Each year, Createquity offers a list of the top ten arts policy stories of the past twelve months. You can read the previous editions here: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. Creation of this list is distributed amongst our editorial team. Authorship of individual items is noted at the end of each story.
Compiling our annual list of arts policy stories has always been a loose exercise, involving quite a bit in the way of editorial judgment calls. What constitutes a “top” story? Is it one that captured the most attention? That’s most relevant to our readership? That makes for the best reading? In the past, we’ve navigated these questions intuitively and implicitly for the most part, but this year, in keeping with our work towards identifying the most important issues in the arts (which faces similar dilemmas), we’ve added a twist. The stories below were selected and ranked based on our estimate of how many people they affected (or will affect), and how deeply, worldwide. As a result, the stories you’ll see below have a distinctly global flavor compared to our previous lists. We’re planning to use a similar method to rank our Newsroom stories in the new year. Speaking of which, from all of us at Createquity, best wishes for a happy and healthy 2016! –Ian David Moss
10. At the casino with national arts councils: Australia shuffles the deck, Canada doubles down, England tries a new game
Australia’s system for government funding for the arts was turned upside down this year, and the implications are still shaking out, even as Communications Minister Mitch Fifield took over the Arts Ministry portfolio from former Arts Minister George Brandis in November. Brandis surprised (and angered) the Australian arts community in May by pushing over AUS $110 million in cuts to the Australia Council arts funding body over the coming four years. The money didn’t disappear, but instead was earmarked for the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts, a new arts funding program under direct control of the Ministry for the Arts, and thus managed, rather alarmingly, by Brandis. Money wasn’t the only thing Brandis moved from the Council to the Arts Ministry–he also took control of the public-private partnership program known as the Creative Partnerships Australia. The ongoing tug of war between the Council and the Arts Ministry highlighted key issues in arts funding structures, including a hard look at the Council’s principle of arm’s length funding. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the English-speaking world, new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his new Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly pledged to double funding for the Canada Arts Council last month. And in the arts sector in England, movement towards a more fully American-style funding system continues apace, with so-called “national portfolio organizations” now raising more than double each year the amount that has been lost in government funding as a result of cuts several years ago to Arts Council England. That said, the Council averted further cuts this year and instead is to receive a small annual increase of £10m yearly until 2020. –Michael Feldman
9. Hollywood begins to wake up to its diversity problems
This time last year, Hollywood was rocked by the Sony Hack scandal, which–beyond spectacle and threat–revealed in no uncertain terms the stark gap in gender pay at Sony. Turns out, Sony is not the only offender, and women are not the only ones affected. In January, when the coveted Oscar nominations were announced, there was not a single person of color among the nominees for lead and supporting actor and actress, not a single women nominated in either of the screenwriting categories, and the director category was dominated by white men. Although television fought back with a more diverse slate of Emmy Awards nominations in July, and the recently announced nominees for the 2016 Golden Globes are somewhat more balanced, the situation on the small screen is not much better: a study from the Directors Guild of America looked at the 2009 to 2014 television seasons, and revealed that in this five year span, 87% of first-time TV directors were white, and 82% of them were male. More studies follow suit: a report from the Ralph E. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA which looked at film and television makeup in 2012 and 2013 shows minorities and women lagging behind in all categories (with particularly low numbers of LGBT and Latino players) and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s study of the 700 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2014 shows that women had less than a third of speaking parts in the most popular films and worse, that only three of those same films were directed by African Americans.
