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Hashtag Fair Wage in the Offices Near the Stage

Wednesday, January 4, 2017   (0 Comments)

Hashtag Fair Wage in the Offices Near the Stage; Or, Wacky Ideas for Finding More Money So We Can Pay Theatre People More

Recently, one of the largest non-profit theatre companies in New York City (and in North America) put up a job posting for an Assistant to the Director of Development with a listed salary of $30,000-$35,000. There were no additional benefits specified. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any, nor does this posting mean that someone will be getting $30,000 per year. It would be reasonable to assume that they are just posting the $30k scenario so that when they make an offer that’s slightly higher, the young, hungry development officer will be more likely to take the job.

It is not uncommon for non-profit theatres large enough to be blessed with a budget big enough to accommodate associate and assistant positions to pay those entry-level folks five-figure salaries that start with a three, or even a two. If you’re making $30k per year, assuming you’re working forty hours per week (which you almost definitely aren’t—probably more), that breaks down to $14.42 per hour to live in NYC. That’s not great, is it?

Here are a few assumptions that, even with our cynical arts admin outlooks that make us wish we were fundraising for something easier like cancer research or starving children, we need to assume are true for purposes of this discussion:

1. Theatre is necessary, even in these dark times. We all have lots of work to do to protect our basic human rights and the rights of our fellow citizens. There are many invaluable non-arts organizations that we should absolutely be supporting with our time, attention, and (of course) money. But theatre is a literal space for processing, healing, cultivating empathy, being engulfed in a world that isn’t your own and therefore teaches you something new, among other things. We needed this before the 2016 US presidential election, and we continue to need them, as individuals and as a society.

2. Artists and arts administrators are equally necessary to making theatre.

3. Theatre is a business, and businesses need paid employees to run (which is to say that a volunteer-run theatre venue or generative company is not a sustainable model, even though some intrepid souls are able to do it and they’re heroes).

4. Artists and arts administrators are all working as hard as they can.

5. Artists and arts administrators all deserve to get compensated fairly for their time.

6. Artists and arts administrators both struggle with entry-level compensation.

7. There are perks and trade-offs to being a full-time versus a contracted employee. Yes, administrators have the security of knowing where their next paycheck is coming from and when (most of the time—I know there are lots of administrators who have had to delay a paycheck because of cash flow), but many of them are working well over forty hours a week all the time. To incorrectly paraphrase Karl Marx, it’s all bad.

8. Non-profits are being run well and their money is, first and foremost, going towards necessary programs. (I think there are probably case studies we could do where we break into some 990’s and ponder fundraising expenses in particular, but for the purposes of this exercise, let’s believe the best in ourselves.)

8a. No one should get paid less. Even artistic directors making a six-figure salary are (probably) personally bringing in seven figures to the organization and are therefore (hopefully) indispensable. Maintaining earning potential is crucial to keeping folks working in this industry instead of running off to get an easier and better-paid job at Google. Plus, we should all be in this together and advocate for each other’s value.

9. The non-profit business model is a functional way to run a theatre. (This is potentially the most controversial thing in this section.)

On board? Theoretically? Maybe? Enough? Great, thanks, onwards.

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