Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cost-Free Support for Arts Community

August 22, 2007, 7:00 a.m.

We are increasingly coming to recognize the contribution of the full range of the arts -- not only to our "quality of life" but also the economic growth and wellbeing that is increasingly dependent in this Information Age on the full range of human creativity.

Richard Florida, who has been here in Iowa City, is one of the better known spokespersons for this view with his "Creative Class Group."

It is much of what makes Iowa City the top rated place to live that it is. We are well blessed with theaters, art galleries, music venues, and of course our emphasis on writing.

Mary Blackwood, Director of the Landlocked Film Festival, recently put the case for developing a motion picture industry here in Iowa.
Mary Blackwood, "It's Time for Iowa's Close-Up; A Short Manifesto for How Iowa Can Grow a State Film Industry," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 21, 2007, p. A11. The paper joined her sentiments the same day. Editorial, "Smile, Iowa, the Cameras Are Rolling," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 21, 2007, p. A11.

Flashback, introduction and analogy.
Over 30 years ago, working with my own and other public interest organizations in Washington, D.C., fund raising was a challenge for us all -- as it remains to this day. The standard practice was for those foundations that were funding us to give cash grants to each organization separately. It was then up to each of us to spend it as efficiently as possible for rent, phone, copying, salaries, transportation, and such other costs as we might have.

One day it occurred to me how wasteful this was from the standpoint of the foundations. I proposed that they buy a building (which would go up in value anyway) and house us there -- at a radically reduced cost to them compared with what they were paying us to pay rent to for-profit landlords. I proposed that they include in the building a copy center, a travel agency, a business supplies store, and other commonly shared resources needed by all of us.

Some of these ideas were actually adopted. Others not.

Subsequently, other service organizations were created to serve the entire public interest community: computer services in the early years of mainframe computers and then desktops, mass mailing fund raising letters and service, media relations, and counsel regarding social change strategies.
Fast forward: Supporting the Arts in Eastern Iowa

Some years ago I was asked to teach a course in "Entertainment Law and Business" for some theater students. During that semester I ran into a couple (not in the class) in the music business. The wife was the musician -- song writer and performer. The husband (who agreed to talk to the students) handled the business side of the business. He made the CDs, distributed them to radio stations, and then followed up with phone calls to encourage their getting air play. He promoted and handled the bookings for concerts.

At the time, and since, I have extrapolated from that, and my prior Washington experience -- along with exposure to UI's entrepreneurial programs -- to a vision of a model for the arts generally, anywhere, but especially here in eastern Iowa.

We have a lot of talent in this part of the state -- actors, quilt makers, performing musicians, novelists, potters, graphic artists, poets, song writers, film and video makers, playwrights and virtually every other imaginable artist.

There's no question about their professional artistic talent. There is, often, some question about their business talent. That's not a criticism. No one (or at least only a statistically insignificant minority) is talented at everything. That's why we take our cars to mechanics, our bodies to doctors, and seek the advice of lawyers.

I recall a conversation with one of the "Charlie's Angels" when on location with them in Colorado for a film. She explained the disparity between what was reported she was paid and how much she ended up with. After paying percentage shares to managers, business managers, agents, publicists, lawyers, goodness knows who else -- and taxes -- her cut was about 10%.

The cuts taken by each of her "support staff" may or may not have been excessive. The point is, there are entertainment industry professionals in California's "creative community" who are supporting the artists (as well as being supported by them). And much, if not all, of what they are doing for their clients pays off in terms of their clients' total revenue and careers.

Few, if any, of our eastern Iowa artists can afford that kind of professional staff.

So what do they do? Most do without. Some try to master the business side of their business, but find it doesn't really suit their aptitudes or interests. At best it's draining time, creative and emotional energy away from their artistic productivity.

So you see where I'm going with this.

Indeed, others are already moving in that direction.

Matthew Krigbaum, a lawyer with Moyer & Bergman, is pushing a project that would provide free legal advice to artists and musicians. Fred Love, "Free Legal Help for Artists Awaiting OK," The Gazette, August 20, 2007, p. B1. At this point he's simply awaiting an Iowa Bar Association ruling that the organization,
Iowa Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, will comport with the bar's ethical obligations.

I think this is a great idea.

But it's only a beginning. (Of course, better a "beginning" that is accomplished than another one of my grandiose dreams and schemes that is ignored and withers.)

It would be great if others would pick up this baton.

Like a professional team taking responsibility for a K-12 student with special needs, or a team at Hospice, we need a team of professionals to advise and direct those artists who would welcome the support: lawyers, yes, but also accountants, bankers, and venture capitalists; business persons (like SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives), venue managers, agents, professors and students focused on marketing, and entrepreneurial enterprises; and others with relevant talents to contribute.

It's too early in the development of this idea to be talking about financing. Besides, Krigbaum and others are really talking about volunteer, pro bono efforts -- something many of us can do that may be even more valuable than the cash we pay for tickets or give as contributions.

But there also could be some arrangement whereby (as with a commercial agent) the artist would agree that some agreed upon percentage of any incremental increase in their income attributable to the efforts of the group would return to provide some of the basic budget for its operations, such as, perhaps, a paid office worker or rental of space.

Artists are already doing a lot for the quality of life, and economy, of eastern Iowa. Imagine what they could do if we'd lend a hand to the business side of their lives and free up even more time for them to pursue their craft.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post on the impact of arts and culture in our communities! We all agree there is an intrinsic value of arts and culture in our daily lives, but often overlook the economic impact. The Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance released a study this summer that indicated arts and culture have a $63 million impact in the Corridor. You can read the whole report at www.culturalcorridor.org/pdf/200706_economicreport.pdf.

The guest opinion in the Press-Citizen you reference makes a great point about the importance of developing a production infrastructure. When we drafted the film production tax credit bill we specifically included a paragraph allowing companies providing services to a qualified project to exclude receipts from the project from their gross taxable incomes. See HF 892, pg. 6, ln. 22. This is an incentive that should help develop the necessary infrastructure.

Kudos to Matt Krigbaum and others helping to develop the business infrastructure in the Corridor so arts and culture continue to economically impact the Corridor, as well as enrich our lives.

State Rep. Tyler Olson