June 2008 Field Letter
Written on May 28, 2008
This is my last letter before the National Performing Arts Convention and so, of course, I must give the event one large final plug. We’re just shy of two weeks away and it’s really not too late to register. So come on out, over or down to Denver! TCG’s portion of the agenda is shaping up well and we expect a diverse group of just over 500 registrants for our sessions.
I’d like to draw your attention to two upcoming professional development programs. This year marks the 11th and final round of the Expanding the Theatre Manager’s Repertoire training program, which will be held August 10—12 in Charleston, SC. Sponsored by Target, over 650 graduates have participated from across the country. I went through the program last year and it was heartening to see the range of participants, with contingents from theatres across the country representing a variety of departments and positions. In addition to managing and artistic leaders, staff from departments as varied as production, finance, wardrobe, literary, development, marketing, company management and customer service all mingled together in a collaborative environment. It was an impressively diverse group. And Robbin Walker, our trainer for the entire run of the program, is fantastic! Don’t miss out on the last chance to participate. Also, continuing our new Leadership Teleconference series, the next session is The Contributed Income Quest: New Strategies to Maximize Results. Dory Vanderhoof, senior partner at Genovese, Vanderhoof and Associates, will lead participants through a discussion of some of the fundraising strategies currently yielding the most significant results for today’s performing arts institutions. The teleconference will take place on Wednesday, June 25, at 2:00pm (EDT). For more information about either program, contact Chris Shuff, director of management programs.
Membership renewal is also underway and we’re running ahead of previous years. In large part, this is because you have responded quickly with the renewal materials, thus helping cut down on reminder calls and emails; although, Jen Cleary and her staff love being in touch with you, of course. I am also pleased to report that we’ve been attracting a steady stream of new members, and wish to welcome our most recent joiners: Chicago Children’s Theatre, HERE Arts Center (New York, NY), North American Cultural Laboratory Theatre (Highland Lake, NY), the Theatre Offensive (Boston), foolsFURY Theater (San Francisco). Jump-Start Performance Company (San Antonio, TX), Chenango River Theatre (Greene, New York) and Virginia Premiere Theatre (Mobjack, VA). This summer, we will initiate quarterly member orientation briefings by phone, as well as circulating a member satisfaction survey. So stay tuned for those this summer.
Tax Exempt Status of Not-For-Profits
There has been a flurry of articles lately about the tax exempt status of charities. Most recently, a New York Times cover story reported on a December Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that a not-for-profit day care center must pay state property taxes because “it doesn’t give anything away.” Increasingly, not-for-profits such as universities, hospitals and large cultural organizations are being scrutinized, both by state and federal representatives, for being treated as tax exempt while having very large endowments, business models with large fee-for-service elements and not enough resources directed to promote broader public access through scholarships and other means. A series of articles have appeared in the last year, including these:
- A September 6, 2007 New York Times article, “Big Gifts, Tax Breaks and a Debate on Charity” by Stephanie Strom, quoted investor William H. Gross, “When millions of people are dying of AIDS and malaria in Africa, it is hard to justify the umpteenth society gala held for the benefit of a performing arts center or an art museum. A $30 million gift to a concert hall is not philanthropy, it is a Napoleonic coronation.”
- In the October 1, 2007 Los Angeles Times, Robert Reich takes on the rich and giving in an article entitled, “Is Harvard a Charity?” He writes, “This year’s charitable donations are expected to total more than $200 billion, a record. But a big portion of this impressive sum—especially from the wealthy, who have the most to donate – is going to culture palaces: to the operas, art museums, symphonies and theatres where the wealthy spend much of their leisure time.” He goes on in the article to single out New York’s Lincoln Center and writes, “Awhile ago, New York's Lincoln Center had a gala supported by the charitable contributions of hedge-fund industry leaders, some of whom take home $1 billion a year. I may be missing something, but this doesn't strike me as charity. Poor New Yorkers rarely attend concerts at Lincoln Center.”
- And lastly, a September 25, 2007 U.S. House Ways and Means Committee hearing included troubling comments by Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA) that “he had reservations about whether donations to institutions such as art museums and universities should be given the same tax treatment as contributions to social services charities that help poor people.” The American Arts Alliance has responded by submitting written testimony for the record to the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee.
These articles challenge both tax exemptions and the tax deductibility of contributions to not-for-profits, including arts organizations. While theatres are notoriously under-endowed, they also have ticket prices that are significantly lower than the actual cost of creating productions and provide productions intended to educate and benefit the public. They provide important services to the community such as arts education in schools, as well as community and neighborhood development programs. It is critical to realize that our ability to exist and deliver on our public mission would not be possible without charitable contributions and tax exemptions made possible by state and federal exempt status. This should not be taken for granted. What can you do? First of all, it’s a good time to become knowledgeable about what is being written on this topic and to understand your own exempt status and be able to articulate the ways in which your organization benefits the community consistent with the law. State laws govern exemption in areas such as property tax and it is useful to review your own state’s not-for-profit tax code. According to the IRS the “exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition and preventing cruelty to children or animals. The legal definition of charity includes areas such as the advancement of education or science; erecting and maintaining public buildings, monuments or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.”
Check out TCG’s YouTube Channel
As you are aware, TCG ran a video contest in which theatres submitted videos explaining their organizations and where they think theatre will be in 20 years. Thank you to 7 Stages, Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Brava! For Women in the Arts, Imagination Stage, Kitchen Theatre Company, Lark Play Development Center, Magic Theatre and Youth Ensemble of Atlanta for their entries. All of the videos were extremely original and well executed, and I wanted to urge you to take a look at them on TCG’s YouTube Channel. Also, many of you have promo and other forms of video for your theatres. I encourage you to send them to TCG so we can post them on our YouTube channel. This way, TCG member theatres can go to one location to see what others are accomplishing in this medium instead of searching all over YouTube or going to individual websites. Our request to you is that you send us no more than 3 videos.
Visits and Visitors
Thank you to the TCG board of directors for spending a productive two days in New York at our May board meeting. .Also, thank you to Roche Schulfer of the Goodman Theatre for stopping by this month, as well as David Hawkanson of Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Ben Yalom from foolsFURY Theater. I had a great trip to Bloomsburg, PA to visit with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble and to attend a production of Michael Hollinger’s Incorruptible. A wonderful town and a wonderful 30 year old ensemble! Thank you to all of them for being such great hosts. Please note Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble’s annual Noh Training Project, the most intensive performance-based training available outside of Japan in the dance, chant, instruments and masks of Japanese Noh Drama, has extended its application deadline to May 30, 2008.
If you don’t already subscribe to Thomas Cott’s “You’ve Cott Mail,” it’s a useful daily digest of arts news that is informative and manageable. Also check out Yelp. While it’s been around for quite awhile, if you’ve not yet become a “Yelper,” take a look at this review and social networking site—featuring candid, often humorous reviews of restaurants and other businesses (including arts organizations). I still run into people who don’t know about Yelp, so thought I would call it to your attention.
Until next month, all the best,
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