Can Mayor Marty Walsh Rescue Boston’s Creative Economy?

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Workers of the Creative Economy Unite! / via

On the morning of Saturday, January 24, Boston-area artists and advocates crowded into the Boston Public Library’s Robb Auditorium to address their concerns and convey their hopes to Marty Walsh, the first new mayor of Boston since Thomas Menino’s unprecedented five-term incumbency began in 1993, and to members of Walsh’s Arts and Culture Transition Team.

Sixty attendees had a chance to make statements at the hearing. The speakers spoke at length about how the city neglected its creative economy through much of the Menino years, from underfunding arts education in public schools to the difficulty in obtaining licenses to operate music venues. Other attendees brought up the manner in which the Boston Redevelopment Authority decimated the Fort Point Arts Community by setting aside the neighborhood for the corporate sector and luxury high-rises, causing hundreds of artists to leave. The speakers described a lack of coherent policy on the creative economy, and how many neighborhoods are under-serving the arts with a lack of performances, studios and exhibition spaces.

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One particularly notable presentation was given by several young people from Chinese Youth Initiative, who advocated that Chinatown be allocated a branch library to serve as a cultural center. The neighborhood’s library was demolished in 1938 and replaced with a reading room in 1951 — only to be destroyed in 1956 during the planning of the Central Artery. And that was, of course, 60 years ago.

A video of the entire presentation is available below:

Following up on an earlier Nothing But Trouble column, “CitiGroup Has 2,909,547 Reasons To Ask Artists For Free Labor,” I used my two-minute slot to ask the Walsh administration to keep its promise to abide by fair labor standards in arts programing for schools, libraries and other city facilities, including programing by the Citi Performing Arts Center (“The Citi Center”).

For those watching the video, my statement begins at the 2:00:32 mark. This was the text of my statement (any discrepancy between the text and my performance can be attributed to my speech impediment):

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My name is Ian Thal, I am a journalist and critic who writes for The Arts Fuse, and The Clyde Fitch Report, and former community editor for The Jewish Advocate. I am also a playwright, poet, and teaching artist specializing in physical theater.

 

On February 14, 2013 , a number of experienced teaching artists, including myself, were asked by the Citi Center to provide free content for a February 23, 2013 arts festival at the Dudley Branch Library. I had had no prior relationship with the Citi Center beyond having repeatedly submitted my résumé to the Education Department over a period of several years. Let me reiterate: there was neither an offer of an honorarium nor in-kind services.

 

I declined because this request for free labor went against the recommended labor practices advocated by state agencies including the Mass Cultural Council. The Citi Center is not a cash strapped organization. According to the most recent tax forms that were available to me (2010) at the time, their end of the year net assets totaled $35,586,107. Their top five compensated staff members received a total of $1,224,307 that year. Additionally, Nathan Pusey, an officer of Citibank, was compensated $1,685,240 for undefined services — even his LinkedIn profile was silent on what he had done to earn this.

 

In short, the CitiCenter had 2,909,547 reasons to ask artists for free labor. I request that the city review the labor practices of organizations with which it contracts for arts programming.

Soon after the initial article was posted, Phil Berman, a Boston-area playwright, actor, musician and theater educator of my acquaintance responded in the comments section:

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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.

Berman is, of course, correct: the very act of bringing artists into under-served neighborhoods is a civic good. However, one is still presented with an organization whose civic involvement is built upon un- or under-compensated labor from the local arts community — such as the 2013 interactive arts festival at the Dudly Branch Library in Roxbury — or underpaid labor for their some of their other educational programs that Berman praises (such as the Center’s collaboration with public schools).

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Shouldn't every week be Artweek? / via
Shouldn’t every week be Artweek? / via

It is precisely the prestige of this “incredible work in the greater Boston community” that gives the Citi Center prestige as a civic organization, and allows it to ask donors for money. Ultimately, this incredible work justifies the high salaries of its top officers, even if the reliance on underpaid and unpaid labor flies in the face of the city of Boston’s commitment to fair trade and fair labor.