Hollywood is finally taking note. Top-billed Hollywood actresses (and George Clooney), heeding Jennifer Lawrence’s rallying cry, have started speaking out about gender pay inequity. In May, citing bias against women, the ACLU asked state and federal agencies to investigate Hollywood’s hiring practices. In October, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission followed suit and began contacting female directors to investigate gender discrimination in Hollywood. Also in October, the Women in Film and the Sundance Institute organized a two-day, closed-door meeting with 44 top industry officials to discuss solutions to the gender issue. (The four strategies identified during this meeting were made public in December.) As for racial diversity, in November Cheryl Boone Isaacs (who, it should be noted, is the first African American and only the third woman to hold the post of president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) finally announced a five-year plan aimed at diversifying the Academy’s leadership, and stars of color such as Aziz Ansari continue to draw attention to the issue. –Clara Inés Schuhmacher
8. Culture fails to make a dent in UN Sustainable Development Goals
This September, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a new agenda for sustainable development, replacing the 2000 Millennium Development Goals. The so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a significant milestone for global policy and help define the framework that will be used to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in global aid over the next 15 years. In the two years prior to the adoption of SDGs, a consortium of organizations including the IFACCA, Agenda 21 for Culture, IFCCD, Culture Action Europe, Arterial Network, IMC, and the ICOMO launched an international campaign to advocate for the inclusion of cultural indicators among the SDGs. UNESCO–the cultural arm of the UN–also advocated for the inclusion of culture in the SDGs, developing a manual for the collection of data on culture and development. Yet even with 17 goals and 169 targets addressing economic, social and environmental development, culture would up notably absent from the agenda. Despite the setback, some notable progress was made in the final weeks of 2015. On December 14, the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution on Culture and Sustainable Development, which recognizes culture as a driver of sustainable development and points out that policies responsive to cultural contexts yield better development outcomes. Importantly for the future of the SDGs, the resolution also suggests that the role that culture plays in development should be included in the follow-up and review framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. – John Carnwath
7. Controversies and troubles in social science research
It’s been a year of upheaval and, yes, even scandal, for the social sciences. In February, the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology announced it would ban the “null hypothesis statistical testing procedure,” claiming that p-values, the time-honored method of establishing statistical significance of research, are easily manipulated and were never meant to be the be-all and end-all of scientific rigor. The announcement was met with celebration, caution, and mood dampening within the statistics world, and brought a bit of mainstream media attention to an existential struggle that’s been gripping the scientific community for years. The high-profile retraction of an influential study about political canvassing came three months later. The study, which suggested that canvassers from the Los Angeles LGBT Center were effective at changing attitudes towards gay marriage, had received national media attention in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, This American Life – even a tweet on Createquity – and launched primary researcher Michael LaCour’s career all the way to a plum tenure-track job at Princeton. It received a different kind of attention in May, when two graduate students trying to recreate the study arrived at the conclusion that the data was likely falsified. When LaCour was unable to produce the original data set collected, the study’s high profile co-author Donald Green promptly requested a retraction from the original publisher, Science. And it’s not just wrongdoing at play. In August, The Reproducibility Project released the results of its attempts to replicate the findings of 100 foundational social science studies. In 62 of the replicated studies, the effect observed was weaker than in the original, suggesting that the original findings were not confirmed. Both the LaCour scandal and the Reproducibility Project findings raise important questions about “irregularities,” the dependence of study results upon circumstances, and the need for replication. Whether it’s greater transparency and a culture of whistleblowing, increased focus on data sharing and replication, or more innovation and rigor in the use of statistics, psychology and the social sciences will surely continue to debate potential reforms in the year to come, with implications for arts research as well. –Katie Ingersoll
6. ISIS loots cultural heritage to fund terrorism
2015 has been a tragic year for culture in the Middle East, with egregious heritage crimes committed by ISIS in Sabratha, Nimrud, Hatra, and Palmyra (twice!) as reported in these pixels in March and September. The real problem goes much deeper, however. In May, Iraq’s top antiquities officials suggested that the destruction of cultural sites was in fact a cover-up for the systematic looting and resale of antiquities, prompting an international investigation into the Islamic State’s oil & antiquities department (known as “Diwan al-Rikaz,” or, the “Department of Precious Things That Come Out of the Ground,”) and how it helps fund terrorist activities through the sale of relics on the black market. A link was made to the Western art trade as blood antiquities from Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq were discovered to be being sold in London, New York and elsewhere. In August, the FBI issued a warning directly to art dealers to watch out for “terrorist loot,” and in September the U.S. Department of State offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the disruption of ISIS trafficking of antiquities and oil. In November, a report released by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) found that “IS completely dominates the antiquities trade in the areas under its control,” taking 20% or more of the revenue from items sold to smugglers. While the total value of the looted pieces is difficult to assess (some say it’s in the hundreds of millions, others say the total value is, in fact, nominal,) the extensive destruction has galvanized many into action: archaeologists are racing to capture Middle East’s historical sites with digital renderings before they’re destroyed, and Syria’s “Monuments Men” are cataloging theft and destruction on the ground. UNESCO took its own serious step against ISIS in May when it adopted a resolution affirming that “attacks intentionally directed against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art … or historic monuments, may amount to war crimes”. Meanwhile, these revelations have raised the age-old question of who actually owns ancient art and has prompted a closer look at the astounding scale of looting and selling of ancient artifacts globally. –Shawn Lent
5. The Every Student Succeeds Act is passed by Congress
Fifty years after the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Congress finally passed a reauthorization of the landmark federal education legislation called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) this December. After the stringent accountability measures and top-down approach of the embattled prior authorization No Child Left Behind (NCLB), ESSA attempts to delegate more authority to states and local education agencies over accountability regarding student growth measures, professional development, and federal funding allocation for high-poverty schools. Notably for arts education, the ESSA replaces the language of “core subjects” from NCLB with “well-rounded education,” and the definition of a well-rounded education includes the arts. While NCLB did include the arts in its list of core subjects, popular wisdom held that its emphasis on strict testing of academic subjects created incentives for schools to shift focus away from the arts. More flexibility in creating and monitoring student growth measures may allow schools and local education agencies to increase their investment in the arts. Further, the new legislation allows for arts and music education programming to qualify for new, state-administered grants. While we will have to wait and see how the legislation is implemented to learn how this new reauthorization will impact arts education, it seems likely that ESSA will at least maintain and perhaps improve arts education for all US students. –Louise Geraghty
4. Big Tech gets in on entertainment action, Big Media gets in on nonprofit action
Income from streaming services eclipsed CD sales for the first time in 2014, and the fatcats took notice. In January, Sony announced that Spotify would replace Music Unlimited as the music streaming outlet for its PlayStation Network. That platform, available in 41 countries (which triples Sony’s live streaming reach), went live on March 30. In March, Jay Z announced the launch of his own streaming service, Tidal, and despite a rocky year–a major lawsuit, three CEOs in eight months–the service is holding on with a million subscribers, a 31-country reach, and a surprise release from Prince. Apple jumped on the increasingly crowded music streaming bandwagon in June when it unveiled Apple Music, its own music streaming platform spearheaded by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame. As with Tidal, Apple’s service offers a paid option only, though it certainly has a marketplace advantage: the app is packaged into every iOS download, and it integrates neatly with iTunes, which at last count had some 800 millions user accounts. Pandora, not to be undone, turned on the offensive this year, acquiring Ticketfly, Rdio Inc and Next Big Sound, and signing unprecedented licensing agreements with Sony/ATV, and with Warner. While it remains to be seen what effect recent US Copyright Royalty Board rulings will have on internet streaming, everyone won with the arrival of the Beatles catalogue to the streaming universe. Streaming services aren’t the only mechanism by which tech giants tried to elbow into the entertainment business this year. In March, Google launched YouTube for Artists, a set of online tools aimed at helping musicians generate more revenue from their music, and ostensibly plan better tours through in-depth access to viewer information on a city level.
If 2015 signaled a convergence between tech and media, within media itself we saw another convergence: between nonprofit and for-profit. In August, premium cable channel HBO struck a deal with the nonprofit Sesame Workshop to bring first-run episodes of “Sesame Street” exclusively to its network and streaming outlets starting in the fall. Although new episodes will eventually be available on (free) PBS–the show’s home for the last 45 years–the news raised some troubling questions about mission and access. As if that weren’t enough, after 127 years, the National Geographic Society, “one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world,” sold a 73% stake in its iconic magazine and other media assets to a Murdoch-headed partnership in exchange for $725 million in September. –CIS
3. A landmark victory for net neutrality
