Every December since 2009, Createquity has compiled the Top Ten Arts Policy Stories of the Year, ranking the impact of key issues from a global perspective. With the end of this year coinciding with the last rays of Createquity’s sunset, we didn’t want to leave our loyal readers hanging – and so we’ve decided to do our traditional roundup looking back not just on 2017, but on the whole ten years that Createquity has been around!
It turns out that a lot can change in a decade. While selecting which stories are “most important” inherently involves some editorial guesswork, we have tried to use some semblance of a formal methodology, incorporating criteria like how many people were affected by a given story, how deeply, for how long, and how much of that impact was specific to the arts? Below is our selection of the Top Ten Arts Stories of the Decade, compiled by members of our editorial team with individual authorship indicated at the end of each item.
1. New tech and media swallow the world whole
When Apple founder Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, he touted three key innovations: its blending of an iPod media player with a smartphone; its widescreen, multi-touch interface; and its internet friendliness. All three proved pivotal in the subsequent decade’s tech revolution. Apple’s iOS quickly stoked competition from Google’s Android OS to put the “internet in every pocket” of global citizens (now in 2 billion+ and counting), in turn catalyzing the hothouse growth of industries including audiobooks and podcasts and electronic games (while helping kill off others such as compact cameras). The proliferation of social media platforms – including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Tumblr, and Instagram – transformed networking and distribution patterns for creative professionals and their audiences, dramatically reshaping how we access and filter information in our daily lives.
All the while, internet service providers have been keeping pace with phone and app makers in their quest to continually increase broadband speed and access. The result? A media-streaming revolution that has sparked its own race for consumer dollars between corporate giants including Netflix, Apple, Disney, 21st Century Fox, AT&T (via Amazon – wait – make that Time Warner) and Sony, each trying to outmaneuver each other in both content creation and consumer distribution. Depending on your view, the Peak TV phenomenon is a boon for watchers, an ominous power-grab, or a societal antidote to the arts themselves. But then, television is so 20th century. Enter the new tech art forms: virtual reality and augmented reality are competing among global users to enhance everything from ballet performances to gaming on the go.
All the above innovations are underscored by the increasing sophistication of artificial intelligence itself. As machines show creative capabilities to rival those of humans, AI projects are demonstrating mastery of tasks ranging from besting champs at complex games to self-driving cars; from creating lip-syncing videos to teaching salsa lessons. Advances in AI now enable Google’s Translate service to crank out translations in literature that are almost indistinguishable from those of humans. The excitement of these developments is tempered by growing fears of rampant automation and machines displacing artists, even taking over the world.
Regardless of how it turns out, the ubiquity and scope of Silicon Valley’s wonders qualify as the single most impactful arts story of the past decade. Discourse on the intersection between technology and the arts has often tended toward the trite (remember how QR codes were supposed to revolutionize…something?), but we see the relationship as something far deeper and more fundamental to the human experience every day. For good or ill, the disruptions of New Tech – and the mysteries of where they are headed – remain on a path of constant acceleration. –Jack Crager
2. China rises as a global power in arts and entertainment
In 2006, the Asia Times Online published an article lamenting that China, despite its ballooning economy, lacked influence in the cultural sphere. Today – thanks to that ballooning – the story is quite different: in fine art, film, gaming and even music, China has arrived. The country holds steady at third place worldwide in the global art market (behind the United States and the United Kingdom) with an 18% share. The surge in art collecting by mainland Chinese was first noted in 2011, and now that China has eclipsed the United States in its number of billionaires, the trend will surely continue upward, especially as younger collectors begin to take on the (art) world. In July 2016, the Taikang life insurance company (run by the founder of Guardian, China’s first government-run auction house) became Sotheby’s largest shareholder, augmenting China’s influence in this sphere. We’re not just talking the realm of the super-rich: Beijing’s National Museum was ranked the world’s most-visited museum in 2016. In fine art, trends have tacked toward consumption of imported works, but elsewhere China shows major gains in production of original content. On the silver screen, Ernst & Young’s 2012 predictions that China would be the world’s biggest film industry by 2020 seem to be manifesting ahead of schedule. In November, Chinese box office revenue surpassed $7.5 billion, and a nationalist, homegrown film – not a Hollywood export – fueled it: Wolf Warrior 2 is the second-highest grossing movie of all time in a single market (behind 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and we can expect to see more of the same, given China’s plans for a new $2 billion film studio in Chongqing and its recent history of buying up big players such as Dick Clark Productions and Legendary Entertainment. On smaller screens, in 2017 China overtook the U.S. as “gamer capital of the world,” with global revenues hitting $100 billion, thanks largely to smartphones. Especially notable is that 93% of all money spent by Chinese gamers go to titles developed by Chinese-based companies. Even China’s music market, which historically has been small, is showing robust growth in the world of streaming, and Western labels are looking to China as a new potential market. The Cultural Development Action Plan for 2016-2020, part of the Belt and Road initiative announced in 2013, was released earlier this year, providing further direction to these increased cultural opportunities.
