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.

Strippers Ask Actors Equity’s Help Securing Safe Work Environment

A couple weeks ago I caught an NPR story about a group of strippers at a bar in LA who were working to unionize under the auspices of Actors’ Equity Association.  The dancers had been dismissed and locked out after complaining and petitioning the bar’s ownership to improve working conditions, both in terms of the physical performance environment and protection from aggressive clients. After months of striking outside the bar’s parking lot, the dancers filed to join Actors’ Equity.

One of the reasons why this story grabbed my attention was that I made a post in 2021 about how Actors’ Equity had decided to significantly lower the barriers to union membership. The union essentially provided automatic membership to members of sister unions like SAG-AFTRA, AGMA and AGVA as well as anyone who was enrolled in the union candidate program. The candidate program, which required accumulating points for performing in specific types of roles in venues operating under a union classification, was scrapped in favor of the new Open Access program which just requires that you have worked professionally as an actor or stage manager in the United States.

In reviewing the program, I noticed Open Access membership is only available until May 2023 so we will have to see how membership is handled after that. However, I initially viewed the union’s willingness to go to bat for these dancers as an extension of the Open Access program. They didn’t nudge the performers toward other unions like AVGA which represents variety/cabaret performers or SEIU which the NPR story says another group of strippers joined about 25 years ago.  I similarly wondered why the dancers approached Equity rather than another union. Was it due to the union’s presence in small performance venues in LA or perhaps Open Access has made the union appear more welcoming.

It will be interesting to see how the efforts of the dancers to unionize ends up. Likewise, I will try to keep an eye for more news on the Open Access program to see if it continues/evolves after May 2023 and if the effort achieves the diversity, equity and inclusion goals Actors’ Equity intends.

I should mention, the NPR story doesn’t just report on the strike but includes four discrete profiles of the dancers for additional perspective.

How Will Non-Profit Law Change To Meet Shifting Expectations?

Gene Tagaki raises some interesting thoughts over on the Non-Profit Law blog on the question of how legal concepts and structures may need to adjust to reflect changing values in the non-profit sphere.  He lays out some thoughts in regard to Charitability, Philanthropy, Governance, Technology, Fundraising, Advocacy, and Employment.

I provide this list with the intention of sparking enough interest in folks to read more deeply because I am only going to touch on a few ideas that popped for me.

One question he raised was whether the IRS would need to adjust its definition of 501(c)(3) entities:

“Would relief of historically discriminated groups of individuals without regard to poverty or distress now qualify as charitable? Would the sale of alternative energy sources for personal use be charitable even if at market rates?”

Tagaki also points out that there is a growing shift in how fundraising is accomplished and how the work of social good is being framed. He notes that crowdfunding focused on supporting a specific project or individual versus organizations which help many. He also cites corporate efforts to “charity-wash” their activities by positioning themselves as reducing social problems.

“Fundraising trends also raise other legal concerns as nonprofit fundraisers face competitive pressure from those raising money from crowdfunding platforms to help specific individuals rather than charities, businesses proclaiming to do more social good than nonprofits, and entrepreneurs looking to both help charitable causes while creating for themselves an opportunity to earn substantial amounts of money.”

Finally, Takagi observes there is a trend not only toward remote work, but also shared leadership of organizations. This approach is likely to exist in tension, if not complete conflict with a hierarchical board governance model legally required of nonprofits in the US.

“Many organizations are struggling with this movement as there are clear and proven benefits with traditional hierarchies and the law is built on boards having ultimate responsibility and authority over the activities and affairs of their corporations. But there are shifts in power that are possible, and laws or regulatory guidance that confirm the appropriateness of certain delegations of authority may be helpful. What are some of the distributed leadership systems that would be helpful if recognized by sector leaders as good practice and by lawmakers and regulators as acceptable?”

As always, many things to think about for the future.

Time To Review Programming And Rental Procedures

Many people probably heard about a Minnesota venue cancelling Dave Chappelle’s show hours before it was suppose to occur.  Something similar happened a few weeks ago at a venue on the other side of my state where a comedy show with different comedians was cancelled the day before it was supposed to occur.

This has gotten me to thinking that art and cultural organizations need to be doing a better job developing and implementing policies and procedures. Putting aside the question about whether these shows should be cancelled,  the decision to cancel shouldn’t be made so close to the performance date. Regardless of the content of the performers’ show, cancelling anything so close to performance time is irresponsible, unprofessional and bad for community relations.  (I know how complicated it is move venues and re-seat people having done it during Covid. The fact the Minneapolis show was immediately moved to another venue suggests the decision and arrangements were made earlier, but only announced the day of.)

The organization on the other side of my state flubbed things even more by issuing a statement that said the show was cancelled due to the content and then issuing another statement saying it was because the proper paperwork and deposits were not received.   This sort of mixed messaging is an indication that there is not a good crisis management plan in place. I am not suggesting the social and political views of a performer constitutes a crisis, but if you have a plan to have one voice addressing your roof falling in during a performance or an entire cast testing positive for Covid after a week of shows, you have a process for communicating tough decisions.

I suspect the venue in Minneapolis was already generally aware of the controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle and the clamor of protest got to a point where it outweighed the benefits of hosting the show.  For most other programming, whether it is a solicitation to book a performance or for an outside party to rent the space, it is important to be very clear about the content and requirements of the proposed event. This is a good policy for reasons almost entirely unrelated to opinions about political and social issues.

Ninety-nine percent of the issues that have occurred in venues I have been involved with have been related to technical requirements. Often renters are too vague about their plans and technical needs or show up and add a ton of things they never mentioned before, resulting in a higher bill because we have to scramble to find equipment and staffing at the last minute. Most of our rental contracting has been held up because the technical director doesn’t have the information he needs to accurately estimate the event.  There are definitely people who neglect to submit deposits and paperwork on time, but we address that well in advance of the show.

Similarly, our biggest concern with shows we book is lack of technical details on one hand or assurances that the show will fit in our space despite misgivings. Agents and production offices 500 miles away are motivated to contract a show and leave it to the people on the ground to work around problems far too often.

We have declined to present productions or rent our venue due to technical concerns far more often than for content. Content needs to be reviewed and considered alongside technical requirements in a holistic process. Things shouldn’t reach the contracting stage if there are issues, much less be a matter of discussion a day or two before.  I suspect our colleagues on the other side of the state saw the opportunity to generate some rental revenue and didn’t really pay attention to who it was until the protests started a few days before the performance.

As for the policies and procedures you put into place, that is a matter for discussion with involvement from internal and external constituencies and some legal review. Those policies are going to differ for each organization and community.