Nov. 20-21 Conference on Free Expression in the Arts at the
Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
Organized by the National Arts
Journalism Program. Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation,
with additional support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for
the Visual Arts.
| Schedule | Photos
|"In Copyright We Trust?" panelists
from left to right, Richard Masur, Shira Perlmutter, Gigi
Sohn, Siva Vaidhyanathan. Photos by Jeremy Simon.
Disputes about free expression
in the arts have always loomed as struggles between creativity
and repression, transgression and outrage, candor and hypocrisy.
From "Lady Chatterley's Lover" to Andres Serrano's
"Piss Christ," the sequence has been predictable:
Scandalized citizens, religious leaders or politicians fire
an opening salvo of protest or funding cuts. Then artists,
invoking the muses and the First Amendment, fire back, accusing
their accusers of obtuseness and mindless censorship.
While high-profile shootouts at art museums
and less visible skirmishes at schools, libraries and theaters
persist, overt censorship is no longer the only, or the most
dire, threat to free expression. On the one hand, society
has become more accepting of provocative imagery, with media
conglomerates often leading the way in the depreciation of
taboos. On the other, artists, while enjoying some unprecedented
liberties, are hemmed in by new constraints that often fall
beyond the range of First Amendment protection. The current
terrain bears little resemblance to the "culture war"
battlegrounds of a decade ago, much less to what the First
Amendment's framers could have imagined. And in the wake of
Sept. 11, the front lines of the free-expression debate
may be shifting once again.
Free-expression conflicts are increasingly fought
over intellectual property and copyright. Today's artist is
less likely to encounter the ire of a politician than a cease-and-desist
order from a corporation's legal counsel. Entertainment companies
defend their ownership of their products no less fervently
than artists who proclaim their right to sample freely from
an "intellectual commons" of existing creations.
The stakes are enormous: Without a marketplace of sounds,
words and images, the future of the information economy is
potentially anarchic; but many feel that without open access
to source material for artists to draw upon, creativity in
our digital culture is cast in doubt.
In the popular-culture marketplacethe
most visible battleground of free expression in the artsdifferent
business models involve different tolerance levels for controversial
content. But undeniably, bottom-line management and blockbuster
marketing fuel an insatiable "shock market," leaving
the public variously angered, teased, bored, numbed and frightened
by the proliferation of sexual or violent content. Executives
of some Fortune 500 companies have turned from custodians
of mainstream tastes to retailers of sensation, in the process
becoming some of the most fervent advocates of the First Amendment.
Meanwhile, mindful of their public image, purveyors of popular
culture aim to keep the debate about their products and programming
in the boardroom and out of the courtroomclear of any
scandal that would involve the First Amendment.
|Martha Wilson, founding director, Franklin
Furnace Archive Inc.
In the nonprofit arts, trends in patronage raise
concerns about free expression. While much energy is expended
on preventing and mitigating fallout from controversial presentations,
the stifling effects of current funding patterns go unexamined.
As support shifts from the public to the private sectorand
presenters turn toward commercial sponsors and the box office
to help meet the bottom linesome artists face steeper
odds in presenting their work. Here again, the decision to
fund or not to fund, to include or to exclude, occurs before
the First Amendment can exert its protective influence.
Arts audiences, larger than ever, need well-informed
journalists to explain the new free-expression environment.
But even for an experienced reporter, the issues can seem
bewildering, all the more so because of the passions that
continue to polarize the public debate. While art advocates,
joined by corporate executives, frequently espouse a no-tolerance
policy against regulatory incursion on creative freedoms,
many citizens, bombarded by art and entertainment that they
feel has coarsened their surroundings and threatens their
children, are convinced that too little is done to mediate
For the benefit of arts journalists and others
concerned about the arts in America today, the National Arts
Journalism Program will host a two-day conference at Columbia
University's Graduate School of Journalism and publish a research
report on challenges to free expression in the arts. The discussions
will bring together a cross-disciplinary group of participantsartists,
technologists, media executives, lawmakers, museum curators,
theater producers, legal experts, government regulators, free-speech
advocates, and of course journaliststo explore the shifting
frontiers of free-expression in the arts and search for workable
solutions for the future.
Wednesday, November 20
10 a.m.-10:45 a.m.: Conference Introduction
by Michael Janeway,
director, National Arts Journalism Program
Keynote Address by
Lee Bollinger, president, Columbia University
Overview by Andras
Szanto, deputy director, National Arts Journalism Program
of Transgression: The Who, What, When, Where and Why of Censorship
in the Arts
The backdrop to today's free-expression debates is a centuries-old
legacy of conflict over art deemed morally transgressive or
politically irksome by the powers that be. The aims, means
and outcomes of restricting free artistic expression have
varied widely across historical periods and national borders.
