elspeth revere

CC Talks With: Elspeth Revere of the MacArthur Foundation

Allison Domicone, October 29th, 2010

Elspeth Revere
Elspeth Revere,
MacArthur Foundation
/ CC BY

Elspeth Revere is the Vice President in charge of Media, Culture and Special Initiatives at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation has generously supported CC since our founding in 2002. Join MacArthur and help keep CC going strong by making a donation today.

Can you give us some background on the MacArthur Foundation?

MacArthur is one of the nation’s largest independent foundations. The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society.

With assets over $5 billion, MacArthur will award approximately $230 million in grants this year. Through the support it provides, the Foundation fosters the development of knowledge, nurtures individual creativity, strengthens institutions, helps improve public policy, and provides information to the public, primarily through support for public interest media.

The Foundation was established in 1978.  Last year, it made 600 grants for a total of $230 million.

What is your role there?

I am Vice President in charge of Media, Culture and Special Initiatives.  We have three ongoing areas of work. The first is in public interest media, where we support public radio, documentary films, deep and analytical news programs, and investigative reporting. The second is support to over 200 arts and culture organizations in our home city, Chicago.  The third is institutional support to help strengthen nonprofit organizations that are key to the Foundation’s grantmaking fields so that they will exist and be effective over the long term.  In addition, we conduct a changing set of special grantmaking initiatives that are intended to be short-term and responsive to a particular problem or opportunity.

The MacArthur Foundation is a private foundation (not a corporate sponsor) that supports Creative Commons – what was the motivation behind this generous giving? What is it about CC that you find important?

In about 1999, MacArthur began exploring the question of how the digital revolution would impact society and the issues that the Foundation cared about and what a Foundation like MacArthur could do to help people understand and shape this phenomenon for the overall good.  We held a series of consultations and some of the people who later became founders of Creative Commons, including Larry Lessig and Jamie Boyle, talked to us about both the promise of technology to unlock information and make it widely and easily available, and the concern that digital tools could also be used to limit the public availability of information.  They, and others, helped us to understand that copyright laws, originally intended to regulate industry, were increasingly regulating consumers and their behavior — and this was even before blogging, podcasts, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and all the other sharing tools that we now rely on.

In 2002, MacArthur began a six year funding initiative on Intellectual Property and the Long-Term Protection of the Public Domain.  Our first grant to Creative Commons was made that year.  It was an exemplary organization for us to support because we were looking for new models of thinking about intellectual property in a digital age.  All told, we have made 4 grants totaling $3.15 million to support its work.  And Creative Commons has become a successful tool for sharing information in the arts, sciences, governance, and education throughout the world.

What is the link between the MacArthur Foundation and CC? Do you use our tools in your work? Or are our tools more applicable to your grantees?

MacArthur policy calls for openness in research and freedom of access to data. We encourage our grantees to explore opportunities to use existing and emerging Internet distribution models and when appropriate open access journals, Creative Commons licenses or other mechanisms that result in broad access for the interested field and public. While we do not insist that grantees use Creative Commons licenses, we do suggest their use when appropriate and practical.

What do you see as CC’s role in the broader digital ecosystem? How does CC enable the MacArthur Foundation and its grantees to better innovate in that space?

Creative Commons has made all of us more aware of information sharing — how and why we use the information of others and when and how we will let others use what we create.  It has provided the tools to allow us to share what we make both easily and widely if we want to do so. It has enabled communities to form around the world to work on common interests ranging from music and governance. And it has demonstrated that these communities can solve legal, technical and practical problems together.

Help make sure Creative Commons can continue to develop and steward tools that are crucial to sharing information in the arts, sciences, governance, and education throughout the world. Make a donation today.

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