CitiGroup Has 2,909,547 Reasons To Ask Artists For Free Labor

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Wang Center for the Performing Arts 2010 Tax Returns
From the Wang Center for the Performing Arts 2010 Tax Returns
Look at the compensation packages for their top officers and ask why
they can’t even offer a stipend to a teaching artist.
(Click to enlarge)

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.

Story continues below.



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
Feb 14

Dear Ian,

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.

Thanks.

[***]

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
Feb 14

Dear [***],

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.

Sincerely,

Ian Thal

To which I received the following one-sentence reply:

[*** ******] *******@citicenter.org
Feb 15

Dear Ian,

Thanks for your response.

Best,

[***]

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:

Story continues below.



(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.

NathanPuseyCityCenterHaul
(Click to enlarge)

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:

PuseyLinkedinModesty
(Click to enlarge)

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?

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  • Phil B

    Hey Ian — I have to respectfully disagree with some of what you’re saying about this org. I’ve worked twice for this organization as an assistant teaching artist: once while I was still in college and again the fall after I graduated. I was paid a stipend for this work, albeit less than minimum wage when broken down for the travel, planning and teaching time I put in. The experience I gained from these teaching gigs was invaluable toward my career as a teaching artist in Boston. I understand the insensitivity to ask an established teaching artist to give their work away (I wouldn’t have accepted this particular job either), but please give the Ed Department some credit. From my perspective working for them in 2011, they do some incredible work in the greater Boston community, especially in artistically-underserved areas.

  • Phil, I realize that you have had a positive experience in your work for CitiCenter’s Education Department, however you refuse to take in account a number of things:

    1.) Unlike you, I am not a recent college graduate. At the time I received this request for free labor, I had just under nine years of experience as a teaching artist, where I was either paid an hourly wage far more than minimum, or something that I considered to be a reasonable lump-sum.

    This is on top of my experience as an artist.

    The email from which I quoted is real; I was really being asked for free labor. Do you disagree with how I interpreted the email?

    2.) The CitiCenter is, as I point out, a very well-heeled organization. There is absolutely no excuse for a professional be to asked to work without even as much as an honorarium by an organization that can well afford it.

    3.) Furthermore, as I point out, a huge chunk of the annual budget for the CitiCenter goes to pay just a handful of people six-and-seven-digit salaries. Remember that the figure of $35,586,107 refers to their net assets in 2010, not their operational expenditures, which are far less.

    Conclusion: Despite the “incredible work,” a huge part of what the CitiCenter spends its money on is the salaries of just six people, and it is the prestige from this “incredible work” (which is actually done by the working artists who are paid very little– if at all) that is used to justify these salaries.

    Pardon me if I sound cynical, but how is that not exploitation?

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  • Thanks, Ian. I think you’re right on. It has become acceptable to propose artists give away their products for free, and from organizations who could afford to pay them. Experienced artists rely on payment for what they produce to pay bills, live in this society and create more work. When we work for free or below minimum wage we are devaluing every artist’s work. It’s no different than wal-mart driving down prices and creating a state of slave labor, as far as I’m concerned.