So far China and the Trump administration have not been fast friends. Yet for U.S. companies, the allure of a untapped market is hard to resist: Nintendo, Google, Apple and Hollywood each have already made concessions to Chinese interests as they vie for a piece of the pie. Some in Congress are concerned, and for good reason: China ranks 176 out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index, and its airtight Great Firewall includes bans on most social media networks and news sites that reflect a negative image of the country. (Createquity has previously covered China’s repressive tactics including virtual borders, film regulations, and cultural censorship of television and the arts.) China is a country of 1.4 billion people – more than four times the population of the U.S. and twice that of Europe – and, yes, there is (a lot of) money to be made. But at what cost?
The implications of China’s growth will be felt first by China itself – we can expect a type of lost generation as it all comes to a head, especially considering that 40% of this socialist society currently lives on $5.50 a day. The implications for the rest of us will follow: the impact of China as a global force in entertainment will affect business models, jobs, language, tolerance for human rights – even creativity itself – in ways we cannot yet imagine. –Clara Inés Schuhmacher
3. Democracies around the world curb freedom of expression
Events of the last decade have demonstrated that free expression for artists and media is a critical indicator of the strength (and struggles) of a country’s democracy. In recent years we’ve seen an upward trend in the suppression of artistic freedom of expression throughout the world, with ostensibly democratic governments headed by authoritarian leaders attempting to exert tighter control of the media and use their roles as financial supporters of the arts to control the creation and content of various art forms, all as part of a broader strategy to consolidate and maintain power. Under the increasingly iron-fisted rule of President Vladimir Putin, Russia has forged a track record of suppressing free expression, including targeting cultural dissidents through state-run television. These trends will likely continue should Putin “win” his election as president for a fourth term extending to 2024, as is widely expected. Meanwhile in Turkey, a failed coup resulted in President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan shutting down 29 publishing houses and ramping up his jailing of journalists who are critical of the government. Erdoğan’s reaction to the coup continues an alarming trend toward authoritarian rule since his rise to national power in 2003 – further amplified last spring by his (contested) narrow victory in a national referendum granting the president new, sweeping powers.
Although Russia and Turkey are the clearest examples of democracies going down the drain over the past ten years, several other countries are veering gradually or rapidly in the same direction. In Hungary, the government has continued to place tighter restrictions on the media since right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s election in 2010. The Hungarian Academy of Art (MMA) became a state institution in 2011, exerting control over governmental support of the arts and other state-run cultural institutions. In 2016, Polish President Andrzej Duda signed new media laws giving his government the authority to appoint the heads of public television and radio (which has been met with various forms of resistance); the government has also tried to control the dominant narrative around historical events through its support of museums. Venezuela’s political and economic unrest has resulted in President Nicolas Maduro canceling a government-sponsored tour of the National Youth Orchestra conducted by Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Gustavo Dudamel, a native Venezuelan musician trained through the country’s renowned El Sistema program. Dudamel had recently become more critical of the government’s repressive tactics, including the shooting of young Venezuelan violist Armando Cañizales. In Israel, Miri Regev continues to use her role as the Minister of Culture and Sports to support artists who demonstrate loyalty to her nationalist message (though she’s discovering the limits to the power of her office). Even in the U.S., the election of Donald Trump has triggered concerns that the president would use the office to intimidate political opponents, including artists and journalists, just after the previous two administrations amassed unprecedented powers to spy on American citizens. The lesson? Democracy is more fragile than we thought, and the voices of creators are crucial to keeping it intact. –Ruth Mercado-Zizzo
4. Artists and audiences get caught up in terrorism’s wake
During the past decade the global impact of terrorism by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or Dae’esh ‘داعش’) – as well as other groups including Boko Haram, TAK, Ansar Dine, the Taliban, and Al-Qaeda, plus numerous far-right and lone-wolf actors – reverberated throughout the arts community, which has endured attacks on tangible cultural heritage, on free speech, and on artists and their fans. The destruction of antiquities has been particularly extensive and in many cases absolute, with 2015 being an especially tragic year for heritage crimes from Mosul Museum to Sabratha, Nimrud, Hatra, Palmyra, and beyond. The problem is complex and it extends beyond destruction: a 2015 report found that ISIS was taking 20% or more of the revenue (that’s hundreds of millions in USD) from the systematic resale of blood antiquities on the black market in the Western art trade (although some believe this is an overestimation.) The impact on Syria recalls similar attacks on cultural heritage in Iraq, Yemen, and Mali; in the later, a perpetrator pled guilty and was for the first time ever sentenced by the International Criminal Court for war crimes against cultural heritage. ISIS has even incorporated Hollywood-style screenwriting and cinematographic techniques to augment its recruitment tools. In response, it turns out that the world cares very much about its shared heritage: archaeologists are racing to digitize the Middle East’s historical sites before they are destroyed, and in 2016, France and the United Arab Emirates announced a $100 million Cultural Heritage protection fund. Most recently, CBS ordered the television series “Blood and Treasure” on the subject for summer 2019.
