I wrote a book

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It is remiss of me not to mention it here, but last month I published a book. Available now from various Australian bookstores, my first monograph is entitled When the Goal Posts Move: Patronage, power and resistance in Australian cultural policy 2013-2016. It is published by Currency House as part of their long-running Platform Papers series.

The book is a short history of Australian cultural policy in the years 2013-2016, encompassing the end of the Rudd-Gillard Labor government and the first term of the Abbott-Turnbull Coalition government.

This was a tumultuous period in Australian cultural policy. Significant austerity was imposed on federal arts and cultural funding. Around $400 million was cut from the budget of the ABC, and around $300 million from the budgets of federal cultural agencies like Screen Australia the Australia Council for the Arts.

Most controversially, at least for the purposes of readers here, the federal government under former arts minister George Brandis, launched an audacious funding raid on the Australia Council in 2015. $105 million was subtracted from the Australia Council and given to a new cultural slush fund, revealingly entitled the National Program for Excellence in the Arts.

Brandis’ funding raid was about more than just moving the budget line around: it was nothing less than an assault on the institution of the Australia Council itself, and with it a four-decade tradition of arms-length funding decided by artistic peers. The politics were just as blatant: Brandis wanted to punish what he saw as undeserving (and politically suspect) art funded by the Australia Council, and redistribute the money to a palette of works and artforms that he liked: classical Western music and opera, by and large.

The pain of the Excellence raid fell squarely on the parts of Australian culture that many consider to be the most creative and innovative: the so-called “small-to-medium” sector of smaller arts companies, and the great bulk of individual artists and small collectives applying to the Australia Council’s grant programs. In a decision of remarkable cynicism, Brandis specifically ruled that the Australia Council must protect the funding of the 28 so-called “major performing arts” companies that make up the bulk of the Australia Council’s budget, thus making it inevitable that the funding cuts would fall on smaller players.

The Excellence raid revealed major schisms within Australian culture. The Australia Council and its board were shown to be impotent, even supine, in the face of the calculated political assault. Major cultural institutions that many thought would defend their colleagues were conspicuously silent; Opera Australia even welcomed the decision. The Australia Council’s board, which features media celebrities and well-known former artistic directors, said nothing.

The raid sparked national protests from artists and led to a Senate Inquiry, which took 2,700 submissions and issued a scathing report on the government’s actions. It also spurred a remarkable grass-roots protest movement from affected artists and small companies — one that proved surprisingly politically effective — called Free the Arts.

Why was the Australia Council so vulnerable? And what is the future for Australian cultural policy? This paper explores the broader socio-political environment that allowed a conservative government to launch the most damaging attack on the integrity of the Australia Council for forty years. It argues that Australian artists and so-called “cultural leaders” have largely lost or forgotten the vocabulary of public value that might be used to defend the public policy of culture here, a development not unlike that which has occurred in other parts of the public sphere, like universities and public science agencies.

The essay ends with a call to arms to rediscover the ethical and moral imperative of culture making, and the opportunity of convincing fellow citizens of that imperative.

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Where to next for the Google Book Settlement?

This week a US judge ruled against the Google Book Settlement, the latets in a seven year legal saga that I’ve covered in some depth here.

Jerry Brito has a good explainer of the background of the case:

In mid-2005, the Author’s Guild and the American Association of Publishers filed suit to stop Google from scanning any more books. Soon the Author’s Guild’s case was certified as a class-action lawsuit, meaning that anyone who had ever published a book—millions of authors—would be part of the class represented and would be bound by the result of the case.

An Unsettling Settlement

Three years later, after extensive negotiations, the parties announced they had reached a settlement. Google would pay $125 million up front and would then be allowed to continue scanning books and making them available online. More importantly, Google would be allowed to offer not just snippets, but it would be allowed to sell entire text of books as well. The copyright holder would get about 2/3 of the revenues and Google would keep 1/3.

On its surface, the proposed settlement was a boon for all involved. Google would get to continue digitizing books, authors and publishers would get a cut of the profits, and consumers would get universal access to almost all of the world’s books. But reading between the lines, the settlement proved to be problematic.

Because it was a settlement to a class-action lawsuit, it meant that all authors who had ever published a book were bound. Google could scan any book without first asking for permission. If an author didn’t want his book to be scanned or included in Google’s database, he had to contact Google and opt-out. This would have turned copyright on its head.

