- More direct conversations with artists about real cost budgeting of their work.
- Actively encouraged artists to discuss money, fees and budgets openly and honestly
- Offered new services on bookkeeping and planning for artists (and thus shifted Field staff priorities/human resources toward supporting artists’ budgeting/ planning)
- Actively pursuing programming with more long-term consultations and mentorship of artists
- Increased staff salaries 3-5%
- Actively working to recognize different production models within the Fiscal Sponsorship program
- Field staff clock out, keep track of all the hours worked and get comp time
- On my new project, City Council Meeting, I decided to pay my collaborators an hourly fee instead of a flat stipend, which helped me value their time more, and took money into account when planning my development process.
- I began negotiating more assertively and calmly with presenters - this lead to a 50% increase from one.
- I created a walk away point for each of my negotiations - I haven’t walked away from anything yet, but it has helped to understand my limits from the get go.
- I took time off from performing (even though by external measures I have been “successful”) because it was not financially sustainable, and to focus on my own work. I felt if I were going to subsidize the field, I ought to be doing it for the sake of my own authorship.
- Increased artists commission fees (typical range is $1500-$3000, higher when additional funding comes through) for 100% of shows
- Increased artists’ performance fees by 50%
- Increased residency time with staff support
- Moved tech support from consultancies (1099) to hourly employees (W2)
- Made Low Cost Major Medical available to all staff (no policies before 2010)
- Brought full and part-time staff salaries up closer to $20 an hour from $10-15
- Started asking to be compensated when participating on outside panels or when leading workshops
- Applied for and was turned down for a grant to pay all artists curated and working at The Chocolate Factory during its 2012-2014 season’s as employees instead of contractors.
Performance Space 122
- Increased commission fees from $3000 to $5000
- Added a residency week with PS122 production staff for commissioned artists,
- Changed fee structure from flat fee to a per person based fee
- Residency week = $450 per person in the room (when all the artists are ideally working 40 hours of the week),
- Performing week = $250 per person in the room (without distinction between technical artists, performers, or “generative artists”),
- Additional company fee of generally between $1000 and $2500,
- Note on this: the foreign companies that we present won’t work for a fee based on only $250 per person per week, they demand a higher fee.
- Reduced the number of shows commissioned and presented by 15%.
- Began actively talking with each of our grantors about living artist wages
- Began working with artists on a three-to-five year time-line and thinking about their careers and work from commission to global circulation.
- In July 2011 we will hire 2+ Creative Producers to dramatically increase our infrastructural support for art, artists and audiences.
At the time of this posting, DTW had been in the midst of great transition for several years, and has now merged with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Co., so quantifying or qualifying change has been difficult. However, the following changes were implemented to improve services to the artists:
- Increased the # of Studio Series artists from 8 – 12, and to include 4 mid-career artists
- Increased Studio Series artist fees ($1,000 to $1,250 – 25% increase).
- Enhanced the Fresh Tracks year long residency
- Tech Residency for every commissioned artist (shared and full evening presentations)
- Expanded The Suitcase Fund program to include selected countries in the continent of Africa and Middle East regions
Section #2: Issues on our mind right now.
- Artists need to embrace the fact that they control the product and supply side of the contemporary performance economy.
- They have been doing themselves no favors by giving their labor and products away for free without any strategy or long-term plan beyond making “this show”.
- By undervaluing the artists and their product, we are all - artists, presenters, and funders - tacitly creating an ecosystem that has as its foundation labor paid for by unrecognized sources from outside of the “Arts Sector”.
- How do we encourage recognizing the real costs of making art while finding ways to continue to sustain the ecosystem on diminishing finances without devolving to a “just let the excess die” strategies.
The following is a document originally intended to be the “sequel” to CATT’s first letter to the field. As a group, we spent more than a year discussing (at great length) the detailed therein. Recently, we were forced to recognize that, being individual practitioners within (or without) organizations of differing cultures and differing priorities – it would never be possible for us to create a clean, coherent, synthesized document to adequately contain our various passions, thoughts, concerns, etc. Nor should it – the performing arts field is various and diverse.