This panel of art historians, social scientists and legal
historians explores the history and impact of arts censorship.
On what grounds has censorship occurred, and what kind of
legal principles and institutional methods had it invoked?
Does censorship always have a stifling effect, or have there
been instances where art has flourished not just in spite
of, but as a result of censorship? The panel will examine
the historical record of arts censorship both domestically
and in comparison with other nations, and evaluate how contemporary
challenges to free artistic expression stack up against earlier
episodes of arts censorship in American history.
Moderator: Casey Nelson Blake, professor
of history, Columbia University
Panelists: Rochelle Gurstein, author,
"The Repeal of Reticence"; Marjorie Heins,
author and director, Free Expression Policy Project; Louis
Menand, author, "The Metaphysical Club"; and
professor of English, Graduate Center, City University of
New York; Jon Wiener, professor of history, University
of California, Irvine; and author, "Gimme Some Truth:
The John Lennon FBI Files"
Noon-1:30 p.m.: Lunch
Evidence Room speaker
(1 p.m.): Martha Wilson, founding
director, Franklin Furnace Archive Inc.
1:30-2:45 p.m.: The
New Face of Censorship
|Playwright Betty Shamieh.
Where does censorship occur in the arts today,
and why? In this panel, we survey the landscape of free expression,
with special attention to how First Amendment conflicts have
been affected by today's moral, legislative and political
climate. We also examine the political and financial motivations
behind the moral rhetoric emanating from both sides in censorship
debates. When is the cry of "censorship" legitimate,
and when is it a cover for career ambitions or market forces?
Does "self-censorship" exist, and if so, what forms
does it take? The discussion will take up mediation-oriented
approaches, such as the Artist as Citizen initiative (which
asks artists to consider the implications of their work in
a social context), that strive to reconcile the competing
sides in the free-expression debate.
Online culture is changing the debate about
censorship. On the Internet, pornography and other kinds of
disturbing content are more easily accessible than ever, especially
to children. Technological remedies such as filtering software
don't provide an easy fix--such filters, it turns out, often
filter out art. Should citizens learn to live with graphic
imagery as a price to pay for new media? Can government successfully
regulate content, either online or in traditional media, without
alienating concerned citizens, free-speech advocates or cultural
conservatives? Are there forms of expression that everyone
agrees are "indefensible"?
Moderator: Todd Gitlin, author and professor
of sociology and journalism, Columbia University
Panelists: Amy Adler, professor of law,
New York University; Carol Becker, dean, School of
the Art Institute of Chicago; David Lowenthal, author
and professor emeritus of history, Boston College; Breck
Rice, founder and chief operating officer, Trilogy Studios
Inc.; Betty Shamieh, playwright
2:45-3 p.m.: Intermission
3-4:30 p.m.: Patterns
Many highly publicized free-expression controversies have
involved public financing or use of taxpayer-supported spaces.
Objections to publicly funded art are usually based on that
art's alleged violation of "community standards"┌a
link that has legislative sanction since the Supreme Court's
1998 ruling allowing the N.E.A. to use a "decency test"
in its funding guidelines. Do such objections still keep challenging
art out of nonprofit institutions? Should artists be responsible
for community sensitivities, and if so, how? Complicating
the free-expression story in non-profit institutions are continuing
changes in cultural patronage. As arts organizations turn
to the private sector for support, the bidding for dollars
and the search for box-office hits can encourage safer, more
populist programming. Are museums shunning controversial art
as they transform into palaces of fun and commercial brand-building?
Or conversely, can private funders, free of legislative constraints,
give art institutions the latitude they need to present risky
and challenging art? The discussion examines the link changing
patterns of support and new tradeoffs for artists and their
Moderator: Michael Brenson, author and
Panelists: Peggy Ahwesh, media artist
and filmmaker; Max Anderson, director, Whitney Museum
of American Art and president, Association of Art Museum Directors;
Roberto Bedoya, writer and arts consultant; Marian
Godfrey, director, Culture Program, The Pew Charitable
Trusts; Saralyn Reece Hardy, director, Salina Art Center,
Kansas, and former director of Museums and Visual Arts, National
Endowment for the Arts; Timothy McClimon, executive
director, AT&T Foundation
4:30-4:45 p.m.: Intermission
4:45-6 p.m.: Art
|Brian Lehrer of WNYC Radio moderated the
"Art Meets Entertainment" panel.