As a result, many authors protested. The Author’s Guild and the publisher’s association had negotiated on behalf of millions of authors, and many felt the deal didn’t represent their wishes. Almost 7,000 authors wrote to the court asking to be removed from the lawsuit’s plaintiff class.

Saving the Orphans

Another contentious aspect of the settlement was how it treated “orphan works,” books the authors of which are unknown or can’t be found. It’s a well-known problem in copyright that members of Congress have tried to fix several times.

The problem is that if a company like Google wants to digitize a copyrighted book, and it can’t find its author to ask for permission, then its choices are 1) scan the book anyway and face heavy penalties if the author surfaces later and sues, or 2) leave the book undigitized and out of a universal library. As a result, hundreds of thousands of books are in a kind of limbo, not accessible to readers even if the author may well have been fine with digitization.

The Google Books settlement presented a solution to the problem. Because it bound all authors—-known and unknown—-Google could proceed to scan orphan works without having to worry. If an author later surfaced who didn’t want his book used, he could no longer sue Google. He could opt-out of the program and claim a check for the revenues associated with his book, but no more.

Some welcomed this solution to the problem, but others, including the Department of Justice, pointed out to the court that it would give Google a monopoly over orphan works. Because the settlement would only apply to Google, if another party like Amazon or the Internet Archive wanted to create its own digital library that included orphan works, it would not get the same protection.

And it wouldn’t be easy for other to get the same deal. Short of Congressional action, the only way a company like Amazon could get similar treatment would be to settle a class action suit of their own—a very difficult and time-consuming set of events to replicate. Additionally, because the authors and publishers who negotiated the Google deal are getting a cut of revenue, some have suggested that it would be in their interest to make sure Google remained a monopoly and would therefore not settle as easily with other parties.

What’s Next

Because class-action lawsuits can be as controversial as this one, the law requires that a court approve a settlement before it becomes binding. The court accepted over 500 briefs from various parties supporting or opposing the settlement and early last year held a hearing on the fairness of the settlement. It rejected the case yesterday.

The options available now to Google and the authors and publishers are:

  1. Continue litigating the original lawsuit, which is an unlikely scenario.
  2. Amend the settlement to make it opt-in, meaning that authors would have to give permission before their books are scanned.
  3. Appeal the judge’s decision to a higher court.

Judge Chin seemed to invite a new settlement, saying in his opinion that “Many of the concerns raised in the objections would be ameliorated if the [settlement] were converted from an ‘opt-out’ settlement to an ‘opt-in’ settlement.”

In the New York Times, Robert Darnton, himself a librarian and a strident if highly-0informed critic of the deal, weighed in with this opinion piece:

This decision is a victory for the public good, preventing one company from monopolizing access to our common cultural heritage.

Nonetheless, we should not abandon Google’s dream of making all the books in the world available to everyone. Instead, we should build a digital public library, which would provide these digital copies free of charge to readers. Yes, many problems — legal, financial, technological, political — stand in the way. All can be solved.

The Chronicle of Higher Education carries a good interview with Pamela Samuelson:

It’s the only ruling really that the judge, I think, could have made. The settlement was so complex, and it was so far-reaching. With the Department of Justice and the governments of France and Germany stridently opposed to the settlement, it seems to me that the judge really didn’t have all that much choice. So the ultimate ruling, that the settlement is not fair, reasonable, and adequate to the class, is one that I think was inevitable.

The thing that surprised me about the opinion was that he took seriously the issues about whether the Authors Guild and some of its members had adequately represented the interests of all authors, including academic authors and foreign authors. That was very gratifying because I spent a lot of time crafting letters to the judge saying that academic authors did have different interests. Academic authors, on average, would prefer open access. Whereas the guild and its members, understandably, want to do profit maximization.

The EFF’s Corynne McSherry has this analysis:

On the policy front, the court recognized – as do we – the extraordinary potential benefits of the settlement for readers, authors and publishers. We firmly believe that the world’s books should be digitized so that the knowledge held within them can made available to people around the world. But the court also recognized that the settlement could come at the price of undermining competition in the marketplace for digital books, giving Google a de facto monopoly over orphan books (meaning, works whose owner cannot be located). The court concluded that solving the orphan works problem is properly a matter for Congress, not private commercial parties. Sadly, Congress has thus far lacked the will to do so. Perhaps yesterday’s decision will finally spur Congress to revisit this important issue and pass comprehensive orphan works legislation, that allows for mass book digitization.

