On the plane to Chicago for the Americans for the Arts (AFTA) annual conference, I was working on my presentation for another conference, AIMAC (International Association of Arts and Culture Management). This paper, “Means and Ends: A Theory Framework for Understanding the US Arts and Culture Sector,” includes an operational definition of “arts and culture sector” as context for the discussion of arts entrepreneurship. I though about this definition over and over again during the first day of the AFTA conference as the issue of sector boundaries arose again and again in different ways.
First, at a meeting of arts researchers at which we were asked to develop a “wish list” for arts research, a colleague commented on the need for a standardization or defining of the sector so that we wouldn’t be “always talking about apples and oranges.” Then, Bob Lynch unveiled AFTA’s newest advocacy video in which a young adult asks, “What is art, anyway?” before reading a dictionary definition that focused on human expression and creativity. Then, during a brief Q&A with Theaster Gates following his keynote speech, the moderator quoted Stephen Colbert who, during his interview of Gates on The Colbert Report, said “You are turning things into art that I used to not have to think about.” So art is expressive and creative, and makes us think in new ways. Good, but is it enough to define an entire sector of human endeavor? I share below an excerpt from my paper that uses three characteristics to define “arts and culture sector.” Not being a philosopher, I hesitate to take on the bigger question of “what is art?” but for research purposes think a sectoral definition useful. In a more academic tone, the short version of this follows. Feedback is welcome, as always.
In Europe and the Commonwealth countries the “creative industries” are more widely understood than in the US. For the purposes of this paper, however, “arts and culture sector” is not a set of industry codes, as might be the case in defining “creative industries,” but rather considered to be that sector of economic and social activity that places artistic production at its center and from which culture results. This sector has three primary characteristics.
Products of the arts and culture sector convey symbolic meaning, have a use value first in the communication of ideas and only secondarily in their functional capacity (see Bilton & Leary 2004, and Martin 2004), and may be produced by industrial or artisan means. However, Caves (2000) notes that regardless of the method of production, the products of the sector are differentiated by what he calls the “infinite variety property (2000, p. 6). Thus, the arts and culture sector is distinguished by the uniqueness of its products from the larger “creative economy” defined by Howkins (Howkins, 2002) as inclusive of the copyright, patent, trademark, and design industries. Another important distinction is made by Williams (1981) “between the corporate ownership of the means of cultural production associated with the development of mass reproductive technologies, and the survival of older artisanal methods of production, typically the non-market area of cultural production supported by public subsidy” (in Galloway and Dunlop 2007, p. 24). The control of the means of production by the artist and/or artistic producer is a method for arts and culture entrepreneurs to convert available means into desirable ends. Thus, for the purposes of this research and its conceptualization of arts entrepreneurship, the arts and culture sector is understood to produce outputs that are unique, have symbolic meaning, and the production of which is controlled, at least in part, by those who generate the creative ideas at its foundation.