This is a Downtown Dispatches guest post from the League of Independent Theater‘s Managing Director Chris Harcum.
I’ve been told two things over and over in my life: you can’t fight City Hall and you can’t make people care. Call it naiveté or stubbornness but I disagree with both.
As the League of Independent Theater was being formed, I had brunch one hot July morning in 2008 with John Clancy at Odessa in the East Village. I’d been in the city just over five years and believed a new era could begin for Off-Off- Broadway. I wrote a list of twenty crazy things I wanted to see come out of the creation of the League. Some of them included:
“Imagine a great show being able to run for eight months in a 99 seat space because of changes made to the Actors’ Equity Showcase Code.”
“There should be a Code of Ethics for the independent theater territory. We’re in this together.”
“Volunteer hours as part of yearly membership. I think we would all benefit if we gave ten to twenty hours a year helping shows in which we aren’t directly involved. We would learn from how other artists work and they wouldn’t have to cry into a bowl of cereal at 2 a.m. because the show opens Thursday and they are too busy to eat a real meal.”
“Have it be noted in Theatre History books that July 2008 is when LIT started a revolution.”
So on July 17, I had a plate of workingman eggs with John and we talked about what could be changed. I only knew about John anecdotally and from seeing him at the Indie Theater Convocation. Sitting down with him, I felt a genuine kinship, like seeing a future version of myself, seared with experiences. Since then, we’ve exchanged over 400 emails and spent countless hours discussing how to keep New York City a place for independent theater artists. In essence, how to make New York the place I thought it would be. Because without us, the working independent theater artists, New York just isn’t New York.
Over the last four years, I’ve watched the League go through many changes. People get heavily involved and then other obligations take them away. Goals change. Frustrations mount. Nothing happens for a stretch of time and then there is a flurry of activity. Anyone who has been a part of an independent theater company will know these ups and downs.
Last June, I became the new Managing Director for the League for a one-year term. It was, in my estimation, a make or break point. City-wide elections were coming up and it was time to make our voice heard. Since then, we have increased our membership and put our focus on politics, real estate, funding and the Showcase Code. We launched our separate sister organization the LIT Fund last August. We started a heavily-subsidized rehearsal space grant program. A Code of Ethics was drafted by Leslie Bramm. And perhaps most importantly, a Performing Arts Platform was created by our Political Research and Outreach Committee.
On March 12 at 7 p.m. at the Players, 16 Gramercy Park South, the League of Independent Theater will have a Meet the Candidates Forum. The League is inviting candidates in races across the city to participate and discuss their views on our Performing Arts Platform (listed below). Rather than fighting City Hall or trying to force them to care, we are showing our potential impact on elections and how integral independent theater is to the economic and cultural well-being of the city. What felt like hopping on a horse and charging at a windmill four years ago is now becoming a real and coordinated movement and I urge you to join us.
LIT is unique in that we are the only arts organization that will endorse candidates in upcoming elections. Many local elections are decided by just a few hundred votes. Please join us on March 12 to show the candidates how important our voice is to the city. If these issues are important to you, please join the League at www.litny.org. We will let you know how you can get involved.
The League of Independent Theater’s Performing Arts Platform
The League of Independent Theater (“LIT”) is the only 501(c) 6 advocacy organization for the independent theater and performing arts population of New York City, serving over 50,000 independent performing artists, 86% of whom vote regularly. LIT will endorse candidates in every City race, and work to form alliances with other cultural advocacy organizations in the City that will foster an all-out “Get Out The Vote” effort on behalf of those candidates selected. LIT’s endorsement will not be based on a “LITmus” test, but rather on the individual candidate’s willingness to enter into a substantive and serious conversation with us on the below performing arts platform.
As a pro-performing arts elected official, I will work to:
1. Create access to low-cost and/or no-cost Community Facilities Spaces that are currently available and remain unused throughout the City through the creation of a Community Facilities Space Database.
2. Create access to empty and unused City property to be re-purposed as temporary rehearsal, office and (if appropriate), performance space.
3. Include non-profit performance venues in the favorable electricity and utility rates enjoyed by religious institutions and the VFW.
4. Implement a proposal that would reduce or eliminate property tax assessments for those non-profit organizations that have an artistic mission and/or rent performance space to similar non-profit performing arts groups with artistic missions of their own. This proposal was unanimously ratified by all twelve (12) Manhattan Community Boards.
5. Secure affordable permanent low-cost housing for working artists. In addition, work to provide access to affordable healthcare for these artists, depending on the status and reach of the Affordable Care Act at the time of negotiations.
6. Support the commission of an economic impact study for the independent theater territory.
7. Work with the Department of Cultural Affairs to expand the Cultural Institutions Group to include the independent theater sector’s anchor venues.
8. Install plaques at sites of historical import and rename streets after the founders of the independent and Off-Off-Broadway community.