Non-Profits Didn’t Volunteer For Mandatory Volunteerism

It is likely you haven’t been able to avoid the seemingly incessant discussion about the negotiations to raise the debt limit. If you haven’t been able to muster the zen-like state of letting the details of those negotiations pass through one ear and out the other, you may recall that work requirements for those receiving financial aid some some sort has been one of the sticking points.

In a post on the For Purpose Law Group blog, Linda J. Rosenthal writes about how mandatory volunteerism is a bad idea. In her piece, which contains dozens of links to studies and opinion pieces on the topic, she applies this sentiment not only to government mandates, but graduation requirements for students as well.

Of all the pieces to which she links, a statement by the National Council of Non-profits provides the most succinct summation about why this is such a bad policy. (my emphasis)

Mandatory volunteerism is harmful because the policy imposes increased costs, burdens, and liabilities on nonprofits by an influx of coerced individuals. Few if any of the mandatory volunteerism bill sponsors ever ask whether nonprofits in their communities can handle an onslaught of hundreds or thousands of individuals showing up on nonprofit doorsteps for the purpose of doing time rather than doing good.

They go on to say that they oppose any efforts that tie receipt of benefits to a requirement to volunteer because they “impose increased costs, burdens, and liabilities on nonprofits by an influx of coerced individuals.”

A number of the articles linked by Rosenthal also address the oxymoronic nature of “mandatory volunteerism,” especially in the name of trying to engender a sense of civic mindness and charity in students by refusing to let them graduate if they don’t complete their hours.

Art Or Advertising? And The Lost Context Of A Summary

Another entry in the “What is art” debate– A bakery owner in NH allowed students to paint a mural on his building. Because the mural depicted a sun rising over mountains made of donuts and muffins, last June the town said it was in violation of the sign ordinance restricting the size of advertisements. If the mountains had looked like mountains instead of baked goods, it would have been considered art, but because they were products sold by the business, the mural is considered an advertisement.

This caused a considerable amount of discussion in the town and apparently increased attendance at Zoning and Planning board meetings, but ultimately residents voted against a proposed change that would have provided clearer rules to allow for works of art.

An organization is submitting a federal case on behalf of the bakery which is leveraging the situation to fundraise for the local high school art department.

Since fighting for the right to display what Mr. Young maintains is a mural, Leavitt’s has become an advocate for the arts. The bakery recently began selling T-shirts with the mural on the front above the words “this is art,” and the Leavitt’s sign on the back with, “this is a sign.” Proceeds benefit the Kennett High School art department. And with the help of a local philanthropist, Leavitt’s is co-sponsoring a scholarship for one student a year from Kennett High who wants to pursue the arts.

“I’m not taking it down because it’s the kids’ artwork,” Mr. Young says.

The article has pictures of the mural and the tshirts. A number of the people interviewed for the story seemed pretty supportive of the mural, including a couple local government officials who appeared to have wanted to proposed change to pass in order to provide for greater clarity. While some people were concerned about murals going up willy-nilly and the appearance of billboards, it is pretty clear the bakery mural is not meant to be a sales advertisement. There are no words at all on that part of the building, nor are any figures beckoning people in.

As an aside, I noticed as I was re-reading the article that there is a feature that allows you to toggle between a Quick Read and Deep Read, with the latter indicating it make take 6 minutes to read the longer content. I think that must be how long it takes a computer to read it aloud, because that seems pretty long. I am not quite sure what to think about this feature. While folks do seem to have a shorter attention span and providing a shorter option may encourage people to engage with the topic, it also seems to suggest there is content that isn’t important to know and can be safely omitted.

Reading the abridged version of the article changes the tone of the article. The full article seems sympathetic toward the cause of the mural, the abridged version seems to suggest anarchy will break out in the absence of local self-governance.


A Different Form Of Art Worship In Museums

This morning I saw Artsjournal had linked to a story about the seizure of a statue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which had apparently been stolen from Turkey. More and more frequently there have been questions about the provenance of objects in museum collections. According to the NY Times story, the statue, which was on loan to The Met is among 18 objects in the museum’s collection that have been filed for seizure in the last three months.  The museum isn’t the only one having its collections scrutinized:

In addition to the Met, the authorities seized items from the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum and the Fordham University Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art, according to court records.

This article reminded me of a recent story on Hyperallergic about a classical Cambodian dancer who had been kicked out of the Met for dancing in front of religious objects which had been looted from her country. She discusses how dancing barefoot before the statues created by her ancestors is an appropriate form of worship. She had done so at the museum about 10 years ago, but when she repeated the act this last February, a guard stopped her.

As is appropriate, I removed my shoes (though, it being winter, I was wearing stockings) and approached the statue of the god Harihara. I prayed for his safe and prompt return to his homeland. I prayed to the four directions and then moved on to the main gallery. About two minutes into my brief dance, a member of the museum’s security team approached me and stated that I wasn’t allowed to dance there without permission. He also instructed me to put on my shoes….If I had simply walked to each statue and prayed, I doubt he would’ve felt compelled to stop me. Something about my rhythmic movement, silent and subdued as it was, set the guard on edge. One of the people recording the video told me that he found my danced prayer so powerful he was shaking.

When I first read that last line, I thought the guard was shaking from the power of the dance. Later, I realized that it might refer to the person doing the recording.

While there is an implication that dancing before the statues might be possible with permission, though perhaps not given the fact she was chased from the museum stairs when she was interviewed about the experience, I wonder if we might see start to see similar acts in galleries and museums as awareness and questions about how legitimate the methods of acquisition were.

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.