Results tagged “net neutrality” from Creative Rights & Artists

Like Justin, I have spent much of this week absorbing the engaging conversation in this space.  Along the way, I have had a few intertextual incidents which have created a cacophony of resonant voices in my head (or personal echo chamber, if you will).  And now, I am going to share some of those voices with you.  Get ready, this might get will be lengthy.

Changing the Creative Landscape

Also like Justin (and I promise that I won't reiterate everything he said because that would be redundant and may violate his intellectual property), Net Neutrality is my answer to Doug's challenge

"The Internet has opened up a world of choices for artists that weren't present 20 years ago..." -- Yeah, it's a Justin quote.  Sue me.
There is a sequence in the recently released Christopher Nolan film Inception in which a young woman played by Ellen Page realizes that she is the architect of the dream and has the ability to reshape the laws of physics and recreate the landscape to her liking.  The existence of an open, global Internet has awakened a creative fervor around the world and given creators the ability to reshape the laws of form, distribution, audience development, and more to fundamentally change the landscape of creative engagement.  For a glimpse at how artists are using the Net in this manner, check out Scott Kirsner's book Fans, Friends & Followers: Building An Audience And A Creative Career in the Digital Age.

"In reality, our lack of public arts funding is a much more important issue and has a far worse effect on our cultural lives than any threats to Net neutrality." -- William Osborne
Wrong, wrong, wrong.  While both issues are important, the protection of a neutral and unfettered system that has brought about such seismic shifts in creative expression and participation for everyone is simply more important in the grand scheme of our collective "dream" than cash infusion into any one sector.  If we do not doggedly pursue this, we'll be singing that oft quoted song by the '80s hairband Cinderella...or is it Joni Mitchell?

Walking the Halls
"I never thought an experience like going on a variety of Capitol Hill visits to congressional/senate offices, and meeting with aides to talk about the kind of work artists are doing in their districts would be so interesting and meaningful." -- Helen DeMichiel
To be honest, many citizens in the U.S. - regardless of which sector they work in - do not believe that their elected officials care about their thoughts or experiences.  The idea of going to Washington like Mr. Smith and creating any sort of change sounds delusional to many of us who have witnessed the arts getting tied to the whipping post again and again.

"I think it would be pretty terrific if arts service organizations would place a greater emphasis on putting art-makers and policy-makers in the same room." -- Alex Shapiro
Each spring, I teach a course on cultural policy and advocacy in the United States for Carnegie Mellon University's Master of Arts Management students - many of whom are also artists.  After the course wraps, students attend Arts Advocacy Day organized by Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C. to meet with elected officials.  This year, ten of my students attended several meetings with legislative staffers coordinated by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania.

In one meeting with a staffer for a Republican Congressman, twelve of us piled into the representative's waiting area and spoke with him about the importance of the arts and creativity for the welfare of our country.  After a few moments, another staffer came in to say that the gentleman we were talking to was needed on the phone.  It was very abrupt, and many of us felt that we were brushed off.  

Just last week, the arts council announced that the Congressman decided to join the Congressional Arts Caucus as a result of that meeting with his staffer on Arts Advocacy Day.  Not only did the news remind me of my own need to check my cynicism, it demonstrated to my students that it is possible to reach out beyond the choir and catalyze change.  Did we change the world?  In the grand scheme of things, probably not.  This one conversation did change one legislator's viewpoint, however, and that has consequences.

From Spectators to Spectactors
"How do we create a new norm in which the audience is not object but subject?" -- Lynne Conner
This question took me back to my days as a performance studies grad student, many moons ago, when we studied Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed, in which he emphasizes migrating the role of the audience from spectator to "spectactor."  In a traditional theatre production, the audience is outside of the performance -- able to see the narrative unfold but unable to affect its trajectory or resolution.  In Boal's work, audiences attending these politically charged performances were able to change the character's choices and even physically takeover the role of the character from the "actor."

Leapfrogging from Lynne to Boal and back to Washington, many of us in the creative sector have been taking a spectator role in politics -- watching it unfold, doing nothing to (try to) change it, then bitching about it to anyone who will listen.  It's time to move from passively observing to acting.

Even if we're not policy-makers, we can be policy-influencers. To my U.S. artist colleagues reading this, I invite you to fearlessly call up the office of the policy-maker of your choice and schedule an appointment for a brief visit with them, either in your home state or in D.C. Tell the aide or assistant to whom you speak that you're a constituent (if this is an elected official- who you, as a taxpayer, employ). Or, if it's a commissioner or business leader, indicate that you want to say hello, introduce yourself, and just have a brief conversation about... fill in the blank. -- Alex Shapiro
Preach it, Alex!  I'll sing tenor in that choir any day.
July 23, 2010 12:49 PM | | Comments (1) |

Forgive me for waiting until the last day to chime in here. I've spent my time just reading and absorbing this fantastic discussion.

Doug: the answer to your challenge is Net Neutrality.

