Surviving Picasso


By Jon

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is reporting that it’s Picasso exhibition earlier in the year generated an economic impact for the state of a whopping $30m. This is according to a study undertaken by local firm Chmura Economics and Analytics. There are good reasons to be skeptical of this kind of analysis, but I can’t comment on this report as I haven’t been able to locate a copy anywhere.

However, I would point readers to the excellent Art Law blog which highlights that the benefits did not come for free, as the VMFA paid fees to bring work on loan. The blog notes that some find commercial arrangements of this type repulsive – possibly to do with the violation of intent, possibly because of the signals it sends. Either way, such an attitude is difficult to defend if the numbers in the study and reports are accurate, and in the current climate, one imagines that there will be more holding of noses than in the past.


Update – Geoffrey_Crayon kindly pointed me in the direction of the full report in the comments, which I have now written about.


What do fashion houses expect to get from fashion copyright?

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By James

For 5 years many designers and at least one fashion trade association have been lobbying congress for fashion design copyright laws in the US.

I have one simple question: what does anyone expect to gain from such a law?

The answer might sound obvious; fashion designers want to stop other designers stealing their designs, right?

But there’s two far more searching questions behind this one simple inquiry:
1. How do fashion houses and designers expect to gain, financially or otherwise, from such protection?
2. Will consumers gain, or lose out?

I’m about as far from high fashion as, well, almost everyone else I know pondering the philosophical question of if and how to protect intellectual property; but as an outsider to the world of high fashion I can highlight lessons from other industries.

How to reward creators and artists is a very serious challenge.  It covers a whole range of  subjects, from arts funding (something Tina looked at recently) to enforcement and royalty distribution.  It’s something I’ll keep coming back to again and again.

Fashion doesn’t suffer the same funding issues as many other art forms.  There’s an established cash tree. Wealthy individuals buy originals. Because top designers inspire/get ripped-off by (*delete as appropriate) street outlets, there’s massive public interest in the world of high fashion. It’s not some remote preserve of the very rich – it’s something everyone can feel a part of, even though very few can afford an original.

And because of the public interest, there’s a secondary industry around fashion events, photographer attendance/licensing, magazine exclusives, brand cross-licensing for perfumes, etc.

So what will fashion copyright achieve?

Prevent cheap high street knock-offs? And for what purpose? For many people, if they can’t buy it from Top Shop or Primark, they can’t afford it.  The only way designers can enter that market is at a price people can afford to pay – and they don’t need fashion copyright to do this; many simply choose not to compete in that market.

Plus, high street outlets still play a role in pumping money into fashion, through shows and events.  Even the public subsidise the extended industry in a way, by paying for magazines.

Take away the near-replicas at the bottom of the chain and you risk damaging the delicate symbiosis that keeps the public interested in what top designers are creating; interest that exists today even though most will never wear an original.

Maybe it’s hoped the law will prevent other top fashion houses from stealing designs?  But isn’t there already a perfect disincentive for that already, in ridicule? Artistic pride and brutal fashion journalism already make a phenomenal team to prevent people taking credit for anything substantially another person’s work. As in other industries; just ask Johann Hari.

Or maybe fashion designers are looking for royalties and cross-licensing deals.  This sounds the most plausible, demanding royalties from cheap imitators. Sounds perfectly reasonable that a high street chain should pay a proportion of the sales cost to the original designer.

But behind the reasonable-sounding premise lies a wealth of  facilitators required to make licensing work.

First and foremost, lawyers. Having rights is all well and good, up to a point of dispute.  Senior partners at some City law firms can expect to take £2m a year.  A 26-year-old IP specialist lawyer told me her hourly rate is £500/hour.  Court action is often the only way to decide what is and isn’t a copyright rip-off.

After all, what is originality but undetected plagiarism? [William Ralph Inge – or maybe I should have claimed that in irony?]

Secondly, insurers. As in the film industry today, investors are incredibly wary about liability for copyright claims, sometimes occurring years or decades after release.  So they insist on indemnity insurance to protect their investment in creation.

And most insurers insist on a meticulous process of clearing that goes beyond what the law requires or exempts through e.g. incidental inclusion or fair use.  Documentary makers have been known to be required to clear or mute the phone ring tone of a passer-by, in order to satisfy a sample clearing process designed by their insurer to minimise financial risk.

In fashion I’m not so much questioning the simple case of protecting whole works; preventing any distinctive dress or suit being copied more-or-less wholesale by a high street outlet.  The system might just work to a point for this single case.

It’s when the inevitable happens, and we start seeing copyright claims over each component decoration, distinctive stitch, trim, cuff, collar, beading arrangements etc; it’s at this point the system will collapse into an administrative black hole.

More importantly, the monopoly granted on each distinctive work has lead in other industries to disproportionate licensing demands; a situation where the sum of each individual IP protected part is way more than the value of the whole.

Commentators have started to question whether the process of clearing music samples, and the disproportionately high royalties demanded for short samples, killed an innovative style of music (sample-based) soon after its creation.

Such specific cases highlight a premise that copyright and patent rights have been corrupted, and now act as a disincentive to innovation in some sectors – achieving exactly the opposite of what IP protection was designed to achieve: a state-granted monopoly to encourage investment and innovation.

