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Nice post I like the sarcasm in it... Great stuff!

Mini cooper S commented on

Thanks for a good article. I personally think the only way of giving the public what they want is by having online forums and or blogs or 2.0 sites. I think if the local governments had more 2.0 websites (where people can leave feedback and comments etc.) they would be in the "know" in regards to what the public wants (.i.e dancing classes or painting classes). Many thanks for your article. Kind Regards John

Jackie Bailey commented on

Hi Alan and others, I have been reading your recent conversation about the “expressive life” on artsjournal.com. It got me thinking (which I believe was the objective, so well done!) about the larger, communal context of the artistic vibrancy discussion. For context - I have been working for the Australia Council for the Arts has on developing ways of defining and measuring "artistic vibrancy" of arts organisations, which go beyond "artistic excellence" and also look at community relevance and artist development. Our published resources are now online at http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research After reading your conversation, I think that there might be another way to understand artistic vibrancy, which may also be useful to how you understand the arts' relationship with the "expressive life" of an individual. We could think about an organisation's "artistic vibrancy" in terms of how “vibrant” its most important relationships are. From this perspective, artistic vibrancy could be understood as the quality of certain “relationships,” as follows: Artistic quality or excellence of craft - relationship with peers; - artist’s relationship with themself Audience engagement and stimulation - relationship with audience Fresh approach to the preservation or development of the artform - relationship with the artform - artist’s relationship with themself Artist development - relationship with the artist community Community relevance - relationship with the general community (national, State, local, specific groups) Meta-relationships (relationships which cross all five elements) could include: relationship with staff and board; relationship with funders. This idea feels like a small, conceptual breakthrough for me, though not sure it is of much use to anyone else ;-). As the physicist Richard Feynman once said, “All mass is interaction.” I think this is definitely the case in the arts. The notion of relationships as core to the arts is certainly not new (network theory has reached even my ears!), but it may be useful for arts organisations to conceive of themselves as being deeply embedded in, indeed, essentially consisting of, a web of relationships (with themselves, other artists, public, audience, funders…). On a practical level, thinking about an arts organisation as just one node of relationships, in the web of relationships that is the wider community, could help arts organisations understand why they should care about their wider relationships with the community. All relationships are connected: an organisation must nurture its relationships with public and community, and not just focus on their relationship with audiences and artists. Thinking about an arts organisation as having a relationship with each individual in the community might also help with the tools of measurement for the expressive life. For example, you could ask what impact the relationship with an arts organisation (even if the relationship is peripheral, in the form of institutional value – value merely by existing) has on each individual in the community’s “happiness” index, “creative” index and/or “social connectedness” index. You could cross-tabulate an individual’s results with their social connectedness results and so on, and adjust for other factors (like income and family), and see if artistically deeper-connected individuals are happier or more socially connected. This might be useful advocacy data for the arts organisations. I am pretty sure you have far more sophisticated ideas on this front, but this is off the top of my head, in response to your blog conversation. Or in the context of helping arts organisations be more valuable members of their community, you could use the artistic vibrancy tools which we have published, and use the results to understand an arts organisation’s levels of connection with audience, artists, peers and community. The organisation could then use these results in future planning, to deepen these connections where necessary. I think the relationship perspective can also be applied to “public value,” ie Holden’s idea of intrinsic, instrumental and institutional value. Really, this is like talking about an artist’s relationship with an individual, community or the general public. Anyway, I look forward to future conversations on this front! Jackie Bailey Australia

A similar case can be made regarding preservation (and was, here: http://bourgeononline.com/?p=1699). Overall the priority in funding art is (appropriately) funding art - not art writing, or art research. If we are to expand administrative focus in the arts sector (toward research, or preservation) we best be prepared to contract somewhere else. What can we now do without that we had to have a generation ago? Yes, our field would benefit in the future from the collection and development of real data. Not to kitchen sink with this comment, but the Dana/Hopkins Arts Learning and the Brain proceedings (http://www.dana.org/media/detail.aspx?id=24012) contain few conclusions other than just such a call.