I say Net Neutrality because it is an issue currently on the table, but more generically, I'd call it "Unfair Legal Leverage for Strong Middlemen Whose Strength is at Least Partially Due to Prior and Often Continuing Public Support."

Chris uses the right word: leverage. The Benjamins and strong legislative support are two excellent forms of leverage, but they are not the only two and for many art makers, they are not the most important. The most valuable leverage is choice. Choice in subject, choice in discipline, choice in market, tools, techniques, collaborators, employer, choice in vendors. Choice is what gives us leverage over every organization, person and idea to which we are beholden.

The Internet has opened up a world of choices for artists that weren't present 20 years ago and as many again that weren't present 5 years ago: effectively free international marketing, cheap self-publishing, truly independent media distribution, active word-of-mouth marketing (aka social media), trivially easy market research, national market for vendors, etc., etc. It could do so because its open and global nature makes it possible to create niche businesses that focus on idea and technique instead of market.

Where there are more options to choose from, choice is a stronger lever. I'm not worried about ISPs service-fixing and rendering the entire Net biased towards certain technologies. Even if we lose this one, I expect that some enlightened ISP will begin marketing themselves as Net Neutral and clean up. But it will, I am certain, have a chilling effect on Net entrepreneurs and therefore on the leverage individual artists (and non-artists) gain through choice.

Unfortunately, it does look like Net Neutrality is going to be won or lost in the well-lit back room with the virtual cigar smoke piped in over government subsidized, privately owned fiber optic lines. And yeah, artists and their agents, unions and vendors and their audience need to stand up on this one and need to do so collectively. I am a firm believer in the power of artists, nerds and entrepreneurs to work around all manner of stupid barriers in law and business, but this one is tough. The Net has become as essential as power and water and it needs to be as fundamentally free in its use.

July 23, 2010 8:20 AM | |
Marty Kaplan brings up some good points in his post, "All About the Benjamins." It can be dispiriting to see worthwhile agendas compromised, thwarted, or, worse yet, ignored by policymakers. It's particularly discouraging when you have high expectations of (and an affinity for) certain leaders. No one would disagree that money affects our politics. And I'm personally inclined to agree that the Citizens United decision doesn't do democracy any favors.

I would argue, however, that these factors are not an excuse for giving up on making our case. In fact, I'd say the opposite.

Marty talks about the recent revelations about FCC leadership engaging in closed-door conversations with Captains of Industry (in this case, the Internet Service Providers). The purpose of these meetings (as well as some less "closed" discussions on the Hill) is to arrive at a consensus regarding proposed regulation to preserve the open internet.

Now, those of us to read the tea leaves for fun and non-profit would probably tell you that such consensus will be difficult if not impossible to achieve. What really bugs some folks about the FCC situation is that the Commission already has a pair of public proceedings about the aforementioned issue, and at least one on the National Broadband Plan. Doesn't this kind of go against the whole transparency thing?

Yes and no. It's not uncommon for policymakers to have direct conversations with representatives from the private sector, and it's not always a quid pro quo situation. It's actually a way for officials to hear potential concerns -- real or manufactured -- about proposed policies. The important thing is for these same policymakers to hear from us.

I'm not suggesting that just anyone from the arts community is going to be sitting across the table from the CEO of Comcast in a high-stakes horse trade. What I'm saying is that there are plenty of opportunities to articulate our concerns and those of the broader arts community -- we just need to get better at spotting and taking advantage of them.

Look, we already know that we can't match the lobbying power of multi-gazillion dollar corporations. But we can tell stories. We can offer real-life examples of how we benefit from access to technology and communications platforms that don't discriminate against smaller voices. We can remind policymakers that protecting these voices is an American virtue. And we can do this without name-calling, hyperbole or even gobs and gobs of cash.

If those of us in the arts community are truly concerned with the outcomes of today's policy debates, than we'll work even harder to have a voice in them. We're certainly allowed to be disappointed when our leaders fail to live up to expectations, but it's more productive to remind them of why we had those expectations in the first place.

They won't always listen. But if we don't speak, they'll never hear us at all.
July 19, 2010 12:25 PM | |
While I am in complete agreement with Brian, Nettrice and others in their assessment of the need to provide artists with engaging (even addictive) channels for participating in cultural policy activism, how do we raise artists' awareness of the stakes?  Most of the people I know (both in and outside the cultural sector) have no idea what net neturality is, how it is currently at risk, or what the ramifications of its loss would be for the creative sector.

Doug asks if there is any artist consensus on cultural policy issues.  How can artists even begin the process of finding consensus if they are still unaware of policy issues that have the capacity to directly (and dramatically) affect them?

While one might counter that many arts service organizations (including Americans for the Arts) do their best to notify their constituents of pertinent legislative issues, there must be more that each of us -- artists, arts administrators, arts lovers, etc. -- can do to proactively raise awareness of the cultural policy issues threatening creativity today.  It goes beyond simply sharing the message.  What can we do to galvanize our sector of the citizenry?
July 19, 2010 9:54 AM | |

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