Sunday, June 15, 2008

Review of Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights

Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights

My review of Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights by Bill Ivey (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008).
Published in ARLIS/NA Reviews, June 2008.

In Arts, Inc., Bill Ivey, former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, has written an engaging memoir that merges his personal and professional experiences to evaluate the state of art and culture in America. He argues that copyright extension, the desertion of art and culture as a diplomatic tool, and corporate avarice and negligence have undermined our uniquely American cultural heritage. He devotes a chapter to each aspect of his proposed Cultural Bill of Rights, which encompasses heritage, artists in public life, creative private lives, American artistry abroad, art of lasting value, and robust, reliable institutions.

Ivey explores the rise of corporate art ownership and the fall of cultural institutions designed to enrich public life. He writes, “Most of America’s twentieth-century culture was produced by for-profit arts industries, and much of our cultural heritage has been no better treated than assets such as buildings and furniture” (45). Corporations are wary of preservation because, “by revealing how much has been lost, how much has never been released, and, following decades of mergers and relocations, just how little record, film, and television companies know about what they do or do not own, the truth would produce public outrage” (48). Even worse, “nonprofits are too often careless with historical assets, risk averse, and…drawn to projects that have no real importance beyond an impact on the bottom line” (217).

He calls for the reformation of intellectual property rights in the United States, so that works are properly preserved and do not remain commercial assets in perpetuity. Ivey archly illustrates his view of this issue by including usage fees in his photo captions.

He heralds “citizen artists” and a more creative life for Americans. “Participation is the hallmark of a vibrant cultural scene, not just participation for the trained and well-heeled but participation that’s available to just about everybody” (262). With this populist viewpoint, for example, he asserts that orchestras should mimic NASCAR promotions, making classical music accessible to average Americans.

Ivey envisions a harmonized vision for art and culture, “the birthright of citizens in our enlightened democracy” (xix). A revival of the Arts and Crafts movement, which reacted to the Industrial Revolution with authentic and meaningful styles, may be one solution. Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights is an important read for information professionals involved in preserving heritage and those interested in the “cultural rights” of all Americans to an expressive life in a post-consumerist age.

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