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February 03, 2010


Don Hall

"But the mistake isn't the model, it's the misunderstanding of what the model is for."

I agree. The model is specifically designed to give NON-COMMERCIAL WORK a leg up (if you don't believe me check out the legislation for the model's original creation - it's pretty explicit on that point...)

The model has become a corporate model for organizations who want to also receive grants. Court doesn't produce non-commercial work. Steppenwolf does not produce non-commercial work. Goodman does not produce non-commercial work.

And because the model specifically designed for the promotion and funding of non-commercial work has been co-opted by commercial groups, there still is no model, save self production, for non-commercial work.

So, please, Adam. Don't justify your salary on the assumption that someone doesn't realize that a theater that can pay your salary is a COMMERCIAL ENTITY and it's mandate is that salary first and using the commercial work as a way to finance your gig.

But you are 100% correct. The mistake isn't the model - it's your misunderstanding of it.



I was about to tear your comment to shreds, but I do need to ask a legit question first:

Where do you draw the line between a commercial work and noncommercial work? What's the difference to you?

Don Hall

Commercial work is that which is specifically designed to make a profit from its sale.

The NFP model was designed to support artistic work that was specifically non-commercial (created without constraints of profit motive.)

A marketing department, development department, grant-writing department - only necessary if profit is first and foremost the motive for creation of the work for sale. Because it fuels the need.

I understand the desire to paint working for pay in the theater as a noble and entitled thing, but gimme a break! Likewise, there's nothing noble about how I do things. Nobility is for those who sacrifice for others, not art or the sale of it.

Ultimately, yours is the same tired argument that Ronald Reagan through out into the world - if you aren't in it for the money, you need to grow up. A load of shit.

Tear away!



You remind of those dudes that are always talking about "evil" corporations with a cup of Starbucks in one hand and an Ipod in the other. It most be loads of fun painting yourself as the ultimate arbiter of what's noble and not.

But enough tearing away, let me deal directly with your thoughts.

You and I stand on two different sides of the ledger. You think marketing, development, etc. take away from the artistic motive. I think they can (if used properly) enhance the art.

I don't think working for pay in theatre (or any other art form) is either noble or entitled. I just think it's *possible*. More importantly I think it's possible to do those things without throwing your artist ambitions in the trash.

Well, maybe not *your* artistic ambitions because yours are all pure and stuff . . . but you get the idea.

I know quite a few folks on the nonprofit side of the artistic equation, the people you tend to call corporate whores . . . and yes, some of them do make the sort of artistic choices that lend themselves to easier fundraising and ticket sales.

I think that's a mistake. I can also think of a few organizations that make brave, enlightened choices and still manage to give people a decent paycheck.

And can we please stop with the Ronnie Regan comparisions? Again I know it's fun to pretend that the whole starving artist thing is the only path to Nirvana . . . but I don't know a whole lot of people doing things like theatre, jazz, visual art and dance for the money. Hell, even most of the people that have money aren't doing it FOR the money.

You're an experienced and talented theatre producer. You've made some strong decisions. But please stop pretending that you're the guardian of light while folks like me are paving the path to hell.

You know better then that.

Plus, you and I have different definitions of commerical and non-commerical.

I see commerical work as work that is populist enough to attract an audience which is large enough to generate a profit.

Everything else is non-commerical.

Tony Adams

So where does a very artistic piece that happens to touch a nerve and sell a lot of tickets fall?

One distinction I think is missing is non-profit theatres are in fact charities. It was not created to support non-commercial artistic work or work without the motive of earning revenue.

501c3s are legally able to not pay taxes on income related to programs that directly support their mission, and people who give them money get tax breaks, because they are supposed to provide a social good. The 501c3 statutes are pretty clear on that.

But it doesn't say anything about what is commercial or non-commercial. (or supporting art btw) The IRS has taken away exemptions from some orgs that couldn't make the distinction between what they do and what for-profit orgs in the same field do, but that's not necessarily the same thing.

From the IRS Instructions to Form 1023 (applying for 501c3 Status):
Organizations organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition, or for the prevention cruelty to children or animals are to file Form 1023 to obtain recognition of exemption from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

If providing a social good is not part of what a non-profit company does--they are just cheating on their taxes. (The merits of which are a seperate debatable matter, but in general, the IRS is pretty strongly against it.)