Hello Bill, et al – Yes art does make better people, participants in this blog for starters. But our rhetoric about why and how often crashes into the reality that the majority of our fellow citizens do not focus on the arts in their daily lives and our intrinsic arguments about the importance of art to a well lived life do not persuade our neighbors the arts are a public responsibility of a functioning society. Our instrumental arguments are rarely more effective often stumbling on competition with other more compelling ideas about how to bolster an economy. Although no one is specifically “anti-arts” many assumptions and misperceptions undermine our effectiveness in building public will to support the arts and the sector. Fighting against a shared civic responsibility to support the arts are deeply held public opinions such as: the arts are a product or experience to be purchased and should compete, succeed or fail, in the marketplace of “entertainment” options and many feel the arts are a “private choice” why should the many pay to support the tastes of the few? And we’re further hampered as a sector since “the arts” are not a distinct public good such healthcare, education or clean water. Many would dispute a definite of “the arts” and there is not broad consensus on what deserves public support especially in a recession when the “basics” are at risk for so many fellow citizens. But I do believe language can connect as well as divide and reframing the conversation is essential to building broad based support for the arts. I’m not convinced that enabling an “Expressive Life” will generate the commitment and connections we seek. The Wallace Foundation funded a program called START in the middle “aughts” (2002-2006) to support State Arts Agencies (SAA) and help them become more effective stewards of public resources and exponents of the public value of the arts. The initiative coincided with the last mini-recession and many state arts agencies were fighting for survival. One SAA, the Montana Arts Commission, faced with near extinction took the conversation to the critics and conducted a policymaker listening tour asking legislators to describe the value of the arts to their constituents. The results were chilling -- most said that the arts had little or no value and were at the bottom of the list of candidates for public support. Turning the conversation to shared values, SAA interviewers asked the question a different way – “How important is creativity to the health and future of Montana?” This reframing ultimately transformed the way the commission funded the arts and, even more importantly, the way they articulated the value of the arts to every citizen in every community in the state. (Reports on the START initiative are available for download at www.wallacefoundation.org.) This question of reframing is hardly new but I commend to your attention a brand new report by the Cincinnati Fine Arts Fund: The Arts Ripple Effect: A research-based strategy to build shared responsibility for the arts. (available at www.fineartsfund.org.) Not to steal the thunder of this excellent report but the basic premise is this – the arts seemingly promising messages about civic inspiration and human universals didn’t move the needle among the “moveable middle” of citizens – those who aren’t focused on the arts in their daily lives but do care about the health and vitality of their neighborhood and community. The bottom line is simple but perhaps profound – the messages that resonated emphasized one organizing idea: “A thriving arts sector creates ‘ripple effects’ of benefits throughout the community.” The most compelling of these? Just the ones that the arts uniquely provide – 1) Neighborhoods are livelier, attracting tourists and residents to the area and 2) Diverse groups share common experiences and by hearing new perspectives understand each other better. Of course a thriving arts sector produces those local benefits (which is of course why artist rich neighborhoods gentrify faster than others – often resulting in artists being unable to afford to live there!) One of the political leaders I was privileged to work with during my time at Wallace was Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia. When asked why he was such a strong supporter of the arts he replied (I’m paraphrasing) “For me, it’s not about art, it’s about how the arts and artists make people want to come to, hang out in and stay in Philadelphia – and that helps me keep the city lively and livable.” So there you have it, Simple? Profound? Maybe the arts can be each community’s “ruby slippers” reminding citizens why “There’s no place like home?” Thanks bloggers for helping us consider the important tasks of building public responsibility for the arts and to Doug for providing the forum for the discussion.

Thanks for this very interesting topic. There is so much to digest here, and I would like to simply offer the following: "Expressive life" is a very nice alternative but I think it could only resonate in a society where the arts are already more integrated with everyday life, or at least more visible. For the general public to be able to use the term "Expressive life" and know what this refers to would signal a massive shift in collective consciousness. The term is more an aspiration than a statement of being (I suppose the hope is that the term would perform itself into being) but we are not ready for this mental shift as a society and the term would risk making things even more confusing. Most importantly what is needed is more focus on the artist as cultural bearer and an awareness of each person's ability to shape culture. More events like the Folklife Festival, hands-on workshops with master artists and opportunities for cross-cultural collaboration are needed throughout the country. At http://www.createculture.org we value the contributions of each and every artist and the stories that they tell about local tradition and creativity through their work. I think this is when we can start talking about “Expressive Life”.