That said, the court also got some things fundamentally wrong in its copyright analysis. For example, it states that “a copyright owner’s right to exclude others from using his property is fundamental and beyond dispute” and then proceeds to quote at length from the letters of numerous authors (and their descendants) who share the misguided notion that a copyright is, by definition, an exclusive right to determine how a work can be used. We respectfully disagree. Copyright law grants to authors significant powers to manage exploitation of creative works as a function of spurring the creation of more works, not as a natural or moral right. And those powers are subject to numerous important exceptions and limitations, such as the first sale and fair use doctrines. Those limits are an essential part of the copyright bargain, which seeks to encourage the growth and endurance of a vibrant culture by both rewarding authors for their creative investments and ensuring that others will have the opportunity to build on those creative achievements. Thus, as the Supreme Court has explained, such limits are “neither unfair nor unfortunate” but rather “the means by which copyright advances the progress of science and art.” If the legal issues raised in the underlying lawsuit are ever litigated on the merits, let’s hope this or any future judge keeps the traditional American copyright bargain firmly in mind.

Michael Liedtke of the Associated Press thinks this is a micvrocosm of the larger anti-turst and monopoly challenges facing Google:

This week’s ruling from U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin did more than complicate Google’s efforts to make digital copies of the world’s 130 million books and possibly sell them through an online book store that it opened last year. It also touched upon antitrust, copyright and privacy issues that are threatening to handcuff Google as it tries to build upon its dominance in Internet search to muscle into new markets.

“This opinion reads like a microcosm of all the big problems facing Google,” said Gary Reback, a Silicon Valley lawyer who represented a group led by Google rivals Microsoft Corp. andAmazon.com Inc. to oppose the digital book settlement.

Google can only hope that some of the points that Chin raised don’t become recurring themes as the company navigates legal hurdles in the months ahead.

The company is still trying to persuade the U.S. Justice Department to approve a $700 million purchase of airline fare tracker ITA Software nearly nine months after it was announced. Regulators are focusing its inquiry into whether ITA would give Google the technological leverage to create an unfair advantage over other online travel services. Google argues it will be able to provide more bargains and convenience for travellers if it’s cleared to own ITA’s technology.

In Europe and the state of Texas, antitrust regulators are looking into complaints about Google abusing its dominance of Internet search to unfairly promote its own services and drive up its advertising prices.

And Google is still trying fend off an appeal in another high-profile copyright case, one stemming from its 2006 acquisition of YouTube, the Internet’s leading video site. Viacom Inc. is seeking more than $1 billion in damages after charging YouTube with misusing clips from Comedy Central, MTV and other Viacom channels. A federal judge sided with Google, saying YouTube had done enough to comply with digital copyright laws in its early days.

One of my favourite comentators on Google is of course the one-and-only Siva Vaidhyanathan, who is quoted in this excellent Inside Higher Ed piece:

Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia and a notable Google gadfly, said the company overplayed its hand by essentially trying to rewrite the rules governing the copying and distribution of book content through a class-action settlement. “Google clearly flew too close to the sun on this one,” he wrote in an e-mail. “…This is not what class-action suits and settlements are supposed to do.”

Vaidhyanathan said that Google now faces the choice of either continuing to fight for its interpretation of copyright law in the courts or scaling back its plans for a digital bookstore. “If Google decides to take the modest way out, it can still ask Congress to make the needed changes to copyright law that would let Google and other companies and libraries compete to provide the best information to the most people,” the media scholar says. “Congress should have been the place to start this in the first place.”

 

 

 

 

My analysis of the ALP’s arts policy

Today in Crikey, I’ve got an analysis of the arts policies of the major parties in the run-up to the 2010 Australian federal election, which will be held this Saturday.

Or at least I would, if the Liberal Party had released an arts policy. It hasn’t.

Barely a week before the election, the ALP has finally released anarts policy. It won’t frighten the horses.

There’s a grand total of $10 million over five years in new money, plus some reshuffling of funding responsibilities between Peter Garrett’s Department of the Arts and the nominally arms-length funding and policy agency, the Australia Council. Garrett has also pledged to implement the National Cultural Policy that he began taking submissions on this term, complete a contemporary music strategy, and review the progress of film funding under the new body, Screen Australia. Continue reading

More liquor licensing and music venues coverage

The controversy over liquor licensing regulation and its effect on small bars continues, with coverage in Melbourne’s Herald-Sun today. One of the interesting points – which I think sums up some of the issues of over-regulation in the sector – is the laws currently causing concern have actually been on the statutes since the 1990s. It’s just that they have only begun to be enforced now, in the wake of community concern about alcohol-fueled violence:

