Joe Patti, senior contributor

Focus Areas

Marketing, Legal Issues, Operations (backstage and front of house), Arts Presenting and Producing, Business Models, Outdoor Festivals Presenting Contemporary Indigenous Artists, Arts and Technology, Leadership in the Arts, Collaboration (between organizations, communities, artists-all permutations), Professional Development and Training, Organizational Culture, Volunteers, University Arts Environments


When I was a teenager if anyone had told me that I would be excited to share information about contract law, marketing, human resources, grant writing and the philosophy behind ticket pricing, I would have laughed…and laughed. But there is such a dearth of this information applicable to the needs of non-profit arts organizations that I do get excited when I see the opportunity to discuss these topics. I am currently the Director of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts at Shawnee State University. Across my career I have worked at University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College, University of Central Florida, Asolo Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and numerous other places both defunct and funky.

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Download the free Basic Handbook for Ushers by Joe Patti

Basic Handbook for Ushering

One of the most important elements of the experience when attending a performing arts event is the audience interaction with the front of house staff: ushers, ticket office, concessions, merchandisers, parking attendants, etc. The experience people have with these staff members sets the tone for the entire event. A warm, efficient welcome can make mediocre performance seem better than it is but a great show can be soured five minutes after people…

Stages of Board Life Cycle

Stages of Board Life Cycle

Non-Profit Quarterly recently published a piece charting out the cyclic nature of boards of directors. If ever you have been frustrated with your board and wondered why it is acting the way it is or if you love your board and prayed the great dynamic would stay that way forever, it is worth reading the piece to better understand what is happening and where things are probably headed. In the piece, author…

Contracting Closer Look Indemnification Clause

Contracting Closer Look: Indemnification Clause

The indemnification clause is a part of a contract that is often difficult to understand.  Even after reading this post, you will still want to consult a lawyer, but you will be more aware of what to pay attention to when it comes to the indemnification clause. Even if it isn’t labeled, the language of the clause is pretty distinctive running something like “X will indemnify, defend and hold harmless…against any claims,…

dou You Know About Energy Savings Performance Contracts?

Someone Else May Pay For Your New A/C (No, Not A Donor)

If you have a large physical plant or campus of buildings and aging HVAC, lighting or water systems, you may want to consider an Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC). Under this arrangement, an energy service provider handles all the financing and upfront costs for system upgrades and guarantees the savings accrued from the improvements will be sufficient to pay for the upgrades over a period of time. While the bulk of ESPCs…

Gamifying Project Planning

Gamifying Project Planning

The challenge of being creative in a non-profit environment is that you have big ideas, but few resources. So if you have a great idea for a new project or even an extension of an existing project, you might turn to friends, family, board members, volunteers, donors, etc., for help. But their time is valuable too. Even if they are willing and patient, you don’t want to waste their time. If their…

May Be Best Not To Suggest A Donation

May Be Best Not To Suggest A Donation

You may have heard about the lawsuit against the Metropolitan Museum of Art whose signs recommending $25 admission fee was seen as obfuscating the fact you can pay what you want.  The museum has changed their signs to replace “recommended” with “suggested.” (Though recently they have petitioned NYC for permission to charge admission to people who reside outside the city.) However, the widespread practice by arts and cultural organizations of using the…

Protecting Yourself Against Embezzling Grannies

Protecting Yourself Against Embezzling Grannies

Every couple months the treasurer tells our board of directors how easy it would be to embezzle funds due to the lack of sufficient checks and balances. She is especially wary of the fact that current technology allows her to have the bank generate checks at her request rather than having to issue a physical check. The organization is lucky because she has taken the lead on creating better processes and policies,…

start acting like a nonprofit

You Want To Be A Non-Profit? You Have To Start Acting Like One

You know how they say you need to dress for the job you want rather than the job you have? In much the same way, this is true for pursuing non-profit status. A few years back Ellis Carter listed the top five mistakes people make when creating a non-profit organization. Among the mistakes were familiar topics like not copying another organization’s bylaws; using your state template for incorporation (doesn’t have the info…

Design By Committee Dictatorship Of The Many

Design By Committee, Dictatorship Of The Many

Ah, Spring! That time of year when an arts organization’s mind turns to thoughts of season brochures and other promotional materials. Whether those materials are created by a board committee or designated department(s) within the organization, the process you employ will determine whether it is an enjoyable experience or subject to fits and starts due to feedback from decision makers and stakeholders. About a year ago, had a helpful piece on…

