When former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne wrote his recent much-shared lament about the 1% essentially burning down New York’s house, most people discovered it through The Guardian, a traditional media powerhouse that’s been active (and experimental) in recreating itself for the new digital reality. But the original source of Byrne’s cri de coeur was a lesser known organization called Creative Time Reports, which is part of The Guardian‘s Comment Network. Think of it like this: The Guardian is a shopping mall and its Comment Network contributors are the stores inside. Stepping onto Guardian property then, a curious reader can encounter a farrago of voices from The Arabist to The Vagenda (yes, a feminist blog!), with the small caveat that articles from this more rogue element may not “appear in the House Style.”
Edited by the cosmopolitan and dynamic Marisa Mazria Katz, Creative Time Reports is among the Guardian’s most earnest and vital contributors. The Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, writing for Creative Time, has pointed out that “the arts and journalistic media play completely different roles” in presenting truth, such as it is. Editor Katz believes that “artists—free from the disciplinary restrictions of journalism—can deepen, and also bring a sense of candor back to, public discourse.” (Which might be said also of people not in the arts, but merely on the earth, since Katz runs a Casablanca-based project teaching blogging and citizen journalism to young people without advantages.) Creative Time’s chief goal, according to Katz, is “to restore the voice of the artist in society by pushing them back in the spotlight as critical thinkers who actively participate in the issues of our time.” And if it takes the traditional, journalism-restricted Guardian to trumpet the voices, so be it. David Byrne himself could attest to the power of amplification and borrowing: it was Talking Heads’ cover of Take Me To the River that introduced a whole generation of new wave scenesters to the Reverend Al Green, who wrote and sang it originally. (This was long before Obama sang Green at The Apollo.) In the song’s parlance, Creative Time takes these singular voices to the river, The Guardian drops them in the water. We get to drink.