the 'expressive life' express gets you there faster.

January 25, 2010 11:41 AM | | Comments (0) |


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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