So: we decided to share this document in its pre-synthesized, messy form; and to invite response from our colleagues and critics inside CATT, and in the world at large.
Here it is:
Assuming that contemporary performing arts are an ecosystem within a greater arts ecosystem, this is one in which many parties selectively “look the other way” (from the economic realities in place). Artists are stuck at the bottom of this food chain. For example:
THE FUNDER awards a grant to THE PRESENTER to support (commission) the creation and presentation of new work. Even if the grant is minimal in size, THE FUNDER expects or assumes that everyone benefitting from the grant will be paid. THE FUNDER also expects or assumes that there are OTHER FUNDERS who will step in to bridge the gap, since very, very few grants are ever large enough to fully commission or present a work. THE FUNDER often strives to support as many artists and projects as possible, but this often leads to smaller grants for a larger constituency.
THE PRESENTER awards a share of this grant to THE ARTIST to work toward a particular public performance or series of performances with the same expectations or assumptions around payment to and by those on the job. THE PRESENTER opens the doors to the venue on time and “on budget.” On budget in this case usually means employing a mix of volunteers and part-time staff, in-kind supplies and equipment to keep the doors open.
THE ARTIST delivers the work on time, and “on budget.” On budget in this case inevitably means that, because available resources are so sparse THE ARTIST is employing various strategies to make ends meet. Most commonly this includes EXPLOITATION OF HER or HIS LABOR FORCE (themselves included - who, it must be said, are all too willing to be exploited in this way). It also means within whatever the dollar number THE PRESENTER is prepared to give them – irrespective of actual cost.
Once THE FUNDER and THE PRESENTER have respectively disbursed the cash, they erect a sort of firewall around themselves and report on the monies spent and distributed directly from them - meaning they cannot or will not face the truth of where the money goes and what it does and does not pay for. This reluctance to fully partner with THE ARTIST at the upper tiers of this ecosystem transfers the responsibility to fulfill those expectations and assumptions to THE ARTIST. It’s THE ARTIST’s problem to solve. Which is ironic because, as detailed above, THE ARTIST is the plankton of the performing arts ecosystem.
THE ARTIST is fully complicit in this. They are desperate to get the gig, because there are so few gigs to be had. They convince themselves that they should be grateful for the opportunity, grateful to be paid anything at all and that “everyone is in the same boat.” They defend the notion that doing this is good for their career. They want to be “professional artists” and everyone knows you’re not a “professional artist” if you don’t get a gig in an established venue of repute. Worst of all, they feel guilty for selling themselves so cheap, and exploiting the good people who work for them; all of which makes it difficult to see that in fact, they are holding at least some of the cards (or at least all of the aces.)
Yes, ARTISTS have the power: to decide for themselves whether the existing model (or any model) works for them; to participate (or not) in a system which does not value their contribution monetarily or otherwise; and to play into the (false?) notion that “professionalism” is a measure of success. If “professional” wasn’t such a loaded word - if it was no longer a code word for success - it follows that much of the exploitation which occurs under the mantle of professionalism would disappear. And the power to do this rests entirely in THE ARTISTS’ hands.
To be clear, the lack of compensation we are talking about here, happens at every level of success and accomplishment, from the most embryonic of the emerging artist, through the most recognized of the successful. And it happens across cultural lines as well.
A (partial) way out of this mess is as simple and obvious as it is (seemingly) insurmountable: stop giving it away for free. THE ARTISTS need to recognize their own power, and use it. Control the supply; create demand; stop investing time, energy and money in pursuing empty opportunities.
Art is a profession; and artists who do not get paid are not professionals. Period.
We say this not to impugn the unpaid contributions made by artists in our lifetimes. We are simply trying to hold up a mirror to our own practices, and to challenge any conscious or unconscious justification on the part of arts organizations, funders, audience members and artists who place the moniker of professionalism (from which they extract tangible value) onto work for which the creators are not paid.
