Art & Economics

In the 21st century Artists will finally get paid. Someone is going to have to foot the bill for creativity, because in the information economy, creative content is a nation state’s most important natural resource. “The wealth creation in an economy of ideas is dependent on the capacity of a nation to continually create content or new forms of widely distributed expression, for which they will need to invest in creative human capital throughout the economy and not merely gadgets and hardware.” (Venturelli 14).

Industrial Age à Information Age

As in all philosophical shifts much of the 20th century was spent applying the ideas of the industrial age onto the increasingly visible information age. At the dawning of the 21st century we are still relying on the Research and Development model of the industrial revolution which asserts that artists are valuable because they are involved in unorthodox activities which lead to innovations in the cultural sector and can sometimes even be applied to other sectors. This model values the artists’ final products, or “deliverables”, if it generates change and growth in the marketplace of ideas.
In the information economy innovation is still celebrated but the process itself of investigation and creation is valued in its own right because it adds to the cultural capital of a people. It is the content with which we do business. People participating in unorthodox activities is revered not because it may lead to something, but because it is something in its own right, a natural resource, it adds to the stockpile. Documenting these investigations and releasing them into the environment is the duty of anybody who wants to contribute.
Since humans will spend increasing amounts of time consuming information “Nations that fail to meet this challenge will simply become passive consumers of ideas emanating from societies that are in fact creatively dynamic and able to commercially exploit the new creative forms” (Venturelli 12).
Successful societies will draw on as many citizens as possible to participate, demystifying the notion of artist as a creative genius who works independently in an art laboratory, and then gives his gift to the world. This will cause growing pains and ego-smashing at first, but once the creative class has digested this idea, they will begin to see themselves working in an interdependent environmental infosphere that has the same requirements as the natural environment of balance, diversity, and interaction. Of course every sector of society can contribute to the growth of the creative sector.
Some Important Terms: The Marketplace of Ideas v. The Mental Environment
In order to understand the Information Economy more clearly we need a new set of terms. Instead of referring to “The Marketplace of Ideas” with its foundation in Adam Smith’s economic philosophy we should instead be moving towards the concept of the “Mental Environment”. The former is a remnant of the industrial revolution, where streamlining and automation are benefits. Even more anachronistically, this model is based on laws of supply and demand which don’t appropriately describe the cultural industries.
Cultural products work differently than industrial products such as hammers. “Information products are not consumed one unit at a time. Rather, each product unit is designed to be utilized repeatedly by many, thus becoming more valuable with each use. While the value of a single industrial product such as an automobile, refrigerator, or computer decreases with usage, the precisely opposite effect applies to an information or cultural product. A film, book, television program, or software product increases its value disproportionately the more it is used, viewed, or applied by increasing numbers of people” (Venturelli 8).

The value of information products is boosted at an accelerated pace in networked environments such as the Global Internet. Embracing the metaphor of environment as opposed to industry forces us to understand one of the underlying issues facing policymakers today- infodiversity.

Mixing It Up

In his introduction to Human Use of Human Beings Norbert Wiener uses the example of consolidated telegraph birthday messages to point out that the economies predicated on pure profit motives tend to homogenize and limit information, as well as stifle creativity (8).

Homogenization makes information distribution easier to control. The long term effects of these imperatives can be quite pernicious; homogenizing consumers in order to assert control and streamline information distribution can cause a people to become fallow.

“A nation without a vibrant creative labor force…does not possess the knowledge base to succeed in the Information Economy, and must depend on ideas produced elsewhere” (Venturelli 15).

Corporations as Parasites

Policymakers and grant givers are increasingly in a precocious positions.[1] Corporations have become a dominating force of cultural life both at home and abroad. In the United States, Corporations have had a negative impact on the Mental Environment by acting like parasites. They find a deviant or anomalous collection of individuals and before this evolved layer of the environment has a chance to grow and contribute to the larger environment they attach themselves to it, draining all the nutrients that they need, often leaving the original members disillusioned and confused.
In order to fulfill their economic imperatives, these parasite corporations homogenize this information or fit it into pre-existing models in order to make it palatable to its consumers. Additionally, they often mystify the foundational ideas, making them inaccessible to their consumers.
For example, by appropriating the punk aesthetic which cyclically emerges from the underground but striping it of any real political content, in particular the notion that is founded on a belief of DIY, each generation of new indoctrinates to the punk ideology become further and further removed to the point. In communities where parasites have caused punk communities to dissolve, thus destroying natural generational continuity.
It is all a matter of scale. These organizations are frightening because of their size. They are consuming too much of the mental environment’s natural resources, and they are not returning enough nutrients in the form of educational programs and funding, funding for specialized or small scale ventures, and new layers of un-explored terrain to the environment.
Sense of Place
The information economy requires artists (everyone) to gain a regional identity. If an artist can engage and be informed by their immediate surroundings they can then export their ideas which have a regional flavor and contribute to the global mental environment. Instead, large corporations, because the economic imperative to homogenize and control information structures need to appeal to national audiences, and therefore water down their content, and in the process prevent entire generations of having access to diverse data streams which would allow them to be and effective participant in the information economy. Hence the total homogenization of the radio, which not too long ago had a regional flavor.
Paradoxically it may be that public and private money should be given to regional avant-garde artists particularly those with the goal of corrupting, recontextualizing, or destroying information created by corporations with hegemonic intentions. In order to fight a virus that is breeding out of control it may be necessary to quarantine certain institutions (like schools and museums from corporate involvement). It may also be necessary to kill off certain spores which have become damaging to the overall environment.

