The State of the Arts Industry

Music & Politics

Volume CVIII, No. 2February, 2008

Jay Schaffner and Joel LeFevre

Arts and politics can work together. Cornell University’s Industrial Labor Relations program recently organized meetings and seminars with state legislators and aides to Gov. Spitzer about the nature, role and impact of the arts and entertainment industry.

802 Recording Supervisor Jay Schaffner represented Local 802 and gave the following remarks, which were written by Schaffner along with Joel LeFevre, assistant to the president and director of organizing.

The playing field between competing employers who employ arts workers for the same work should be level — but it is not. New York should be business-friendly, but not to the extent that it allows the employee-employer relationship itself to become a competitive disadvantage for employers following the letter of the law.

Where competitive pressures give wholesale advantages to those willing to pay musicians and other artists improperly as independent contractors, the state should intervene and level the playing field.

Situations abound where musicians and artists are given no say but to be compensated as independent contractors — when they clearly should not be.

The burden to correct the lax enforcement of existing law is left to unions, and we do not have the leverage to make enormously profitable companies classify arts workers correctly.

The state has the responsibility for labor standards enforcement and has looked away from this aspect of business practice for nearly a decade.

When arts workers and other workers are misclassified and incorrectly paid, everyone is cheated: individual workers, the community of such workers, the people of New York, and finally the state of New York, too.

Workers are denied workers’ compensation coverage, disability benefits and unemployment compensation. The costs of such coverage are borne by other employers and by the state itself.

The state and the cities are cheated out of income tax, and funding for all state and city programs is the loser.

The state should insist that arts workers — and all workers — be appropriately categorized, and sustain the enforcement mechanism to do so.

New York should allow itself to put the teeth back in labor standards enforcement.

(It is interesting to note that one of the largest entertainment employers in the country, state and city, is one of the chief villains in this regard.)


The state should act to ensure that directed increases in state aid to education in the city assure expansion and permanence for arts exposure and education for school children. This could be the basis for a new state-wide standard for all students.

The economic impact of the arts on the New York State economy was $21.2 billion in 2005, according to the figures from the Alliance for the Arts. Arts spending will continue its growth into the future as long as arts education is supported.

There are two economic effects of arts education.

The first is to provide the basic training for the workers who will enter the field; an equally important effect is the one arts programs have on audience development. We are allowing arts education to wither in city after city in our state. A child never hearing a symphony orchestra perform becomes an adult with no desire to attend the performances. This will impact not only live performances but also what becomes the standard for recorded music, for art and music in films, on television, and on the Internet.

As exposure to arts declines in schools so commercial demand will decline in the future for the art forms denied to our children.


The state has mechanisms to support the arts. It should act to make current support robust and lasting.

The traditional organizations must be supported, and jazz should no longer suffer from relative funding neglect. It should be institutionally recognized for its importance to the economy and culture. Allowing jazz artists access to pensions and health insurance is an important issue.

A related issue is that jazz artists and others who perform in clubs and other venues throughout the state are mis-classified as independent contractors.


New York State has an economic tax credit incentive program for motion picture and television film production in the state. The program was recently reviewed with expanded eligibility that now includes the filming of commercial announcements.

The state and city neglected to consider the economic and employment impact of so-called “post production” work when adopting this legislation.

A movie filmed in New York is eligible for tax credits, while its musical score — which is not eligible — can be made in a former Eastern Bloc country where skilled musicians are available.

Music can also be recorded in any other part of the world, often in countries where musicians and other workers benefit from universal health coverage, a cost that is not then passed on in such production and recording projects. Likewise for government-funded pensions or old-age insurance.

Music and film editing are as essential to delivering a product to the screen as any other element in the process.

To have one type of employment recognized for its economic stimulus effect and codified into tax law while excluding related services and employment does not make good sense. The so-called post-production part of the industry should be recognized in tax policy as well.

Post-production is part of the unique labor that is integral and imbued in the creative process of film, commercial and new media production. Post-production enables this creative process to become viable, viewable, sellable, and exportable.

New York State and New York City are currently home to one of the two major centers of post-production work in the country and in the world. This industry can proliferate throughout the state given the advances in technology, recording and computer science. This can be one of the areas of job and economic growth for the future.

Post-production impacts musicians, animators, film editors, film and music mixers, and a whole variety of industries that support this unique part of the entertainment business.

One important distinction. This creative process of post-production as part of the integral production process itself has nothing in common with what some are calling post-production. This latter view considers post-production the taking of existing product and re-mastering and digitalizing it so that it can be re-marketable in a new form.

This is, in fact, a distorted view of post-production that seeks to cannibalize past labor and creative artistic work, with no compensation to those who actually created this work.


Underlying the visibility and viability of the arts industry — as it does many others — is the issue of healthcare.

The arts industry has the same problems coping with healthcare as every other.

Expanding healthcare coverage support is a key element of continued success for arts organizations.


Children’s television programming is an industry that is rooted in New York.

Starting nearly 40 years ago with Jim Henson’s Muppets and the Children’s Television Workshop’s “Sesame Street,” New York is now alive with children’s television productions.

Nearly 20 different productions now emanate from New York City, starting with “Sesame Street,” and including “Between the Lions” and the soon-to-be resumed “Electric Company” on PBS.

Nickelodeon gave us the “Sesame” spin-off “Elmo’s World”; it now brings forth “Wonder Pets!,” “Backyardigans,” “Blues Clues,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Rugrats,” “Back at the Barnyard,” “Let’s Just Play,” “Making Friends” and a multitude of other shows.

Disney Playhouse brings us “Little Einsteins” and a host of other shows.

These are all aimed at children. Children’s television is no longer just on PBS and it’s no longer just Saturday-morning cartoon shows. It’s now airing on both public television and commercial cable, and most shows are originating with live programming, actors, animation, music and sets. And most are filming from New York.

This is a growth industry for New York City and state. Regrettably — with the exception of shows produced on PBS, by CTW or WGBH — all have the same problems and shortcomings that have already been outlined in these remarks.

While this is a growth industry, some production has left New York State for diverse places such as Toronto and Montreal, or within the U.S. to places like Jackson, Mississippi.

We feel that the tax incentive program should be extended to children’s educational television programming, both by including it and by expanding the total pool of dollars on which this program is currently based.


The arts industry depends on smart government policy.

Smart policies will recognize the importance of the country’s leading export, which is culture.