The rules covering late-trading venues with amplified music had been unchanged since the late 1990s. But the crackdown started in the middle of last year when a new compliance directorate, nicknamed “Sue’s Stormtroopers”, started work.
Removing the link between live music and a venue being classified as high risk would not involve a change to the law, Perring says.
Gigs, where people come together to share their love of music, are “exactly the kind of thing you want happening” in licensed venues, he says.
“People who go to see live music are part of a community, they’re there to see a band — and it’s generally all over by 1am.”
The Tote’s closure is unfortunate timing. After years of being hit by nightclubs, live music is having a renaissance.
“Considering all the woes of the record industry, the live industry in Melbourne is alive and well,” tour promoter and record company boss Michael Gudinski says.
“I have full respect for the police and Sue Maclellan trying to clean up the trouble, but live music venues, particularly the ones that support Australian music, aren’t the trouble places. Live music venues are completely different to the nightclub scene. They’re looking in the wrong places.”
Young says the new laws are hitting the Cherry hard.
“I might want to put on Spencer P. Jones on a Tuesday night to play for an hour and hopefully bring in 20 people who are music fans. You wouldn’t do that now because you have to pay security $35-$40 an hour, you have to have two of them working for a minimum of five hours,” he says.
“You’re in a scenario where the musician gets paid $200 and the security guard gets $500 — and you only expected to attract 20 people. So you close on Tuesday and close on Sunday.”

First The Tote, now the Arthouse: Melbourne liquor licensing crackdown claims another casualty

The Arthouse Hotel in North Melbourne. The low-budget venue has announced it will not be renewing its lease, in part owing to extra security costs imposed by the Victorian government

In sad but utterly predictable news, another low-cost Melbourne rock pub has announced it will be shutting its doors.

As reported in Mess + Noise today, The Arthouse Hotel, a low-budget live music venue in North Melbourne, has announced it will not be renewing its lease.

In a statement to M+N, manager Melanie Bodiam, whose family has run the venue since its inception, said the venue has suffered from the same Liquor Licensing regulations that contributed to The Tote’s demise. “The Arthouse is affected by the new liquor licensing laws that kicked in on the 1st of January this year. As a consequence we are now licensed till 1am opposed to 3am as before. I’m sure you can imagine the impact of loss off revenue and staffs wages.”
A frosty relationship with The Arthouse’s current landlord has also been a major factor in the family’s decision not to renew the lease.

Andrew Crook from Crikey has more coverage. Crook claims that Victorian Labor MPs including The Tote’s local member, Richard Wynne, are so worried about the potential voter backlash over the issue that they are seeking to modify tough new security regulations imposed by Liquor Licensing Victoria:

As hallowed punk-rock incubator The Arthouse announced it was going the way of The Tote and shutting its doors next year, the owner of several live music venues, and a leading candidate to take over The Tote’s license, Jon Perring, told Crikey he will meet next week with Victorian gaming minister Tony Robinson to thrash out a new deal that would see security linked to a venue’s alcohol sales as opposed to current laws which are triggered by the presence of “live or amplified music”.

“I’ll be seeing Tony Robinson. It’s a no-brainer to fix, it just requires the commission to de-link security compliance with live music and relate it to alcohol consumption,” Perring said.

“There’s no relationship between live music and violence. If we can’t fix this problem there’s no way of saving the Tote. It’ll be hasta la vista baby and we’ll be back to watching Lateline.”

A major factor in the demise of The Tote under licensees Bruce and James Milne was a doubling in security expenses from $60,000 to $120,000 a year after the venue was issued with a a new set of demands by Liquor Licensing Victoria chief Sue Maclellan.

[…]

The issue of live music venues is considered a serious election issue by the state government, especially in marginal inner-city electorates that could see sitting members skittled by the Greens. The member for Richmond, Richard Wynne, is sitting on a tenuous 3.1% buffer in his electorate, which includes The Tote. The electorate of Melbourne, which includes The Arthouse, is held by Bronwyn Pike by an even slimmer margin of 1.9%.

The level of interest in the issue in inner-suburban Melbourne can be gauged by the media attention focussed on The Tote’s owner, millionaire Computershare Chairman Christopher Morris.

”It’s amazing, it really is,” Mr Morris told The Age’s Mark Hawthorn. ”There’s more interest in a pub in Collingwood than the performance of Computershare.”

