CitiGroup Has 2,909,547 Reasons To Ask Artists For Free Labor
Like a great many artists, I work a day-job.
For many years, that day-job was that of a substitute teacher. So, it was a natural fit that I supplemented my income as a teaching artist for summer and after-school programs. During this time, I regularly sent résumés to any number of programs with the hope of either adding to my supplemental income, or perhaps becoming a full-time teaching artist.
One organization from which I periodically attempted to get a hearing was the education department of the Citi Performing Arts Center. The CitiCenter, as it is most commonly known, is the public name of Wang Center for the Performing Arts Inc., which, in 2006, entered into a 15 year agreement with CitiGroup that gave the the latter naming rights.
Indeed, the footer of the email (see below) had the following notice:
¬© 2012 Citi and Citi Arc Design are registered service marks of Citigroup Inc.
| Citi Performing Arts Center is a service mark of Citigroup Inc.
However, while I had already found full-time employment as a journalist (being able to make a living as a writer is quite exciting, thank you for asking), I was curious when I received an email from the CitiCenter promising an opportunity.
I have removed the name of the sender, who was clearly acting on instructions from someone higher up in the organization and whom I will not assume to be responsible for setting policy:
[*** ******] *******@citicenter.org
On Saturday February 23rd, the education department is sponsoring an interactive arts festival at the Dudley Branch Library. We are looking for teaching artists to volunteer to perform, conduct a workshop, or be a roving artist. If you are available and interested, please let me know. This can be an opportunity for the education department to see you in action for future projects.
Note that this was neither an invitation to an interview, nor an audition, but a request to provide the actual content of a festival, with only the most non-committal promise of consideration for paid work. Neither a stipend nor in-kind services were offered.
Properly incensed, I responded immediately:
Ian Thal ********@gmail.com
That you are writing me leads me to presume that you have my résumé on hand and therefore know that I have worked as a teaching artist in the Boston metropolitan area since 2004 and that I have been always been paid for this work.
In fact, I have even been paid by organizations with operational budgets that are probably far tinier than that of the CitiCenter’s educational department.
Furthermore, as a columnist for The Clyde Fitch Report, I have been very critical of the way some well-heeled arts organizations (and artists) demand free labor from artists.
In short, I have been around the block enough times to know that promises of “this can be an opportunity” are rarely so, and goes against recommended labor practices for the creative economy promoted by state agencies like the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
I do volunteer my services at times, but only for the most personal of reasons. So I will decline.
To which I received the following one-sentence reply:
[*** ******] *******@citicenter.org
Thanks for your response.
According to the 2010 tax returns (the most recent ones available on the GuideStar website) the CitiCenter ended the year with net assets valued at $35,586,107.
Part II of the CitiCenter’s 2010 Schedule J Form lists highest compensated individuals in the organization, including CitiCenter CEO and President Josiah Spaulding, Jr., whose salary, bonuses, benefits totaled $473,323. His fellow officers-Peter Fifield, Susan Dahling Sullivan, Nancy Skinner and Michael Szczepkowski-received $181,381, $193,408, $207,221 and $168,974, respectively, to a total of $1,224,307. On top of that, Nathan Pusey (who, according to his LinkedIn profile, was then serving as Marketplace Director Manager New England for Citibank and is currently Co-Chair of the Leadership Council for Citigroup) received two sums that year:
(A)NAME OF INTERESTED PERSON CITIBANK(B)RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTERESTED PERSON AND THE CORGANIZATION NATHAN PUSEY, DIRECTOR OF THE BOARD, IS AN OFFICER OF CITIBANK(C) AMOUNT OF TRANSACTION $45,263 (D) DESCRIPTION OF TRANSACTION BUSINESS FEES TO CITIGROUP(E) SHARING OF ORGANIZATION’S REVENUES? NO A)NAME OF INTERESTED PERSON CITIBANK(B)RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTERESTED PERSON AND THE CORGANIZATION NATHAN PUSEY, DIRECTOR OF THE BOARD, IS AN OFFICER OF CITIBANK(C) AMOUNT OF TRANSACTION $1,639,977 (D) DESCRIPTION OF TRANSACTION BUSINESS FEES TO CITIGROUP(E) SHARING OF ORGANIZATION’S REVENUES? NO
In short, Nathan Pusey, an officer at CitiBank, in 2010 received a total of $1,685,240 from the CitiCenter; more than the five highest compensated officers within the organization combined.
If one reads Pusey’s LinkedIn profile very carefully, one will see that he is so modest, that he (or the assistant who keeps his profile updated) doesn’t even hint at what it was he did for CitiCenter that warranted that $1,685,240 transaction to his person:
This amounts to a grand total of 2,909,547 reasons in American dollars why the educational department at the CitiCenter can’t afford to pay or even offer a stipend or in-kind services to a teaching artist for a single gig.
If one of Boston’s largest non-profit arts organizations hits up low-to-moderate income working artists for freebies, is it really a wonder that Amanda Palmer, one of Boston’s biggest rockstars, does the same?