Recently by Brian Newman, consultant, Sub-Genre Media

As you've probably guessed by now, I like hyperbole, but to me the most important policy issues for arts/artists for the next decade will be around data - who owns it, who has access to it, who you share it with and how these interactions are governed. Data is the new oil. We'll be entering pretty big battles soon, and have already seen a few, around privacy - and this impacts everyone, not just artists. Figuring out the right balance around privacy is going to be a huge issue. Just as importantly, however, is that we can now access a lot of data around our audiences, but most of this data is not shared with artists even when that might be fine with their audience. It is often owned by Facebook, or Google or even the Symphony's managers. Many artists I know are already working with engineers on data portability projects, open source projects to share data (with appropriate user, opt-in permission) and similar activities. They are realizing that the information about their audience - or just about how many songs they truly sold, is extremely valuable, but only if they have access to it. Likewise, as audiences/consumers, we have a lot to figure out about just how much of that data we want shared, and what control we might have over it at a later date.

Amazingly, many arts organizations aren't keeping much of this data themselves - beyond basic membership lists. They often have to "spam" the world again and again to build their audience whenever they have a new project. This is a problem for bigger, for-profit entities as well - Warner Bros and Penguin both must re-build their fan base every time they release a new album, movie or book.  While I like to call the media industry "blood-sucking beasts," there could be some common ground here on working together to get access to more of this data. When this data is kept, it is rarely shared, but there could be great power in knowing I want to see a show on Picasso whether it's at the Met or at the High, and organizations (and artists) will have a lot to figure out in terms of sharing this data across traditional boundaries. As artists, organizations and companies wake up to the importance of data, we're all going to wish we had started advocacy around it back when we were just focused on all the other policy issues.

Ok, I also believe that Net Neutrality and Copyright concerns are pretty important, and that we need to work on our relationships with and knowledge of our audiences, but this was one policy concern that I think about daily that has been curiously absent from the discussion. So has diversity and the interactions of all of this stuff internationally, but perhaps I should stop here. Thanks to Doug and all the writers here (in the comments as well), and thanks to the organizations who brought this conversation together.
July 23, 2010 3:03 PM | | Comments (0) |
I disagree very much with Bill Osborne's comments that have been mentioned here that "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. It's strange how silent you policy folks are about that." This is completely wrong.

Yes, it would be great to have more public funding for the arts and it is one important policy issue. I've shown up to advocate on behalf of this at the Federal and State level more times than I care to count, but to me it is practically irrelevant today. The reality is that in my lifetime, this is not going to change for the better, only for the worse. Every government you can point to as funding the arts well is starting to copy the US and cut this funding. We will continue to see this worldwide, and I've had a revolving door of arts, especially media arts, people coming through my office saying "we need to start copying how you do things in America, because our system is disappearing." In the US, the short term economic problems are imperiling even the notion of nonprofits - many states are batting around ideas to end nonprofit status for not just the arts but entire segments of the field. We can advocate until we are blue in the face, but sad to be the one to report - it ain't gonna get better anytime soon.

But this statement is also wrong for other reasons - it won't matter how much public funding for the arts we have if I can no longer find your work online. Or share my own. I'm not saying all art and culture is or should be found online. But, in a society increasingly mediated by technology, it is often the case that if it can't be experienced in some fashion online it doesn't exist to broad swaths of the public. Second, while I am as anti-consumerist as anyone here, I'm not sure if you've noticed, but we've moved on from the church supporting the arts, the patron supporting the arts, the government supporting the arts - we're in a very late-capitalist society and many artists are making their living very much from working with advertising, corporate support, etc and this is only growing. I'm not saying I like it, but that's where things are going/have been for some time. In my sector, we haven't been able to make a film from government support alone for decades, if ever, and successful filmmakers are piecing together their living through for-profit investment, working with major companies and even with brands. They're also connecting directly with their fans, online, and a few are even making a living by working directly with their fans (as Tim mentioned with Jill Sobule, Josh Freese, etc.). To many of these artists, public support would be great, but for now, it's irrelevant to their lives, but take away their Net (or just the freedom they have now) and their careers would be ruined.