If, like most of us writing this, you have made work that is, by this measure, “amateur” work, we hope you’ll use this opportunity to ask yourself why you consider yourself professional. Is it because you are reviewed by critics, or curated by curators? Is it because you have done extensive training in your art-making? Is it because you subscribe to the common myth that you make art for the love of it and that your integrity would be compromised by seeking more or any compensation? Is it that you just haven’t run the numbers of your own investment?
For us, raising the bar on compensation is part of a larger mission: to make the work more viable, more relevant and less marginal. It is about including ourselves in the public sector – a sector woefully underfunded across the board, and integral to the functioning of a society – and saying that public sector in all its intricacies and varieties ought to be supported.
What does it mean to be professional?
Because arts workers are part of a shadow labor market in which compensation levels are not openly discussed, starvation wages are acceptable, and collective bargaining rarely occurs,
1. Poverty is good for art.
2. Professionalism or financial gain and integrity are incompatible.
3. Works are only valuable if they have been housed in particular institutions or reviewed in a major press outlet.
4. The real cost of making a work of art is:
a. Only THE ARTIST’s direct cash outlay - not the in-kind donations of time, space and equipment made by artists at every level of achievement (and the opportunity cost of their unpaid time)
b. Only THE PRESENTER’s direct cash outlay - not the in-kind donations of time (THE ARTISTS) or the indirect expenses including the management/development/other staff of THE PRESENTER.
c. Only THE FUNDER’s direct cash outlay – not the accumulation of all of the above.
5. The price of a ticket is the value of the art or at least covers the costs of making it.
These misconceptions are propagated and affirmed at every level, from the presenter, to the artist, to the university training program, to the foundations that fund the work, to the audience. Why? Perhaps because of the fear that if we all stopped believing the myth of the starving artist, nothing would get done or that many of us would be outed as “not real artists”. Perhaps because there is simply not enough money in the pipeline of traditional funding sources to support all the worthy work being made. And perhaps because we’ve all bought into the very contemporary American notion that “if I want it, or want to do it, I should have it, no matter what the cost (financial or otherwise.)”
This is not about “professional” vs “amateur”; rather, it’s about an incorrect notion of professionalism (and everything that goes into that) as a veil for exploitation.
We thought it would be good to imagine a field in which “professional” means “paid” and paid at least half-decently. For the purpose of this posting, we are starting with an hourly rate of $20 (incidentally, the typical hourly wage of a regional airline pilot). While the viability of this rate depends on where you live, whether you have a family, enjoy good health, or have other obligations you need to attend to, our perspective is that of living in New York City, where $20 per hour is just above substandard when accounting for the cost of living and real estate.
What would happen if everyone working on a show in our community was paid at this level for every hour worked? Here are a few thoughts:
(1) It would take more time to raise enough money to pay everyone at this scale.
(2) We might end up with less work being made.
(3) Everyone in the entire ecosystem - from receptionist at a foundation to development director at an institution to dancer on a stage - might get paid equitably and not have to subsidize their process with as much income from outside the arts sector.
(4) There might be more demand for the work in the long run.
SO HOW DO WE DO THAT?
- Stop making so much work. Sustain your practice in whatever way works for you, but don’t develop/put on big shows for “the public” unless/until you have the funds to pay for it. Supplying less of what an audience (the public) wants can make them want it more (independent musicians have understood this for a long time).
- Accept the fact that you’re an entrepreneur, the proprietor of your own small business, a participant in the capitalist system, and make business plans and real cost budgets and all the things that business owners have to do. This is the world that we live in and it’s not going to change. And why should it?
- Get rid of the idea that validation from an outside source (venue, curator, funder, critic) is a means to an end. There is no end. Look to other art forms and other business models and then make your own business model. For some artists that’s touring, for others it’s real estate, for others it’s public speaking or starting a non-profit or even waiting tables.