The Tote closes: Licensing over-regulation kills another iconic venue

Melbourne's iconic Tote Hotel is shutting due to liquor licensing over-regulation. Source: Mess and Noise.

It had to happen. The moral panic over street violence in Australian cities has resulted in a indiscriminate crack-down by liquor licensing regulators.

Now that crack-down is destroying live music and arts venues, despite the fact that these venues are in almost all cases non-violent and low-risk. Last year, it was Sydney’s Houptoun Hotel, one of the city’s most important small venues for independent bands. The Hopetoun was merely the latest of many long-dead Sydney music venues. Today, Melbourne’s iconic Tote Hotel has gone the same way, pushed under by high fees and over-zealous licensing regulations meant to stem crime in large nightclubs and hotels.

The Tote is a special piece of Melbourne’s rock music scene (chronicled in low-budget documentary Sticky Carpet). I was there watching Toxic Lipstick on Monday night. A small room run on a low cost, low profit basis, the venue has seen many famous bands get their first opportunity. Just as importantly, it also incubates a significant audience for experimental and innovative new music. I’ll be there on Sunday night for last drinks.

As the Tote’s Bruce Milne sadly records in his last press release, the venue is very safe but is still being levied a huge fee by the Victorian liquor licensing authorities as a supposedly “high risk” venue:

I can’t afford to keep fighting Liquor Licensing.  The “high risk” conditions they have placed on the Tote’s license make it impossible to trade profitably.  I can’t afford the new “high risk” fees they have imposed. I can’t afford to keep fighting them at VCAT.  I can’t renegotiate a lease in this environment.

So, come into the Tote this weekend to say farewell to the sad staff and to feel the sticky carpet for the last time.

I don’t believe the Tote is a “high risk” venue, in the same category as the nightclubs that make the news for all the wrong reasons.  Despite being on a rough little corner of Collingwood, the Tote has had very, very few incidents.  As a local police officer once said, “The Tote’s the quietest pub in the area.” (!).

It’s not dumb luck that the Tote has escaped serious violence.  I believe the business has been run responsibly.  People don’t come to the Tote to fight.  They come because they have a passion for music and love to be in an historic venue that reeks of that same passion.

Vale The Tote.

Little magazines and literary modernism

There’s a great review essay in The Times by Stefan Collini on the role of literary magazines in the rise of modernism as an intellectual movement. I think it’s an interesting topic; indeed, small press and independent publishing has always interested  me and I have been writing recently for one of Australia’s premier little magazines, Meanjin Quarterly.

Cyril Connolly's Horizon is one of the best-known British literary magazines of the 1940s. It published writing by a who's-who of literary figures, including Auden, Eliot, Orwell, Russell, Bowles, Koestler and Greene.

Cyril Connolly's Horizon is one of the best-known British literary magazines of the 1940s. It published writing by a who's-who of literary figures, including Auden, Eliot, Orwell, Russell, Bowles, Koestler and Greene.

“The first function of a literary magazine is to introduce the work of new or little-known writers of talent.” There is an appealing modesty about this brisk declaration, even a kind of impersonality in subordinating editorial ego to the larger good; it seems likely to provoke a murmur of agreement, not least from new or little-known writers. But this is not, of course, the only way in which the function of such publications may be conceived. The editor of one of the many new literary periodicals established in the 1920s announced a no less definite sense of purpose in quite other terms: “I shall make its aim the maintenance of critical standards and the concentration of intelligent critical opinion”. The goals expressed in these two quotations are not necessarily in conflict: editors might, it is true, maintain “critical standards” in a practical way by identifying new literary talent. But the tendency is for the pursuit of these two purposes to result in periodicals of rather different types. One, often thought of as the classic “little magazine”, largely carries new poetry and fiction, mostly by as yet unrecognized writers, often exemplifying a style of writing that is self-consciously, even determinedly, insurgent and unfashionable. The other, committed to upholding the critical or reviewing function, is largely filled with essays and book reviews, taking in the literature of both the past and the present, as well as taking in more than literature; it aspires to shape intelligent opinion and to combat the slackness and puffery of mainstream literary journalism.

There’s much to unpick here, but I will merely add that literary magazines create a much-needed form of cultural capital. By unearthing and promoting younger and emerging writers, for instance, they act as a seed-bed for new talent across the whole literary sphere.

Is this what the new business model for popular music looks like?

The New York Times today documents the green shoots of a new model of music business, spurred by the Polyphonic not-label.

It’s not really a new model at all; instead simply a sensible combination of existing ways to make money.

