art & money

I love a good spreadsheet. Everything lining up, everything contained in cute little boxes. I’ve been working in the non-profit dance and theater world for nearly 20 years now and I’m fascinated by what you can glean from a project budget and what gets left out. If I’m looking at a project budget, I’m wondering how the artists experience the relationships within this project. If I’m looking at a non-profit organization’s 990 (a financial document that every non-profit has to file every year), I’m wondering how it feels to work there. What are the clues that might reveal those things? If we had better spreadsheets or better tools, would we make better work?

As I was being trained for a new job for an arts organization as the Director of Finance, prepped by a wildly competent former dancer turned bookkeeper who kept immaculate records, I got fascinated by what I could learn about the organization’s history and its ways of working through its accounting records. As part of my job as a grant writer, I talk to artists about their work and their projects, their relationships with institutions, and with their collaborators. I’m interested in what spreadsheets reveal and what they obscure. This little blog will be an exploration of both.

My thinking about the arts and money has been hugely shaped by being part of the arts community in Philadelphia, and the work of Amy Smith, and Artists U. I’m also inspired by the truth-telling of Vu Le and Nonprofit AF and Lauren Halvorsen and Jenna Clark Embrey’s bills, bills, bills, which tracks a week in the financial lives of individual theater workers.

I want to explore artists and other culture workers experimenting with new practices. What’s working well that others could try as well? What practices might we collectively decide to leave behind? What spreadsheets could unlock new pathways?

There are a few projects that I’ll be spotlighting in the next few months, but I’d love to hear about financial documents that make your heart sing. Do you have a spreadsheet or other financial document that is your secret pride and joy that you’d like to show up? Or, do you have a financial pet peeve? Something about the way we track expenses or report to funders that annoys you every time you have to do it?

Ultimately I’m interested in a radical redistribution of wealth and supporting artists in building financially stable and sustainable lives. Talking about Very Special Spreadsheets and imaginative approaches to financial realities are baby steps in those directions.

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