What Would Direct Representation of Artists Look Like?

By Ian David Moss, Research Director, Fractured Atlas
In a post earlier today, Clay Lord calls attention to the admin-heavy nature of the arts field, both in economic terms and (as others have noted) in policy conversations with government officials and others in direct position to shape the landscape for the arts in this country. As he points out, one reason for this is that "the relative entropy of a thousand individual artistic voices" is not always the most helpful context in which to communicate with regulators and suits. The way in which our field has historically addressed that entropy is through national service organizations (by which I mean both the usual suspects such as the ones Bill mentions but also the unions, trade groups, etc.). Yet I'm not convinced that this structure constitutes the best means of expressing artists' concerns to the people that need to hear them. For one thing, even this strategy of centralizing the voices of various subsectors of the arts field is still highly decentralized. On an issue like copyright, for example, you have hawks such as the RIAA and ASCAP purporting to represent artists' interests at the same time that an organization like Future of Music Coalition, representing the same constituency, might be more open to alternative models. For another, I question how effective the feedback loops are between the people who determine policy positions for national service organizations and the artist communities who fall under their organizations' umbrellas. Most artists, as has been pointed out, don't necessarily have the time or inclination to research policy issues in depth for themselves, so the primary information they have about a particular issue is often what the national service organization chooses to tell them. Moreover, even that's only true for the artists who are members of that service organization--yet we know that there are thousands upon thousands of unaffiliated artists who either choose not to join service organizations or don't even know about them. Who is in a position to speak for them?

At Fractured Atlas, as a national service organization ourselves, we're starting to think about arts advocacy in a new way. Since our focus is on using technology to build infrastructure for the arts field, naturally we see the future in that frame. What if there were a way for artists to engage with policy issues directly rather than through the intermediary of a service organization with which they might or might not have any meaningful relationship? What if there were a way for them to obtain crucial, unbiased information about their own communities, their own representatives, and how the arts fit in? What if there were a way for them to organize themselves around that information, determine their own agendas and priorities, and create email/social media/grassroots campaigns centered around specific actions? What if there were a way for them to hold elected representatives accountable for their decisions by easily and conveniently tracking legislative outcomes, whether at the national, state, or local level? What if there were a way for them to actually play a role in drafting legislation itself, in collaboration with their peers?

We've been laying what could prove to be the groundwork for a system like this as part of a project I'm currently working on in the San Francisco Bay Area called the Bay Area Cultural Asset Map (BACAM). BACAM is a one-year pilot effort to create a suite of tightly integrated, map-based web applications that collectively aggregate, analyze and publicize data on the Bay Area cultural sector. Commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Performing Arts Program, the short-term vision for BACAM is a tool that will enable the foundation's staff to make better funding decisions and track progress against their outcomes.  One of BACAM's innovations is that it employs a modular design that allows the same information to be reused and repurposed for several different applications. So, for example, the high-quality database of cultural activity that the foundation uses to understand the impact of its own grantmaking will sync up with the database of performing arts spaces that we're building in collaboration with two local service organizations. This hub of centralized public knowledge can then be put to use in all sorts of contexts, even potentially by third-party developers (rather like a Facebook or Twitter app).

One of the tools we're developing for BACAM as part of this pilot is something we're calling the Advocacy Module. In this first year, the Advocacy Module is going to focus primarily on aggregating and displaying data, both in map form and in reports that can be shared with others on the web or in print. If all goes well, our intention is to build it or a variation of it into a platform looking much more like what I described above: an interactive, flexible, social-network-driven tool to empower individual artists and arts advocates to learn about the issues that matter, mobilize others, and take action.
July 20, 2010 9:40 AM | | Comments (0) |

Leave a comment


This Blog Arts and culture are a cornerstone of American society. But arts and culture workers are often left out of important policy conversations concerning technology and creative rights even though the outcomes will have a profound impact on our world. Is it benign neglect? Or did we... more

This blog is a project of... the Future of Music Coalition, the National Alliance for Art Media + Culture, Fractured Atlas, and ArtsJournal.com. more

Our Bloggers We have 22 bloggers taking part in this week's conversation. They are... more

Contact us: Click here to send us an email... more

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
State of the Art
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
The Unanswered Question
Joe Horowitz on music

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary