More Tax Treaties!

Okay as promised, I took notes at the international tax session at the WAA conference. It was actually a hot topic. The session was scheduled for about 1.5 hours but at the end of the time it ended up moving to another room and continuing. (I moved on to a grants session because I had notes on 90% of what I wanted to know.) Then the discussion apparently infiltrated an Arts Presenter’s session as well.

The speaker at the session was Stanley E. Majors: Attorney, Fettmann, Tolchin & Majors, P.C.. (CPA and Tax Attorney licensed to practice in DC, MD and VA)

Among the things I learned was:

-Tax treaty is determined by place of residence. A French national residing in Switzerland falls under Swiss treaty.

-Everyone in the payment chain-presenter, agent, manager, etc can act as the collection agent of the 30%. The IRS typically starts at the end of the chain with the last person to handle the money before the artist gets it when researching if the money was collected. Mr. Major’s suggestion was to put something in the contract that stipulates who will be the party responsible for withholding. Obviously, many of the presenters’ preference would be for the agent or manager to be the responsible one.

Though empowering everyone in the chain to collect the tax looks like the IRS is just increasing the number of people they can blame, Mr. Major assured us that it wasn’t the case. Nor is it so they can collect the tax multiple times.

-The Alien has to fill out a certificate 8233 to claim exemption if they feel they are entitled to keeping their 30% The IRS has 10 days to agree with the exemption or not. A presenter can not make a decision to withhold or not unless they file. (For example, if you have someone coming in for 1 day and they are making $1000 to speak and then leaving the country and you know they fall below the exemption threshold, you still can’t exempt them unless they file.)

-If you know that a person has falsely filed an exemption, you have to withhold. You don’t necessarily have to research their entire tour schedule, but if you know that they are performing in a city south of you one night and a city to the north of you the night after for the same rate they are charging you and it exceeds the exemption amount and they file an exemption, you can’t accept it.

-Article 16 or 17 of the tax treaty is where the pertinent info is usually found. (For tax treaties, a good place to start is this IRS webpage. It contains links to more specific information, including the treaties, as you find you need it.

-This restrictive clause in the treaties only applies to performers and athletes. Their managers, lighting people, make up people, etc fall under a more liberal portion of the treaties. Apparently, the US actually wants people to come to the country and do business and the more liberal portions reflect that. The restrictive portions are to prevent people like the Rolling Stones from coming in, making millions of dollars and leaving. Unfortunately, since the Rolling Stones are making millions of dollars, they aren’t hurt too much by it, but the smaller folks are.

-Just like US citizens, the alien can get a refund by itemizing their operational expenses on a 1040NR at the end of the year.

-I spoke to Mr. Major specifically about a South African group with incorporation
and Fed. tax number in the US and his opinion was that the taxes didn’t need to be withheld since they are 1) obligated to file corporate tax returns every year 2) the IRS can exert enforcement powers if they lie, especially since so much of their income is derived in the US. (Which is probably why they incorporated in the US in the first place–to avoid the bite) Of course, to get him to issue an opinion the IRS would care about, I assume we would have to pay lots of money.

-If a foreign group claims to be a non-profit organization similiar to 501 (c) (3) in the US, you can request that the IRS make a determination if the organization meets the same criteria as a US non-profit.

That is about everything I learned. The one thing I didn’t note was whether you treat a group as 1 entity earning 10,000 or 10 people earning 1,000. I am told he covered that in a later session on the same topic so I am inquiring if a colleague took notes specifically on that since that was an area of concern for her.

Back from WAA

Well I have returned from Spokane, WA a bit older and wiser for the experience. There was plenty that happened so I will have ample fodder for posting. Unfortunately, the amount of work left undone while I was away may keep me from my posting. We shall see.

Let me first start by saying Spokane is a lovely city is walk around, especially near the convention center which is right on the edge of a park where Expo 1974 occurred. The conference itself was well organized and there were some procedures that had been adopted that went over very well with the membership–but more about that in a later entry.

I ended up learning quite a bit, but I was concerned that wouldn’t be so when the conference first started (and not just because of my articles on useless meetings, part 2 here). The keynote speaker was Gunther Schuller who has had a long career as a musician and has certainly shown his love and stamina for his craft (he apparently would play in an orchestra for an opera and then walk into a jazz club to continue playing into the night.) However, in my estimation, he really has no concept about what it takes to run an arts organization.

I was really rather angry at the conference coordinators for picking him and had to resist an outburst at various times during the week when I came in contact with them. (I will avail myself of the feedback forms they provided, however, and probably won’t be any more diplomatic than I will be here.)
It was probably the worst example of many of the things I have railed against the arts community over in prior posts.

His whole speech was about how great the good old days were. He didn’t say anything I didn’t know 20 years ago. He cited the miniscule proportion the NEA budget has to the entire federal budget. He spoke of low listenership and programming of classic music on radio stations and lauded NPR for having the courage to play the music. Pop music and network television are the enemies leading to illiteracy and the destruction of culture. It is a terrible thing, he says that Hootie and the Blowfish get to be on the talk shows and Beethoven is no where to be seen. It was all doom and gloom and really just very old news.

It all may be absolutely true, but nothing he said acknowledged the fact that this was the environment in which arts organizations operate today and then try to offer practical solutions that reflect this fact. His suggested solution was sandwich booking where you put a lesser known show between two popular shows. Again, this is a really old strategy that doesn’t reflect how people currently make decisions to buy tickets.

I momentarily thought I might be wrong about this being an old strategy when he started lauding the great success the Boston and Philadelphia symphonies had with this strategy–until he got around to mentioning that he was talking about men who were running the organizations in 1939! His criteria for what constituted good popular music with which to sandwich the new stuff was even more telling when he discounted the value of most of Vivaldi in an aside. In my mind, if someone isn’t comfortable or familiar with classical music, that composer’s “Four Seasons” is probably a good introduction.

The only suggestion he made that I felt had merit was that the creators of a work (composers/playwrights), the purchasers and presenters, and the performers of works communicate with each other more effectively about how to combat the apathy about the arts. He didn’t give any examples other than those I mentioned, but as a general concept it seems to have merit.

On the whole though, I was really annoyed by the talk. I am going to suggest some alternative speakers for next year (Douglas McLennan would have been perfect this year given that he is about a 45 minute flight away from Spokane). In my mind, a keynote speaker should set the stage for discussion throughout the conference–even if it is arguments. The only discussion that came out of this session was akin to churchgoers musing about why sinners didn’t see the light and come to church and congratulating one another for taking their children to Sunday school. As much as I may dislike most organized religions, to properly employ this metaphor I have to say–there wasn’t any discussion about effectively witnessing and converting the great unwashed. (The problem being that the speaker essentially derided the great unwashed for their entertainment habits.)

I’m Off…

As mentioned before, I am off to the WAA conference this week. I am pleased to note that there will be a session on income taxes and international artists. Given my crash course in tax treaties lately, I will be attending that with some interest. Maybe I will find out some new things to pass on to my liasion here at the university.

I went into work today despite the holiday because I will be out of town for a week and really don’t want to have my work pile up too much. The vice-chancellor had been taking about starting an arts administration certificate program so I emailed him expressing my interest in contributing to its development.

Given my *cough* strong feelings about how such a program should be structured, there is a fair chance I could eventually disassociate myself from the program I help develop. Exploring the decisions that go in to developing it, whether I agree with them or not, would be really fascinating for me though so I don’t really mind that I could end up muttering curses under my breath one day.

Stay tuned to find out how it all comes out–the tax stuff and the AA certificate program.

Little Polish on the Skills

So it has been a busy week already. I have had so many meetings that I got that feeling that I ain’t getting anything done and considering I have a lot to do before going to the WAA Conference next week, that ain’t good.

But I have been learning some new things…

Monday I had a meeting with the head of Human Resources. I am on a committee to hire an assistant for myself. The Human Resource department has to look over the questions we are going to ask and approve of them. This is partially to make sure that we aren’t asking any questions connected with the forbidden topics like race, martial status, creed, political affiliation, religion, etc. We didn’t have any of those type of questions, but the head of HR wouldn’t sign off on them because he didn’t feel they would elicit effective answers.

I have to admit, he did have a point. Some of the questions other committee members had submitted dealt with how a person felt about certain situations like meeting new people or their philosophy on customer service. Part of the problem he had was that none of these things were part of the KSAs (knowledge, skills, abilities) of the job description. He encouraged us to rephrase the questions as situationals–what have you done in such a situation or what would you do?

He said that it doesn’t matter how people feel about a certain job as much as how they would act in a situation. His point was that people often hate to do certain aspects of their jobs, but they recognize the value of doing it and doing it well so dismissing them for how they feel might result in you discarding a valuable person.

On the other hand, if they mention they ignored a customer’s complaint because they were incessant whiners when you ask about their experiences, you know how they feel and how they would act.

I never thought of these issues before. So even though it was rather annoying to have to rewrite the questions and couch them in a manner that would satisfy the head of HR and still serve to get the information about the candidate’s personality, I have to admit his way can prove to be more valuable.

Yesterday I attended a meeting of the Performing Arts Presenters of Hawai’i (earlier mention of what they are all about here). We were discussing what our plans were when we attended the Western Arts Alliance Conference in Spokane next week. Not everyone was going so we were making a list of the groups everyone might be interested in presenting so we could check them out and approach agents, etc.

I had been warned to bring an extra suitcase so I could carry presskits and other materials back from the conference. A few weeks after I return, we will all meet again for a marathon review of videos, etc of likely prospects.

Then today I met with a representative of a local hotel chain with whom I am hoping to house most of my visiting performers. I was really reminded of the power of good customer service. I had contacted representatives of a number of chains, but she was the only one that decided that she could better serve me by having me come out and see her properties and treat me to lunch. Of all the others I contacted, only one other has even responded with the information I requested.

The thing is, none of them need my business, especially the woman who took me out. Right now tourism is excellent and there are hardly any rooms to be had on O’ahu. Even though I am bringing a fair bit of business, the hotels can make better use of their time wooing tour operators and travel agents than me. This is especially true because I am asking for kama aina rates (discounts for locals) in order to help me stay on budget.

This woman spoke to me, assessed my needs and then picked the mix of properties of the 20 or so her company manages on my island that would best suit my needs. She stayed away from the really economical places that might prevent jet lagged artists getting off a 5+ hour flight from getting rest and also avoided the ones that were too upscale. My time wasn’t wasted looking at the wrong places.

Every hotel we went to, the general manager came out and met me like I was an important account. They showed me around the rooms personally, offered me water and wet towels to refresh myself. The woman showing me around took me out to lunch at their flagship property where my car was valet parked and returned to me swiftly with my A/C and radio set to create a welcoming environment in my own vehicle. Now perhaps they do much more for travel agents, but they could have done far less for me.

I still have to be conscious of price, but if they end up being a few bucks more a night than another quote I get, they will certainly be getting my business. They know that good customer service means good service to everyone and they know that it is the little touches like the way the valet delivers your car that matters. They also probably know that good word of mouth is the best advertising. Not only will I speak well of them on my island, but because they have properties on the other islands, I will be saying great things about them to the other members of the consortium.

It just verifies my feelings about the importance of customer service and underscores how important it will be for me to rectify all the impediments to customer service at my theatre.

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