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In times of recession, financial uncertainty and job stability are at the top of everyone's minds. They come to the forefront of the national agenda, spurring our government to step up and take action (whether sufficient or not). But for some workers, job instability may be more than a passing trend.
Of the 1,935 organizations that responded to our State of the Sector Survey this year, we took a closer look at organizations reporting higher percentages of contract workers on staff. While most sectors had relatively lower percentages of contract workers, the arts (represented by 373 survey respondents) dramatically stood out.
While 48% of non-arts organizations had no contract workers, only 25% of arts organizations operated without contract workers. 23% of arts nonprofits operated with 76-99% of staff as contract workers, compared to only 3% for the rest of respondents. 6% of ARTS organizations operated with 100% of staff on contract.
There are a number of reasons why organizations might need to rely heavily on contract workers. Younger or start-up organizations still gaining their footing often employ on contract to minimize the costs and complexities associated with providing extensive employee benefits. They also have less visibility into their futures and are less able to guarantee long-term employment.
For arts organizations that operate on small budgets, a few dollars can make a major difference in both mission impact and stability. Small nonprofits may rely on higher percentages of contract workers and volunteers to maintain more agility and do more with less. Of the smallest arts organizations that responded--91 organizations with budgets under $250,000--substantial 21% operated with their entire staff on contract. When we compared these numbers to small nonprofits across the board, however, the numbers weren't quite so stark. Of the total 333 organizations with budgets under $250,000, 15% operated with an entire staff of contract workers.
So what might make arts organizations different? Unlike a lot of other nonprofits, arts organizations often deal with less regular programming. Take, for example, an organization that operates an annual festival, with all their activity concentrated in a short time span. Or a gallery that only needs art handlers at the beginning and end of an exhibition cycle. Or a dance company with an intense 6-month touring season.
Operating with contract workers is a necessary tool. Nonprofits need to employ on contract to carefully structure and manage expenses based on mission needs. But what could the implications be, particularly for organizations operating with the majority of staff on contract? Without a consistent permanent staff, could arts organizations be more prone to financial and programmatic instability? And what about the future: how might a smaller constituency of long-term staff hinder institutional learning and long-term growth?
Then there are the artists, dancers, performers, and seasonal staff that make arts nonprofits what they are. With access to fewer benefits, often no health insurance, and inconsistent salaries, contract workers need to rely on multiple sources of income to stay afloat. Just as over-diversifying revenue streams can weaken long term organizational sustainability, so can multiple jobs and less access to health insurance tax the workforce underlying the arts. How long can they keep it up before they're burnt out?
|2011 Survey, Arts, contract workers, Employment, jobs, survey|