It's not a matter of commercial or non-commercial. It's a matter of providing a social good or not. Newman's Own is very commercial. Does that mean the Newman's Own Foundation a load of shit?

That's were a lot of the arguments about the NFP model break down. A lot of them shouldn't be a501c3. And I think some should have their tax exemption reviewed and maybe revoked. But commercial v. non-commercial is not the key distinction for the 501c3.

Don Hall

"But commercial v. non-commercial is not the key distinction for the 501c3."

It isn't any more but Tony - that's why arts groups were included in the exemption. To support non-commercial work. Look it up. It's in the original legislation.

ADAM - as I said - nothing noble about what I'm doing, either. You spent the entire original post throwing out assumptions that are only supported by the idea that only "professional-type grown-up theaters" are worth the time. EX: "Live" is expensive (bullshit - we make choices that make it expensive because people will only pay $50.00 a ticket for an Irma Vep with a killer set); NFP is about building an artistic legacy (bullshit - most artistic legacies are discovered long after they were "built" so actively trying to build one is silly): that for theater to be produced "propperly" it takes a lot of dough (what the fuck does "properly" mean and by whose standards? You throw out that I'm a pretentious martyr - give it rest, your long suffering journey TO GET PAID has rewarded you with a PAYING GIG.

Bottom line, while the 'starving artist" model (not, btw, one I support - I say get an effing job and then do the art because as you can testify too, ART isn't a job but SELLING ART is) isn't particularly noble, saying so does not in any way elevate the search for a buck approach.

The NFP model has become nothing more than a tax shelter for commercially driven orgs that put on huge plays with huge admission prices to the very few that can afford them so they can shill the G and foundations for grant money. When the actors at Court get the same salary as you and the administrative staff, then I'll concede your point. Until then, this whole post is a bunch of crap.

Tony Adams

Don, I have read that portion of the Revenue Code of 1954 (and '86 revisions for that matter). And I can't seem to find where it says that, nor in the major court cases relevant to 501c3 (in the majority or dissenting opinions.)

Can you hit me up with a link to what you're referring to?

I've seen a lot about how cultural institutions can fulfill an educational purpose, but nothing about non-commercial artistic work. Am I just missing it?

Don Hall

TA -

You are correct in that the distinction is not in the code or revisions. I thought it was. Turns out it was a primary justification by Johnson when they allowed arts groups to be awarded NFP status (which was originally designed for charities) just after the Ford Foundation was created and the Nat'l Endowment for the Arts came into being. It was, however, never put into legal language just speechified rhetoric.

My balloon has been burst. Turns out there has NEVER been a model in the system designed to assist non-commercial art. I feel dirtier than I did before crazily searching through my notes on this issue. It means that the NFP model has NEVER been what Johnson hoped for nor has it ever been anything but a tax dodge for big, wealthy companies and a government lean on companies that need endowment but can't afford to woo Sara Lee.

Adam -

"I see commerical work as work that is populist enough to attract an audience which is large enough to generate a profit.

Everything else is non-commerical."

So, in your mind, a work that is mounted with the intention of being commercial is non-commercial only if it fails to attract the audience? So the recent debacle of Cromer's "Brighton Beach" was a non-commercial show? The failed "Dirty Dancing" was a non-commercial show? I don't think so.

Tony Adams

I get the "Dirty Dancing" analogy, and god help us, "Turn of the Century", but here does a very artistic piece that happens to touch a nerve and sell a lot of tickets fall? Does it stop being artistic and become solely commercial? Is the Court a commericial theatre?

As far as the model, I don't think it has to be either/or. It is a model that is great for folks like FreeStreet, Barrel of Monkeys, and Albany Park Theatre Project. I don't necessarily think it's a great model for WNEP or the Goodman for that matter.

But I think a lot of the issues are less with the model and more with so many square pegs being fit into a tax hole.

If institutions are no different than for-profit compnies, should their tax-exemption be revisited? Having to pay taxes would be a pretty powerful motivator for change.

The other side of the coin is true as well that many companies shouldn't try to be 501c3's either.



Agreed. The model doesn't work for a lot of groups. It really is square pegs and round holes.


If your intention was to make a profit primarily through ticket sales, record sales, or some other sort of earned revenue and you fail to do it then you're just a failed commerical entity.

I didn't make my commerical/non-commerical distinction very clear but to me it's all about where you intend to go to get the money you need to mount the work.

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