The first half of this year delivered big-time for proponents of net neutrality. In February, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 in favor of classifying broadband Internet as a public utility, outmaneuvering a previous court order that had handicapped proposed regulations. Far from done, in May the FCC shot down the proposed merger between cable giants Time Warner and Comcast in another move celebrated by net neutrality advocates, and the following month the agency approved a proposal to expand the Lifeline program and allow participants to apply its subsidies to broadband internet as well as to landline and mobile telephone service. (The $1.7 billion subsidy program, created in 1985 under the Reagan administration, serves some 17 million low-income people nationally.) Over the summer, nine internet service providers filed lawsuits to overturn the Open Internet Order, including telecom giant AT&T, who is waging legal war against the commission on its own; all arguments were heard in court on December 4. A decision is expected in spring 2016, and at least one commentator suggests that the Open Internet’s prospects are looking good. On the federal side, Republicans in Congress have attempted to overturn the initial FCC ruling all year (see here and here) and at the last minute, slipped an anti-net neutrality rider into the end-of-year, must-pass spending bill. Luckily, the bill passed without those provisions, thanks in part to pressure from companies such as Etsy, Kickstarter, Tumblr and Vimeo. Meanwhile, across the pond, the European Parliament rejected several proposed amendments limiting Internet companies from playing favorites with legal online content, reminding us all that this issue is a global one. –CIS
2. China becomes dominant player in global arts markets
In 2014, China overtook the United States as the world’s largest economy, and in 2015, it solidified its ascendance in the arts with many important firsts. With the value of art traded in 2014 reaching an all-time high at an estimated €51 billion, China edged out the United States as the world’s largest market for modern art with a 30.6% share of global sales. China rose to second place worldwide in the global art market more generally, tying the UK with a 22% share. Both percentages are likely to increase, especially given the jaw-dropping $170.4 million Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian paid Christie’s for Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu Couche in November. Unfortunately, however, Chinese collectors aren’t paying those kinds of prices for works made at home: sales of contemporary Chinese artists have dropped significantly as buyers focus on Western pieces and Western art fairs, like Art Basel Miami. At the box office, China did as spectacularly, beating out the United States in February film proceeds with $650 million in revenue. (Star Wars, which may or may not tilt the scales, will not be released in China until January 9.) What’s more, Chinese box office sales jumped a whopping 48% this year, putting it firmly in second place globally; a report from Ernst & Young predicts that China will be the world’s biggest film industry by 2020. The year ahead looks bright for gaming, as well. This past May, China’s Ministry of Culture lifted a fourteen year-old ban on the production and sale of video consoles gaming, opening the door to Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft to manufacture and sell their Xboxes, PlayStations and Wii in-country. Although it’s not immediately clear what impact the lifting of the ban will have on Chinese gamers, or on the bottom line of these big three, China is expected to overtake the US as the world’s largest mobile gaming market by 2016. We may very well see China back on this list this time next year. –CIS
1. Terrorism hits the arts
Deaths from terrorism have reached their highest level ever recorded, and the arts are increasingly in the crosshairs. The year dawned with attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in which two Islamic fundamentalists killed twelve, including Charlie Hebdo’s editor and several cartoonists, in apparent retaliation for the magazine’s repeated depictions of the prophet Muhammad. Though this attack was aimed a small group of individuals, its effects were felt deeply and on the global scale: a solidarity march held on the Sunday after the attack drew almost four million citizens and some forty world leaders. In March, gunmen attacked the National Bardo Museum in downtown Tunis, killing two Tunisians and 20 foreign visitors, and wounding at least 50 others. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack – Tunisia’s deadliest since 2002 – shaking a country that prides itself on having emerged as the most successful post-Arab Spring democracy. In October, two Bangledeshi publishers were stabbed to death purportedly for having printed the work of Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American known for his critical writings on religious extremism. (Roy was himself assassinated in February of this year.) The close of the year saw coordinated terrorist attacks once again reverberating throughout Paris on November 13, this time even more devastating. Gunmen opened fire at a Eagles of Death Metal concert at Paris’s historic Le Bataclan music hall, killing 89, and at bars and restaurants throughout the city, killing another forty individuals. U2 frontman Bono called the Bataclan massacre “the first direct hit on music in this so-called war on terror,” pointing to an unsettling new direction in terrorism this year in which cultural institutions (and not just local or politically symbolic international sites) have become targets.
This year’s attacks, collectively and individually, have prompted an avalanche of news coverage and reactions from all corners of the globe, and precipitated a growing backlash across Europe and in the United States against Muslim immigrants, Islamist terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, and importantly for this forum, freedom of expression. In November, President François Hollande revealed a proposal for France’s museums to temporarily house Syrian cultural objects “at risk” of ISIS looting, and Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin announced a relief fund for French organizations affected by the attacks. Meanwhile, Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has pledged 1 billion euros to spend equally on culture and security, and the Bardo Museum in Tunis, site of the March attacks, announced a cultural partnership with the Museo di Arte Orientale in Turin, Italy, in an effort to contribute to peace and stability in the region. –CIS
- The Ford Foundation shifts its focus to inequality, reboots creativity & free expression program
- “Happy Birthday” is finally in the public domain
- Charitable giving to the arts is on the rise
- Building frenzy in NYC
For some prognostication on what we might be seeing in 2016, check out Thomas Cott’s annual roundup of predictions from his readers. Happy new year!