Artist Sarah Best on Fiscal Sponsorship

Sarah Best
An ambitious project is realized via Links Hall

There are a lot of emotional and intangible things that I have gotten out of my relationship with Links Hall. I was an intern there in the early 2000s. I've made art there. I have met many of my best friends there. A Links Hall date was my third with my husband. Many of the artists I presented at my project, Dance Films Kino, are artists that I met through Links Hall.

I originally applied for Links Hall’s Artistic Associates program, in which artists curate performances at the Links studio. My project, Dance Films Kino, was a three-week festival of film and live performance showcasing the work of 45 emerging-to-established filmmakers and over 25 artists, writers, musicians, theater and dance makers. It required me to transform a bare space into a Soviet-era nightclub and to present 30 free-admission live performances and film screenings. It wasn't a good fit for the Links Hall space.

Links Hall’s director, Roell Schmidt, offered me other resources to help get my program produced, including mentoring and fiscal sponsorship. Dance Films Kino would have happened without fiscal sponsorship, but it would have been at a radically smaller scale, and it would have fully realized my vision. The fiscal sponsorship Links Hall offered is representative of the broader institutional support that ultimately helped me secure marketing, accounting, space, networks of donors, and donations from individuals who were willing to make larger gifts knowing that I was backed by an institution.

Links Hall was my number-one cheerleader.

I did use other tools. I raised a small portion—$2,500—of my $12,000 budget through Kickstarter. While I think that Kickstarter is a great resource, it doesn't really compare to the institutional support and the support of individual donors that comes with it. Kickstarter required many, many unpaid hours of promotion, planning and reward fulfillment. To be honest, I still owe six people rewards. It is part of what contributed to a post-festival burn out.

Links provided me with mentoring about how to make Dance Films Kino a reality. It took two years of planning. Links Hall set up my initial meeting with Hyde Park Art Center, which took me on as an artist-in-residence. Links connected me with donors it thought might have an interest in the program. It was also my number-one cheerleader throughout the long process; the staff and board members came as a group to programs each of the three weeks of my residency.

Sponsorship reduced my tax burden as an artist. This is crucial.

Fiscal sponsorship also had more tangible benefits. It reduced my tax burden as an individual artist. This is so crucial. I often don't make very much as an artist, but I need to raise a lot of money for project costs. The only way this works is to have a reduced tax burden, so I don't end up owing a lot of money in taxes. Fiscal sponsorship also ensured that my donors could make tax-deductible donations to a credible, non-profit organization and feel confident about supporting my project. (Half of my budget was in-kind donations.) The institutional support also lent credibility to my efforts, which helped attract collaborators, volunteers, guest artists and the Hyde Park Art Center.

Being able to fully realize my vision was priceless.

Fiscal sponsorship didn’t dampen the complications of a large, collaborative production. I kept receipts for all purchases, and labeled those receipts as I would if I were keeping my own tax records. I was the one responsible for making sure that any artists and film fees did, in fact, get paid by Links Hall, and that the checks were cashed by the artists. There were situations where checks went uncashed or unclaimed. It was hard to pay some of my collaborators because they were less organized. Working on a collaborative project, I had to educate my collaborators—a fancy way of saying that I had to have a frank conversation with them about keeping receipts, asking for receipts, and submitting receipts as a condition of being reimbursed—or plan on paying some honorariums instead. However, the lion’s share of work fell to Links Hall. I was glad to have their support with bookkeeping and donor acknowledgement, and to also have less paperwork of my own to manage come tax time.

Being able to fully realize my vision was priceless. It was crucial in my transition from an emerging artist to something more. My partnership with Links Hall and the Hyde Park Art Center immediately led to other projects with the Chicago Dancing Festival, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Dances Made to Order, an online film series. The credibility carried well beyond the actual production of Dance Films Kino.

Links Hall is great people. When I refer to it as an "institution," it's of the warm, fuzzy, people-filled variety. Its mission is very centered around supporting the development of artists and artistic programs, not just presenting programs. And it meets that mission in a variety of ways, including an awful lot of mentoring and emotional support. I think that is not something that you can expect from every organization.
 

Sarah Best is a visual artist and dance film curator who has presented numerous programs of live performance and dance on film at Hyde Park Art Center (as an artist in residence), the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Echo Park Film Center (Los Angeles), Chicago Cultural Center and Links Hall (Chicago). Her photography and art has been shown at Antena Gallery, Cobalt Studio, Printers Ball and Version Festival.

Published by CAR_Editor on Tue, 03/25/2014 - 4:50pm
Updated on Tue, 07/15/2014 - 6:32pm