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April 30, 2009


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That's what bothers me such about some of these conversations, the legal requirements of nonprofit theatres are both few and easy to fulfill.

1. Serve a public purpose
2. Have a Board.
3. Make sure that Board meets regularly and is informed because if sh*t gets crazy it's on the Board.
4. Any money that comes into the theatre does not belong to any INDIVIDUAL, it belongs to the theatre as a whole.

That's basically it.

No requirement for life sucking Boards.

No requirement to do bland art.

No requirement to pay people like migrant workers.

All of those things are choices that we collectively make, not things that are required.


It isn't the laws. 501-3(c) requires three board members. There is nothing about who or what they have to be. They could be all staff (as long as compensation is appropriate). It is all about how they are run and the supposed "rules." Unfortunately we have spent a lot of time trying to meet expectations that were self-imposed and not really explored. I think the bright side of this economy is that we are all being forced to assess things through a new filter about what matters to our organization, community, and long term goals.


I think one of the players in this game that doesn't get discussed is the funding community. They actually bear a portion of responsibility in this set-up. Most, especially large, foundations don't give to organizations that meet their criterion of "healthy," not just financially, but in terms of infastructure. That has certainly increased the spread of the "standard" model. When a foundation is looking to give money to an organization, it's basically looking for an organization that resembles a foundation. When small organizations want to raise money to expand their artistic programming, the expectation from the funding community is that they will "grow" their board and staff "appropriately" to match. And that means "community partners" (money people) on the board. The law doesn't mandate it, but the culture does.


I think a lot of the problems start with a misunderstanding of the the model itself.

For what many want to do it is a terrible model, but we try to fit square pegs into round holes so we can get out of paying taxes and catch a few drops of funding.


Today I was talking with Randy Cohen at Americans for the Arts about their research and data on non-profit arts organizations, and he dropped the little bombshell that currently there is a new 501 (c)(3) created every three minutes. All these are not arts and cultural organizations, of course. But, they are all competing for funding in their own fields. So if the number of non profits is growing at an amazing rate, and the assets of funders are shrinking at an amazing rate...something is going to hit the fan.


Adrian Ellis, currently the director of Jazz at Lincoln Center has an interesting "big picture" take on the future of non profits. Here's a link to a fairly brief paper:


Mike Daisey

I think it's a cultural problem, though I do believe that examining how the codes are implemented could have profound effects on the theater world.

My concern is how existing power structures eat up resources, and that's why I work for change within them. Changing how people begin theaters, and making them aware of the options they have, is great work others are pursuing.

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