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Polarization and the Art World

By Art, Creators No Comments

Art Basel Miami has once again blown us away with the diversity and depth at the top of today’s art world. Before the fair got underway, its director warned the New York Times that this year’s edition was so packed with art and events that, “If you don’t pay attention, you can miss the quality of the Miami show.”

It’s a quote that has stuck with me. In our recently released Creator Economy Report, we found that just 2.1% of visual artists and designers who post their work online earn income—any income at all—from doing so. And we weren’t surprised to discover that white artists were much more likely to end up in that lucky sliver of the population.

For centuries, of course, starving artists have lived and worked side-by-side with the prodigies of their generation. Polarization is not new in the art world, and few would argue that it’s anything like a meritocracy. But the sheer scale of today’s middle-class-free art world stands out. Art Basel’s own director sounds overwhelmed by the immense numbers of artists who, at least for one weekend, have “made it.” But, on the other end, over 5 million Americans showed their art online and less than 50,000 earned even a modest living from it.

What do we make of this? Is it even a bad thing? The aspirant-to-star ratio is surely no worse than in sports. Nearly every vacant patch of grass in this country is occupied by soccer-playing tykes on fall weekends, but no one seems concerned about our shortage of careers in professional athletics. Perhaps it is only natural that fields like sports and the arts should have a narrow upper echelon and a vast community of hobbyists, with nothing in between.

There is one important difference, however. While capitalism seems to do just fine providing all the sports we could ever watch and Title IX has vastly expanded opportunities for young people to play sports, fine arts has a major access problem. Even though nearly everyone agrees that arts education is vital, children of color are significantly less likely to take art classes. Gaps like this extend throughout our lives: Black people are more likely to want to go to art museums than whites, but less likely to be able to do so.

These inequalities, of course, run much deeper than the arts and are part of an American system that does all it can to protect the privileged while limiting the opportunities and choices of everyone else. But, for now, let’s focus on how we can expand access to the arts and carve out a middle class for artists because—believe it or not—for once there is a clear and significant step forward that we can take.

Across the world, promoting and funding cultural activities is considered a core function of governments. The United Kingdom (a country with about a fifth of the population of the US) spends over a billion dollars each year to support artists and enhance their culture. Here, the National Endowment for the Arts has a budget of just $167.5 million and, perhaps more tellingly, its budget just went up after a Republican plan to eliminate it backfired.

The last few centuries of art world polarization should be enough to convince us that capitalism alone won’t make art accessible. Just look at NFTs which were heralded, for a week or two, as saviors of the starving artist: the whole, failed concept worshiped at the altar of scarcity. No, if we want to give the five million aspiring American artists a chance to earn a living and enrich our lives, the first step is to multiply the NEA budget by 10, at the very least. And then—with their help—we can get to work on those big, systemic inequalities.

The Comeback of the Crafts(wo)man

By Creators, Small Business No Comments

We are in the midst of capitalism’s favorite time of the year. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday kicked things off. Our favorite shows have been overtaken by ads for the latest iPhone, the hottest video game, and the shiniest car that we most certainly do not need. And a few of these ads even boast about how their products are “Made in America” (or “Designed in America” in Apple’s case). But the businesses I want to tell you about are usually smaller than “small” and their proprietors are more likely to call them passion projects than “businesses.” For many of them their products are not just made in America but sometimes in our own neighborhoods. Across the US, there are over 3.4 million creators who make and sell their crafts online. The craftsman is making a comeback, and it’s being led by women. Read More

The Future of Our Economy Depends on Creators of Color — And the Courts

By Courts, Creators, Legal No Comments

The opening months of the Biden Administration have left the Black community cautiously optimistic that the President will honor his commitment to the economic empowerment and security of Black people. However, we know that the next four years will be an exercise in holding this Administration accountable. They have made many promises, but few are as significant or as urgent as the need for progress against the enduring racist relics that continue to disenfranchise and destabilize historically marginalized communities. Black people must use our power to bring about systemic change and not settle for words or gestures during this moment of political opportunity. Read More


A Year in the Life of the Creator, During a Pandemic

By Creators No Comments

It’s February 2020.

