If the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt is, as its mission states, “dedicated to designing a new road map for cultural policy in America,” its cartographer is Bill Ivey, the center’s founding director. It’s a course Ivey has been charting his entire professional life, and he’s confident the time is right for Vanderbilt to play a key role in changing the way America regards, interprets and disperses its culture.
Born to jazz-loving parents in post-World War II Michigan, Ivey achieved national recognition as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts during the Clinton administration. Here in Nashville, Ivey is remembered for his work as director of the Country Music Foundation and as two-time board chairman of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He is currently president of the American Folklore Society and chairs the board of the National Recording Preservation Foundation, a federally chartered foundation affiliated with the Library of Congress, and is board chairman of WPLN, Nashville Public Radio.
All of which makes Ivey uniquely qualified to map a course on arts policy that embraces highbrow culture and hardball commerce, grass-roots art and global distribution. “The center’s approach is one that engages issues for both nonprofit and for-profit groups,” Ivey says. “Other universities have cultural policy programs, but they concentrate only on nonprofit arts issues and don’t engage issues like copyright, trade and arts learning outside of school.”
The center, founded in 2002, has emerged as a leading voice for arts policy on a national level. Besides its campus headquarters, it maintains a Washington, D.C., office whose mission is to develop an arts-policy community among senior career staff there. “If we’re not yet setting the agenda,” notes Ivey, “we are at least asking the questions that are getting attention.”
Many of those questions are raised in Ivey’s new book, Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights (2008, University of California Press). In his book Ivey proposes a “Cultural Bill of Rights” and proceeds, chapter by chapter, to examine these rights, how they have been eroded, and what must be done to restore them. Among the rights Ivey sets forth are the right to our heritage, the right to the prominent presence of artists in public life, the right to an artistic life, and the right to be represented to the world by art that communicates the diversity of American values and ideals. Public policies that support these rights, Ivey believes, would link what he calls our “expressive life” with overall quality of life, with implications far beyond mere entertainment or enrichment.
In 2009 many of Ivey’s ideas will be incorporated into the Mike Curb Creative Campus Program (see story, left), an initiative that puts Vanderbilt at the forefront of a national movement to enhance creativity as a component of undergraduate education. New courses and new faculty will create an undergraduate track for creative leadership and, eventually, a fifth-year master’s-degree program in creative enterprise and public leadership. “Students will leave college more creative than when they came in,” Ivey says.
Not-so-conventional wisdom now predicts that creativity will be crucial to an economy with global reach—as well as the creation of a country whose culture enhances and uplifts the lives of its citizens. After all, as Ivey asks in his book, “Did Einstein’s brilliance derive from training in math and science or, just as likely, from his lifelong devotion to music and the violin?”