The wider copyright debate is inevitably driven by money, and the money lies with those protecting existing portfolios, and the associated industries and business models that have grown up around rights holders.

On fashion copyright specifically; yes, there’s a moral case for the designer to have a right to protect against copying.  But this has to be balanced against wider considerations such as public interest: we have today both an innovative fashion culture and cheap consumer goods.

In the amoral mess that exists right now, has the market achieved the best compromise – when regulation in other sectors has lead to the bulk of time and money diverted to administrators and facilitators, away from the creative process?

The question is not why can’t fashion be protected like other creative works, but why does fashion need a state-sanctioned monopoly.

James Firth

The Big Gives

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By Tina

The UK Culture secretary recently announced the launch of an Endowment Fund worth £55 million, which should purportedly leverage at least £110 million over four years through match-funding from private donors. In his speech, he realistically acknowledged however, that “endowments aren’t for everyone.” It is therefore quite clear that endowments are not a long-term strategy for culture in the UK, but only for a handful of organisations, with wide-reaching appeal and significant resources and capacity for fundraising to begin with.

Encouragingly, since November 2010, there has been a series of good news regarding philanthropy in the sector, with multi-million pound donations from the likes of the Sacklers, Lloyd Dorfman, Dame Vivien Duffield, Andrew Lloyd Weber and most recently Sir Terence Conran.

These gifts alone add up to more than £70 million, which is of course to be greatly commended. Such gifts could therefore potentially increase the overall levels of philanthropy (individual giving) to culture by about 20% from the previous year (assuming there won’t be significant decreases in other parts of the sector).

The recipient organisations of these recently announced gifts include the National Theatre, Tate Britain, the Serpentine Gallery, the Chickenshed Theatre Company and the Design Museum. Most are large or major organisations and based in London.

These are the organisations that are able to raise big gives from major donors, and it will be those organisations that will be best placed to start building their endowments. And to be clear, that is by no means a bad thing – it’s great that very worthwhile organisations are able to raise high-level gifts, with which they can start planning ahead to secure their financial autonomy and sustainability.

So though there is no doubt that these gifts are to be welcomed and encouraged, two obvious questions should be raised:

a) Will the momentum continue and will more wealthy individuals contribute, even if only to the larger organisations? Or is this an ephemeral hype, spurred by the pressures of the current government and the immediate need for more to go to the arts?

b) And what of the smaller organisations without the resources to raise the big gives? What is the strategy and government policy to enable their long-term financial security?

Bad and vested interests

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By James

It’s hard to sum up the bad vibe without mentioning evidence-based policy – a phrase reverberating around the online echo-chamber when Professor David Nutt was sacked for stating that some drugs are more harmful than others.

OK, it was the second half of David Nutt’s message that probably got him sacked: some drugs are more harmful than others… and there is a disconnect between harmfulness and the severity in which the law dealt with individual substances.

Since then, evidence-based policy has become a watchword in Westminster circles.  Digital Opportunity a review of intellectual property in the digital era by Professor Ian Hargreaves  has a whole chapter dedicated to The Evidence Base.

A presentation by officials from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to the FAST Legal Advisory Group (FLAG) stated:

  • Evidence must drive policy
  • Development of the IP [Intellectual Property] system should be driven by objective evidence, not lobbying

But does a focus on a simple catchphrase have the potential to do more harm than good?

There’s no mention of quality of evidence, nor scientific rigour and scrutiny.  Evidence takes many forms, and some research groups charge £2,500 per copy for access to their reports.  It’s hard to have an open and public debate about the findings of any given report when such barriers to access exist.

I’m passionate about government transparency. I believe not only does the public have a right to see how policy is developed, but also that public participation in the legislative process leads to better legislation.

So it irks me when vested interests tout “evidence” backing their calls for legislation. Evidence that is not freely available for scrutiny.  Evidence that allows government policy makers to tick the evidence-based box.

An example is music industry lobbyists, who have made numerous claims as to the impact of online piracy on music sales whilst pushing for stricter laws to protect digital content.   Over time, many of these claims have been rebutted by recognised institutions like the London School of Economics.

Evidence is good – but the issues under discussion are complex, and good quality robust evidence doesn’t come cheap.

How can such research be funded, remain impartial and be freely available for public scrutiny?

Until we’ve solved the funding conundrum I fear that a drive for evidence-based policy will merely lead to industry-backed lobbyists being replaced by industry-backed research “institutions” concocting the “evidence” their paymasters demand.

Importantly, this has an unintended side-effect of making it harder for public pressure groups and citizen lobbyists to counter claims made by industry groups with vested interests; in that, the best way to counter Bad Science is with better science, and who’s going to pay for that?!


Where is the wisdom?

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By Dawn

It may seem curious to start a blog on cultural policy by considering wisdom but it is for me a concept that is often neglected in current discussions about organisational change, sustainability, agility, resilience, call it what you will. So much of the focus has now shifted to knowledge that you could be forgiven for thinking that wisdom had gone out of favour, confined perhaps to religion and folklore, something a little ‘cranky’ even. As has been so eloquently said elsewhere, ‘wisdom has lost credibility and prestige relative to science, rationalism and method in modern times.’ (Wisdom in Organisations: Whence and Wither?)