The market of art and entertainment products
that reach the general public is determined by an ever-shrinking
number of ever-expanding multinational conglomerates. These
companies are today's largest arts patrons by far, and they
have unprecedented control over what is seen, read or heard
by audiences. The Federal Communications Commission and the
entertainment-industry associations are variously considered
too lenient and too harsh in their attempts to mediate between
consumers, entertainment companies and the public interest.
Do corporations have a responsibility to shape, or respond
to, community standards, and if so, how? Should the public
accept the proliferation of violent or sexually explicit movies,
television programs and pop music as a necessary byproduct
of First Amendment liberties? What is the link between industry
models, company strategies and content regulation, and what
is the net effect of these on freedom of artistic expression?
The corporate consolidation of recent years has diminished
the number of channels through which artists can reach an
audience. Must a songwriter who wants to be heard in Omaha
consider the standards of Wal-Mart before composing a lyric?
Artists, especially in the popular-music industry, have tried
to fight back, but can they succeed?
Moderator: Brian Lehrer, host, "The
Brian Lehrer Show," WNYC Radio
|Olivia Cohen-Cutler and Neal Gabler.
Panelists: Olivia Cohen-Cutler, vice
president of broadcast standards and practices, ABC, Inc.;
Neal Gabler, journalist and author, "Life The
Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality"; Daniel
Okrent, journalist, author and former editor-at-large
and editor of new media, Time Inc.; Douglas Rushkoff,
author and cultural critic; Jennifer Toomey, musician
and executive director, Future of Music Coalition
Thursday, November 21
9-9:45 a.m.: Introduction
Welcome by Michael Janeway, director,
National Arts Journalism Program
Address by Cass Sunstein, professor
of law and political science, University of Chicago
Overview by Andras Szanto, deputy director,
National Arts Journalism Program
a.m.: In Copyright We Trust?
The ownership of images, texts, and sounds is a paramount
legal issue of our time, and nowhere are the implications
more profound than in the arts. Copyright is meant to encourage
creativity by securing limited ownership rights for artists.
But artists today rarely retain copyrights, ceding them instead
to commercial entities that they rely on to distribute their
work. Eager to protect revenue streams, corporations have
fought successfully for the expansion of copyright protection.
Some fear that this has shrunk the "intellectual commons"
of freely shared material that artists can draw on to create
new works. Meanwhile, more and more of today's artists are
weaving existing documents, samples and artifacts┌everything
from James Brown tunes to photographs of puppies to characters
from old novels┌into their creations. For these appropriationists,
copyright has surpassed censorship as the most feared hurdle
to free expression. Meanwhile, despite the clear legal protection
the Napster proceedings reaffirmed for copyright owners, alternative
file-sharing technologies continue to allow anyone with a
computer to download music and films illegally. This panel
examines the impact of intellectual-property laws on corporate
bottom lines and creative practices. To what extent does tighter
copyright law hurt creative expression? Do digital copy protection
and legislation against copy-protection circumvention challenge
existing notions of fair-use and First Amendment protections?
Will copyright subversion undermine the business models of
established arts industries? In either event, how will artists
fare when the current debates about intellectual property
regulation play out?
Moderator: Justin Hughes, professor of
law, Cardozo Law School
Panelists: Charles Mann, author and contributing
editor, The Atlantic Monthly; Richard Masur,
actor and former president, Screen Actors Guild; Shira
Perlmutter, vice president and associate general counsel
for intellectual property, AOL Time Warner Inc.; Gigi Sohn,
president and co-founder, Public Knowledge; Siva Vaidhyanathan,
professor of culture and communication, New York University,
and author, "Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual
Property and How it Threatens Creativity"
11-11:15 a.m.: Intermission
11:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Reconciling
the Commons and the Marketplace
|Panel moderator Monroe Price, author and
professor, Cardozo School of Law.
Proposals for intellectual-property reform are
diverse and sometimes radical. Many experts argue that information
should be more widely available for public use, and that copyright
restrictions are counterproductive and corrosive. Others contend
that corporations should be held to different legal standards
than artists when it comes to free use of content. Still others
advocate further expansion of copyright, or for "fair
use licenses" that would require content users to register
with a central administration, or invoke "moral rights"
doctrines (such as the little-known 1990 Visual Artists Rights
Act) that aim to protect the dignity of the artwork. Can such
legislative and practical solutions address the concerns of
both creators and owners of artistic content? What changes
in institutional and technological infrastructure might help
these solutions along? Where exactly lies the border between
the "commons" and the free market, and how firm
is that line? Are owners and creators of artistic content
bound to oppose one another, or is there room for productive
compromise? These are some of the most exciting legal and
legislative dilemmas of our time. This panel will address
their impact on new approaches to the ownership and dissemination
Moderator: Monroe Price, author and professor,
Cardozo School of Law
Panelists: Allan Adler, vice president
for legal and governmental affairs, Association of American
Publishers; Barbara Hoffman, art and intellectual property
lawyer; Beryl Howell, general counsel, Senate Judiciary
Committee; Wendy Seltzer, fellow, Berkman Center for
Internet and Society, and founder, The Chilling Effects Clearinghouse,
Harvard University; David Sutphen, vice president of
government relations, Recording Industry Association of America
12:30-2 p.m.: Lunch Break
Evidence Room speakers:
(1:30 p.m.) Steev Hise, electronic
musician; (1:45 p.m.) Alexandra Ringe, Illegal Art
2-3 p.m.: Specialized
While concerns about free expression touch all creative practices,
the specifics range broadly from discipline to discipline.