Citi Performing Arts Center” is the name that the Wang Center for the Performing Arts, Inc., operates under as part of a 15-year arrangement with Citigroup that was announced back in 2006. It gives naming rights to the multinational financial services corporation, which, according to its 2013 filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, has total assets of $1.865 trillion. Given that almost a year has passed since my earlier piece, I decided to see what more recent tax filings of the Citi Center would reveal.

According to the Wang Center’s 990 filings for 2011 (the most recent year available), it ended the year with net assets of $37,091,567 — roughly $1.5 million more that the year before. Most of these assets comprise equipment and buildings owned, as well as investments and savings.

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A quick examination of the packages of the highest compensated employees shows Josiah A. Spaulding, Jr., the President and CEO, receiving a total compensation of $482,912 in 2011, followed by Chief Strategic Officer Susan Dahling Sullivan’s $190,244, Vice President and General Manager Michael Szczepkowski’s $183,009, Chief Development Officer Andrea Rounds’ $173,319, her predecessor, Nancy Skinner’s $134,656, and Chief Financial Officer John F. Perkins’ $134,484. Together, the six received a total of $1,298,624 in 2011. In short, only a $74,317 or 6% increase over the previous year, some of which is accounted for by a severance agreement with Skinner.

This $1,298,624 for the Wang’s six most highly compensated employees amounts to almost 32.4% of the $4,008,958 listed as Center’s total functional expenses, with Spaulding’s compensation comprising 12% of that total figure alone. These expenses make up 97.78% of the $4,100,336 raised in the previous year in “Gifts, grants, contributions, and membership fees” in public support from “a governmental unit or from the general public.”

Meanwhile, total fundraising expenses in 2011 came to $1,064,793, or just under 26.56% of 2011’s total functional expenses. This fundraising brought the Wang $2,703,304 at the end of the year — only 66% of the funds raised by the Wang during the previous year. Ultimately, the net profit of the Wang Center’s fundraising operations was $1,638,511 — enough to cover the salaries of its top officers in 2012 with maybe $300,000 and change left over. One will have to wait for the organization’s 990 form for 2012 to be released.

Ultimately, the prestige that the Wang Center gains through the unpaid and underpaid civic work done by the Citi Center’s education department chiefly pays for the salaries of its top executives, and makes it attractive enough for Citigroup to want naming rights in order to raise its philanthropic profile. Individual philanthropists who want to support the civic good of the education department may be surprised to discover how little of the money goes to the work of arts educators and how much of it goes to pay the salary of Spaulding and his colleagues.

Most importantly, we have to ask a question: If we were to examine the discrepancy between executive compensation and the compensation of the teaching artists who actually engage in the civic work of other major cultural institutions in Boston and other major cities, would we find the same pattern at work?

In my previous article and in my statement at the Jan. 24 public hearing, I noted that the Wang’s 2010 filing also mentioned $1,685,240 in payments to Nathan Pusey, formally the Marketplace Director Manager for New England for Citibank — and also a member of the Center’s board of directors. (According to his profile on LinkedIn, he is now with the Commerce Bank and Trust Company.). The text in the 2010 filing is unclear as to the reasons for these payments, though they might actually represent payments to Citigroup, albeit in a poorly phrased manner since Pusey served in both organizations.

The 2011 Form 990 Schedule L instead details four transactions between the CitiCenter and Citibank in which Pusey is identified as an “interested person,” specifically stating, “Nathan Pusey, Director of the Board, is an officer of Citibank.” One of the transactions is a $21,597 payment to Citibank for business fees. Another is a $1,377,083 sponsorship payment from Citigroup — presumably a condition of the naming rights. A third is a $1,439,613 promissory note “with Citigroup” — “with” is a strange preposition to use in this context, but it appears to mean an account payable to Citigroup. The final transaction is a $1 million line of credit. In short, the money appears to be flowing from the CitiCenter to Citigroup to the tune of $84,127 in 2011, not including whatever interest may in the future accrue on the $1 million credit line. At least in the two years thus far examined, the partnership with Citigroup that afforded the financial institution naming rights over the Wang Center for the Performing Arts has proven to be a net loss for the Wang, though perhaps the deal will pay off in the long run.

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