China has a long history of censoring free speech and media content in an effort to control the information its citizens consume. In 2016, Reporters Without Borders ranked it 176 out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index, and that position is likely to keep sliding as China continues to fortify its virtual borders. (By comparison, Russia ranks at 148 on that same index.) This month, China went after Apple, which had long received somewhat preferential treatment in the country, shutting down its iBooks Store and iTunes Movies just six months after those services launched. That same day, it abruptly suspended a partnership between e-commerce giant Alibaba and Disney, struck in December 2015, which allowed Alibaba to license streaming Disney content. China also significantly tightened restrictions on foreign nonprofits under the guise of national defense, echoing Vladimir Putin’s policies in Russia. The month ended with a move against one of its own: China suspended Ren Zhiqiang, an outspoken property magnate, from the Communist party in retaliation for Ren’s publicly criticizing President Xi Jinping’s call for loyalty from the Chinese media. All signs seemingly point to the government of the world’s most populous country getting more and more repressive by the week.
Google Books scores a big win for fair use. A decade-long copyright battle has finally come to an end as the United States Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge from the Authors Guild and other writers claiming that Google’s scanning of books to make excerpts available on its search engine, without the authors’ permission, is a form of copyright infringement. Guild members believe Google is providing an illegal free substitute for their work, depriving authors and publishers of potential revenue. (An original 2005 settlement, later rejected by courts, would have required Google to pay authors.) The Supreme Court did not comment on its decision, but the crux of the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals’s earlier ruling in Google’s favor was that despite scanning entire books, Google is only supplying “snippets” to the public. Since in most cases these snippets are vetted so as not to actually satisfy a reader’s need for the entire book, Google’s use of them can be considered “transformative” as permitted by the fair use doctrine in U.S. copyright law. The court also considers these excerpts primarily a source of information about the full texts, and individual authors have never been guaranteed “an exclusive right to supply information… about [their] works” under copyright law. ArsTechnica posits that “in the long run, the ruling could inspire other large-scale digitization projects.”
From robot-building to social innovation, Silicon Valley invests in artists: In mid-April, a group of artists, impact investors, philanthropic funders and social innovators launched Upstart Co-Lab. Led by Laura Callanan, who was briefly the NEA’s Senior Deputy Chairman under Jane Chu, the new collaborative aims to connect more artists with social entrepreneurship and impact investing opportunities, recognizing the importance of artists as catalysts for economic and social change in the private as well as public sector. With partners including the Ford Foundation, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Oberlin College on board, some of Co-lab’s more ambitious initial proposals include a new Creative Economy Index Fund (comprising U.S. public companies across the creative industries) that seeks to enable targeted impact investment in the arts for the first time. An “ArtPath” national initiative also promises to help artists develop career skills and plans to better make a living from their creative work. Meanwhile, according to a recent Washington Post report, one particular sub-sector of Silicon Valley is especially in need of creative professionals like writers who can “engineer the personalities” of virtual assistants, i.e. Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. An ambitious new crop of virtual assistant startups (garnering at least $35 million in investment over the past year) is developing bots that can engage in not just mundane office tasks but more “human” interactions, requiring the same types of colorful personalities and detailed backstories as Hollywood characters. Up for debate is just how lifelike to make these virtual assistants without causing psychological confusion. Yet giving these rookie robots enough “people skills” to handle all possible workplace situations (including avoiding being provoked by their “bosses” into publicly offensive behavior) seemingly requires the skills of true artists.
Music, art and the Panama Papers. The Panama Papers–a leak of 11.5 million files from the database of the world’s fourth-biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca–rocked the world when they were released this month by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The Papers–the largest leak in whistleblower history–reveal the myriad ways the rich have exploited tax havens to conceal their wealth, and have fascinated and horrified the public in equal measure with their scope and complexity. They implicate some 143 politicians, including twelve national leaders among its pages, with a $2 billion trail that leads all the way to Russian president Vladimir Putin. So what does this have to do wit the arts? For one thing, Putin’s apparent use of the St. Petersburg-based cellist Sergei Roldugin as his “bag man” has sparked the public’s imagination. More substantively, the art market, which this year has reached astronomical proportions, has had its underbelly exposed by the scandal. The papers reveal several instances of potentially shady dealings, raising troubling questions about the value of provenance and the legality of ownership.
Cinema returns to Gaza. The embattled Gaza Strip once enjoyed a vibrant cinema culture, with more than a dozen cinemas across the small territory showing films almost daily. In 1987, these cinemas burned during the first Palestinian uprising. They were repaired, only to be destroyed, definitively, in 1996. In January, Gaza Cinema, led by members of the production company Ain Media, quietly began a movie-going revival. They rented a small events space, and screened “Oversized Coat,” a 2013 film from the Jordan-based Palestinian director Nawras Abu Salehl. As word has spread, so has demand; this month the organizers added a second weekly show. Tickets are priced at an accessible $2.50, allowing many to participate their first-ever movie-going experience. For the moment, the organizers are focused on Palestinian films, though they plan to expand their content (with permission, of course).