I had thoughts similar to Nihar's - while we may want/need a more centralized voice, will it just be seen as more big government liberalism, perceived as creating new regulations and restrictions even if it's commenting on new policies or proposed changes? Not that that should be a reason not to, but it is definitely something to consider in framing how such a thing could be done. Until we have that go to think tank, we'll have to continue to spread things organically to our networks. As such, I'm passing along this blog link that makes a very compelling case that the jobs bill President Obama mentioned in the State of the Union Address should go to arts, culture, history and heritage organizations because it would not only support/create jobs, but help improve the quality of life of a wide variety of people. I hope you'll pass this along to your State Senators and Representatives as well as the President: http://artsmarket.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/a-modest-jobs-proposal-to-congress-and-the-president-arts-culture-history-and-heritage/

I agree with you, Bill. Your description here and in "Arts, Inc." of how widely distributed arts funding really is caused me to rethink my usual focus on the NEA. The problem that you note is, I think, a real one and is also addressed by Adrian Ellis' question about who speaks for these issues. There seems to be no focused way to introduce a discussion or promote an agenda in the arts. At the same time, this decentralized intellectual milieu is highly centralized and homogeneous geographically and socio-economically. So discussion of the underlying premises of our current arts system is very difficult to promote because the usual players are usually pretty committed to the status quo. We lack a "bully pulpit," and if a central authority could provide it, then I'm willing to play along.

All week I've been trying to pin down why this conversation -- as thoughtful and valuable as it is -- seems a little airy and has occasionally made me impatient. I think it's because the topic here is (pardon the oversimplification) what the arts say about themselves rather than what they do. Not that framing and language are unimportant. But no message about the traditionally-defined arts speaks louder than what happens, or doesn't, inside a concert hall or art museum, etc. Whether we're talking about advocacy at the level of the field or marketing at the level of an individual organization, those overt messages we spend so much time and care articulating are only a small part of the total signal we're sending. And sometimes there's a disconnect between what we say about our value (and values) and how our offerings actually look and feel to the audiences and communities we're trying to engage. So advocacy and framing are, I would argue, arts management challenges, innovation challenges, even artistic challenges. When we find better, more intimate, more participatory, more colloquial, more diverse ways of connecting with people, the arts will half frame themeselves. Then a conversation like this one can do the rest. In the meantime, maybe we should think about a parallel conversation about how best to advocate for new ways of presenting the arts and construing our audiences. And the target audience for that framing effort would be ourselves.

The problem isn't just a lack of think tank and data collection infrastructure or funding. We don't have a culture of research in the arts/expressive lives community. We tend to feel the coupling of expression and rigorous assessment are incompatible. Check out this article from the January Atlantic to get an idea of what could be achieved if we started to collect data in a systematic way: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/201001/good-teachingCan

Thanks for this suggestion -- I did read it and it is excellent! RYWT

I'm still mulling over the term expressive life and I seem to understand it better now - it took me awhile to get beyond that blank stare and wrap my head around what you were talking about. I'm going to think about it some more before I make any more comments on that aspect. But I finally see what you're saying and if AFTA won't be the voice, then how about the Arts Industries Policy Forum? Just because they're bipartisan and policy neutral does not mean that they can't inform people (legislators and citizens) about the issues. They may not be able to take a position now, but has that changed with the new Supreme Court ruling on free speech for corporations? Even if they still can't advocate for a certain position, they can still let people know when there are proposed changes in the law, a la the Ticketmaster and LiveNation merger, that could affect their future in how they participate and interact with art, culture, and expressive life. Set up e-advocay e-mails and a website, contact various news groups and blogs. Then the word is getting out both as advocacy and as general publicity/news. As implied in other posts, let's not worry so much about semantics and instead concentrate on what we can do with our current resources.

Consider that 'Creativity' is a given; it is common and shared with all life forms. 'Imagination' is uniquely human and essential to empathy, understanding, diplomacy, cooperation. . . . Artists develop the imagination to envision and share experience and knowledge . . . . perhaps with depth and clarity of understanding. 'Creativity' was the be all and end all in the arts and educaiton in the 1950s. 'Development' and 'refinement' have lagged behind the focus on 'creativity' as a criteria for advancement, expression and innovation required in productivity and advancement of cultural arenas --in education, scientific research, market productivity and exchange --in addition to the work in many arts disciplines, etc. Creativity and a unique or personal style are givens, whereas efforts in the development of skills as well as of the imagination to sympathize, to delineate clearly, to propose effectively could be much more fully supported and nourished in arts programs and all areas of education leading to responsive cultural development. An 'expressive life' depends upon 'imagination' and 'development' . . . . and to nourish both should aid immeasurably as we together realize the exchange which makes up our world heritage.