But terrorists’ crusades against free speech have extended well beyond archeological sites, directly targeting the lives of creators and their audiences. Aggressions have included the assassination of a Somalian comedian in 2012, the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in February 2015, and the 2016 murder of Amjad Sabri, one of Pakistan’s most famous and respected musicians. But it is the attacks on large groups people – enjoying themselves in cultural spaces – that have most shattered our sense of reality. The past few years have seen cultural venues joining sports stadiums, churches and mosques, open-air markets and transportation hubs as regular targets for terrorist attacks and other mass shootings around the world. Years of seemingly relentless attacks have taken place at the Shingar Cinema in India, a British cultural council in Afghanistan, the Century Aurora movie theater in Colorado, La Bataclan music hall in Paris, National Bardo Museum in Tunis, Pulse nightclub in Orlando, an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas, and sadly more.
The world has responded in a couple of ways. One reaction has been to hunker down: train staff in crisis response, step up police presence at major museums, purchase Terrorism Risk Insurance, and hold international conferences on culture and terrorism. The alternative has been to open up. Following the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon, several local museums opened free as places of respite for the community. The Tunis museum reopened to the public just 12 days after the attack there and some of the looted museums in Yemen became shelters for displaced residents. Amidst and despite these acts of terror, artists and their institutions continue to gather and to create work – supporting the United Nations’ 2015 Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, and each of us. –Shawn Lent
5. The Great Recession wreaks havoc on the global economy
Though many of its most acute effects have now waned, the Great Recession cast a gloomy backdrop behind the other key news stories of the first half of the decade. Driven by fevered investment in questionable assets such as subprime mortgage loans, the money-making party stopped with the failure of financial giants such as Lehman Brothers, AIG, and others in the fall of 2008. The fallout slammed an abrupt correction on private investment and dampened funding for arts organizations in both nonprofit and for-profit sectors. During the downturn arts council funding in many states took a nosedive, and those in Kansas and South Carolina, among others, survived near-death experiences. To their credit, the arts and nonprofit sectors responded with a series of creative solutions and financial adaptations. And in many ways the recession is now past-tense, given the continuing U.S. economic recovery, the soaring stock market, downward-ticking unemployment, and the stabilizing effect of reforms. Yet other remnants of the downturn – such as the permalance labor market, the stagnation of wages, and ongoing fiscal battles – simply represent a “new normal.” Some experts point out that the recovery has been historically weak and sluggish and that recent unemployment figures actually reflect growing cultural disparity. Others warn that prevailing U.S. political priorities – namely the recently enacted Republican tax bill – portend reduced charity giving and cuts to housing for artists, while the specter of a ballooning deficit threatens the ability of the government to respond to the next economic downturn. Amid all the economic and political hoopla, one thing is clear: given the cyclic nature of history, there is no reason to believe that the Great Recession couldn’t happen again. –JC
6. Racial equity becomes a rallying cry for arts policy and philanthropy
The past ten years have produced a flurry of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the arts, prompted by the efforts of artists of color and the communities that support them. These efforts have gained significant ground thanks to grantmakers restructuring their criteria to address long-standing inequities in the arts ecosystem. Foundations and national agencies such as the Canada Council for the Arts and Arts Council England adopted new policies, resulting in organizations attempting to diversify their staffs and promote wider representation in race, cultural background, gender, and sexual orientation – onstage, backstage, and on screen. The results of these efforts can be hard to gauge: for example, despite Hollywood waking up to its “diversity problem” and an #oscarssowhite movement that contributed to the 2017 Academy Awards honoring the most diverse pool of contenders to date, there’s little evidence yet that it’s more than just a blip on the radar, and 2018 is predicted to be #oscarsstillsowhite. And it’s not just about the film industry: funding gaps continue to be a problem in rural areas and among communities of color across the arts sector. The increased interest in racial equity and social justice takes place against a backdrop of larger cultural shifts in the United States and worldwide: the past decade has witnessed both the election of first African-American president and a sharp increase in racial tensions and anti-immigrant sentiment. In the U.S., the Black Lives Matter movement has strongly influenced conversations about racial equity, while in Canada and Australia that issue centers more on reconciliation with Indigenous populations – particularly prominent this year during a series of controversies surrounding cultural appropriation in publishing and journalism.