MUSICAL CHAIRS / COOL JOBS
- After twenty-five years with the McKnight Foundation, Neal Cuthbert has announced he will retire from his position of vice president of program at the end of this year.
- Robert L. Hughes has been named the new director of K-12 strategy at the Gates Foundation.
- Regina R. Smith has been appointed managing director of The Kresge Foundation’s Arts & Culture Program.
- The Ford Foundation seeks a Program Associate. Posted on April 8; no closing date.
NEW RESEARCH OF NOTE
- Several recent reports provide insights into United States philanthropy and the arts. According to the the 2016 edition of the BNP Paribas Individual Philanthropy Index, the U.S. ranks first among four regions worldwide in terms of the commitment of its philanthropists, followed by Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Yet the Foundation Center’s snapshot of 2013 arts and culture giving demonstrates that arts funding did not keep pace with a general rise in U.S. foundation giving that year; the arts also received a lower share of overall giving than in the previous three decades.
- Two reports this month parsed film data. One shows strong evidence that movies featuring black actors not only keep up with films at the box office and among the critics, but blow away films with no black actors at all. A second analysis, published in Polygraph, breaks down the dialogue of some 2,000 films by cast member age and gender, revealing some stark realities about equity.
- How Cities Can Grow the Maker Movement, published this month by the National League of Cities, explores the emergence of the maker movement within a selection of major U.S. cities.
- How much TV do millennials watch a day? A new report out from Nielsen suggests not all millennials (that’s people 18-34) are the same.
- Americans for the Arts’s latest National Arts Index measuring the vitality of arts and culture in the United States shows American exported arts goods rising in value and new technologies as increasingly important in engaging arts audiences, among other findings. Meanwhile, SMU’s National Center for Arts Research (NCAR)’s second Annual Arts Vibrancy Index ranked Portland, Austin and Kansas City as some of most vibrant art cities in the U.S.; they join a “top 20” list that also includes New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
- This month, the Education Commission of the States and Arts Education Partnership published its 2016 “State of the States” comprehensive survey of state policies for arts education nationwide.
- ArtPlace America released two field scans this month focusing on housing and public safety, kicking off an ongoing effort to assess “how arts and cultural practitioners have and might be partners” in achieving a range of ArtPlace’s community development goals.
- A first-of-its-kind study commissioned by several major US museums shows that the effects of arts programs can last well into adulthood. In other news, US museums spent nearly $5 billion on expansions during the time of economic recession between 2007-2014, more than the other 37 countries examined put together, according to research by The Art Newspaper.
- The percentage of Americans who visited a library in the past year is down sharply, according to a Pew report on the Future of Libraries–and technology may not be the only reason.
- For the first time, UK higher education data experts QS have ranked universities by their performing arts capabilities, with two music and drama conservatories making it into the top ten this year.
- A recent Creative Capital survey of its artist grant recipients from 2000-2013 found that the awards have had significant impact on both artists’ visibility and income.
- The LA County Arts Commission released a literature review on how organizations have addressed issues of diversity and cultural equity, as a first step towards achieving the November 2015 resolution from the County Board of Supervisors to diversify local arts organizations. D5 also published an annual report on the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy. Related, in a paper recently published in The Sociological Quarterly, sociologist Keith Leicht argues that the conversation about inequality in America revolves too much around disparities between groups and not enough on the disparities within them.
- Barry’s Blog’s recent survey on how nonprofit arts organizations use communications internally and externally revealed that while many report “information overload,” few have formal communications plans (or staff) to address this issue.
- Research from the Chicago School of Business found that setting a donation option as the default in a charitable appeal can sometimes increase revenue, but not always.
- New research commissioned by The Guardian into the 70 million comments left on its site since 2006 provides the first quantitative evidence that articles written by women and minorities are more often the victims of internet abuse and trolling. Also across the pond, The Stage published two reports on arts professionals in the UK, one finding that local arts graduates earn less than graduates of any other subject, and the other showing that women leaders at the country’s top subsidized theaters are paid £29,000 less on average than men. But here’s something to inspire “confidence” about making a living as a visual artist: inflating your ego might also inflate your prices! A new study from the European Journal of Finance suggests that the work of narcissistic artists earns more at auctions.
- An exploratory paper out of the UK found mental health benefits to participating in drum circles. Are we all in fact born with a beat? Recent insights from neuroscience (aided by small zoo’s worth of dancing animals) shed light on the biological origins of rhythm.