Open Letter to Assembly Member

Dear Assemblymember Bonta:
I am writing today to share with you the anticipated impact of Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) on Rhythmix Cultural Works (RCW), a 501c3 nonprofit based in Alameda. 

I am concerned about the vague wording of Bill AB5 which leaves our organization in limbo regarding how to handle the payment of performing artists, production crews and other contractors that RCW hires on an ad-hoc basis to provide cultural arts programming and youth arts education opportunities to the East Bay community. 

The impact of AB5 on the hiring process of professional artists and production contractors for our one-time events and the potential fines that could be levied if we are determined to be in violation of its provisions, give us serious pause. In addition to increasing our payroll budget by an unknown amount, this bill will also necessitate the unanticipated expense of hiring legal counsel to help navigate its effects. 

This bill will inevitably result in a reduction of productions that our organization is able to provide. Quite simply, AB5 is expected to prohibitively increase our budgeted expenses for previously planned events and activities now and in the future. 

By way of example, RCW might hire up to 200 performing artists to perform for just a few hours at single one-off events throughout the year. In addition to hiring professional performing artists, these productions also provide paid work opportunities to sound technicians, photographers, videographers, stage managers, event staff, marketing professionals, etc. It is unrealistic to expect small non-profits to put every temporary or occasional contractor hired in the course of doing business for a one-time event onto its payroll.

In 2007, when RCW opened its doors as a community arts center, its budget was $150,000. Today, the budget is slightly more than $600,000. Unfortunately, this still does not meet the exemption for small organizations that legislators are considering for an amendment bill. It will be inordinately difficult for our organization to continue presenting free public arts experiences or affordable concerts, workshops and exhibits. 

Through many years of hard work, our community outreach has provided more than 15,000 public school students in the Alameda and Oakland unified school districts (more than 60 percent Title 1) with access to free cultural arts assemblies, and RCW has served more than 125,000 people with free or affordable arts experiences. It is highly unlikely that RCW will be able to continue to serve at this capacity under AB5 as it is currently written --- the additional costs are simply too exorbitant for small organizations to absorb.

Although it is my understanding that a corrections bill is currently underway, please consider adding additional exemptions or clarifications for the arts and creative sector, particularly those with budgets under $1 million. I am aware that California Arts Advocates is working on this issue and I support their efforts. Additionally, as AB5 changes the way the arts do business and increases staffing costs up to 40 percent for some organizations, I also request that the legislature increase public funding for the arts. 

The data shows that California is leading the nation in creative economy output but still falls behind in terms of public investment in the arts. Even with the $10 million increase in 2019 to the California Arts Council, California is still investing less than a dollar — in fact .71 cents per capita per person (without one-time funds) — and ranks 26th in the nation for arts funding. 

As the creative economy represents 7.1 percent of California’s gross domestic production ahead of agriculture and transportation, an investment in public funding for the arts makes good business sense. Increasing public funding is also an equity and access issue. 

According to a James Irvine Foundation study in 2011, there are more than 11,000 arts non-profit organizations in California delivering much-needed creative and cultural programs to our state of 40 million people. Most of these organizations operate on small budgets with tight margins but do the work because they know the difference the arts bring to our lives and our communities. 

RCW has been fortunate to receive project funding from the California Arts Council (CAC) for the past few years, but the CAC was able to fund just 12 percent of the total organizations in California. Without additional funding communities across California will continue to be deprived of access to the arts.

Thank you for your consideration. 

 

Tina Blaine, Executive Director Rhythmix Cultural Works