Info You Can Use: Revise Your View Of Contracts

I don’t regularly crosspost about things I have written on Arts Hacker. I sort of feel like I am cheating readers by trying to make one post do double duty on two websites.

However, I have a post today about a session on contracts conducted by the partners at GG Arts Law at the recent Arts Midwest conference.  As I mention in that post, contracts and legal issues always seem to be a concern for arts managers. I have attended multiple conferences in different regions and contracts and law sessions are always well attended, even if they deal with the exact same subject matter as the year before.

What grabbed me about this session was that Brian and Robyn from GG Arts Law started by telling attendees to shift their thinking about why contracts exist and what they are used for.  On television and in the movies, we often see someone suffering under the constraints of a contract they signed and perhaps they get saved by some obscure provision on the bottom of page 731.

While that might be closer to reality for big corporations, it isn’t really applicable on the scale most arts organizations operate on.

Which isn’t to say it doesn’t happen or people don’t try. I believe it was Brian from GG Arts Law that related a story about a contract that was being translated from Spanish where the person was only going to translate part of the contract because they intended to spring a “gotcha!” on the other party using the contents of the untranslated portion.

What Brian and Robin tried to convey was that contracts should be used to memorialize the details of an agreement at the end of a conversation rather than be used at the start of a conversation.  If someone follows up an inquiry by immediately sending their contract, don’t be afraid to start taking notes or marking it up with the changes you want. There are no iron-clad, non-negotiable industry standards no matter how much people may swear there are.

Even though people are often intimidated by contracts or see it as a bludgeon with which to enforce behavior, that isn’t really what it is for.

Take a look at my post and give the concepts there some serious thought. It may change your whole relationship with the contracting process.

There will be two other posts about contracts coming up on Arts Hacker. The second should appear on Wednesday and is a continuation of my goal to provide general information about contracts. The third is more focused on collaboration and commission contracts and will appear at some point in the future.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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