This is particularly true on the international scene. Countries funding cultural revivals are thinking about their own economic future, and are not necessarily stuck in the past. They are engaged in the funding of a variety of locally grown cultural activities in order to fend off Americanization, but also to adquetly set up their cultural secotrs for future success. [2]

Smashing a McDonalds window is not only a sign that McDonalds may be infringing upon a historical dietary tradition, but that the country’s future dietary development is at stake. If the American corporation of MCDonalds becomes too dominant in a particular region, gastronomies the world over will be drawing on the same source material and inspiration.

If American corporations are polluting our data streams with an excess of redundant information it may be time to make them clean up their waste. Clear Channel is clearly a redundant source of information, and it is polluting most of air(waves). If we don’t clean that up we will continue to breathe in pollutants which limit our ability to contribute positively. Sadly this boring task of cleaning up the existing mess may have to come before anything else.

Conclusion- The Answer is to Look Out Your Window

If we think of the of the creative sector as a mental environment those regions of the world which foster the natural resources, by giving out seed money, watering pre-existing institutions with increased funding, and encouraging the migration of creative people through scholarships, creative spaces, cultural economics zones and funding will be able to build a sustainable, vibrant ecology.


Some Short Term Goals (That even the most uncreative [and therefore soon to be obsolete] bean counter can agree too).

“Broaden access to capital from conventional and unconventional sources

Lower taxation on creative risk taking

Remove content obligations and liabilities for entities that produce and distribute expressions

Ensure that a constant stream of new ideas and cultural forms trickle into the public domain through ‘fair use’ access protections

Assure reasonable, though not excessive intellectual property rights for innovation in ideas, technology and science” (Venturelli, 18).

Safe Spaces

A short term goal in America is for public and private moneys to ensure that each city has a few “safe spaces” with economic stability. These include places where any type of activity is accepted access to information and materials are abundant and convenient. These centers will be catalysts for the growth of creative industries, and will attract tourists, and new citizens as well as retain young people.

Facilitating performance centeres, Zine libraries and print shops, and public use computer labs and A/V studios etc. will allow a gift economy to take hold locally. This is useful because it increases the cultural capital of city, increases visibility and the attraction of the creative class, and facilitates self education. This is already happening and tends to be in line with industrial lines of creative workshops, but these spaces need to be highly visible, and celebrated. And most importantly they need to be well staffed with knowledgeable people who have a mission statement to encourage diverse contributions to the local creative sector.

Works Cited

Venturelli, Shalini. “From the Information Economy to the Creative Economy.” Moving Culture to the Center of International Public Policy. The Center for Arts and Culture, Washington DC.

Wiener, Norbert. Human Use of Human Beings. 1968. London: Sphere Books.

Florida, Richard. The Rise of the Creative Class. 2002. New York: Basic Books.

[1] In the United States corporations continue to play regionalism tag by pitting different parts of the country against each other, promising huge employment rewards for the city that best serves their interests with major tax breaks, such as Payment in Lie of Taxes and other lopsided economic agreements. Cities want to attract these companies, particularly high-tech and leisure/tourism endeavors but are forced to bid against each other because most corporations have no particular regional or community attachment.
However, most U.S. cities also advocate a platform of recruiting and retaining young professionals in the creative sector, which have been identified as major economic catalysts. These two decisions are often at odds, especially in situations such as my current residence of Syracuse, New York where the decisions to further subsidize the burgeoning cultural district downtown was superceded by the decision to give a major tax break to a corporation in order to expand a shopping mall/entertainment unit on the outskirts of town.

[2] “Mechanisms of cultural revival include, for example: lottery systems to subsidize film production (UK), taxes on cinema receipts (France), differential postal rates to encourage domestic magazine content (Canada), tax levies on commercial publishers to subsidize small-scale independent publishers (Germany), and structural funds and tax breaks to encourage private investment in content enterprises (Canada, France Australia, India)

One Comment

  1. Zigxotic
    March 26, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Wow, this is pretty naive, and the policy recommendations are damn tepid, but not a bad map of the Hacker and Vectorial class a la Hacker Manifesto for a public policy student who knew squat-all about open source culture or new media, or really anything when he wrote this.

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