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Bill  Ivey

Bill Ivey

Folklorist, Author, Arts Advocate & Former Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts


Bill Ivey is recognized as a cutting-edge thinker and author working at the intersection of culture and public policy. His new book, Rebuilding an Enlightened World: Folklorizing America, casts a broad net, arguing that centuries-old Enlightenment values are threatened by the resurgence of ancient ways — tribalism, sub-national groups, fundamentalist religions. For Bill Ivey, the collapse of the Enlightenment consensus and the rise of informal culture forms a thread that runs from the Taliban, through the Tea Party, to Trump, menacing civility and the achievements of modernity. But all is not lost. If Americans step out of the frame to adopt the patient listening stance of Folklore Studies to engage different societies and their alternative paths to understanding, the Enlightenment dream can be ignited again. Read More >

Ivey’s thought-provoking, challenging analysis of current affairs offers concerned audiences a unique perspective on a disrupted world and unsettled America. And be prepared; participants in a Bill Ivey keynote should be ready to interact: he thrives on audience participation; Q&A sessions always run long.

Reared in a small mining town in rural Northern Michigan, holding degrees from the University of Michigan and Indiana University, Bill Ivey has enjoyed a career of remarkable achievement and enviable variety. Experience fuels his keynotes on the arts, public policy, and political philosophy. "My life," Ivey says (paraphrasing Jimmy Buffett), "is like a Swiss Army knife with maybe a couple of dull blades." He has been museum director, National Chairman of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, a writer/producer on numerous network and PBS television productions. He has headed America’s National Endowment for the Arts and is the founder of a major cultural policy center at Nashville’s prestigious Vanderbilt University. Bill Ivey served the American Folklore Society as President and as senior advisor for China. He is the author of three books, co-author of one, co-editor of three volumes, and frequent contributor to journals and online publications.

A theme central to Bill Ivey’s work as writer, nonprofit executive, and government official has been the connection between cultural vitality and quality of life. He coined the phrase "Expressive Life" to describe the important space in which cultural heritage and personal creative practice define the good life and has worked diligently to advance arts engagement as fundamental and essential to a life of meaning and purpose. No surprise, Bill Ivey is a passionate supporter of humanities and arts education, a thought-leader who resists the allure of "STEM," dismisses "STEAM," and argues against pervasive attempts to reinvent learning as mere "workforce development."

Bill Ivey is an exciting, challenging speaker — a listener eager to hear other voices, comfortable with enthusiasms of youth. He is an advocate devoted to the importance of valuing culture and artistic heritage, committed to the idea that we can take in alternative knowledge, learn from strangers, connect more deeply with community and family, and find new pathways to lives of meaning and purpose. As Bill Ivey says, "If we can step away from wealth and work as the only markers of achievement and embrace expressive life as an arena of engagement and accomplishment available to all, we just might make the 21st America’s greatest century." Read Less ^

Speech Topics

Rebuilding an Enlightened World: Folklorizing America

What underlying forces disrupt humanity around the world today? Are we alone in our sense of dread and drift? Is it just ISIS and Trump, or is something more profound going on? How can Americans turn things around?

The NEA & America

The National Endowment for the Arts was launched in 1965, a bastion of the Fine Arts beginning its work just as independent film, the Beatles, Bob Dylan enhanced the importance and transformed the character of American popular culture. How did the NEA get this way? Should America re-think its official, government engagement with America’s creativity and cultural heritage? Why does the NEA conversation matter?

Embracing Alternative Knowledge

How do we step out of the frame of understanding that defines the limits of the American imagination? Can we really understand how people in other societies, other places, other cultures think; grasp what they want? Can Bill Ivey link a Native American shaman with a pirated Chinese edition of a Walter Isaacson biography to the character of our digital age into a cocktail that can make us smarter about what the online world is doing to America’s soul?