Live@DC Policy Day: Creative Capitol: Music, Culture and Policy Under Obama

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Creative Capitol: Music, Culture and Policy under Obama


Primer: The 2009 inauguration of Obama — plus Democratic majorities in Congress — meant a shift in the power dynamic in Washington, DC. How are creative industries faring so far in this administration? Rumor has it that music is enjoyed and revered in the White House, but these are also trying times for policymakers. Can a pro-arts agenda be balanced with pressing economic and infrastructure concerns? Does the cultural community have a role to play in recovery? What legislation will make it out of committee and onto the floor? Top staffers from the House and Senate will discuss the key music-technology-policy issues playing out on Capitol Hill, and how musicians are engaging.


  • Shawn Chang Counsel, House Energy and Commerce Committee
  • Matthew C. Hussey Telecommunications Legislative Assistant for Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME)
  • Maggie Juliand Legislative Assistant for the Office of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY)
  • Benjamin Staub Professional Staff, House Judiciary Committee
  • Daniel Swanson Counsel, Senate Judiciary Committee
  • Jean Cook Director of Programs, Future of Music Coalition (moderator)

Long introductory speeches from each panelist.  Lots of attention towards Performance Rights Act, including hybrid, ‘sliding scale’ proposals currently under discussion.  Also, arts-related causes and spectrum inventory.

Jean Cook: Spectrum issues, what are the implementation details?

Matthew C. Hussey: Spectrum a ‘scarce resource,’ so an issue they are watching.  A ‘crowded space’ in urban areas, but ‘they do understand that FCC is trying to work through these,’ but legislation is ‘not something we’re getting that deep in’ because of the FCC.  Also issues tied to unused spectrum, maximization, something that is being investigated.  Idea is to see how they can provide a good regulatory system that allows easier use, no overhauls, etc.

Shawn Chang: Concurs that the FCC has the technical know-how to handle this sort of allocation.  Supportive of bill that would improve reallocation processes, want to make sure that federal agencies have the proper resources to make transfers in an efficient way.

Jean Cook: What do ‘arts folks,’ arts community come to you to discuss?

Maggie Juliand: Arts have a big impact on local communities.  References ‘Sweet Home New Orleans’ organization, and if you break it down to a local level you can see that it has a real effect.  Explaining the full impact is important, important to keep arts funded at a higher level, esp. in the current economy.  That is a positive message to share with members.  And, until you can hook a member to something that makes sense for their communities, it is hard to create the impact.

Daniel Swanson: What you say is as important as how often you say it, especially given the high level of turnover among Congressional staff.  Must be an annual event, build relationship with existing staffers, and make relationships with new staffers.

Benjamin Staub: Love talking to artists, most powerful meetings happen when artists share stories of actual monetary situations.  Helpful to say, ‘this song in this television show and this artist only got this much for that,’ and ‘very helpful for us to get examples’ to make things concrete.

Matthew C. Hussey: Showing the impact that arts have on communities is critical.  Oftentimes, first thing that schools do is cut art programs, but arts often have a very strong impact on student lives.  Opportunity to reach out to state or district offices.  If not always able to come to DC, engaging with state staff is one way to keep an issue alive.

Jean Cook (Twitter question): Is this the year when lots of low-power FM stations come online?

Shawn Chang: House has taken up the matter, hoping this is something that will be enacted this year.

Jean Cook: How to distinguish between artists and larger copyright organizations and corporations?

Daniel Swanson: Corporations will always be there, and broader economic issues are important, but individual artist stories are more powerful.

Benjamin Staub: Washington is often playing catch-up, it’s difficult to stay on top of it.  So many different ways to distribute, moving quickly.

Maggie Juliand: Actual interest among lawmakers in meeting with these people.  And, ‘we love to meet with you,’ and ‘arts cannot always be the first thing to go,’ and ‘hard to find that reaction in politics,’ and encourages attendees to tap into that opportunity.

Audience question: Economy has had such an incredible impact on the arts.  Can Congress create laws that don’t ‘stand in the way’ [hard to pick a question out of the long statement]…

Next question: Efforts to re-write Communications Act?

Shawn Chang: Discussed complementary role btwn Congress and FCC, but not much guidance on timetable.

Matthew C. Hussey: A great deal of uncertainty, greater role for Congress to play a role.  More aspects and changes seem to demand a re-write.  It would provide more opportunity for people to work together.  ‘Private sector can’t do it alone, public sector can’t do it alone’.

Question from the audience: ‘Quantifying the qualitative,’ beyond the narratives is there any hope for getting metrics or positive stories of people trying to get quantitative results from qualitative, arts-focused campaigns?

Matthew C. Hussey: Some studies.  Including a study that showed improved aptitude for babies listening to music in the womb.  But, other issues also competing, so frequency matters.

Maggie Juliand: ‘Hard to make the issue more tangible,’ so trying to connect on a personal level is ‘the impetus for change,’ and studies and analyses are something to really consider.  But, ‘the economic situation’ may require an uptick to really get more energy on this.

Closing remarks?

Daniel Swanson: Quantitative is good, qualitative also sticks.  Stories of artists trying to get by, ‘those types of stories can influence decision-making up on Capitol Hill’.  Get out an tell your story, make an impact.

Benjamin Staub: Elections coming, important to get artist-related issues into the discussion.  This is an important one.

Maggie Juliand: The most critical thing we can do is to talk and meet.  That is critical for affecting policy change around the arts. 

Matthew C. Hussey: In telecommunications, a very contentious time, but also a very exciting time. About 1.6 bln internet users, over 4 bln mobile users.  The convergence is a ‘fascinating’ environment, promotes network neutrality and notes that the FCC will be seeking a lot of public comment.

Also, floor time on the Senate is incredibly important.  Makes it tough many times to get a bill through.

Jean Cook: Thanks, off to the Science Club for cocktails and conversing.  Policy Summit upcoming at Georgetown University in October, and FMC has a newsletter – sign up if you are not already a member.