Shawn René Graham, The Field’s Artist Services Manager and a Dramaturg who’s worked extensively in dance and theater (read: she’s been on both sides of the art-making/arts administration divide), breaks down why, when, and how fiscal sponsorship can be most useful to artists.
First off, we’ve got a new mantra for you: “Think business.” According to Shawn René, the key to being a successful and financially astute artist is to deftly straddle art-making and arts administration. She says, “artists need to think of themselves in two ways: as art-makers and as business people.”
A huge part of being a savvy business person is planning ahead. If you want to grow your budget through strategic and sustainable long-term fundraising, and/or if you’re seeking large gifts or applying to family foundations for institutional funding, you need non-profit affiliation.
What’s the difference between a fiscal sponsor and becoming your own 501©3? Primarily, the difference here is in time commitment and scale of operations. Becoming a 501©3 and maintaining that status with the IRS is a huge load of work and can be very complicated; you want to be really sure that it’s right for you before you dive in. A fiscal sponsor, on the other hand, provides many of the same non-profit benefits with a fraction of the work.
So once you’ve swallowed that pill, what are some practical ways to get the most out of your fiscal sponsor and fiscal sponsorship in general? Shawn René breaks it down:
1. Take inventory of the resources that you have—and the ones you still need. What skills or support structures do you bring to the table? In what areas do you require further expertise? This will help you identify what it is you need from a fiscal sponsor. It’s also super useful if you’re looking to barter with other artists.
2. Choose a fiscal sponsor that’s right for you. Think about what kind of relationship you want to have with your fiscal sponsor and what you expect them to provide for you. Do you need help with professional development (budgets, writing, touring, publicity)? Then choose a fiscal sponsor that offers resources on these topics (and be willing to receive critical feedback!).
3. Be ready to talk about your art-making history. Draft a personal timeline of your artistic work so you can visualize this and keep track. Know yourself, your process, and your work.
4. Be ready to learn, understand, and know your value in the marketplace. You are a contributor to the economy. Being fiscally smart is about fortifying partnerships, marketing yourself, and being connected in a network of artists, funders, and stakeholders.
5. Make the time commitment. Running a company (or even just the administrative tasks of an individual artist) takes time and attention. You need to be prepared to deal with the day-to-day upkeep, so build it into your calendar.
So now you’re thinking business. You’re ready to take the plunge. Who are some fiscal sponsors you can turn to? Well, there’s us: The Field. There’s also NYFA, Fractured Atlas, New York Live Arts, and Pentacle to name a few. Shop around, do your research, compare prices and benefits offered. And as always, contact us if you have any questions!