October 17, 2017416-805-1566Toronto, Canada Connecting the Arts, Communications and Technology

Arts Presentation Contracts

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In the arts it sometimes seems that there are endless varieties and shades of collaboration, partnership and co-presentation agreements possible. But when I was first working in the concert department of a major orchestra, I was told that really there were only three types of presentation contracts:

1. Self-present
2. Contract of Services
3. Co-present

Most difficulties that occur, happen when the type of contract is misunderstood or all aspects of the arrangement are not defined and signed off on by both parties.

Self-presentation:
If my arts organization is “self-presenting”, we are responsible for the artistic content, all the costs, raising the money for the project, marketing, and all the ticket revenues are ours. We may be presenting in a venue we own or we might be renting a venue. In a rental venue we might be subject to some house rules and we might have access to some inhouse marketing vehicles (a lobby lightbox or an e-newsletter). We need to sign a contract for the rental agreement but at no time should our self-presented concert be represented by the venue as a part of their series. If they wish to change the nature of the relationship to a co-presentation agreement, you should be looking for concessions on rent, etc.

Contract of services:
Your organization, company, church, or event is hiring the services of my arts organization. For example your church wishes my orchestra for an Easter concert. You can request specific repertoire if you are willing to pay the costs of the orchestra learning new repertoire or save money by taking our suggestions. You set the time of the concert, are responsible for all ticket sales, all revenue is yours if the event is ticketed. The orchestra is paid a flat fee that we have determined will cover our costs for the event. We will have to assure in our contract that we don’t incur extra costs. The things we will need to assure in the contract are: the repertoire, start and finish times for the concert, where the orchestra can warm up and securely leave their belongings during the performance, when the orchestra can take the stage, meal arrangements for the orchestra (if applicable) and orchestra name/logo recognition on advertising and materials.

Co-presentation:
My orchestra and your choir decides to co-present an Easter concert . We will have to determine:

1. Who determines the repertoire and who pays for the rental sheet music?
2. Who pays for the hall?
3. Who is going to pay for and supervise the marketing campaign and what sign-off will be needed by the other organization?
4. How will ticket sales be divided? What about series subscribers? Are their seats included? Where will they sit?
5. How are we each going to make money? Split the sales 50/50 or some other arrangement that is equitable balanced against the cost sharing arrangement?
6. Who is responsible for rehearsal costs?
7. What spaces will each organization use in the hall and for what periods of time?

Is it really necessary to spell these things out in a contract? In my experience it is, especially in the complex arrangements of Co-presentation agreements. I have seen the following problems occur in co-presentations that were uncontracted or with a very vaguely worded agreement:

1. Misunderstandings about the amount of tickets available for sale by each organization.
2. Unhappy subscribers who thought the concert was included in their subscription but no seats for them had been negotiated.
3. One partner representing the concert as though it was theirs alone. (no agreement on sign off on marketing)
4. One partner holding up marketing with lengthy tweaks and changes, jeopardizing sales. (no time-lines for approval of marketing).
5. Last minute demands for one organization to pay the rehearsal costs of the other organization. (not clear that each was responsible for their own costs).
6. One organization changing the repertoire and/or time of concert without consultation, confusing artists, public, and rendering promotional campaign invalid. (repertoire and time of concert was not spelled out in contract, nor that such would be by mutual agreement only)
7. And frequent disputes about smaller issues: sheet music rental costs, lobby sales, sponsor signage.

While it is hard to think of everything, I hope this gets any new arts manager asking the right questions about presentation contracts. If you spell out all the obvious issues and finish with a clause that suggests how any new issues will be handled, “at the discretion of X” or “by mutual agreement” you should minimize conflict.

The worst situations have occurred when the parties totally fail to understand the nature of the contract. I once inherited a rather vague co-presentation agreement with a choir. Not too far into the process of planning the concert I discovered that the choir thought the contract was a “contract of services”in relation to what money they expected from us (all their rehearsal costs and music costs covered) and was a “self-present” in terms of their marketing and ticket sales. They had put the concert on their subscription season (exhausting most of their share of the tickets with no additional revenue for them) and had gone on to sell more tickets, double-dipping their ticket share and cutting into our potential revenues. Basically they wanted it both ways, and that’s not how the world works.

If the fundamental nature of the agreement is clear, and the large issues are settled, it is not hard to negotiate solutions to smaller issues as they arise.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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