Models For Staving Of Artist Displacement By Gentrification

Interesting story in Bloomberg about what some arts organizations are doing to resist being displaced by gentrification.  The article focuses on Alma Weiser who formed Equity Arts as a Perpetual Purpose Trust (PPT) to buy and operate a building in Chicago. The PPT format allows Equity Arts to have for-profit projects which benefit the non-profit/charitable activities of the operation.

Once Weiser closes on the building, Future Firm founder and architect Ann Lui says they will begin work to bring the building up to code and rehab the basement, first and second floors. Half of the 12,000-square foot first floor, which has been a furniture store since the 1960s, will become an anchor market-rate retail tenant; rent from the tenant, Weiser said, will pay the building’s mortgage and allow grants and philanthropic donations to go further.

With an LLC and 501c3 working in tandem, Equity Arts opens up to other opportunities for funding beyond philanthropy and grants alone.

Among Weiser’s motivations for creating the trust wasn’t just to retain occupancy in a building in which she and others had been operating for many years, but also to avoid perpetuating the cycle where artists move to a new neighborhood and create a dynamic where gentrification begins to displace the long time working class residents.

The article also mentions San Francisco’s Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) which helps artists secure space using knowledge and a combination of resources most arts organizations aren’t aware exist. They describe it as a long and complicated process:

CAST negotiates property acquisition, and invests their dollars into the purchase. After their client reaches stabilization through fundraising and programming, CAST maintains a small ownership percentage over the building to address asset maintenance and management. “It is an incredibly complex and unpredictable journey of time. These things can take five to 10 years on the larger scale projects,” CAST executive director Ken Ikeda says.

The Ujima Project in Boston is described as a very democratic and participatory funding organization focused on empowering artists as investors:

A Black and artist-led organization advancing collective economics, Ujima operates the nation’s first democratically controlled investment fund, according to executive director Nia Evans. Anyone, with any income, can invest in their fund; residents help craft and vote for a list of businesses that receive investment. Artists are business owners and entrepreneurs, Evans says, and should be part of institutional and financial mechanisms that can protect them from rising real estate costs; some of the new businesses Ujima is ratifying right now include artists seeking space.

Benefits Of Incorporating Your Arts Career

h/t for linking to a really valuable article on Observer about considering creating a limited liability corporation (LLC) if you are an artist.  I recently created a post on ArtsHacker summarizing some of the ways in which an LLC protects artist’s personal assets in the case of lawsuits and in some cases, divorce proceedings.

This excerpt from Observer article summarizes how an artist would operate after forming an LLC:

….but most artists operating as one-man shops set up limited liability companies, according to Powers, where the LLC is the employer and the artist is technically the employee. When a sale or commission is made, the money is paid directly to the corporate entity, which then pays the artist, either in a lump sum or in increments (as a salary), and the artist pays taxes on that money as ordinary income. But not all the money transfers directly through to the artist. The corporate entity retains some cash to purchase art supplies, health insurance, workmen’s compensation to protect employees who may get injured during transit or installation, commercial premises and liability insurance—and, assuming the artist is successful enough, to hire employees or consultants.

The article discusses a number of legal scenarios an artist might find themselves in which the buffer of an LLC would be beneficial. More than just providing legal protection, they also note that forming an LLC would allow the artist to solicit investment to support their work.  Take a look at the ArtsHacker post or go straight to the article to learn more.


Should Your Work Be Protected By An LLC?

Filling Freed Up Space With Generosity

Seth Godin often posts on the theme of generosity.  Looking back at my past posts, I quickly came up with a handful I made about his discussion of the links between generosity, creativity, and leadership.

He recently made another post on the theme of fear being self-centered and generosity allowing you to overcome fear.

Jumping in the water to save a struggling swimmer stops us from worrying about how we look in our suit or whether the water is cold. And if you’re worried about the customer instead of your quota, making a sales call is easier too.