Where wisdom is raised, it is often in the knowledge management sector in relation to theDIKW (data, information, knowledge, wisdom) hierarchy.

There has, however, been increasing criticism of this model based on the view that it is an oversimplification ( Knowledge Jolt) but it is useful reminder of the possibility of there being a spotlight on something other than knowledge. Accepting that all models are in some ways wanting, for me DIKW has been useful because it has encouraged me to consider anew the concept of wisdom and what it might mean in relation to organisations in the arts and culture sector.

The concept of wisdom has a long history in philosophy, psychology, religion and literature and more recently it has been considered in terms of organisations and knowledge management. Definitions of wisdom vary but tend to focus on core characteristics related to exceptional understanding (based on common sense; learning from experience; awareness of context) and/or judgement (able to consider all points of view and offer sound advice).

Drawing on the Aristotelian philosophical tradition and empirical psychological research it has been proposed that wisdom comprises a number of elements (McKenna, 2008):

  • It is a spiritual and metaphysical quality that takes it beyond pure reason
  • Wisdom includes the non-rational and subjective elements of human experience in relation to decision making
  • Its purpose is virtuous action
  • It is prudent and practical and provides the capacity to see the world as others see it
  • Wisdom understands the circumstance and constructedness of phenomena in and is therefore not reducible to method
  • It is articulate, aesthetic and intrinsically rewarding
  • It is tolerant, born of natural affection for humanity

Wisdom is therefore a combination of both knowledge and judgement but is also firmly rooted in the pragmatics of life it does not exist in rarefied isolation but is contextually based. To my mind these elements point to wisdom being particularly important in contexts of uncertainty. Wise people are aware that there may be multiple aspects to a given problem and accept that while they make reasonable judgements based on available information at the time this view might change as events unfold.

In considering issues of organisational survival, something that is occupying many of us at the moment, the ability to act wisely becomes paramount. However, in the arts and the wider nonprofit sector the capacity of organisations to have the freedom to act on such wisdom is generally governed by the power structures in which they operate. In order to achieve wise outcomes wisdom is therefore required by both the organisation concerned and the other actors in their system. We now have policies that encourage entrepreneurialism but inhibit risk taking based on accountability, promote quality (high cost) and access (low price), encourage innovation but are still intolerant of failure, it is a context rife with paradox.

The experience of many of the arts organisations I have worked with shows that the extent to which they can access the wisdom of their members and act upon it is linked closely to their embedded nature as they are heavily resource dependent on external bodies and any action has to be negotiated both internally and externally. The double bind of accountability and freedom to act needs a wise leadership and management to be able to respond.

This is what takes wisdom beyond being a purely cognitive attribute and why I think it is important to consider; it requires social, ethical and discursive abilities. Managing multiple stakeholders and keeping abreast of current policies takes nimbleness, flexibility, and political awareness, what I would now describe as wisdom. Capabilities that can ebb and flow throughout an arts organisation’s lifecycle and are increasingly difficult to maintain when an organisation is on the edge of non-routine change or financial crisis.

No amount of data, information, knowledge, good judgement, intuition, planning, or decision making is sufficient if it is done without acknowledgment of context and the value of wisdom. This is particularly pertinent in relation to many of the discussions that are being had around change and learning much of which does not seem to take account of such wisdom and is based in a technocratic rationality which privileges cognitive knowledge.

I will close with two lines that are frequently quoted in the knowledge management sector for they provide food for thought…

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

T.S.Eliot, The Rock, 1934

Bad Culture

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By Dawn

Bad, it seems to me, is a small word with a big meaning. It implies a judgement. Something defined as ‘bad’ is generally to be avoided. It is one of those words whose roots are not clear and was relatively rare before 1400 when the term “evil” was more common. Culture is ‘one of the two or three most complicated words in the English Language.’ (Raymond Williams)

So, here we have a potent combination. The unmentionable meets the indefinable! This is why I am here – it is a multidimensional concept that gives plenty of scope for exploration. It is also an interesting challenge to suggest there might be such a thing as bad culture.

My interest in it comes as a practitioner, a reformed policy maker, a researcher and someone who is often directly affected by it. My place in this gang of four, at this point in time, seems to me to be to consider how we make judgements about culture and who drives that agenda. Recent research (Moxham, 2010) into the wider nonprofit sector suggests that most of what happens under the banner of evaluation is driven by the policy makers/funders and the notion of accountability.

There is much claimed in the name of cultural evaluation and for me it is often the home of more that is bad than good. It is also somewhat of a puzzle in that it seems to remain almost universally dismissed or associated with a particular requirement that is forced upon arts and cultural organisations. All too often my involvement in evaluation programmes has shown that what is really required is an advocacy document (i.e. to demonstrate ‘good’ culture) not an in-depth reflection or analysis that might inform future practice. Not something that might be remotely linked to genuine learning. It is a site of many paradoxes that I hope to explore in the coming months.