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May. 15, 2008, 2:15 PM
Early in his new book Arts, Inc., Bill Ivey recounts the tale of a warehouse demolition in Camden, N.J., in the 1960s. The building was destroyed with dynamite, the resulting rubble and shattered contents bulldozed into the Delaware River.
The building housed master recordings owned by RCA. No one knows if a rare original recording by a star of jazz, country music or early rock ‘n’ roll was used to pollute the river that day.
Destruction of these artistic corporate assets was not illegal, one of several striking deficiencies in the American system of managing – or not managing – our nation’s cultural legacy, Ivey argues in the book.
"The state, as our agent, long ago ceded far too much authority over our creativity and heritage to a web of commercial interests," Ivey writes.
Ivey is director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University. He was chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1998 through 2001.
In Arts, Inc., published May 10 by the University of California Press, Ivey presents the first-ever assessment of the entire U.S. arts system, outlining the problems Americans face regarding their access to cultural heritage and creativity and proposes a strategy to right the ship. He builds a case for a Cultural Bill of Rights guaranteeing that Americans have access to the elements of a rich expressive life: Art from the past and the ability to express their personal creativity. And Ivey proposes a new authority – a U.S. Department of Cultural Affairs – charged with connecting America’s arts system with public purposes.
Ivey argues that corporations have protected their interests so well that average Americans’ ability to enrich their lives with culture has been compromised. He cites ever-growing copyright protections pushed by corporations and deterioration of "fair use" rights as particular problems.
Ivey cites the case of artist Daniel A. Moore, a graduate of the University of Alabama who sells his paintings portraying dramatic moments in Alabama football history. The university sued Moore, claiming he was, among other things, infringing on Alabama’s "famous crimson and white color scheme."
"The very existence of this case exemplifies a startling new aggressiveness on the part of trademark and copyright owners," Ivey writes.
Corporate negligence has led to the loss of documentation of the first two Super Bowl games and Johnny Carson’s first appearance on The Tonight Show. When a database indexing all historical recordings in corporate archives was suggested in the name of historic preservation, record companies objected through their lobbying organization, the Recording Industry Association of America.
"To these media industries, preservation will always play second fiddle to the core mission – creating shareholder value by selling new product in the entertainment marketplace," Ivey writes. "Can the public’s right to our shared heritage truly be served if the preservation of records, movies and broadcasting is left to the whims of a few multinational companies?"
Ivey also tackles the wave of media consolidations that have narrowed the choices of consumers. While savvy, wealthy fans possess vast choice through the Internet, cable television and the like, those without means, time, or training needed to participate don’t get to watch HBO, can’t produce videos for YouTube, and are exposed to only the narrow selection of music broadcast on free radio and sold at Wal-Mart.
"In the contemporary scene it is unlikely that an artist as quirky as (Bob) Dylan would be signed to a major label," Ivey speculates.
In the book, Ivey proposes government intervention to put America’s cultural history and future on the right path. If American culture is left on its own to flounder, he warns that the next Dylan may never be discovered and millions of Americans will become increasingly divorced from the rich tapestry of art that is their birthright.
"To realize our Cultural Bill of Rights we must reacquaint ourselves with the notion that government can lead the way to a better life," Ivey writes. "If we are to decide, first of all, that happiness apart from material well-being is a goal of good democratic government, and, second, that a vibrant cultural system nurturing artists – professional and amateur – is the best mechanism for creating the conditions of a happy life, we must move beyond ‘tweaking’ to enact policy that can really make life different."
For more information or a review copy of Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights, contact Amy Cleary at the University of California Press at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-642-4701.
Media Contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS
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