Recently by Marian Godfrey
BIll returns to the role of nonprofits in advancing the idea of expressive life. I agree: one thing this dialog has made abundantly clear is that for the idea to gain traction with policy makers, the first responsibility lies with us, who operate within the professional culture sector, to respect not only the idea of the cultural right to an expressive life, but also the individuals who pursue that right and the activities attendant upon that right. For the time being, anyway, the media and other purveyors of commercial culture will acknowledge those individuals to the degree that they are, or can be converted to being, consumers. It is the nonprofit cultural sector that has the already recognized responsibility to serve the public interest. and as such I believe that it is nonprofit cultural organizations that can and should be on the front lines of welcoming all kinds of creative individuals into the center of their missions and activities. The organizations who are thinking and acting most innovatively are already moving toward embracing this role.
PS to Jim: I expect there is always a tension between voice and heritage; indeed, exploring such tensions is exactly what narrative is good at doing.
I hope we can continue this conversation in other venues, it's a privilege to be in all your company.
Yesterday Bill reiterated his concern that "It feels as if "creativity" in all its permutations pushes us toward "voice" and "awakening the imagination." It's difficult to bring heritage into creativity, I think..." I don't agree with this and I think Bill's concern may have embedded in it a kind of cultural bias. It is often true that within the institutions that purvey and sustain a mainstream European (forgive the reductive terms) culture and heritage, the notion of "creativity" privileges voice over heritage and as such an emphasis on creativity seems to pose a threat to the sustainability or equal weight of heritage.
But in other communities, for example the newcomer communities in Philadelphia that include Cambodian and Hmong groups, the enterprise of young artists is specifically to synthesize voice and heritage, or at least to negotiate a balanced relationship between the two. These artists start from a stance of exploring their own creative expression but do so overtly within the context of the cultural heritage from which they come. Russell's example of the graffiti artist's encounter with conservators is another example of a more nuanced relationship between voice and heritage.
I keep returning to Jim Early's previous post and comment because one of the things he is talking about also seems to connect to this subject--that we have yet to give equal privilege and value to cultural expressions from all quarters in our consideration of the cultural landscape and our current, limited and flawed, cultural policies.
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.
Here's my question: are we just going to ignore these organizations? They are the bed we have made and are currently lying in. If we are Darwinian about it, and just let them go down, we (and policy makers) could be heavily distracted by that depressing spectacle for another twenty years. Or don't they need to be co-opted into the process of reframing both the place of expressivity in civic life, and the centrality of the expressive individual in our cultural life?
What happens to our current non-profit cultural infrastructure will influence the success or not of the enterprise Bill has pointed us toward because in the eyes of many policy makers, especially at the local level, these big, noisy, dysfunctional organizations are the most important and visible carriers of cultural heritage. Of course we can just wait the twenty years and let their fate resolve itself, but that doesn't feel like any way to pursue a movement, which is what it feels to me we are talking about.
I have been thinking about the concept of the cultural rights of all individuals, and the term "expressive life" to describe one such basic cultural right, since Bill began talking and writing about this idea several years ago. This concept responds to a universal human impulse toward curiosity and the search for meaning. It opens up a welcome space for people like me who lack the talent and/or tenacity to become professional artists, but need to be in touch with our own creative impulses and to be stimulated and elated by others' craft or artistic mastery. As such, it proposes a fundamental and critically important realignment of our cultural infrastructure to place the individual, and individual creative engagement, in the center. But I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that the term "expressive life" itself will not accomplish what Bill wants of it, which is to shed the baggage of elitist assumptions that comes with the terms "arts" and "culture," and make room for a new policy perspective.
"Expressive life" could be seen by the same naysayers we are aiming to convert as broadly encompassing any and all forms of self-expression, creative or not, and even including destructive or anti-social self-expression. In fact, it is even more general and abstract than "arts" or "culture." And I worry that the phrase, and Bill's proposal for "'heritage' and 'voice' as subdivisions of expressive life," could simply substitute new art-world verbal codes for old ones.
A new term such as "expressive life" could work if it is seen by the people whose activities it means to describe as actually representing them--and if it is embraced and used by them first of all. This or any term needs to pass the smell test, particularly, of the young people on whom we place so much expectation for inventing new ways of blurring the lines between art and life, and between professional and avocational cultural activity. If the people find both the concept and the phrase resonant, then there is a chance that policy makers will, too.
With that in mind I decided to conduct a short poll on the subject with my nieces and nephews, whose ages range between 17 and 30-something.
Here is what one of them said (in response to my use of Bill's earlier phrase, "vibrant expressive life," as my topic):
Vibrant expressive life - hmmm. As a stoic Mainer this phrase feels a little overdramatic to me. Maybe just drop the word "vibrant." Or say "creative life" instead. I do believe that everyone has creative gifts to offer, and unfortunately the circumstances of people's lives do not often support the bringing forth of these gifts. I know people who would be producing creative work if their time and energy wasn't devoted to scraping by.
I hope to offer other thoughts from other nieces and nephews in future posts.
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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