- Pay your performers on the books (dancers/actors/performers are not independent contractors, and paying them as such is illegal – as is it to have employees and no Workers Comp or Disability Insurance in New York State.)
If you run a “professional” organization and want to present “professional” work – well then, deal with that. Commit to changing the way you program. Think about moving away from the “fee for service” compensation model and pay everyone directly, on the books. Yes, the consequences of this action would be huge and most likely could not happen instantly or even in a short period of time. Or, stop using terms like commissioning or supporting. It would not be a pretty transition period, but it would be more honest and in the long run it would benefit the field.
Recognize the value of paying more for less work, as that work will be better wrought and better received. Emphasize quality over quantity. Support artists, not projects. Encourage presenters and artists to take risks and fail. Expect that all art serves many purposes - there is no simple distinction between “art for arts sake” and “community engaged work”. Most artists work in a gray area that includes some of both. The less justification you require based on an explicit corollary purpose (education, community engagement, bridging the class divide), the more likely the ARTIST will seek the right audiences and platforms.
Open up the books. Show the world - who is getting paid what and why. Dispel the fallacy that well paid administrators are sucking the well dry. Embrace the fact that the majority of performing arts workers - Executive Directors, Interns, Choreographers, Master Electricians - are probably working for less than minimum wage, as well.
What kind of field do we want the performing arts to be? As workers in the performing arts field, we have to make a choice: (a) change the way we work; or (b) admit that by not changing, we are giving an implicit stamp of approval to the system as it exists today, whether it works for us or not.
A SNAPSHOT OF OUR BOOKS
- Operating Budget = $2,733,800
- Full-time salary range = $43,790 - $66,560 (exempt overtime)
- Part-time salary range = $18 – 20 per hour (non-exempt)
- Health Insurance = Employees 25-39 hours get health insurance at a 90% coverage (employee contributes 10%; $427 a month); Employees at 40 hours (Executive Director) get 100% coverage (no employee contribution). Employees 20-25 hours can participate at 100% employee contribution. Insurance has $1,000 deductible and is in-network only.
- Other Benefits = 8 paid sick, 10 legal holidays, and 10-15 day vacations
- $$ of Operating Budget that goes to Artist Fees / Regrants / Pass-through = $2,100,000 in grants/contributions to artists/companies
Aaron Landsman - working artist
- Income derived directly from art practice (performing/making) - $10,000 – 20,000
- Income derived from related practices (teaching, guest lecturing, admin and consulting work) 35,000-45,000
- Self-employed couple with small child - gross receipts, no insurance or other benefits included: $80,000-90,000 (what we take in before any expenses or taxes are figured in).
- Family of three, adjusted gross income: $40,000-50,000
The Chocolate Factory Theater
- Operating Budget = $400,000
- Full-time salary range = $23,090 - $45,000 (exempt from overtime)
- Part-time salary range = $18 – 20 per hour (non-exempt)
- Health Insurance: 3 Full-Time Employees get 100% coverage (no employee contribution). Part-Time Year-round Employees can participate at 100% employee contribution government subsidized at approximately $280 per month.
- Other Benefits = 8 paid, 10 legal holidays, and 10-15 day vacations sick (Full-Time & regular Part-Time pro-rated from 40hours per week)
- $$ of Operating Budget that goes to Artistic Salaries/Fees/Commissions = approximately $135,000
Performance Space 122
- Operating = $1,404,000
- Full-time salary range = $30,000 = $62,000 (excluding benefits, no overtime).
- Hourly salary range = $15-20 per hour (overtime = time and a half)
- Health Insurance = Full time employees get 100% coverage. Part time employees do not currently receive coverage.
- Other Benefits = Full time employees receive 10 – 20 days vacation time, sick days, most legal holidays.
- $$ of Operating Budget that goes to Artist Fees / Box Office Splits / Pass-through = $326, 325, Other external show expenses (travel, per diem, visas, etc) = $84,504.