SaVonne just resigned from her full-time job to finally dedicate her time to growing her business, Aya Paper Co., an eco-friendly card company. She would rush from one event to another, hopes still intact, completely oblivious to what the next month would bring.

Quetzal, 3,000 miles away in California, had his whole year planned out. The formally trained violinist and musician — with the stage name QVLN — had a west coast tour lined up and international gigs scheduled for Europe and northern Africa.

Jason was in the zone, creating the world of Andromeda, where freedom is delicate; time is scarce; and the apocalypse is nearing. Little did he know that reality would eerily resemble fiction all too soon. Read More

How a Battle Between Tech Giants Threatens Creators Most of All

By Copywrite, Creators, Internet, Legal, Start Ups

On October 7, 2020, the Supreme Court will hear a pivotal copyright battle between Google and Oracle. The outcome is all the more uncertain following the sad and unsettling news of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing.

At the heart of the debate, the court must answer two key questions (1) do copyright protections include software interfaces, specifically application programming interfaces or APIs? and (2) is Google’s use of APIs to create a new program considered fair use?

How does this impact artists and other creators? Their decision will ultimately be about when, how, and how much creators can build on the work of others. This case, yet again, hinges on what is considered copyrightable and what is open source.

The basics
This case centers around APIs – application programming interfaces. APIs are essentially lines of code that allow one computer program to communicate with another. For example, if you want to check the weather on your iPhone, you open your weather application. Apple is not a weather company, so they need to communicate with a weather reporting system and pull the data using an API, which enables them to display the weather on your iPhone in a more user-friendly manner. Same goes for travel aggregators like Kayak, Google Flights, and Orbitz. For years, APIs have been considered open source, thereby allowing anyone to use them in creation of new applications, computer programs, and electronic devices.

However, in 2010, Oracle filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Google, claiming Google copied Oracle’s Java API for the purpose of Google’s Android operating system, essentially arguing that APIs are not open source. A district court agreed with Google’s fair use argument, stating “So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API.” Oracle appealed to a federal court, which reversed the district court decision, concluding that the APIs in question were copyrightable. This decision created shockwaves in the creative community. Google appealed to the Supreme Court, and here we are today.

So what’s at stake?
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Google, then business will continue as usual. However, if they rule in favor of Oracle, there are important factors to consider. Here’s how this ruling could impact both creators and consumers.

The impact on the creative community

Legal scholars, program developers, and computer scientists have all warned that a ruling in favor of Oracle may create a chilling effect, reducing innovation and handcuffing the creative community. If APIs are deemed copyrightable, new innovators, start-ups, and third-parties will be at a great disadvantage, having to acquire the appropriate licenses, which can be an insurmountable barrier for anyone new on scene. Interoperability plays a central role for new start-ups, as it enables the little guy to reach large markets, otherwise not accessible to them, levelling the playing field. This interoperability also offers consumers more choices when deciding to try a new innovation or app. As one computer scientist put it, “[t]reating software interfaces as copyrightable would be like requiring car manufacturers to invent a substitute for the steering wheel.” Furthermore, companies and copyright owners may now have an incentive to seek out litigation to prevent the use of their APIs without the proper licenses, thereby perpetuating a chilling effect.

The impact on consumers

The ease of interoperability has greatly benefited consumers. While consumers are not necessarily learning new code, they are learning how different softwares and applications work. They invest time and money in applications, devices, and other computer software to carry out day-to-day activities. Making APIs copyrightable limits communication between the many devices they use at work and home. This limitation will inevitably limit some consumer choices, locking them into one set of devices or programs, which hinders competition and competitive pricing.

The long and short of it is that consumers, start-ups and second-comers all benefit from the use of APIs. Creators use APIs in both the distribution and production of their creative content. A decision to limit that ability paves the way for a harder, and possibly more expensive, path for artists, innovatives and creatives.