Contracts are moral documents. They are also enforcement tools. Drafting an equity-driven contract raises tensions: tensions between new and old models of relationship, between a vision rooted in relationship and the pressures of capitalism, and between the desire for collaboration in the field and the reality that adversarial situations happen.
In an effort to wrestle with these tensions—and in response to Phase 1 of Creating New Futures (CNF)—a Contracts Working Group was formed as part of CNF Phase 2. The group, whose core laborers include Sandy Garcia, Ben Levine, Sarah Lewitus, and Hope Mohr, have spent over a year working with other arts workers engaged in CNF to create contractual documents built from a place of justice and transparency, clarifying the terms of the engagement for both parties to the contract (the Artist/Company and the Presenter) not only legally, but in terms of relationship and community. Katie Gorum was also an early member of the Contracts Working Group, whose work as a technical director was instrumental in including technician/designers, who may review technical riders but are normally not part of the engagement contract negotiation.
The Contracts Working Group (Hope, Ben, Sarah and Sandy) represent a range of geographic, professional, disability status, racial, gender and sexual identities. We are a majority-white, majority non-disabled group and acknowledge the influence that identity brings to this process. We share for the sake of transparency that within CNF our work has been supported through a mix of pro-bono time contributions and through honoraria from CNF’s funds. Each of us were compensated $250 from NPN for the production of this blog post.
The resulting documents produced by the Contracts Working Group include an Engagement Contract, a Presentation Participant Agreement, a Presentation Information Form, and a Production Agreement. The Contracts Working Group developed this suite of documents from an existing contract used by Dance Place, a NPN partner and 41-year-old dance presenter based in Washington, DC.
The documents are not templates, but rather are meant to serve as examples of equitable practices and as a resource for other presenters, artists, and arts professionals working with engagement contracts. The documents are by no means “done.” The work of equitable contracting is a constantly evolving process, which includes sharing our work through this blog post. Throughout the process of developing this suite of documents, the Contracts Working Group has felt, acutely, the tensions described at the top of this post. On the one hand, we want to craft a visionary document, and on the other hand, we want to offer the field a practical document that will hold up in court as a meantime strategy, while we as arts workers participate in the struggle abolition of current harmful systems “justice” in favor of decolonization and true restorative justice.
The Contracts Working Group’s top-level takeaways for equitable contracting thus far include:
- Reframe the presenter-artist/company relationship from a transactional contract model to a relationship-based agreement
- Share risk, acknowledgement of labor, and compensation for work completed
- Decentralizing the performance product so that decision-making and power are shared
Overall, these takeaways all address a shift to acknowledge labor and effort rather than product, guaranteeing that all parties are paid for their work, regardless of the final performance. They aim to foster community-building, trust, and long-term equitable working relationships.
Recently, the Contracts Working Group engaged focus groups to receive feedback on the suite of documents directly from arts workers, bringing them in to navigate this tension with us. Focus groups included:
- Artists (facilitated by Hope Mohr)
- Technicians & Designers (facilitated by Ben Levine)
- Presenters (facilitated by Sarah Lewitus)
- Agents, Managers & Producers (facilitated by Sandy Garcia)
Here, each facilitator will share their top takeaways from their respective focus group.