Under the Polyphonic model, bands that receive investments from the firm will operate like start-up companies, recording their own music and choosing outside contractors to handle their publicity, merchandise and touring.

Instead of receiving an advance and then possibly reaping royalties later if they have a hit, musicians will share in all the profits from their music and touring. In another departure from tradition in the music business, they will also maintain ownership of their own copyrights and master recordings — meaning they and their heirs can keep earning money from their music.

“We are all witnessing major labels starting to shed artists that are hitting only 80,000 or 100,000 unit sales,” said Adam Driscoll, another Polyphonic founder and chief executive of the British media company MAMA Group. “Do a quick calculation on those sales, with an artist who can tour in multiple cities, and that is a good business. You can take that as a foundation and build on it.”

Exactly. Music business academics have long predicted the death of major music labels, because artists can no reach consumers directly through the internet. And, course, artists are. But that hasn’t meant the immediate detah of the label concept, in part because labels were in many cases merely investment holding companies anyway, and in part because labels still employ and/or contract to a pool of expertise about music marketing, distribution and concert promotion – as the artricle itself admits:

Even the major labels themselves are demonstrating new flexibility for musicians who do not want to sign the immersive partnerships known as 360 deals, in which the label manages and profits from every part of the artist’s business.

In late November, for example, EMI took the unusual step of creating a music services division to provide an array of services — like touring and merchandise support — to musicians who were not signed to the label.

The Polyphony model, therefore, is a sensible way of re-organising music industry capital that takes advantages of the diversified risks of a large artist portfolio, but can still capitalise on the hits and modest successes.  It’s still going to require a lot of clever hit curation. But if Polyphony can’t do that, it shouldn’t be attempting this model.

Artists versus Blight: Newcastle, Australia and Cleveland, Ohio

 

Marcus Westbury in NewMatilda.com:

Visitors to Newcastle’s Hunter Street Mall in recent weeks have noticed a sudden abundance of new activity. Since February the not-for-profit company Renew Newcastlehas been taking over some of the 150-odd empty shops in the Newcastle CBD and making them available to artists, cultural projects and creative enterprises.

 

Renovating a shop front, Newcastle. Courtesy of NewMatilda.com

Renovating a shop front, Newcastle. Courtesy of NewMatilda.com

 

 

We’ve convinced private property owners — from the large and publicly-listed GPT Group down to local small business people with only one empty shop — to lend us their vacant spaces. We take them on a rolling temporary basis, keep them clean, spruce them up and fill them with creative initiatives. In Newcastle we’ve placed 15 projects by artists, craftspeople, artisans, jewellers, architects, designers, and publishers. What were until recently empty shops and eyesores are now full of original, local, creative activity. We have about 10 more projects in progress that will open later this month or early next.

Alexandra Alter in the Wall Street Journal:

Artists have long been leaders of an urban vanguard that colonizes blighted areas. Now, the current housing crisis has created a new class of urban pioneer. Nationwide, home foreclosure proceedings increased 81% in 2008 from the previous year, rising to 2.3 million, according to California-based foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac. Homes in hard-hit cities such as Detroit and Cleveland are selling for as little as $1.

Art City

Greg Ruffing/Redux for The Wall Street Journal – An opening-night event at the Arts Collinwood gallery in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood.

Drawn by available spaces and cheap rents, artists are filling in some of the neighborhoods being emptied by foreclosures. City officials and community groups seeking ways to stop the rash of vacancies are offering them incentives to move in, from low rents and mortgages to creative control over renovation projects.

The Toronto Star’s series on Canadian culture

Over the last three weeks, the Toronto Star has been running a fascinating series on the lives and livings of artists in Canada.

While it’s not an academic treatment of cultural policy, there is still much of interest in the many anecdotes that Bruce Demara and his colleagues have gathered on the cultural economy of Ontario, particularly as Canada is in many ways a similar-sized country as Australia.

We Australians often think Canada has quite an enlightened approach to supporting culture, particularly in terms of broadcasting, but as the series reveals there are some disturbing similarities to the plight of our own artists as revealed by Throsby and Hollister’s Don’t Give Up Your Day Job.

The Star’s series reveals that Hollywood film production – long a staple of the Canadian cultural industries – is drying up, probably in response to the introduction of many state-based subsidies in the US. As Allen Scott has shown in his research, this is characteristic of subsidy-based foreign film production – a kind of “hot money” which tends to chase the highest subsidies.