xHgGrtG-show-poster2x3-aXpIxNN.png

Artbound

Start watching
Tending Nature poster 2021

Tending Nature

Start watching
IYhnPQZ-show-poster2x3-Ytk6YwX.png

Southland Sessions

Start watching
RYQ2PZQ-show-poster2x3-OGargou.jpg

Earth Focus

Start watching
5LQmQJY-show-poster2x3-MRWBpAK.jpg

Reporter Roundup

Start watching
E5VnHdZ-show-poster2x3-PrXshoo.png

City Rising

Start watching
QraE2nW-show-poster2x3-uY3aHve.jpg

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement and Special Events teams.

Should I Become a Nonprofit?

typewriter.jpg

ARTS SHRINK is a bi-weekly column designed to answer questions from artists and arts groups related to their arts business and practice. The Arts Shrink brings two decades of experience as an arts consultant, teacher, and mentor to the table as she responds your questions.

DEAR ARTS SHRINK:

Should I incorporate as a non-profit organization so I can get grants?

- Riverside Musician

Dear River Muse,

Your question reminds me of a question I had myself a few of years ago: "Should I wear a Valentino gown to my Granny's birthday party?" The answer is the same: "You could but it'd be over-kill."

Let's think this through together. First off, it's expensive and time consuming to incorporate as a nonprofit because there are Federal and State fees and possibly attorney fees involved, and you will have to wait six months to a year to actually get tax exempt status. Second, most foundations and government granting programs won't let you apply for grants until you've been doing business as a nonprofit corporation for at least three years. Third, the law requires that you maintain a Board of Directors that meets regularly; this means you now have a whole group of people to manage. Lastly, there are numerous annual reports that must be filed with the IRS. Now River Muse, is this really what you want to do?

Let's consider some others options. I infer from your question that you feel you need nonprofit infrastructure and I completely understand your desire to have one but, before jumping headlong into a situation that you'll be stuck with forever, ask yourself this: How important is it to me that I own the infrastructure? What about borrowing one? Think about the possibility of becoming a "program" of an already existing nonprofit. Think inside and outside the box on this. Is there a nonprofit theater in your region? Can your music augment their existing mission? Ask them. Or what about the community center up the street? On the most basic level, community centers exist to bring the community together. Performing artists share this commitment to community convening (although it's often an implied commitment -- artists should talk about this explicitly because it's a very powerful impulse, but I'm rambling...). Talk to the community center. Think creatively along these lines. I know a theatre group who took this advice and is now "in residency" at a local College. This kind of partnership provides you with the infrastructure you desire without the initial and on-going leg work and expense.

If you are still convinced that becoming a nonprofit is the right thing for you, I would encourage you to check out this book published by NOLO Press "How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation." It contains easy instructions and forms. With this book you can probably do it yourself and avoid paying an attorney.

Think carefully about your decision. It has been my experience that artists who create their own nonprofit corporate infrastructure have substantially less time to devote to art making. They often express frustration at having to manage the infrastructure and, as a solution, want to hire a staff person to handle the business. But by hiring a staff person, they are inadvertently growing the infrastructure; now they are not only responsible for managing a board but they have staff to manage too. And it goes on and on. Large (even mid-sized) arts organizations have a built-in mandate to bring in huge amounts of money in order to support huge infrastructures. This unyielding economic mandate often negatively impacts the artistic product. Backroom management conversations then often change from "How can we do the best work?" to "What can we do to sell the most tickets (or product)?" You know what I'm talking about.

My advice: Stay small and creative, dear River Muse.

Do you have a question you'd like answered? Send an email here.

Dig this story? Sign up for our newsletter to get unique arts & culture stories and videos from across Southern California in your inbox. Also, follow Artbound on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.

Top Image: Cody Geary /Flickr/Creative Commons License

Support Provided By
Support Provided By
Read More
Pacific Division Officer Hoskins tries to pry open the door of a truck involved in a accident that left the driver and passenger locked in the overturned vehicle. | Joseph Rodriguez

'90s Photos of LAPD Reveal a City in Pain

Joseph Rodriguez’s photographs of the LAPD in 1994 is a deeply personal, political act that still resonates in today’s political climate.
Carla Jay Harris "Sphinx," 2019. Archival pigment print. Two panels, 40 x 30 in. each. The work features a beautiful Black woman wearing a dark blue dress kneeling down in a golden meadow under a starry sky and bright orange sun. | Courtesy the artist

Now More Than Ever: The Need for Alternative Cultural Spaces

Learn more about the spaces filling the holes left behind by the historically white-centric L.A. art world.
Aerial view of Watts Towers Arts Center | Still from "Watts Towers Arts Center" ab s11

Stretching Out into the Community: Five Key Watts Artists Who Helped Shape American Art

Meet the core artists who were the vanguards of the West Coast edition of the Black Arts Movement: Betye Saar, Noah Purifoy, John Outterbridge and Jayne Cortez.