There’s still a long way to go, especially considering how growing nationalism impacts equity in the arts, and divergent views remain about what constitutes cultural equity based on the art produced or funded by any given organization or agency. But many artists, organizations, and policymakers seem to be ready to disrupt the status quo in ways that they did not ten years ago, with debates on equity in the blogosphere and funding policies for equity and inclusion marking a shift toward de-centering whiteness and acknowledging the schools of thought and traditions of culturally diverse arts practitioners. –Lauren Warnecke and Fari Nzinga
7. Asian governments make huge investments in cultural infrastructure
The past decade has seen substantial fluctuation in governmental arts funding around the world with developing countries, particularly throughout Asia, spending big on modern-day cultural palaces and sweeping public initiatives. New initiatives include a $27 billion mixed-use development in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; a $2.3 billion development of the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong; the building of a $2 billion film studio in Chongqing, China; and a state-funded Artist Welfare program in South Korea, which insured nearly 24,000 resident artists. (Some of China’s other investments are discussed in item #2 above.) This largesse occurred against a backdrop of Great-Recession-induced cuts in arts funding in traditionally generous Western Europe; in particular, state arts appropriations in Holland and England were cut by 25% and 22% respectively, with other European countries following close behind. To the south, Australia cut 70% of grants to individual artists as part of a stressful period of upheaval in that country’s arts funding structure, and Brazil got rid of its Ministry of Culture altogether, albeit briefly. One contrasting bright spot is Canada, which saw a doubling of its Arts Council funding to $1.9 billion from 2016 to 2021 under the administration of Justin Trudeau.
Many governments have turned to unique funding initiatives to ensure that their tightened purses are being spent appropriately (see Italy and Brazil’s voucher programs and the United Kingdom’s much-debated Quality Metrics program). It should also be noted that declaring winners and losers based on national arts funding alone tells an incomplete story, as some of the new heavy hitters have been accused of inhumane labor practices and harsh government crackdowns while some of the countries that have scaled back have seen increases in private sponsorship. –Andrew Anzel
8. The never-ending battle over net neutrality continues to not end
When Net Neutrality first landed on Createquity’s Top Ten Stories of 2010, the angle was “this is a story that is still being told.” We’re still in the telling. This contentious debate has polarized the tech-policy world since the term “network neutrality” was coined by Tim Wu in 2003, and it shows no signs of letting up, especially after the Federal Communications Commission’s recent repeal of regulations put in place by the Obama administration that were supposed to have laid the issue to rest once and for all.
Here’s how the battle lines are drawn: the pro-net neutrality camp calls for a free, fast and fair internet, where everyone gets equal access to everything. This side argues the internet is a basic human right and a critical tool for social movements, small businesses and start-ups. (Content providers from Netflix to Etsy and Kickstarter tend to be in this camp.) Opponents (usually broadband providers, like AT&T and Verizon) argue the internet should be left to free-market forces. The story begins in 2005, when Bush-era FCC Chairman Michael Powell first articulated a policy of network neutrality. This policy was tested the following year, when the FCC ordered Telco to stop blocking VoIP, and light-ish regulation followed, with the FCC going after AT&T and Apple, MetroPCS, and Verizon, among other efforts. In 2008, the White House switched hands, and the Obama-era FCC delivered major wins for the pro camp: in 2010, it introduced the Open Internet Order (with new guidelines prohibiting discrimination on “wired” services) and in 2015, following a lost lawsuit to Verizon, it voted along party lines in favor of classifying broadband Internet as a public utility. This was vote hailed as historic by advocates of a fair, fast and open Internet and many considered the battle won. (Createquity’s coverage of Obama-era net neutrality stories ranges from victories for proponents to appeals-court reversals to debates within the administration over policy.)