So this brings me to Doug's recent post. Doug is correct that we have a greater diversity of creative output than any time previous - at least in our current history. The problem is that this diversity is imperiled by the policy decisions being debated now - and by the architecture, etc being developed. Many of the same things you champion - such as giving away things - might disappear as a result of these battles. It's not a stretch to say that the internet as we know it might go away. Truly. You'll probably still be able to share your indie film with your fans, for free or pay, but you might have to do it at a slower speed, or you might even have to do it on a "darknet." All of this choice is great to me and you and everyone we know...except those of us who are losing control over culture. They have big wallets, and as I say over and over again - they are not aging dinosaurs, they are vicious, blood-sucking beasts hell-bent on keeping their antiquated business models at any cost to society and they will use their power, their money and their influence to keep control of (the media, the art, the culture, insert term here) and they seem to be better at it than any of us.

This is why the policy and advocacy fight remains important even in this age of cultural excess. It's why nonprofits who claim to help artists need to be involved in the fight. They aren't the only ones, and as I've said below, we need to broaden our base - it's not just about nonprofits or the "professional" artist, but about all people's creativity. My parents, to use a simple example, couldn't care less about arts policy. But if you tell them that their grandkid might not be able to keep making machinima mash-ups from his favorite games and share them with his friends online, they will get mad as hell and join our fight. We need to broaden our base and our message or we will fail. Period.

That said, everyone who has said we need to think beyond policy is correct. We are definitely thinking of this too much in "old world" terms. If all we get from this new digital stuff is a fancy Ipad that can download any movie (or performance, etc) ever made and share it with our friends, we'll have failed. As Jaron Lanier argues in his recent book, You are Not a Gadget, we are in danger of lock-in - where the possibilities of the future are diminished by coding them under the rubrics of today. Unless artists are part of this conversation, and are helping to innovate the tools of tomorrow, we will fail. So, I'm not arguing that we shouldn't keep our eye's on all four bullet points that Lessig mentioned in Code. These are all important pieces of the puzzle and they will all add up to a portrait that spells doom if we don't help influence where all this stuff goes.

That to me is why we need to take the offensive, as opposed to defensive, position and start putting out a better story about the possible future(s) of creativity. We need to stop just demanding net neutrality and add demands that go for something even better. While I don't think nonprofits should stop being advocates, I don't think they'll be as effective in the long run as other, newer approaches to the issues. I'm not going to pretend I have the answer to what this might be, but I hope we can start to articulate it together here.

What we've been seeing online lately, is that people can build incredible movements online. They can self-aggregate when given the means, and do get active around a big enough story. Save the Arts doesn't cut it, as Doug mentioned. We need a better story - and I bet we have some, though we never seem to tell our stories well for a bunch of storytellers....I could imagine a pretty cool story being crafted, however, that points out the interconnection of all this great, creative stuff we are doing online, together pro and am- alike, and how that is threatened by some pretty stiff suits. They aren't too popular today, by the way. The story could also point to some possible futures that are threatened - you know, imaginary stuff that people like to dream about (and tell stories about). This story, if told creatively might bring more of us to the cause than (just) the dry policy paper, and if enough of us are telling this story, those in power will have to listen.
July 22, 2010 10:42 AM | | Comments (4) |
Doug's last post really hit something important to me - art making is becoming a much broader activity. As he notes, more people than perhaps in any time now consider themselves artists - making films, music, mash-ups, machinima, games, photography, etc not to mention sharing their more "traditional" arts online. The rise of the crowd is here, and the distinctions between professional and amateur are blurring and have often been destroyed. The artist/amateur divide is increasingly irrelevant online and we'll be much more successful if we point out that all creative activity - from LOLCats to Rush and even "fine arts" - are impacted by the policy debates raging now. While I understand the notion that by broadening the base, we might be diluting the message, but on the other hand, more people would identify with the movement if we spoke to the importance of their creative lives as much as those of "Artists" with the capital A. Can we have greater success by embracing the creatives formerly known as amateurs?
July 20, 2010 1:18 PM | | Comments (1) |
The training issue is a big one, and one which gets right to the heart of what Tim stated earlier - that "the idea of creative geniuses tending only to their art while others figure out how to find it an audience, and then turn that audience into money, isn't just a myth, it's a pernicious lie. Moreover, it's a lie that folks on the business side have a vested interest in perpetuating."

