Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

art is not a business like other businesses

Susan Crile, an artist and professor at Hunter College, was suspected of underpaying her taxes because she had itemized deductions for the materials she used for her paintings and prints. The IRS claimed these deductions were not legit because her art was “not an activity she engaged in for income” (though she did make $81,000 off of it over a five year span) and because she did not have a structured business plan. The agency was claiming that the lack of *structure in her art business meant that it was not a real business.

This past Thursday, the IRS was proved wrong. In tax court it was decided that Ms. Crile “met her burden of proving that in carrying on her activity as an artist, she had an actual and honest objective of making a profit” and thus is a professional artist in the eyes of the government. During the hearing it was highlighted that “art is not a business like other businesses” and should be treated as such.

I am in agreement that the art industry is not like any other industry. We have idiosyncratic goals, structures, agreements and funding. Due to this unique format, artists and arts managers need to be extra vigilant of their financial practices; we are an easy target for misunderstandings and need to be prepared to defend our business and its expenditures.  There will always be questioning of what we do and why we do it that way. This article serves as a friendly reminder that a clear and “structured business plan” (and good documentation) are essential when coexisting with government.

Here is a bit of Susan Crile’s work:
3am54 Susan-Crile crile

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2 comments on “art is not a business like other businesses

  1. shrulala
    October 8, 2014

    Life was so much similar in ancient times when an artist can do be an “artist” whimsical, creative and steeped in the art. Today art and artist have to become business orientated at least to some extent to actually survive and thrive. We have to learn to be marketers, business people, sales and pr and learn to keep books. I’m sure more artists gravitate towards arts management to learn survival skills in the business!

  2. carolynsupinka18
    October 8, 2014

    This article reminds me of a half-semester class I took in art school. The title of the class was something like ‘The Business of Art’, and our professor brought in working artists and accountants who deal with artists to talk about how we can maintain the business side of our practice. One of these sessions with the accountant included a component on tax deductions. The accountant said that he works specifically with artists, and at the time it struck me that he had to have an entirely different kind of focus as an accountant for artists as opposed to other working people. I think the truth of this is evident in this case, and I’m very glad the tax court ruled in the artists’ favor! A lot of amazing artists I know have absolutely no business structure at all, and yet they make their practice an essential part of their living.

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