My Own Not-So-Private Echo Chamber

By David Dombrosky, Executive Director, Center for Arts Management and Technology, Carnegie Mellon University
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) |


This blog is about Net neutrality and the members were chosen accordingly. Of course, this creates a bias where people think their pet interest, Net Neutrality, is the most important. To make your case, I think more needs to be said about why the threat to neutrality is serious. The Telco’s and cable companies can mount massive lobbying efforts, but other corporate giants, like Google (YouTube) and members of the film industry are supporting neutrality because pricing variables for bandwidth would negatively impact their businesses. (Video providers do not want to have to pay more to deliver their bandwidth-consuming products.)

Why do you think the Telcos will win and not Google and Hollywood? Even though recent rulings have limited the FCC’s abilities to regulate the Telcos, it also seems possible that Google and the media industry could win the battle. A neutral Net would probably serve plutocracy more than one with hierarchies, so “neutrality” will probably win. Second, international governments have already realized that wide-spread, neutral access to the Net is essential if their societies are to remain economically viable. Third, a neutral net helps their societies exert influence in world dialog and enhances a nation's soft power. Fourth, we are seeing a reemergence in the faith of governmental regulation, which allow the FCC to prevail in attempts to insure neutrality. For these reasons, the Telcos are probably going to lose this battle, in spite of the many alarmist voices in this somewhat stacked forum.

I doubt the voices of small advocacy groups representing common citizens, such as those represented here, will have any significant voice at all in the decisions. The idealism here seems naïve. Like most lobbying efforts, this will be a battle among the 800 pound gorillas and national interests. If neutrality prevails, they will call it Net neutrality, but it will actually be a sort of indirect subsidy for the media industry and other manifestations of economic and soft national power. If the Telcos lose, other forces, such as the Net’s ever-increasing commercialization, will still stifle the web and end its brief golden age of openness and equality. In fact, this is already happening. And in the off-chance the Telcos win, I think it will motivate new forms of innovation that will circumvent most of the limitations of bandwidth hierarchies.

All the same, I wish you folks every success.

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