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."

First Step towards a Participatory Cultural Policy: Re-Engaging Diverse Communities of Arts and Culture in a National Project I agree with Adrian and Marian that many of the larger, more influential arts and culture organizations have "pre-emptied so much of the issue space". However, I think as this conversation about new terminology and policy unfolds, we must simultaneously reflect and move on how to engage/invite the cultural diversity/"people of color" trends into the center of deliberations. They are generally an after though and they often reinforce their marginalization, despite many gains and contributions to national understanding and identity over the last half century, by not acting as co-proprietors of the public space with all other citizens. After all these artists, cultural workers, and service groups spearheaded debate, policy formulation, and arts and interpretive practices that democratized recognition and support of arts and culture over the last fifty years. And the changed and still changing national demographics require their full participation to mature our democracy and to develop an equitable and just future of heritage and voice. The integrative construct of Expressive Lives will not reach its deliberative or practical potential to further evolve the nexus of arts, cultures and democracy in the larger society without fostering a network of networks in collaboration informed by a multiplicity of histories and voices working to highlight the richness of human experiences and capacities that give life, at times uneven and contentious, to our national identity and national development. To Marian's question:"are we just going to ignore these {larger} organizations?” I say no. We must consciously and strategically take advantage of this moment of economic and ethical crisis to make prioritization of arts and culture ---heritage(s) and voice(s) -- and this kind of exchange and deliberation common practice throughout larger and smaller arts and culture communities and across the nation, and not resort to the trend of occasional issuing of policy reports and dialogues and high-profile commentary. A proactive strategy is required to multiply this conversation across arts and culture organizations, local and national civic organizations, political, business, and educational institutions---if it is to become truly grounded and not just artificially inserted into public conscious via media strategies.

I heartily recommend that your bloggers go back and look up Shalini Venturelli's piece, "FROM THE INFORMATION ECONOMY TO THE CREATIVE ECONOMY: Moving Culture to the Center of International Public Policy." [http://www.culturalpolicy.org/pdf/venturelli.pdf] While her piece is almost 12 years old, her observations, insights, and recommendations are highly relevant to this conversation. And thank you for having the conversation. Latifah Taormina Executive Director Greater Austin Creative Alliance

And that list, put together by "arts professionals," is exactly why the term "expressive life" is necessary: everything on that list is about product, sales. It is the transaction mentality. The list that Adrian Ellis proposes, similarly, reflects the usual tactic of those who would defend the current specialist-oriented, elitist definition of the arts, one that has deprived Americans of their expressive lives. As an educator in a Drama Dept, I am fully aware of education's role in continuing this definition, and along with Tom Loughlin at SUNY-Fredonia am working to make some changes (see our nascent blog, http://www.theatretact.org, part of the Center for Rural Arts Development and Leadership Education (CRADLE) program that I am director of. Steven Tepper wrote an inspiring introduction to the book "Engaging Arts" that lays this orientation out clearly. As he notes in his response to Lewis Hyde's question, this is a social movement that, in my opinion, is ready to take off on the wings of the here-comes-everybody movement. However, as Mr. Ivey notes in "Arts, Inc." and here in this discussion, one way we have limited creativity in this country is through IP law and through the creation of two-tiered access to things like high-speed internet in rural and poor areas.

