by Rachel Spencer Hewitt
Rarely do the arts boast a surplus of resources, and in today’s political climate, “the arts” as a social contribution holds little of its deserved value on the economic or cultural scale. Yet, in spite of these obstacles, many artists with added responsibilities, namely parents, crave contributing their gifts and experience to the arts. This passion and artistic capability can, when made possible, provide arts culture with access to a diverse pool of players and employees, both in type and experience, and increase accessibility for work.
So the argument goes.
But how do non/small-profit arts administrators, those already holding on to a shredded budget or limited resources, create more accessibility and inclusion for parent-artists without endangering the financial stability of their institution? Below, we present five action points that require no money for real change for the parent artist. We’d love to hear your feedback and stories of how you’ve made it work for your parent artists! Read our recommended 5 points below.
1. Institution Responsibility for Initiating the Conversation | Open the Floor
The culture of fear for parent artists is propagated by many factors, one of them being the inconsistency of policy between employers and institutions and another being the silence surrounding existing family-friendly policies within institutions. When a parent artist is interested in accessing resources that may already be available, there is potential fear in broaching the conversation in case the parent artist seems like they are in a position where work is too much or they can’t do the job. Neither of these factors are necessarily true of any employee seeking their established rights, but nonetheless, stigmas abound. In order to show your institution as supportive of your parent artists, remove the burden of starting the conversation away from the individual whose job feels at stake by starting the conversation as an employer. In so doing, you create a pathway of access to resources you have created for your employees to feel protected, and, as a result, we anticipate a high level of appreciation and commitment from those who work for you. The action item: Release a company-wide statement articulating policies and allowances for staff/freelance employees that includes all-parent leave, virtual meetings, childcare resources, and on-location provision. Include a line in the memo openly condemning stigmas against parent-artists as divided employees and encourage dialogue to recognize inclusion as an asset to any artistic institution.
For your freelance hires, asking the question first at the point of negotiation will show that providing for them is important for you and allow you to articulate your restrictions in line with seeking a way to be inclusive. The action item: Ask during the first conversation of contract negotiation to every gender, regardless of age, “Is there anyone in your life you’re responsible for?”*
*Question recommended per interview with Ineke Ceder of Wellesley Centers for women, adopted in principle by both PAAL (US) and MAM Ireland.
2. Release of Rehearsal Schedule Ahead of Time
This simple and rarely-used practice ends up helping everyone involved in the production process. Increasing organization with staying flexible in creation leads to better projects, typically. With director and stage manager committing to goals and rehearsal objectives to release the schedules ahead of time, parent artists are able to schedule childcare in advance that they are likely willing to pay for and coordinate on their own. This thought-out prep will also allow for cast members to be on the same page for prep work, actors to have space and time to coordinate auditions, SMs to craft guideposts sooner, and the artistic staff to have a clear vision of the show’s progress. Not only will this save money on last-minute childcare for parent-artists, but very likely we may find that advance prep saves on resources across the board for the theatre because of the synchronized and calculated preparation. Of course, we all know that things can happen with live theatre, and art benefits from some “give,” so reserving the 12-hour union window for emergencies or last-minute needs is still allowable, but perhaps it’s better utilized when rarely utilized. The action item: Release the general schedule breakdown ahead of time for all-staff planning and coordination to improve work-life preparation and participation.
