Opening Up the Star

Photo Credit: apoorva.iyer/34743263@N08/6088324232/">Don Jensen
Photo Credit: apoorva.iyer

It’s been awhile since I wrote a publisher’s note. Given the tenor of some rather absurd comments I have heard about the nature of my magazine over the past month, however, I feel compelled to speak.

I have said it before but I must repeat: The Seattle Star is not an arts magazine. Anyone who believes this has chosen selectively to regard as mere anomalies the historical articles of Jeff Stevens, the personal essays of Tamiko Nimura and Shari Shepard, or the reflections of Nathan Vass, not to mention my own work which is nominally about some aspect of the arts but is in fact a survey of something quite a bit greater.

That greater thing is the intricacy of a larger culture, the network between all nodes of life in Seattle that form our identity.

In their inheritance of the mythology of divine inspiration and impassioned genius, artists love to believe that somehow they are in that world but not of it. By their purport, art serves allegedly as some safehaven, some safe retreat from the daily toll life wreaks on the poor human spirit that only they can heal. This is, to put it politely, utter bullshit. Art that operates in a public space is firmly bounded by public concerns. Gallery artists are bound to the facts of physical space in hanging their art; they obey the functions of transportation in moving their work or themselves. Performing artists who require private (or even public) spaces are just as bound by the vicissitudes of Seattle’s real estate market as any restaurant. Musicians must honor the Department of Planning and Development’s occasionally absurd noise ordinance and the crushing stupidity of the “Opportunity to Dance Tax.” All of these artists equally share responsibility for the dismal status of the specialized “artist” class that belongs just as much to the power-knowledge elite as any university academic.

I have recently written about Robert Douglass’s Open Well-Tempered Clavier project and HiveBio’s DIYBio hackerspace at the Talaris building. The Douglass article is nominally about Bach. It is actually about preventing a small handful of private corporations from controlling access and attitudes toward music. The HiveBio article is nominally about the opening of a hackerspace for amateur scientists. It is actually about how intellectual property law and rampant fearmongering have combined in our society to cripple innovation and restrict “science” to the realm of some secret knowledge cabal, carefully selected and funded by your loving and trusting government and Corporate America. And, too, my theater reviews have never been whether or not I like a play, but rather how the widespread banality on Seattle’s stages reflects a larger social rot in its inability to deal with daily human reality right now, right here.

Behind all those projects is a tacit belief in the idea of a public commons, a commons not only of place and resources and infrastructure but also of ideas and practices. That commons is the passion of The Seattle Star. It is what drives every single article we have ever published. Our firm belief is that the world requires now an ecology of knowledge that relies upon public participation to create, to maintain, and to grow. This is the point of our reader-supported model. This is why we offer our hard work and our weary selves to you essentially for a pittance. This is why we do not have a paywall or advertising. Such quaint ideas belong to the world of market-based, privately-attuned journalism, and that model to us is no longer relevant.

I believe the way forward for our city is through a greater openness that permeates every aspect of our civil lives. I am also aware that such an idea sounds positively mystic to most people who have no idea what openness means.

To help out all the perplexed people, I have been hard at work on a larger project: translating a series of books and articles on the subject into e-book formats, readable by anyone who can read the Star online. These texts all belong to the Creative Commons, and are licensed as such. So, too, are my versions. Each of them deals with issues close to our souls: technological change, free software, open access, journalism, science, economics, citizenship. Authors include Yochai Benkler, Cory Doctorow, Lawrence Lessig, Philippe Aigrain, and others. As I finish preparing them, I will make them available here through the Star.

The first of them is a fine introduction to the rest to come. The Open Book, a crowdsourced publication by the Finnish Institute in London and the Open Knowledge Foundation contains twenty-six essays from A to Z on different but related subjects within the Open Knowledge movement. DIY journalism, open source education, free software, citizen-drafted political bills, and many more subjects receive thoughtful treatment here. It is an excellent peek at what is possible in a more open world, with open knowledge, open access and open minds. It shows, too, a great awareness that all of its subjects are inextricable from each other.

I hope these books help to educate you about the not-so-hidden mysteries and puzzles of Open Knowledge. At the very least, I hope they dispel the myth that, in our ever-shrinking world, one can afford to pretend there are no alternatives to “the way things are.” If I can shake even one Seattleite from complacency about civics, technology, arts, sciences, business, or law, then all this work shall have been worth it.



The Open BookePub version

The Open BookPDF version

Categories Politics

Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net

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