The key scene at the climax of the Wizard of Oz happens when Dorothy intercedes on the scarecrow’s behalf. Once again, she finds the courage to overcome her fear when she’s generously supporting a friend.

It’s more than a shift in narrative. It’s a shift in intent.

His reference to a sales call actually reminded me of the early days of my career when I worked in a ticket office or supervised people in a ticket office. Because there was always a deluge of calls and people standing at the window, there were often instructions about who to prioritize (e.g. phone before in-person, in-person before phone, alternate between the two). Likewise there was often discussion about techniques to move conversations along to attend to the next customer so that people weren’t waiting in a queue either physically or over the phone.

Overall it was a matter of providing a good customer experience over wanting to sell as quickly as possible. However, I would really get anxious as I saw a queue growing. There was a certain degree of fear in being perceived as not effective and efficient at processing the orders. In most cases, it was the immediate customer that had questions or was indecisive that was holding things up. But the anger and frustration was likely to fall upon staff rather than the departing customer.  And the mentality that you had to move a person along quickly probably wasn’t conducive to creating a positive interaction.

Since the increase in the use of online ticketing, that sort of situation has greatly abated allowing staff to take a little more time to answer people’s questions and allow them to mull their choices. In some respects, it may not be a really effective use of time to allow people to monopolize your time, but there is more opportunity to allow customers to feel attention is being paid to them.

Technology like online ticketing allows people to select the level of attention they need. Obviously, there are two sides to this situation. Technology makes it easier for businesses to ignore customers and force them to navigate confusing processes. Likewise, in the absence of past demand, live staffing of box offices is often scheduled for shorter periods of time.

But even at times immediately prior to a performance, the fact that people can pull up their tickets on their phones or flash a piece of paper they printed at home, the demands on ticket office staff are less than they once were. There may be problems with online orders that need to be resolved and people who requested the ability to pick up tickets at the door, but the ability to take more time to address these requests is comparatively greater than it once was.

While this doesn’t illustrate Godin’s point of making a decision in the moment to be generous to help others allows you to overcome fear, it is helpful to consider that we have more tools at our disposal that free us up to be generous.  There is more opportunity to fill that vacuum with generosity and attentiveness rather than reserve it for our own use.

Need To Create Promotional Content Competes With Need To Create Creative Content

A few years ago I wrote a post about how actors were discovering that how many followers you had on social media was being taken into account during casting decisions. Vox recently had an article talking about how the same dynamic exists for authors and musicians.  Your book or music might be great, but the publisher may not be willing to take you on if your social media engagement is low.

It used to be that record labels wanted to control all aspects of promotion and prohibited the artist from taking their own initiative. Now it is the other way around where the publishers and record labels put the entire burden of marketing on the artist. The Vox article contains a couple Tiktok videos of musicians talking about this issue. They feel their artistic practice is suffering because they constantly have to be worried about whether they are posting too late in the day to get good reaction. Another said she had to use a spreadsheet to keep track of when and what she should be posting.

One of the big challenges about social media is that you have to balance looking interesting and polished, without looking too polished lest you appear to be engaged in inauthentic self-promotion. The musician Ricky Montgomery alludes to his video where he mentions that you can’t go into the woods to record for three months because you need to be posting “candid” video and photos from your sessions–his air quotes around candid.

To compound the issue as the article points out, consolidation of media and publishing has eliminated competition so writers are being paid less. Similarly, the prevalence of platforms like Spotify for listening to music means musicians are paid less as well. So the rewards for all this effort are less than before even as more people are able to participate as creators.

It wasn’t long ago that many people, myself included, were talking about the need for artists to become more business minded. This is still true in terms of things like better understanding the market in which you wish to sell your work, knowing how to speak to those without insider knowledge about your work, not getting cheated in contracts and payments, etc. But in some respects, the pendulum has perhaps swung in the other direction to far and too quickly where the burden of knowing all these things and more is required on day one without the space to transition into the knowledge and expertise gradually as your career grows.