WE ARE THE ONES WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR! I weigh in on the conversation late because of fatigue from returning last night from eleven intense, engaged days in Cuba with colleagues from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian meeting with Cuban museum and humanities colleagues involved in a range of arts and culture work from under water patrimony, ballet, flamenco, poetry, reinterpretations of race, culture, and national identity, and historical preservation among other arts and culture topics. Whether one agrees or not with the Cuban ideological and political focus, what a contrast in formal, affirmative cultural policy to our national cultural policy discourse or lack of one, until this stimulating consideration of “Expressive Life”. In several countries around the world of very different ideological and political persuasions, artists and cultural workers, national and local politicians, various civil society sectors, and multilateral bodies are vigorously engaged in ongoing discourses about culture and the arts combined as a transversal cultural policy category which intersects other quality of life polices in such areas as spiritual well being, imagination and creativity, economics, health, security, conflict resolution and so on. In general these discourses illustrate the poverty of our societal focus on arts and culture and I think the urgency of arts and culture practitioners and related fields to break with our rather amorphous, reactive, often anti-intellectual discussions, and pandering, raw market posture, e.g. “Arts=Jobs”, in the search to foreground and get support for arts and culture from politicians and corporate patrons. Provocative, yes! But I think a relatively accurate, real-culture-politic description of the national context in which Expressive Life is posited as a substantive qualitative focus and means with potential to “eliminate the dismissive, eye-rolling assumptions that now attach to "The Arts". Although I do not think that Bill’s Expressive Life construct will supplant traditional usage of the words arts and culture, I welcome it because I think it provides a needed discursive framework with potential to stimulate-- as in this Blog and the UK’s engagement of the terminology and meaning--- a deep and ongoing examination of why we find the arts and culture, (artists and intellectuals) in such a marginal place in national life exemplified in the meager $50 million allotment of the $787 billion dollar stimulus package. Beyond reflection, I think Expressive Life as “voice” and “heritage” provides substance and direction for an expansive, productive public and governance policy focus. And Expressive Life has potential to prime a deeper discussion of meaning and range of arts and culture and help put behind us the often shallow practice of subsuming culture in arts’ articulations and diminishing or dismissing the arts in intellectual discussion. So, I urge that we take heed of the song lyrics “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” of Sweet Honey in the Rock and use Bill’s Expressive Culture initiative to situate artists and cultural workers and to elaborate arts and culture In the center of our national debate and policy formulation to re-steady our country and to reintegrate into the protocols forged by the community of nations.

To my mind, what the phrase "expressive life" does is open up the idea of what "counts" as the arts, and who is allowed to do it, and that is all to the good. Right now, we have turned creativity into a commodity -- a product that is created by "highly trained specialists" (don't try this at home, kids) and sold to passive consumers who are expected to sit still and be appreciative. As a result, we have disempowered the Average American, who instead of singing their own songs, telling their own stories, playing their own instruments, dancing their own dances now buy CDs, DVDs, and watch "Dancing with the Stars." Ultimately, this impoverishes the culture, and homogenizes the art, especially when the art scene becomes geographically centralized as it has over the past century. On the other hand, we have an increasingly participative culture in which people write encyclopedias, design software, post YouTube videos, and write blogs -- a trend which the arts ignore at their peril. I look forward to following this conversation.

I'm interested in more of your reasoning for "creative life" being just a subset of "expressive life." What is it missing? Expressive life seems too clunky. Creative life is a little smoother. But I agree with Andras we should reclaim arts and culture and not throw it by the wayside. How about art, culture, and creativity? Or arts and creativity?

Hear hear!

I don't think "expressive life" passes the "smell test" for common use. Work life, family life, education -- these ideas are built on everyday words, and they make emotional, visceral connections to core values in our society and the basic building blocks of the American dream, things people naturally talk about every day. "Expressive" just isn't in the same category. When is the last time you were at a dinner table (with folks outside the arts sector) and people started talking passionately about "expression?" It's never happened for me. On the other hand -- work, family, health, sports, education, freedom, speech, the economy, government, business, war, religion, house repair, traffic, movies, neighborhood gossip -- those come up every day. If culture is as fundamental to society and human well being as we argue it is, why can't we find it discussed in everyday situations with everyday language? Why can't we come up with a name for it that is as immediate and visceral as "family?" Jim


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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Recent Comments

Diana commented on How and what do you measure?: Nice post I like the sarcasm in it... Great stuff!...

Mini cooper S commented on Scorekeeping: Thanks for a good article. I personally think the only way of giving the p...

Jackie Bailey commented on Scorekeeping: Hi Alan and others, I have been reading your recent conversation about the...

Bourgeon commented on Scorekeeping, by whom?: A similar case can be made regarding preservation (and was, here: http://bo...

Mary Trudel commented on What to Measure: Hello Bill, et al – Yes art does make better people, participants in this ...

Nico Daswani commented on What to Measure: Thanks for this very interesting topic. There is so much to digest here, an...

Jesus Pantel commented on More Czars Than There Are in Heaven: I had thoughts similar to Nihar's - while we may want/need a more centraliz...

Scott Walters commented on Do We Need Central Authority in Arts & Culture?: I agree with you, Bill. Your description here and in "Arts, Inc." of how wi...

Peter Linett commented on More Czars Than There Are in Heaven: All week I've been trying to pin down why this conversation -- as thoughtfu...

Dalouge Smith commented on Scorekeeping, by whom?: The problem isn't just a lack of think tank and data collection infrastruct...

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