c3 or Not c3….That Is the Question

It’s no big thing to make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money.
– from Citizen Kane

Art and Spirituality and Commitment are all very important, but if you can have some barbecued shrimp along the way, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
– Lester Bowie

For those of you who are still gullible enough to think that the funding world has either the interest, intention or capability of helping the jazz world’s continuing economic death spiral, consider this. These overpaid and ineffective funding professionals have been seriously discouraging jazz artists from setting up dedicated 501(c)(3) non-profit corporations – even though the primary recipients of the lion’s share of funding from these folks are (guess what) 501(c)(3) non-profit corporations.

Now this is not unique to jazz. The entire arts business is suffering from the same syndrome, as is the overall stability of the arts business in general, so dependent upon the funding world which has grown increasingly “Republican” in its slide toward an unbalanced and inequitable economic environment. But because jazz is the most recent member of the “legitimate” performing arts community, the overall inequities, dysfunction, short-sightedness and cluelessness is all that much more apparent. My message here is to anyone and everyone in the pursuit of artistry with a higher purpose in the search for Truth… and those are the ones with whom I want to work.

Does the term Trickle-down Economics ring a bell? It should; it’s the primary reason why our nation is in a 1% / 99% economy…and jazz and the arts in general are following suit. And like the bulk of Trump supporters will soon find out, y’all have brought this upon yourselves through a fatal combination of misplaced trust and unwillingness to empower yourselves. Oh sure, you produce your own music, sign up with Bandcamp, CD Baby or whatever, do social media and “self-produce” (if that definition feels better to you than “playing the door” does), but in reality, y’all are waiting for something to happen for you to produce that game-changer.

Trust me about this (and those who know me know that you can), you’re going to hear more announcements along the lines of “Gigs, lots of gigs, high-paying gigs” and “Healthcare, the best healthcare that will cover everybody at very low cost” rolled into “A plan, a great plan, a tremendous plan” and as always, you’re going to buy into it just like a Trumper trying to remember the last time he brushed his tooth and dreaming of the day he wins the lottery or gets that promised job where he sits around and does nothing for big money.

So, let’s think about why these folks are telling you not to set up the kind of entity that has been the spinal cord of self-empowerment for choreographers, classical composers and ensembles, theater groups, symphonies, festivals, educational institutions, presenting orgs and almost all of the other successful structures in the performing arts world. Their explanations are pretty simple:

  • Too expensive and difficult to set up
  • Too complex to maintain
  • Too many problems with the board of directors
  • IRS complications and risks
  • A variety of other misleading facts and uh-ohs
  • And most of all – unnecessary when you can use a conduit like Fractured Atlas

They support this with anecdotal evidence about this composer or that dance company who ran into problems with their boards, etc. And yes, these things happen. A major choreographer lost her org twice to her board. Bud Shank was kicked out of the Bud Shank Jazz Camp. Plenty of other examples exist as well. It’s also true that things can get complex, unwieldy and even risky… if you let it by pursuing methods that lead to those risks – methods that are, too often, greedy or overly ambitious. The stock market is risky if you make risky investments, but in the hands of a prudent financial manager, it will be far more controllable and safer. If you decide to grab a nap on the subway with your horn parked on the seat next to you, you can be pretty damned sure it ain’t gonna be there when you wake up! And after all, you took a risk when you chose to be an artist and not follow Mom’s advice to be an accountant, doctor or lawyer.

Are you really going to take the advice of overpaid and under-effective funding professionals and let them tell you what’s best for you, when their entire salary structure is based upon making you think that they are doing their jobs for your benefit and that you need them? Seriously?

Getting a sense that I don’t like these folks? I admit it’s true and I have plenty of sound reasons, but I’ll get more into the Funny World of Arts Funding, and will address the bullet points above in my next post.

Now don’t think that setting up a non-profit is going to be some kind of silver bullet to cure all your needs; or some magical elixir for fame and fortune. It is simply the best and most flexible business vehicle for artists and dedicated arts professionals whose focus is not primarily upon the profit motive.

Here is a brief excerpt about the inherent benefits from my book Straight Ahead: A Comprehensive Guide to the Business of Jazz (Without Sacrificing Dignity or Artistic Integrity) in the opening of one of the 89 Q&As about the 501(c)(3).

8. What are the artist’s advantages in operating within a 501(c)(3)?

The advantages are considerably greater than a regular for-profit corporation and
enormous over operating as an individual (or sole proprietor). Basically they boil
down to the following:

  • Tax-exemption
  • Access to grants and contributions
  • Increased performance and educational opportunities
  • Fiscal flexibility
  • An ideal setting for team management
  • Artistic/educational integrity
  • Independence from the standard music business
  • Benefits to society

Join our email list below for the download of the full 6+ page answer to that question in which each of those bullet points is fully explained. And along with that, the significantly shorter (1/2 page) answer to the next question: What are the disadvantages?




Note: If you’ve already joined the email list look for an email I sent you with instructions on downloading this resource.

And, if you want some straightforward, uncomplicated and comprehensive information
about this highly misunderstood business entity, you might want to consider the
ridiculously reasonable investment of $19.95 for the book that includes the full 55-page
chapter comprised of those 89 Q&As, co-written with the esteemed non-profit master
attorney Leonard Easter. There are more than 350 other pages of pretty essential
information as well.

Or you can just sit there and wish for the day when you are admitted to that 1%.

In any case…. Stay tuned for more.

Peace & A Love Supreme, M

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  • Glenn Wilson

    Marty – welcome back to the ‘airwaves’. With your and Leonard Easter’s help, I set up my 501(c)(3) last year and so far, I’m 3 for 3 on grants! I presented a concert of Thomas Chapin music to accompany the showing of the film Night Bird Song about Tom. I’ve presented 6 outdoor concerts this year at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival and the film/concert idea is being duplicated this Fall with a jazz film/concert every Second Saturday starting in September. The first one is the new Coltrane film, followed by Lee Morgan in October and 2 more after that sponsored by the grant. I got through my first tax season as president of Further Jazz, Inc. It wasn’t as tricky as I thought. Illinois was worse than the Federal. If one is a ‘producer’, this is the way to go. I guess a lot of us old jazzers have had to be producers to get things happening, so it’s just another extension of that.