Recently by Douglas McLennan

There have been a lots of illuminating ideas and observations flying around this week on the blog, and I want to thank everyone for taking part (and apologize for my breakout pessimism in yesterday's post). But I'm wondering if I could challenge everyone in this last day to come up with their nomination for the biggest policy threat or potentially transformative initiative currently facing our culture. For my part, I'd nominate endless assignable copyright. Locking down creative work indefinitely takes it off the shelf for other artists to build on. We need better ways to pay artists. But we also need to ensure that our collective creativity is available to extend.
July 23, 2010 4:51 AM | | Comments (1) |
In the UK people in the streets are battling with police who want to prevent them from taking photos in public. Everyone's got cameras, so banning pictures is futile. The recording industry has tried (futilely) for years to stop file-sharing by suing downloaders. Hasn't worked. Attempts to control access to any kind of digital product are thwarted within hours (sometimes even minutes) of their release. Almost always, what technology makes possible can be overcome by other technology.

The point is, in the long run, rules don't ultimately mean much in the face of crushing contrary reality. But in the meantime rules can wreak ugliness in protection of outmatched systems.

If we had policy rules all worked out that could have imagined an internet world before it happened, I wonder if the internet world would have happened at all? Or if it would have looked anything like it is now. Could anyone 20 year ago have foreseen what the culture of the internet with all its democratization of access ooks like and actually planned for it? 

I guess my point is that in the great democratization of access and production of culture, we may be looking at "policy" and "rules" in ways that are too traditional; in ways that - just like the collapsing structures themselves - are not suited (or workable) for the new landscape. A big problem with many of the attempts so far to "save journalism" is that they're not aimed at saving journalism at all, but at saving the structures that supported journalism. Journalism itself will do fine; I have confidence that the enduring values of journalism will continue to assert and reassert themselves. 

I suspect this is true for the arts too. In the 90s we had the largest expansion of cultural infrastructure in the history of America. Now we're left invested in supporting this infrastructure along with funding structures and distribution structures and rights structures that are outdated because of changed audience expectations brought about by technology.

I wonder if we even have the skill yet to imagine workable policy that understands these changes well enough to keep up, let alone be visionary? I'm not arguing we should abandon advocacy (Hi Chris!) or attempts to organize or educate. But as Ian suggested earlier this week, perhaps we need to reimagine what it means to organize or advocate or represent. 

The other day I got an email asking me to join a campaign to "Save the Arts". Save the arts? Do the arts really need to be saved? I guess I'd be more worried if I saw the quality of music or movies or TV or books or theatre going down. But from where I sit, this isn't the case. 

One could even make an argument that the diversity and overall quality of our collective creative output is higher now than it has been. Is anyone willing to argue that they have less access to the cultural stew today than they did ten, 20, 30 years ago? Hardly. The complaint usually is that there's too much and it's too difficult to sort through it all. 

Now maybe we're a runaway train careening out of control and in a few years there will be a battlefield of cultural wreckage to sort through as our arts organizations and artists collapse. But I don't think so. It's truly humbling to move around the country and see the breadth of amazing artists and creativity at work.

I believe in net neutrality, in Creative Commons and sharing and transparency and giving away things not because they seem like cool concepts, but because they seem like good common sense business strategy. Good business strategy, by the way, that puts more control in the hands of the individual.
July 22, 2010 9:41 AM | | Comments (4) |

I want to take on Bill Osborne's comment that the premise of this blog is that artists are not involved in activism. They most certainly are, and I don't think that anyone here has said that they aren't, even though there's been much discussion about the extent of artists' roles in policy debates.

I'd also like to challenge his assertion that:

especially in the USA, the very act of trying to be a creative artist at all is close to being a form of activism, if not subversion, because it often challenges our nation's narrowly defined orthodoxy concerning the primacy of the marketplace.

This seems a bit over-dramatic to me (okay, a lot). We live in a time when more people than ever before are calling themselves artists. And indeed, with the availability of cheap digital tools, there's been a democratizing bubbling forth of creativity we may never have seen before. Kids are making movies, writing and recording music, mashing up the things they see (and hear) around them. In the physical world, record sales of musical instruments further attest to this. So to say that being an artist today is subversive is just not true. 

It is the fact of this burgeoning expression that forces us to reevaluate the rules that have underpinned our systems of creative production. In June, Facebook users shared 25 billion pieces of content with one another. More and more people have an expectation that part of engaging the creative experience is being able to pass along pieces of experiences that were meaningful to them. Just this fact forces the need to reexamine the rules for passing along. 

Bill's second assertion that:

The blog's second, and more specific premise, is that artists are not actively involved in the debates surrounding net neutrality, even though these policy decisions will strongly affect them. This second part of the statement is untrue.

This is also wrong. First, there's a big wide world beyond classical music for which issues about net neutrality have a big direct impact. If I'm a filmmaker and the free access to my audience is impacted that matters to me. There are a whole string of other content issues issues that play out beyond simple access and net neutrality that are of no small importance to artists. 

Second: For classical musicians, net neutrality is not just about selling CDs(!) It's about operating equally in the cultural marketplace and the ability to build audiences and communicate work. Those traditional digital audiences might be small right now, but they're important. And behind the scenes and for educational purposes, having an open internet ought to matter deeply to you. Limiting bandwidth and allowing privilege to some content over others ought to matter to all artists.

July 20, 2010 8:31 AM | | Comments (0) |
I don't know why it's so difficult to get arts people to focus more on public policy about culture. Sure, I get that policy is boring and making art is so much more interesting. And I understand that there is a sense of futility in thinking artists can affect cultural policy when, as Marty said, getting right to the point:

How likely is it that arts and culture workers will have a real voice in policy deliberations, if their clout doesn't come down to cash?  Celebrity, moral suasion and stats about economic impact are nice assets to deploy, but does anyone think they provide the kind of access or standing enjoyed by the oligopolies?

But rules about what art you can use and how you can use it are about as important as it gets for artists. And right now, those rules are made for the most part without the input of artists. And, as Marty points out, the policy always seems to come out in favor of those who have the most money to lobby for their point of view. 

It's even more complicated, because there doesn't seem to be much agreement among artists about what kinds of creative rights are necessary and how they ought to be deployed. This suggests to me it's even more important to be debating these issues vigorously and in public, so at least people are aware of what's at stake. So artists don't have much of a voice in cultural policy. But is there any artist consensus on cultural policy issues? Or is this fated to be a low-traffic blog?
July 18, 2010 11:02 PM | | Comments (1) |


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

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Recent Comments

Brian Newman commented on Doug's Challenge: Glad to see Bill and I can agree on some things. But, I think the three of ...

William Osborne commented on My Own Not-So-Private Echo Chamber: This blog is about Net neutrality and the members were chosen accordingly. ...

William Osborne commented on Doug's Challenge: I think the most common thread of this entire discussion is that we live in...

William Osborne commented on "Have we actually stopped objectifying audiences?" Nope - and that's the Problem.: Perhaps the problem is not only a lack of knowledge about audiences, but th...

Anu Kirk commented on Doug's Challenge: The letter of the law might be "life plus 70" now, but the reality is that ...

Jesus Pantel commented on A challenge for this last day: My corollary question would be where/how do we find out what the biggest po...

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