Recently by Alan Brown
Great analysis, Adrian. You should be a consultant. (:~>) I know this will sound self-serving as a researcher, but what gets measured is often what really matters, particularly in the eyes of dispassionate authorizers. All I know for sure is that we need a new outcome rubric for arts and culture, one that re-balances 'heritage' and 'voice,' and one that every community can buy into. That, and a well-funded champion for cultural policy, and we're off to the races - at least the races where everyone doesn't bet on winning horses.
Seriously, maybe the moment is right now for an expressive revolution, given the tidal wave of interest in personal creative expression that is sweeping our country. But whenever I start talking with large budget producing organizations about making more connections to the inventive and interpretive modes of engagement, I get blank stares and hear an undertone of hostility about being taken 'off mission.' What should be made of the recent finding from an Irvine Foundation study that a third of adults in some regions of California want to take dance lessons? There is no infrastructure, nonprofit or commercial, to accommodate even a fraction of that demand. Nor does the dance field seem to care about it. Whose job is it to respond to this sort of public demand, much less detect it?
Only a couple of disruptive changes might actually shift the locus of power, and one would be to introduce a new measurement system for "expressive life" or "creative capital." As Bill has said, "policy accretes around bodies of data." If we can develop commonly accepted metrics for characterizing expressive life, then we stand a better chance of influencing policy. You can't win the game if you don't know the score. And, if no one else is keeping score, then you get to design the rules and thereby change the game.
I hate to bring this up, but Richard Florida's scorekeeping rubric for creative economies changed the conversation amongst civic leaders, in part because he produced a quantitative measurement system that policymakers could believe in, and that motivated them to 'win the game.' It tapped into a competitive streak amongst communities. Whether or not you agree with his premise, Florida changed the policy conversation. I envision a time, maybe 10 or 15 years from now, when communities across the country strive to increase their 'creative capital' in order to be competitive. The National Arts Index is a good step forward, but we need to press forward on this front much more vigorously.
A better framework for assessing the public value of arts and cultural programs and facilities might also help create a more objective basis for considering policy alternatives, as Adrian suggests. How does one weigh the value of seeing a great work of art in a museum against the value of seeing a cheap reproduction of the same work every day for twenty years over the kitchen sink?
This conversation reminds me of the time six years ago when Wallace Foundation and RAND released Gifts of the Muse - Reframing the Debate about the Benefits of the Arts. After providing us with a terrifically erudite accounting of arts benefits, the authors' lead recommendation in the last chapter was to "develop language for discussing intrinsic benefits." And I wondered, whose job is it to create this new language? (Frankly, I'd hoped RAND might make some suggestions...) I imagined a room somewhere in the sub-basement of the NEA where wordsmiths were earnestly hammering away at new framing language that will, once and for all, tickle the funnybone of policymakers and convince them that the arts really matter.
I can contribute one data point to the language conversation. A few years ago, I led some focus groups with caregivers of children in low-income Dallas neighborhoods, in connection with the Thriving Minds creative learning initiative. We tested three terms for salience: 1) "arts activities," 2) "cultural activities," and 3) "creative activities," with the following results:
- The word "creative" had strongly positive connotations associated with awakening the imagination, interaction and freedom of choice. It was also seen as a gender-positive term for boys who might feel social pressure not to get involved with "arts" activities.
- "Cultural activities" were generally expected to be heritage-based and culturally-specific, and thus not for everybody.
- "Arts Activities" took on the meaning of arts and crafts.
I can only imagine how they would've reacted to "Expressive Life."
The notion that every citizen has a right to an expressive life is a powerful and galvanizing idea, and a good platform for debate about copyright law and other policy reforms. I like it, I really do. But will it translate from insider to outsider? From policy circles to lawmakers and plain folk who care deeply about culture? It depends on who we want to influence, and what we want from them. Maybe we just need to hire really expensive lobbyists? (:~>)
As policy language goes, I am partial to 'creative vitality' as a core element of quality of life, and to 'creative capital' as the thing that gets measured. This train has already left the station. Creative Scotland. Creative New Zealand. The Creative Campus program, funded by the Duke Foundation and administered by Arts Presenters, is a good example. Increasingly, arts presenters are recasting themselves as catalysts of creativity in their communities, not just as presenters of touring artists. Business schools are looking to design firms for new ways of teaching young entrepreneurs how to think more creatively. Given all the positive energy around 'creative vitality,' and the direct links to civic engagement and economic competitiveness, I have to wonder why we would want to jump from the creative vitality train to the expressive life express.
Adrian Ellis; Alan Brown; Andras Szanto; Andrew Taylor; Bau Graves; Douglas McLennan; Ellen Lovell; Bill Ivey, William James; James Early; Jim Smith; Lewis Hyde; Marian Godfrey; Martha Bayles; Nihar Patel; Russell Taylor; Sam Jones; Steven Tepper
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