This lie is perpetuated by the very schools that should be teaching their students not just the art, but also the business side of the equation. I've spoken to film school deans, however, who feel that they barely have time to teach their students what they need to become artists in the three years they have them. Yet it is the very rare artist who can make a living just by being a creative, but not also entrepreneurial, genius. Some attention to the larger issues of control would be a nice primer - because the policy debates now are often about re-assertion of control over the means of artistic creation, dissemination and enjoyment.

I don't think that the education situation will change anytime soon, but I do wonder if the larger service organizations could play a bigger role? Bill Ivey asked this as well, below, and I just spent a little time visiting the websites of many of these organizations. My very unscientific survey showed only about one quarter (1/4) had any mention of any policy issues or advocacy for such issues on their websites. I know they all have a lot on their hands, and very few resources to devote to any non-revenue-generating activity, but who else is going to help take the lead?

In the world of film, we used to have a very strong network of media arts centers around the nation. As foundations shifted priorities (and the NEA's support changed dramatically), however, many of these organizations have shut down or refocused energies to where the money is - social issue action, youth training or corporate support for large activities, like film festivals. When attending a Grantmakers in the Arts conference a couple of years ago, I was amazed that there was a group of funders upset that they couldn't get filmmakers active in the policy debate - but they had helped disband the very network that could have served to rally filmmakers around these issues.

From my perspective the large national service organizations are the only possible remaining section of the nonprofit sector that can take on this role. I thank NAMAC for helping put this conversation together as one part of that job. I'd love to see them banding together more often with Public Knowledge, Free Press, Future of Music (oh how I wish for a Future of Film....) and others. I imagine each of these organizations could use the collective support as well. I could also imagine a series of one-off training days going on tour of the art schools, supported by a grouping of these organizations. Or a national challenge to an artist to work with Games for Change (here I go again) on making advocacy fun. Or perhaps they could just create an Ipad app?
July 20, 2010 7:33 AM | | Comments (0) |
How do we make activism an appealing drug that artists want to take? Great question Alex, but to answer it, we need to take this thought experiment a bit more seriously. What makes drugs appealing? They are addictive, they give you a very raw, visceral effect and they are usually easy to share. In fact, they are often fun to do with others. None of this can be said about most activism around policy issues today (as opposed to some other forms of activism, like protest, which can be addictively fun). Many artists don't know "what the priorities are" because figuring out these priorities is a decidedly un-fun activity and even if one takes the time to sort these out, participation is a very un-rewarding experience.

Let's just say, for example, that I am able to figure out what the heck it means to "protect the open internet" and want to get active. What can I do? I can go to the Public Knowledge website and tell my congressman to support the FCC's right to regulate broadband. If that's not a fun enough activity, I can tell my friend's to look at the site and tell Congress as well, and maybe make a donation.

Having fun yet? Addicted? The problem here is that this kind of activism is very un-rewarding and antithetical to the artistic impulse. Many artists today are using the power of digital technology to create very rewarding, often participatory experiences that are not just fun to share, but quite addictive. Gaming technology, social media, mash-ups and remix are informing culture in new ways, and guess what - the good ones go viral and get seen by millions. Like drugs, they are fun to share, and very hard to stop.

If we want to engage artists with advocacy, we need to embrace these tools - and give artists a way to use them as well. Nettrice Gaskins is correct - we need to launch a "new arts movement using these emerging platforms." It's very hard for artists to have much clout, as Marty suggests, without having cash. But it's equally hard for the media and the politicians to ignore a true groundswell of activity. We don't have that yet, because we haven't let artists make the message more engaging. Perhaps it's time for Games for Change to fund an artist to make the next Farmville for arts policy.
July 19, 2010 7:29 AM | | Comments (1) |


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