3. Allowance for Virtual Meetings and Record of Accomplishments
In the 21st century, most progressive companies realize the paradox of virtual meetings working fast and in-person meetings working better, but a healthy mix of both works best. The advantages of resources saved when technology can assist communication benefits the opportunity for in-person meetings to assist with connection. The in-person benefits are often mentioned as follows: intimacy due to proximity, developing trust due to eye contact, and network/bond opportunities due to the likelihood that the meeting will begin with personal conversation. A few benefits of the virtual meeting are often listed as financially frugal for employer and employee, flexible scheduling, and innumerable location options for participants. So how do we draw out the benefits of both opportunities to create better accessibility? Planning time to chat on personable, relatable terms at the beginning of virtual meetings creates for personal connection through sharing stories (something theatre artists well advocate for anyway), which sustains a connection for the time when meeting in-person is possible. For the virtual meeting, productivity tracking can also help the meeting’s success by itemizing goals beforehand and marking accomplishments after in a way that works off a company template for consistency within the administration and is recorded to prevent from developing any negative stigma or criticism of the highly useful platform. As participants in the performing arts, we are the last to argue for human connection to go completely electronic, but failing to incorporate virtual advantages may hold our speed and efficiency back in terms of low budget, high-pace accessibility planning. We recommend making these provisions available to all staff. Provisions for virtual discussions and check ins may come in handy for all employees – not just those with caregiver responsibilities. By making virtual connection available to everyone, the work environment maintains a sense of stability and requests for meeting virtually will feel less like special treatment. The action item: Strategically schedule virtual meetings, providing time for networking and connecting. Each meeting, provide shared company forms to itemize accomplishments agreed upon by participants to be submitted for company record (template/standard-supported meeting notes).
4. Maintain List of Vetted Caregivers in the Area
Highly useful for the parent artist and very small amount of time required by the institution once a master list of caregivers is made. Resources for finding caregivers exist everywhere from polling your staff and local church to searching through local social media pages. (If you have the funds for membership application, Urbansitter.com is an example of a national database, but back to the free options). To find vetted individuals, ask for caregivers with CPR certification and references. By putting together the list of individuals, their years of experience, certifications, and those who vouch for them, you’ve helped advanced the caregiving process exponentially. This item should be a standard company management resource and can be maintained partially by asking for feedback by outgoing parents who used each individual. By collecting the references along with the list, you can create the caveat that the theatre is not responsible for the sitters, but local references recommend the list as a starting place. Too often, local artists who are experienced caregivers and looking for work are under-connected to artist parents looking for caregivers. Your list and community could help start making those connections. The action point: Collect a list of vetted caregivers with first degree references, CPR certification, and reviews. Connect employees and freelance hires with local social media groups online for artist parents in the area.
5. Work with Children in the Space
Understanding the fourth trimester is key here. We’ve been flooded with success stories of baby-wrap and baby-wearing on site, especially the first three months of the infant’s life when sleep is the majority of the itinerary and closeness to caregiver is a benefit. By taking steps to open the conversation up as mentioned in step one, vocally condemn the stigma of a baby’s presence as a sign of work halted. A wrapped baby accompanying a capable artist is the rather visible sign of work continuing. The productivity is also possible in a managed environment with mobile children. From politicians to retail, children on site has been hailed as not only progressive but helpful to the work environment and commitment of participants. Not all parents want to work with their children around – some welcome the space away, some prefer the singular focus – but creating at very least a culture of acceptable presence in the rehearsal room or working meeting can create the flexibility for organic work-life function and help prep participants to create with extra life in the room. The insurance, space, timing, and play content consideration is circumstantial, so draft the policy as best works to welcome children in your institution with parents involved. Also, reach out. We may have found some great ideas on this that we can share with your specific structure type. The action point: Create a family-friendly environment by a) mentioning to the parent artist their family’s welcome in the space, b) recognizing the presence of children as a sign of productivity, and c) showing support publicly and vocally to the parent artist with a child present. Clearly identify any policy obstacles to the parent privately as necessary but always include an offering of alternative solution as needed.
So these are action points that we can start implementing this very moment without any need of large funds or rearrangement of resources. Thank you to all the institutions reaching out and already making it happen. We solute you!
Come across obstacles or questions with some of these items you’d love us to consider or investigate? Share them with us here or – if you prefer – share anonymously here. Be sure to include enough detail that we can help – such as budget size, contract type, and house size.
How are you already implementing these ideas? Something we missed that you find helpful? Let us know in the comments below or contact us here!