Don't Undermine A Good Crisis Plan With Minor Daily Inattentiveness

Don’t Undermine A Good Crisis Plan With Minor Daily Inattentiveness

You and your staff are ready for a crisis. Everyone, including your volunteers, regularly reviews plans for handling your audience in case of fire, tornado, earthquakes, active shooters, etc.  In fact, you are plugged in to resources like ArtsReady which is specifically designed to provide advice on crisis planning to arts organizations. Your community knows where to look and listen to learn about the status of events when bad weather threatens. But…

Always Revise This Contract Language

One of my earliest posts on ArtsHacker encouraged people to feel comfortable with altering and amending contracts.  Every organization operates in a different environment and has varying levels of risk tolerance that will determine what changes they might make to a contract. ContentsAlways Revise In This ScenarioSeek An Equitable ArrangementOpportunity or Opportunistic?Related posts you may wish to read: Always Revise In This Scenario One contract scenario I would urge people to never…

micro manage

Managing Micro-Management

Many people have horror stories about working for a supervisor that micro-manages their work. While that may be a hellish experience, it is even worse if you are the executive officer of an organization that has multiple board members attempting to micro-manage you. Even if everyone on the board isn’t interfering, others may be providing tacit support or reluctant to oppose what they see as the majority will. A few months back…

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Copyright, Public Domain, and Fair Use Guidance Provided Here

Questions about Copyright, Public Domain, and Fair Use abound in the arts. Fortunately, the fine folks at the American Library Association (ALA) have our back and have developed interactive tools to help us get a handle on these questions.  These tools, as well as the code to embed¹ them in a website, are available on the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy website. The easiest tool to use is the Digital Copyright…

Deeper Dive Into Full Costs Incurred By An Organization

Deeper Dive Into Full Costs Incurred By An Organization

I have written before about how to discover the True Cost of organizational programs. This is helpful when it comes to budgeting, evaluating your programs and soliciting support for those programs. In April 2016, Non-Profit Quarterly hosted a webinar that addressed this last activity–making the case to funders cover the Full Cost of programs. The webinar was conducted by Claire Knowlton, Director in Advisory Services at the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Even if…

Those Pesky Board Minutes Bear More Attention Than You Are Giving Them

Those Pesky Board Minutes Bear More Attention Than You Are Giving Them

You may view the minutes of board meetings as an annoying procedure to which you can pay little attention, but they are actually important documents that form the legal basis of a non-profit’s activities. Back in 2011, Emily Chan wrote two posts about the importance of Board Meeting Minutes for the Non-Profit Law blog. Until they closed the comments in the Spring of this year, the blog publisher, Gene Takagi, was regularly…


Is Your Non-Profit Subject To Open Meeting Laws?

Did you know that your non-profit organization has to allow anyone to attend your board and committee meetings and turn over copies of your minutes upon demand? Or maybe you don’t. Open meeting and freedom of information laws differ from state to state and determining exactly how much access you are required to allow people to have to your meetings and records can be very confusing. Every state with open government or…

Primer On Ethically Contracting Engagements

Primer On Ethically Contracting Engagements

In other posts here on ArtsHacker, we covered how contracts should be viewed as part of a communication process, preferably one of the final steps. Because the contract memorializes what has been discussed, it is important that the communication process be conducted in a clear and open manner. One of the recurring topics of discussion among artists, agents and presenters is the issues that crop up when people are trying to act…


Commission and Co-Production Agreement Points of Discussion

This post is related to a couple of earlier ones about basic concepts arts organizations should understand about contracts as presented by Brian Taylor Goldstein and Robyn Guillams from GG Arts Law at a recent Arts Midwest conference.  It is worth consulting the earlier entries regarding how to approach contracts and what general elements belong in contracts. The main focus of the session GG Arts Law conducted was providing guidance about what…

Parts of a Contract

What Are The Parts Of A Contract?

What Makes A Valid Contract? Believe it or not, there are only three basic elements required to form a valid contract: Offer, Acceptance, Consideration. Obviously there are almost infinite details which can constitute one of these things. It is also good to know what can be construed as a contract. It doesn’t necessarily need to be written down. It can be spoken agreement or even an email exchange in certain circumstances so…

Change Your Fundamental Concept of Contracts

Change Your Fundamental Concept of Contracts

After attending different regional conferences over the last couple decades the one subject that it seems will never grow stale is contract law. Any session in the subject is always well attended. A large number of these sessions are conducted by Brian Taylor Goldstein and Robyn Guillams from GG Arts Law. At the last Arts Midwest conference they conducted a session on contracts for collaborations and partnerships. Before they started on that…