Abandoning Template Based Relationships With Creatives

If you aren’t familiar with Springboard for the Arts, it is an organization based in St. Paul, MN, (with a rural office in Fergus Falls, MN), run by artists, for artists. But that is just the short description of an organization involved with tons of community projects. A few weeks ago, executive director Laura Zabel wrote an appeal to make 2023 the year to practice more equitable contracting with artists.

To start with, she encouraged jettisoning contracts inherited from previous administrators and templates from legal websites and consider creating contracts that aligned with organizational values. That might require finding a lawyer that shared those values in order to create some new contracts. In addition to fair compensation and timely payment processing, she also advocated for a different approach to intellectual property rights and exploring partial payment scenarios in the event a project is interrupted by unforeseen circumstances like a pandemic.

Equitable intellectual property practices: Many contract templates assume that the institution wants and needs to own an artist’s intellectual property in perpetuity and for all uses. Can you make your intentions and needs around IP explicit and specific to the situation? For example, instead of a standard “work for hire” contract, try a tailored licensing perspective with language that specifies “non-exclusivity”. For example: “Presenter hereby grants a nonexclusive license to present and deliver the Event.” This kind of language can help make sure that artists can use their work for future projects or to generate income in a different way. Can you share photos and video with the artist so that they have good documentation of their work?

Realistic cancellation policies: Things are uncertain and we all know there are no sure things these days, so building in contingencies and worst case scenarios is important. Can you structure your contract so that you compensate artists as they work on a project vs. only at the completion of a project? Can you be clear with funders or supporters that if a project is canceled you will pay the artists anyway? Use the contract to lay out multiple scenarios if a project needs to be rescheduled or canceled so an artist can better plan and make sure to include a “kill clause” that details a payment you will make to the artist if the event or project needs to be canceled.

Basically, just as arts & cultural organizations are cognizant of the need to have flexible approaches to delivering their services and seek new audiences, they also need to be adjusting the nature of their relationships with artists, staff, vendors and others who contribute to the success of their organizations.

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive 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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