Guaranteed Income For Artists Spreading

Nod to Laura Zabel who tweeted a story about the guaranteed basic income for artists pilot program being started in Ireland.  The plan is to provide €325/week to 2000 artists. This is actually more, both in terms of monthly income and number of artists included, than any similar program I have seen piloted in the US. The program will be run across three years which is also longer than any other program I have come across as well.

Minister for the Arts Catherine Martin indicated selection for participation would be random rather than competitive. It sounds like the intent is to make sure those in different sectors and career stages are represented since the article mentions “Likely “streams” will include professional artists, emerging/developing artists and creative arts workers.”

The ministry is quoted as saying there won’t be a means test for who will be able to participate in the program.

The National Campaign for the Arts which had lobbied for the pilot was quoted as saying they were:

“happy with the proposed payment of €325 per week, once it is not means tested and other benefits including disability payments are not diminished, and that there is a clear process for selection…”

In writing about other guaranteed basic income programs previously, it hadn’t occurred to me that participating in the program might end up disadvantaging people from receiving other types of aid due to income restrictions. That is something to be considered when designing programs like this –either to disburse an amount that will offset people’s losses or ensure that the amount people are receiving doesn’t adversely impact their ability to receive other aid.

All That Is Philanthropy Is Not Gold

I have been following Lucy Bernholz, a self-described philanthropy wonk, for ages it seems. She writes the blog Philanthropy 2173 and is a senior researcher at Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civic Society.  When I saw an interview with the AP about a how philanthropy isn’t all about money, I took a closer look.

And before I get into my post proper, if you are interested in hearing more, she is participating in a Zoom conversation on the topic on November 4 @4pm ET

Basically she says that there is more to philanthropy than giving money, though you wouldn’t know it from the way the news outlets and most non-profits focus on what billionaires are doing with their money. Or for that matter, the round up requests you get when you buy your groceries.  The result is that our understanding of non-monetary methods of philanthropy are pretty much stifled. Alternatives aren’t just volunteering and donating blood and organs. It can be donating genetic material for disease research or giving photographs to organizations which document historical events like the Japanese internment during World War II.

When Bernholz was asked about how tax law has impacted philanthropy, she gave the following response:

A: It never came up in our conversations. Only when we brought it up. What’s fascinating about that is only 8% of Americans bother to take the charitable tax deduction on their tax return. Now, tax policy is pretty much the only policy idea the philanthropy industry has any interest in. They’re serving 8% of the population. And I know that 8% is not Mark Zuckerberg. It’s not Pierre Omidyar. It’s not Laurene Powell Jobs. They’ve all said: “We don’t care about the tax benefit. We’re gonna do an LLC, because that gives us more control and more anonymity.” So there’s some 8% who care. In poker, they’d call that a tell. If and until the nonprofit and philanthropic industries start advocating for really rich people to pay their taxes, I think the view of that whole industry as a wealth preservation mechanism is quite justified.

It was surprising to learn that only 8% of Americans take the deduction. Gallup polling has shown about 80% of Americans donated every year pre-Covid. Granted, not everyone may donate to a level at which it makes sense to claim the deduction, but surely more than 8% donate above that threshold.

We frequently hear that the U.S. government subsidizes non-profits by allowing that deduction, but it appears the subsidy isn’t as great as we may think if so few claim the deduction.

Bernholz mentions that many wealthy people have eschewed tax deduction and formed LLCs to distribute funds to maintain tight control. But there is also increased prevalence of donor advised funds (DAF) which do provide a deduction without any mandate to distribute the funds to charities, and therefore an heightened level of control as well. If you consider that a portion of that 8% claiming deductions may have never reached a charity because it is parked in a DAF that hasn’t distributed, the government is subsidizing non-profits even less than we might imagine.

How Arts Orgs Used Relief Funding Is Beginning To Be Examined

A couple weeks ago Hyperallergic had an article that was a critical of museums who had received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds meant to keep people employed, but instead ended up laying off large numbers of people. They particularly noted that the Museum of Science Boston initially didn’t qualify for the program due to employing more than 500 people, but were later able to apply for funding after laying off more than 300 people.  The article also suggested that while some institutions needed the money to survive, some of those at the top ended up in almost better financial shape.

It found that out of $1.6 billion given to about 7,500 cultural institutions that qualified for PPP loans, nearly half of the money ($771 million) went to just 228 recipients. These same 288 institutions collectively laid off more than 14,400 employees, or at least 28% of their workforce.

[…]

However, AFSCME’s report found that not all museums faired that poorly during the pandemic. In fact, an analysis of 69 cultural institutions with available financial data revealed that 67% of them ended fiscal year (FY) 2020 with operating surpluses.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), which received $3.3 million in PPP loans, laid off 97 workers during the pandemic despite ending FY 2020 with a $2.3 million surplus. Nearby, the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County ended FY 2020 with a $23.9 million operating surplus after receiving a $4.8 million PPP loan. And yet, it furloughed its 127 part-time employees from March 2020 until the end of December 2020.

Not to excuse the act of laying off people after accepting money to keep staff employed, the fact that institutions ended fiscal year 2020 with a surplus may not be indicate they profited off of layoffs. Many non-profits have a July 1 -June 30 fiscal year so if the organization was doing well from July 1, 2019 through March 2020 when the pandemic started, losses of the three months from March-June 2020 may not have moved them into a deficit. The PPP program started in April 2020 with a deadline of June 30, 2020 so organizations may not have received the funds until their 2021 fiscal year.

It has been generally acknowledged that a lot of those who applied for the PPP program didn’t have the severe financial need the program was intended to serve. Determining whether museums used funds meant to stave off layoffs to achieve better financial footing should be examined, but it isn’t clear from the information provided here. The full report can be downloaded on the AFSCME website. I haven’t downloaded the report at this time because the registration form indicates they and others may use the information to solicit and lobby me.

It will be interesting to see if a similar examination is conducted of performing arts venues which largely fall under the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program, something most museums were not eligible due to the fixed seating requirement for that program.  From what I have seen, the administration of that program is still plagued with errors which they are trying to resolve for adversely effected venues, but that raises concerns that there was opportunity for inappropriately granting funds as well.

When It Comes To Work, What Is The Cost-Benefit Between Lethargy And A Sense Of Belonging

Dan Pink pointed to a study (warning, ad heavy page) that suggests while office interruptions may be disruptive to one’s workflow, it ultimately creates a sense of worth and belonging for people. This is something to be considered both in terms of the conversation about shifting to working remotely and digital vs. in-person arts experiences. There seems to be an indication that as social creatures, the negatives of in-person work and play interactions may be outweighed by the positive.

The study which appears in the Journal of Applied Psychology was conducted at the University of Cincinnati:

Study authors surveyed a group of 111 employees twice per day for three full weeks. Each time, employees answered questions about their experiences at the office that day. More specifically, participants recorded if they had endured any interruptions, how mentally tired they felt, their sense of belonging, and their overall job satisfaction.

Those polls led the research team to conclude that while work interruptions in a vacuum can certainly lead to feeling more lethargic and dissatisfied, the social interactions that usually accompany those intrusions produce feelings of belonging and increased job satisfaction.

“Our study revealed that by providing this avenue for social interaction with one’s colleagues, work interruptions led to a greater sense of belonging. This sense of belonging, in turn, led to higher job satisfaction,” Dr. Puranik adds.

I am not necessarily advocating for returning to the office-centric work environment of yore. I felt like this was a relatively honest discussion of the dynamics of in-person office work. It would be interesting to see a similar study conducted with a larger sample size in a year or so when remote work has a chance to exist as a norm that (hopefully) is not necessitated by the existence of a pandemic. (It didn’t escape my notice that the researchers apparently interrupted people at work twice a day to ask them how they felt being interrupted at work.)

What I fear is that people will become acclimated to a lack of social contact and not value it as much as they do now. The lethargy and dissatisfaction people may experience when interrupted shouldn’t be discounted because a sense of belonging and job satisfaction are somehow more important or valuable. People may find the working from home uninterrupted raises their energy level and satisfaction and that is a good trade off for feeling disconnected.

It also bears considering that a work environment can be created where it isn’t a zero-sum between feeling a sense of belonging and lethargy. Those options haven’t really been explored.

But ultimately people feeling that a lack of social contact is an acceptable trade off is a bad situation for museums and live performing arts events. Digital offerings can prove a good substitute and keep people engaged when they are in a situation where they can’t be present in person, but it flattens the experience. It provides too much latitude to avoid and look away from even the least inconvenient, unchallenging situations.

I have discussed how I am definitely an introvert and have no problem being alone. There are times I don’t really want to go forth from my house, but am grateful I did after having an experience.

On Sunday, after locking up the building at 9:30 pm after our visual and performing arts event, I stood outside for 90 minutes talking to a kid that had been energized by the experience. I had already worked 8 days straight and done two 12+ hour days and had to be back at work the next morning, but I realized interacting with this 22 year old was going to be valuable for both of us. Even as I was talking to him, I was thinking that had we had this conversation in a Zoom meeting, it would have been so easy to open up other websites and watch videos/read other things or just sign off from the conversation rather than devote attention to each other for 1.5 hours.

While I would certainly be comfortable in a world absent of demands for me to be personally present, I can recognize that isn’t wholly constructive in the long run.

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