TAs Thriving: Tip #2 Ask questions of your partners and clients

Asking questions of your partners and clients changes the dynamic and gives TAs individual and collective power that they can use to stabilize their lives further! So let’s start with a few questions:

  • What questions do you ask clients and partners?
  • If you haven’t asked a question, why not?
  • How do you refer to the organizations that pay you as a 1099 contractor?
  • How about the organizations that pay you as a W-2 employee?
  • Is there a difference?
  • How do you imagine this relationship?

During the pandemic, I’ve bought into a client management system. Shout out to Nadïne LaFond, a TAMA member, who suggested Honeybook to me. (If you don’t know her, follow her. Learn from her!) Honeybook has been a game-changer for me.

But what I want to talk about is the word “client.” Before having Honeybook in my life, I referred to all of the organizations I intersected with phrases such as:

“I work for (organization).”

“I’m an (organization’s) Teaching Artist.”

Curiously, I never referred to them as my clients.

They are.

Jennifer Ridgway is a business as much as their organization.

Jennifer Ridgway has liability insurance and pays taxes/FICA.

Jennifer Ridgway obtains fingerprints, completes ongoing professional development, and keeps certificates up-to-date.

Jennifer Ridgway has a human resources department, marketing, development, communications, and education/community engagement team, and an entire artistic production team that only she occupies.

Side note: This is hilarious how I’m talking about myself in the third person. How uncomfortable!

The point is – that recognizing and fully embracing this concept of being a business is critical for the individual Teaching Artist.

It forces us to examine the power dynamic in our client-to-client partnerships, enabling us to assess our business needs to ensure they are met. It changes the conversation we can and should have with our clients about the projects we endeavor to collaborate on together.

That said – tip 2!

2. Ask questions of your partners and clients.

I’ve heard from teaching artists who struggled to discuss their contracts with colleagues and negotiate with partners. I attended the TAMA session last week with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. We need to get better practiced as a collective and stop acting as if we are independent. Every decision you make and every contract you willingly sign has implications on the entire field for decades to come! We need some collective agreements.

Things to think about as you ask questions of partners and clients are:

  1. Don’t sign contracts before reading them and examining them with your accountability circle, especially if something in it bothers you. This may seem like a given, but I’ve heard from TAs who have done both – signed before reading and signed even when something bothered them. I get it. We have fear. Lack of time. Lack of need. Lack of pressure. Lack of interest. And truthfully, I can’t say that I’ve not done this. It’s got to stop! We are all leaving power and money on the table for others to have. Others are those in power, often with money. Let’s step up as business leaders! Talk to the client about your concerns in the contract and talk to your accountability circle. Let your accountability circle look at the contract. They will expand your thinking to things that may not concern you but bother them. Their concerns should be your concern so that we can have an equitable and just field. Our profession and the contracts we all see and sign should hold all of us. That should be the expectation.
  2. Always have a pre-written version of your contract available and ready to go for the client to sign. It is the cultural norm of our field for arts organizations and others to write contracts. Let’s keep in mind that their lawyers are writing those contracts prioritizing their interests, not ours. While organizations have taken the lead in writing the arrangements in the past, let’s try to shift the power dynamic here!
  3. Take Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts’ suggestion and ask your partners, “How did you decide that TAs are (Independent Contractors/Employees) in your (organization)?” Our partners need to be transparent about who made the decision and how and why. Remember, they are your business partner. They are a client. There should be mutual respect. Conflicts are inevitable in business. But also, difficult conversations can and should lead us to better and more sustainable outcomes for all of us.
  4. When a partner cannot meet your pay rates, ask about other benefits that they could offer you. Do they have a studio or rehearsal hall that you could access for free? Could they make their medical or retirement plans available to you (you will have to pay out-of-pocket, but you will have member access)? Want a lunch date and one-on-one time with their artistic director? Do they have access to a library or other resources? Think creatively about benefits. What does your business need that they have and could make available to you? Our business partnerships must share the same values as our business, and one of those values should include your value and worth! Remember that pie I mentioned Sunday.
white cloth on the table with crumbs
Photo by Meruyert Gonullu on Pexels.com

You deserve more than crumbs!

Too often, we accept initial offers without any interrogation.

Let’s stop doing that.

Without dreams, there is no courage.

Without courage, there can be no action.

Wim wenders

Published by jlridgway

Theatre Teaching Artist | activating artistry and moving the collective soul

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