Fiscal Sponsorship for Creatives
By Marissa Hong
When most people envision exhibited art pieces, they picture paintings or drawings hanging on white walls in a museum. Alternatively, an arts project called Bed & Breakfast showcases artists’ works in the bedroom of a personal household. Founded in 2012 and located in Los Angeles, Bed & Breakfast provides mixed media artists with the chance to put on their own exhibitions — repurposing the traditional private bedroom space and challenging the conventional way of viewing art. This article will dive into the question: but wait, how is this project made possible? More specifically, how is it financially supported? The answer: fiscal sponsorship. Through Fulcrum Art’s EMERGE Fiscal Sponsorship, Bed & Breakfast receives help in obtaining donations to maintain the project’s longevity.
What is Fiscal Sponsorship?
Fiscal sponsors are nonprofit organizations that are willing to serve as intermediaries between the source of funds and the artist. Specifically, they can provide artists or arts organizations with financial, legal, and/or administrative assistance for their projects.
Fiscal sponsorship occurs when a non-profit organization with a 501(c)(3) Internal Revenue Code tax-exemption status provides “fiduciary oversight, financial management, and other administrative services to help build the capacity of charitable projects.” In terms of the art world, arts organizations and artists have the opportunity to apply for fiscal sponsors when they have creative projects that they want to carry out, but do not necessarily have the financial means and lack a 501(c)(3) status. By having a fiscal sponsor, the group or individual would be able to receive charitable donations, foundation grants, or gifts that are only available for those with a tax-exemption status. When an organization agrees to fiscally sponsor an arts organization or artist, it will use their 501(c)(3) status to accept funds on the non-tax exempt group or individual’s behalf. The two most common types of models are pre-approved grant sponsorship and comprehensive fiscal sponsorship. In a comprehensive fiscal sponsorship, the sponsor owns the project; therefore, the 501(c)(3) organization becomes completely in charge of the project’s legal and fiduciary responsibilities. On the contrary, in a pre-approved grant sponsorship, the project is independent from the 501(c)(3) organization, which allows an artist to maintain ownership.
Of course, 501(c)(3) status arts organizations cannot fiscally sponsor every artist that approaches their group. In fact, many tax-exempt non-profits will choose who to fiscally sponsor based on a set of criteria. For example, most funding sources only agree to take on projects that align with their organization’s mission and purpose in order to avoid the chances of potentially having their 501(c)(3) status revoked. Additionally, some arts organizations require the artist to create non-commercial work and serve the public.
However, there are other criteria when choosing a fiscal sponsor besides fitting the description of a tax-exempt organization’s ideal candidate or meeting its requirements. Prior to submitting a project proposal to ask the charity for fiscal sponsorship, it is common to research the non-profit to ensure it is reputable, experienced, and offers appropriate assistance. Distinguished websites with comprehensive fiscal sponsorship programs already in place may suggest that the organizations have knowledge on the matter and an understanding of the relationship between a fiscal sponsor and the sponsored. As a result, the fiscal sponsorship process is more likely to run smoother and stay in check. Additionally, according to the Public Counsel Law Center, “it is very important to have a written agreement or memorandum of understanding signed by both the Sponsor and the Project before beginning to operate under a fiscal sponsorship to make sure that both the Sponsor’s and the Project’s rights and responsibilities are clear and to avoid any misunderstandings.” A written agreement or memorandum provides documentation of the sponsorship, which would be necessary to show if audited by the IRS or requested by a potential donor. For the artist’s or arts organization’s sake, it would provide exit provisions, preventing mistreatment, ambiguity, or confusion when the sponsored individual or group wants the sponsorship to end. Without written agreements, arts organizations and artists face the possibility of losing discretion and control over their creative project if they fail to create an adequate contract. Moreover, NEO Law Group suggests doing due diligence by reviewing the sponsor’s policies and fees mentioned in the agreement to avoid being unfairly treated throughout the fiscal sponsorship process.
Arts Organizations with Fiscal Sponsorship Programs
In the U.S. alone, there exist numerous 501(c)(3) arts organizations with comprehensive fiscal sponsorship programs already in place. Their websites include information such as eligibility, benefits, terms, and/or direct steps to applying for fiscal sponsorship online. Resources and tools are available to filmmakers, visual artists, dancers, and other creatives whose projects need assistance, particularly financial help, in order to either begin or sustain. Although 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations do monetarily benefit from fiscal sponsorship by receiving a small portion of the funds raised, they offer their assistance because they believe in the purpose behind the sponsored project and want to see the project fully fledged. Thus, prior to choosing a fiscal sponsorship program, arts organizations and artists should take into consideration their project’s intentions and goals. Once decided, it is then appropriate to choose a 501(c)(3) non-profit that best aligns with the project’s mission and suits its needs.
Here are just a few out of the many 501(c)(3) arts organizations with fiscal sponsorship programs taking applications:
Fractured Atlas is a New York-based 501(c)(3) non-profit technology company with the hopes of making “the journey from inspiration to living practice more accessible and equitable for artists and creatives.” In addition to offering online donations and funds, its fiscal sponsorship program provides “free educational resources, constructive feedback on fundraising materials, and expert staff to help you achieve your fundraising goals.” Performance artists, such as Artistactivist’s Widowsweave project, and filmmakers, such as Jean Franco’s Cruel Modernity, are currently sponsored by Fractured Atlas.
Alliance of Artists Communities
Alliance of Artists Communities is an international 501(c)(3) non-profit arts organization with the mission “to advocate for and support artists’ communities, in order to advance the endeavors of artists.” Their website contains a step-by-step guide to applying for fiscal sponsorship with the Alliance, laying out what to expect before, during, and after signing the contract. Rather than working with specific artists, this organization sponsors art programs, such as the Golden Apply Art Residency in Maine and the Arteles Creative Center in Finland.
Fulcrum Arts is another 501(c)(3) non-profit arts organization located in Los Angeles with the mission to “champion creative and critical thinkers at the intersection of art and science to provoke positive social change and contribute to a more vibrant and inclusive community.” The group specifically helps with “crowdsourcing campaigns, including Kickstarter and Indiegogo,” provides “[a]ccess to a database of thousands of local, national, and international foundations,” and offers additional project resources.
The Women Make Movies Production Assistance Program
Lastly, The Women Make Movies Production Assistance Program is a New York-based 501(c)(3) non-profit feminist media arts organization that strives to “develop and support women producing independent media.” As a result of the program being limited to filmmaking, the criteria are more specific. For example, the website states that projects are chosen based on the strength of storytelling, distribution potential, quality of sample, and more.
While each of these arts organizations have their own specialized way of advocating for artists, they all acknowledge the power of fiscal sponsorship to help spread the stories and ideas of long-lived creatives. In the case of Bed & Breakfast, fiscal sponsorship plays a critical role in allowing for the project to continue flourishing over the many years. At the end of the day, all artists really want is to see their projects exist in this world. With fiscal sponsorship, they are one step closer.
List of Additional Fiscal Sponsorship Programs:
Nationwide Fiscal Sponsorship Directory:
About the Author:
Marissa Hong is the Fall 2021 Development Intern at the Center for Art Law. She is a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles studying art and arts education. Marissa hopes to pursue a career in art law protecting the rights of living artists who generously share their ideas to the world. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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