The Press Has Its Part in Culture War. (Convention Speeches)

By Partsch, Frank | The Masthead, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

The Press Has Its Part in Culture War. (Convention Speeches)


Partsch, Frank, The Masthead


Editorial pages helped save the National Endowment for the Arts in the culture wars of the 1990s, Bill Ivey told an NCEW convention audience. Now, Ivey said, a new role exists for editorial writers in a debate about the arts.

Two important debate subjects were deferred during the 1990s, Ivey said. One concerns the means by which "our American experience and values" are presented to the rest of the world. The other deals with the protection of the country's cultural heritage--as represented in the visual arts, film, music, literature, and the like--from exploitation by people and institutions in a position to restrict public access.

Ivey, a folklorist and musician, was named to the NEA post in 1998 by President Bill Clinton after 27 years as director of the Nashville-based Country Music Foundation. He returned to Nashville in 2001 to head a center at Vanderbilt University that will seek new approaches to the financing and preservation of artistic and cultural materials.

Ivey lamented a "post-Cold War collapse of cultural investment"--a decline, for example, in U.S. Information Agency cultural programs that has left the private sector entertainment industry to be the main ambassador of American culture. When the 9/11 terrorist attacks awakened Americans to the reality that they are not universally loved, Ivey said, the Bush administration responded with a Madison Avenue-type public relations approach that Ivey termed "a tiny keyhole peep at the bigger question.

On the question of preservation, Ivey said irreplaceable materials--he called them the nation's "intangible heritage"--are in private hands, locked up by copyright laws, warehoused in places where they might be sold or lost in the event of a corporate takeover, particularly by a foreign buyer. A discussion about ownership and access questions, he said, might include a look at laws restricting private property in the name of environmental protection or architectural preservation. …

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