In these working sessions, conference participants will be
divided into groups for targeted discussions on free-expression
issues in specific domains of creativity. Sessions will be
held for visual art, popular music, performing arts, new media
and the literary arts. A separate session will focus on legal
and regulatory concerns. Participants will share experiences,
discuss new approaches and search for new answers to the problems
that are endemic to their field. The sessions will allow closer
interaction between audience members and conference speakers
and generate specific proposals for inclusion in the conference
Discussion Leaders: Visual and Online Art:
Svetlana Mintcheva, arts advocacy project coordinator,
National Coalition Against Censorship; Music: Sasha Frere-Jones,
writer, musician and 2002-03 NAJP mid-career fellow; and Douglas
Wolk, writer on commic books and music, and 2002-03 NAJP
mid-career fellow; Performing Arts: Diane Solway,
dance writer and adjunct professor, Columbia University Graduate
School of Journalism; Legal and Regulatory Issues:
Roger Newman, author and legal historian; Arts Writing
and Self-Censorship: Margo Jefferson, cultural
critic, The New York Times
p.m.: Breakout Summaries, moderated by Mark Schapiro, independent
3:30-3:45 p.m.: Intermission
p.m.: The Free Expression Story
Readers rely on arts journalists to provide a road map to
the new free-expression environment, especially when controversial
disputes erupt┌as they did in 1999 around the Brooklyn Museum
of Art's "Sensation" exhibit. Such controversies
often strike both journalists and readers by surprise. How
can news organizations prepare for such inevitable events,
and how can they avoid the kind of meltdown that accompanied
"Sensation"? What sort of standards and operating
mechanisms could improve the performance of the press when
it comes to reporting free expression stories? Complicating
matters is the proliferation of art that demands news coverage,
while established notions of quality have been discarded in
many disciplines. The challenge of reporting on the fast-changing
institutional environment adds to the arts journalist's task.
Meanwhile, while detailed reportage and insightful storytelling
about art have never been more important, changing news values
and a faltering economy are continuing to squeeze the amount
of space and resources afforded to quality arts journalism.
This panel will also examine a unique dilemma of the arts
journalist's beat: critics are frequently asked not only to
report objectively on their fields, but also to take a stand
on controversies that divide their communities. How can arts
journalists serve their many different masters┌the publications
they work for, the artists they cover, and the public they
inform┌without compromising their objectivity?
Moderator: Ken Paulson, executive director,
First Amendment Center and host, "Speaking Freely,"
|Sarah Jones and Ken Paulson.
Panelists: Paul DiMaggio, professor of
sociology and research director, Center for Arts and Cultural
Policy Studies, Princeton University; Sarah Jones,
playwright, actor and poet; Cathleen McGuigan, senior
editor and national arts correspondent, Newsweek; David
Resnicow, president and co-founder, Resnicow Schroeder
Associates; Danyel Smith, author and former editor
in chief, Vibe
A Selection of Banned and Contested Art
To illustrate the stakes of free-expression debates,
we will host in conjunction with the conference an exhibition
of art that has provoked conflict, including: a slide show
of visual art by artists such as Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe
and Tom Forsythe; listening stations for music that has challenged
copyrights or morals; video stations featuring examples of
film or performance art found transgressive; links to controversial
online art by Etoy, RTMark and selections from the a concurrent
exibition of Illegal Art; and informational resources such
as the online arts censorship archive The File Room and the
Columbia Music Plagiarism Project. A more detailed roster
of exhibition items will be posted in upcoming week. Censorship-related
books and journals, as well as literature that has come under
contention, will be offered for sale in the exhibition room.
A corresponding research report, aimed toward working journalists
who cover issues of free expression, will draw on commissioned
articles, conference transcripts and independent research,
and it will be released in early 2003. Contributors to the
report will include Cass Sunstein, Mark Schapiro, Steven Tepper,
Henry Jenkins, and nearly a dozen fellows and alumni of the
National Arts Journalism Program.