Then, of course, came the election of Donald Trump. Just days past his confirmation in early 2017, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai began rolling back the Obama-era regulations, and in November, Pai released a plan to repeal the 2015 ruling classifying broadband as a public utility. On December 14, despite fake comments and calls to delay (from its own Commissioners, Senators, and the City of New York), the FCC voted to repeal the 2015 rules. As before, the vote was along party lines – and hailed as historic, this time by advocates of deregulation.
So what now? In the short term, expect a slew of lawsuits and Congressional action. But here’s the thing: this is 2017, not 2003. Today we’re in a Google-Amazon-Facebook oligopoly world, and Big Tech has been conspicuously quiet this time around, suggesting they may be rich enough not to care. Some, like award-winning jazz musician Maria Schneider, say net neutrality be damned: we’ve already lost big to Google, and companies had already been denying us content access even under the Obama-era guidelines. And let’s not ignore the regulatory gap created by the AT&T vs. the Federal Trade Commission case, which rules that the FTC is banned from regulating a company if they are, even in a small way, regulated by the FCC. If there’s one thing that both sides can agree on, it’s that the internet is increasingly central to our lives – and the more it matters, and the more money there is to be made, the more we’ll fight about it. –CIS
9. The (near-)death of arts journalism
“It’s not that the book critic goes before the city hall reporter. It’s that the book critic goes before the guy who covers high school hockey,” wrote Jed Gottlieb in a comprehensive review on the state of arts criticism last January. Buzz about the impending demise of arts journalism started gaining steam around 2008 (though troubling signs were in evidence well before that). A flurry of publications – ranging from newspapers like the San Jose Mercury News and the Houston Chronicle to magazines like Time and Newsweek – have slashed A&E sections due to declining subscriptions, free-falling ad revenues, and questions about the relevance of arts criticism in the age of social media, when seemingly everyone is a critic. Even stolid institutions like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have not been immune to cuts to arts and entertainment coverage. In the aftermath, arts critics are opting for buyouts, shifting (by choice or not) to freelance positions or other beats, or exiting the field altogether. News outlets have answered declining readership by pushing writers to create generalized content (read: puff pieces) that arts patrons and hockey dads alike will click on their e-readers, keeping dwindling ad revenue rolling in (for now). Yet critical arts writing has seen a resurgence in alternative venues, with foundations and arts service organizations committing dollars and programs toward initiatives driving innovation in arts criticism and nonprofit journalism, including the emergence of artist-critics who both make and comment on art. To some, however, these shifts can create questionable conflicts of interest. Debate continues – mainly among writers, some employed, and some not – over whether the loss of the independent arts critic’s subjective, evaluative voice will prove a bigger blow than artists would like to admit. –LW
10. Obamacare passes and survives…so far
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, topped our annual review of Arts Policy Stories back when it became law in 2010. Over the years we watched Obamacare have a rocky start, overcome two challenges in the Supreme Court, and battle against increased premiums. Still, we believe Obamacare has been the piece of federal legislation that has most deeply affected the arts ecosystem in the United States in the past ten years. We think this for three reasons. First, by increasing affordable healthcare options for freelance and low-income folks, Obamacare reduces the financial risk often associated with careers in the arts and may allow more individuals from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to enter the field. Second, lower out-of-pocket healthcare expenses (after taking subsidies into account) for previously uninsured artists may allow artists to spend less time working non-artistic “day jobs” and more time in their artistic medium. Finally, by reducing out-of-pocket expenses for newly insured folks (although not the promised $2,500 annually), Obamacare affords individuals more disposable income to participate in the arts. While several attempts by the Trump administration and current Congress to dismantle Obamacare have failed, the recently signed tax legislation could dramatically elevate costs by repealing the insurance mandate. Congress has acknowledged that such increases could also be used to justify cutting $1.3 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid, both of which enroll artists. Even so, Obamacare, or something like it, is likely to exist for at least a little while longer, to the continued benefit of the arts ecosystem. –AA
- Corporate media consolidation
- The rise of Kickstarter and equity crowdfunding
- The 2016 U.S. presidential election
- Culture and its place in global Sustainable Development Goals
- Detroit Institute of Arts rescues/is rescued by Detroit
- The rise and (partial) fall of creative placemaking
- The rise of effective altruism and tech philanthropy