Presenting: What’s In A Name?

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq.   

I work for a small performing arts organization which performs each year in a tax-payer funded, non-traditional space. The venue makes itself available for rental as an event space. In the past, we have been allowed to pay them a reduced rental rate in exchange for a full-page ad in our program and recognition as a lead sponsor. Additionally, we regularly receive glowing reviews in local and national media that prominently feature color photos and positive mentions of the venue, which our audiences and reviewers (and we!) view as critical to our work and to our experience.  This year they have asked for additional money in order to cover what they claim are increased maintenance costs. This would be a significant burden for us, as we are a small non-profit and we are already cutting expenses. We did not budget or anticipate an increase rental fee. They have suggested that they will waive the fee increase if we agree to bill them as a “presenter.” We are certainly open to the idea, but would like to understand what “presenter” typically means in this context. What would that word represent to our audiences and other organizations? What could we reasonably ask of them, financially or otherwise, in exchange for such billing? The venue does not produce, and rarely hosts other arts performances.

“Presenter” is one of those performing arts industry terms that can take on many different connotations and meanings depending upon the context and whom you ask. Legally, on its own, it is not self-defining. Like terms such as “hold”, “commission”, or “cancellation”, there is no official grimoire of terms or official definitions that are “industry standard.”  Contractually, it means whatever the specific parties agree it means.

The better, or, should I say, more meaningful question is what implications listing them as a “presenter” would have in the minds of third parties critical to you and your organization, such as your audience, reviewers, and donors.  In this context, the term “presenter” becomes more of a branding or marketing issue than anything else.

For most folks within the performing arts industry, being a “presenter” carries a curatorial implication. A presenter is usually perceived as an individual or organization that has used its own artistic judgment to select a production or performance that reflects its mission, has artistic merit, and meets the standards expected of the presenting venue or institution.  However, the general public typically approaches this far differently.

Many venues produce and present performances as well as rent their spaces out to others. Most people do not realize this, much less make a distinction—or even care. Whether the Vienna Philharmonic performs at Carnegie Hall or Applebees, the average audience member, rightly or wrongly, usually assumes that wherever they are physically sitting at the time is the entity that is responsible for producing or presenting the performance they are watching. (Chicken wings and Mozart—what a concept!) Its sort of like blaming the waiter for over-cooking your steak—whoever presents the meal will enjoy the credit or the blame.

If your venue is asking to be billed as a “presenter” then it probably means they want to be seen as having discriminating tastes in deciding whom to allow to pay their rental fee. Perhaps they want to leverage some artistic credibility for marketing purposes or perhaps they are simply trying to justify their public funding by showing that they are more than just a commercial rental space. Either way, they obviously want to ride your coat tails. Fine. You wouldn’t be the first entity to leverage a little artistic integrity in exchange for survival. By acknowledging them as a lead sponsor, your audience has probably been giving the venue credit for the success of your performances anyway. Just make sure that your program, credits, billing, and other marketing materials continue to emphasize that it is you and your artistic team that are responsible for your work. And make sure that your written agreement with them clearly specifies the exact wording of the billing they will receive. Leave nothing to misinterpretation or chance. You might even ask to have approval over any marketing or publicity the venue issues on its own.

As for what you could reasonably ask of them, financially or otherwise, in exchange for such billing: There is nothing to “ask.” They have already set the price. You would agree to credit them as a presenter in exchange for letting you rent the space for a lower fee. Now is not the time for counter offers to try and get further concessions from them. Your immediate goal should be to avoid having to find a new venue or spend money you didn’t budget for, not win a negotiation challenge on “The Apprentice.”



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