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.

Tax Deductions For The Cost Of Being An Artist

Just before Christmas there was an article about Actors’ Equity union pushing their members to contact Congressional representatives about passing Performing Artist Tax Parity Act (PATPA).  This law would allow more artists to take the Qualified Performing Artist (QPA) deduction which is an:

“….above-the-line” deduction for specific unreimbursed expenses. (Above-the-line deductions are those subtracted from overall gross income to calculate an individual’s adjusted gross income — meaning individuals do not get taxed on such expenses.)…

The current QPA stipulates that those with an adjusted gross income of $16,000 (before these specific deductions) are eligible — an amount that has been unchanged since the QPA was first implemented in 1986. PATPA would increase this threshold to $100,000 for single taxpayers and $200,000 for joint filers, rendering many more entertainment workers eligible for the deduction.

Experts estimate that entertainment professionals spend between 20 and 30 percent of their income on work expenses — from agent and manager fees to headshots, equipment and professional development.

This law would also help other performing artists who likewise incur many personal expenses in support of their professional career. Drew McManus created a website with great visuals that tracked these myriad costs for string instrument performers in 2017 so you know the costs have only gone up since then and may be greater or just as great for other musicians, dancers, etc.

As I was looking to see if other performing arts unions were encouraging people to write their legislators, I discovered this is an effort that has been underway since around 2019. However, since the current Congress is about to end, there is a push to get the legislation passed. If you are interested in writing a letter, you can do so via a the form here.

Creativity For Solving Problems, Not Monetizing

Diane Ragsdale recently made a post about the design and intent of the Masters of Arts in Creative Leadership program she is leading at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD).

In answering the question about why one would study leadership at an art and design college, she writes:

Creativity is consistently ranked as one of the most important skills for navigating the complexities of the 21st century….Creativity was equated in business schools with the scaling of innovations towards the ultimate goal of stimulating economic growth. I didn’t want to hook beauty onto that value chain. I would sometimes quip: This beauty course is not aimed at putting beauty in service of business. My aim is the opposite. I want leaders to put business in service of beauty.

[…]

The creation in creative leadership as we are interpreting it at MCAD is based in a foundational premise that there are ways of being, doing, and knowing that are inherent to artmaking and design that are both undervalued by society-at-large and incredibly valuable at a moment in which we are looking at the “end of the world as we have known it” and the need to make a new one

I have often written in opposition to the prescriptive approach to the arts as a way to solve problems, similar to how Ragsdale alludes to the interest of businesses to monetize creativity for the future. Essentially viewing it as a tool to be used and thus if it doesn’t yield expected results within an expected time frame, the problem must be you are using the wrong type of creativity for the job.

As most in creative fields know, it is something you practice over a long period of time rather than learn in a seminar and then go home trying to apply. No one thinks you can become highly effective at an athletic pursuit without a lot of practice, analysis of performance and negotiating bottlenecks. People focusing on employing creativity need to go through a similar process, including possibly getting past a mental wall no less imposing than one a marathon runner may need to push past.

In my post yesterday about improv helping people tolerate uncertainty and reduce social anxiety, I took pains to call attention to the fact the people conducting the study intentionally engaged professional theatre artists to teach improv to students. This is not to say that therapists and counselors can’t effectively teach students to use improv. As the study authors allude to, there is a difference between the approach of someone teaching you improv to fix something about you and the approach of people who practice and teach improv in order to get better at improv.

Yes, the theatre artists likely knew they were there to help prove improv can help people better cope with uncertainty and anxiety, but the whole study gets contaminated if the scientists are frequently talking to them about expected outcomes. So it is likely the theatre artists were jazzed to be getting paid to teach and share about improv for 10 weeks and the prospect that it might provide a model for improving the mental well-being of kids made the experience all the more satisfying.

Improv Can Help Tolerate Uncertainty

Hat tip to Dan Pink who tweeted about a study which found teaching improv to students can lower social anxiety and intolerance of uncertainty.  The study authors noted that historically,

“…intensive clinical intervention—18 weekly, 1-hour private sessions of cognitive behavior therapy—works to reduce intolerance of uncertainty. But most people, including teens, don’t have access to expensive therapies, and want to avoid the stigma of clinical disorders, says Peter Felsman, the study’s lead author and U-M doctoral graduate.”

In conducting the study, the authors recruited the involvement of 350 students in grades 8-12 at 14 schools in a 10 week program taught by improv professionals in the Detroit metro area. The students were surveyed in week 1 and week 10 to determine if there were any changes in their tolerance of uncertainty and social anxiety in their lives.

Students were asked to rate themselves on a scale of 0 to 4 on social anxiety questions like:

“Fear of embarrassment causes me to avoid doing things or speaking to people,” “I avoid activities in which I am the center of attention,” and “Being embarrassed or looking stupid are among my worst fears.”

and in terms of uncertainty:

Participants were instructed to rate “how characteristic” each of the items was about themselves (e.g. “Not knowing what may happen next can make me scared or sad.”) from 0 (Not at all to 5 (Entirely).

Students were also asked questions regarding social self-efficacy and prior experience with improv in order to provide other baseline measures. In speaking about the results, the study authors found that improv supported their hypotheses regarding social anxiety and intolerance of uncertainty (IU).

…this study addressed two open empirical questions: 1) whether participating in an improv course is associated with change in IU, and 2) whether that change is associated with change in social anxiety. We found evidence to support both of our hypotheses: improv is associated with reductions in IU, and that change in IU is associated with reductions in social anxiety

I would encourage anyone who might be considering using improv to achieve similar goals to carefully read the full study. They make distinctions between the effectiveness and vigor of previous efforts in terms of frequency and length of sessions as well as the training of those administering the improv classes. They take pains to explain they intentionally designed their program to be administered in-class to everyone in order to avoid the stigma of that those chosen to participate are troubled and need help. Likewise, there is no discussion of mental health during the sessions which are lead by theatre/improv instructors rather than counselors and therapists.