No Such Thing As Free Parking

Gene Tagaki at Non Profit Law blog tweeted about IRS guidance for non profits that are now faced with having pay to taxes on the parking they offer employees.

If you didn’t know that you had to pay taxes on free or subsidized parking now….well you aren’t alone. It came as a surprise to a lot of people at the end of last year. Basically, whether you are an employer or an employee where free or subsidized parking is part of the employment package, there is tax to be paid.

The new rules aim to help taxpayers calculate the amount of parking expenses that aren’t tax deductible anymore since the passage of the TCJA. The guidance also is supposed to help tax-exempt organizations and their accountants figure out how the now nondeductible parking expenses can either create or increase unrelated business taxable income, or UBTI for short.

If any of this concerns you, you may want to read the article and chat with your accountant. The new guidance from the IRS is causing a lot of grumbles due to how late it is. (Mea culpa, I meant to post on it months ago, too)  A lot of non-profit groups were hoping for a repeal of these rules rather than tardy details on how to comply with them.

The Nutcracker For Chicago

I just saw this article on NextCity about the Joffrey Ballet’s effort to “make a new American Nutcracker” by setting the story in Chicago during the 1893 Colombian Exposition/World’s Fair. (The Joffrey has long had a version of Nutcracker that was set in America in case you were wondering if there was an “old” American Nutcracker.)

The article asks, “Is This the Most Graceful Urban Planning History Lesson Ever?” which is an entertaining concept in itself. But the Joffrey company tries to put an authentic American flavor to the story in this most recent version choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon,

The show then depicts immigrant construction workers at a modest Christmas party — a far cry from the traditional setting of an opulent upper-class home. It revises protagonist Marie (sometimes called Clara) from a rich girl dreaming of exotic sweets to the child of an impoverished single mother, dreaming of a visit to the multicultural exhibits at the upcoming exposition.

Part of the idea is to capture the childlike wonder that the real exposition evoked. “The World’s Fair was a truly magical turning point for this city,” Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Ashley Wheater explained

PBS created a documentary explaining the concept and process behind creating the Joffrey version last year. They do some amazing things with their re-imagination of the story, including puppets by Basil Twist. Not to mention dancing walnuts–because you know, how can you have a nutcracker and no nuts?  Nearly every production of Nutcracker has been violating the rule of Chekov’s gun.

Is Art Dishwasher Safe?

After long correspondence (both in years and text length), I finally had an opportunity to meet with Carter Gillies over Thanksgiving weekend.  On at least one occasion I dubbed Carter “potter-philosopher,” because he has studied and practiced both disciplines.

Carter has been a big proponent of measuring the value of the arts on their own terms rather than their instrumental value to stimulate economies, raise test scores, cure cancer and bring world peace.

We spoke and debated for many hours on these ideas. However, the really challenging conversation was the one I had with myself days later. It is a conversation that millions have had and never concluded satisfactorily.

Before I left Carter’s house, he took me back to his studio and told me to pick out whatever I wanted. I grabbed a bowl that caught my eye and Carter discussed why he liked the glaze he applied to it, pointing out the subtle golden flecks that dotted different places.

A few days later he wrote me thanking me for visiting and hoping I enjoyed eating out of the bowl.

I was mortified. How could I eat out of that bowl? It was a piece of art that represented the culmination of our relationship to this point. I had it prominently displayed on a table in front of my sofa.

But then when I thought about it, I have two mugs given to me by one of the directors of the art museum back where I previously lived in Ohio. I drink out of those all the time. In fact, I am drinking out of one of them right now, totally unplanned. To leave them in the cupboard and not use them would be a small betrayal of my relationship with her, implying they were not good enough to eat out of.

I have endowed both the bowl and mugs with value derived from my relationship with the makers. My conclusions about what the appropriate treatment of each are completely opposite and pretty illogical.

I am not even sure the question here is “what is art?”

Does mundane and common use diminish an object’s identity as art while preserving it in an untouched and stationary state except to dust it impart greater identity as an object d’art?

The makers are both in my mind and heart when I see and use these objects which is part of the value for me. Does sentimentality contribute or detract to the objective value of these items?

These are questions that can be addressed forever. But this also illustrates why it is so much easier to talk about the value of art in terms of instrumentality. Instrumental measures are things people can grasp on to much easier.

The big problem, however, as Carter points out is that we never really try to introduce the conversation with policy makers about why we value the arts.  It can be really easy to talk in a passionate way about why you value the bowl on your coffee table and the mugs in your cupboard as well as the stuff hanging on your walls.

Yes, there is no facile way to empirically say the bowl is more valuable than the mug. There is a whole lot of complicated factors that contribute to record breaking auctions at Sotheby’s .

People value art and creativity in their lives for reasons that have nothing to do with what they can sell it for or enhancing their test scores.

The first step is opening your mouth to mention that the true value of a creative expression is divorced of these measures and potentially even divorced from another person’s perception of that creative expression.

Philadelphia Museums Seem To Be Gathering A Trove Of Interesting Voices

There seems to be a trend among museums in the Philadelphia area which sees value in the perspectives of non-traditional guides and voices. I have written about the Jawnty tours provided at the Barnes Foundation and University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology using Iraqi and Syrian refugees as guides to the Middle East galleries.

Today on Hyperallergic there was a story about how people have been looking to a security guard at University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art for her perspective.

The guard, Linda Harris, has been working at the museum since 2002. When she first started working there, she was apprehensive about whether she belonged there. Now she serves as a friendly face that facilitates discussions about a style of art some people can have difficulty relating to.

[Artist Alex Da Corte,] … notes that Harris’s dual roles, as an authority figure and as a non-traditional educator, allow her to help the museum stay true to its “Free for All” mission statement. Beyond free admission, the museum seeks to be a space where anyone from any community can come and have an experience with contemporary art. Harris represents the position that you don’t need to know everything about a work of art to comment on what it’s doing or how it makes you feel.

The article says Harris also embodies the role of educator and authority figure by providing permission and encouragement to visitors who encounter the interactive exhibitions. This has been especially valuable in cases where the permission to touch wasn’t explicit and required active encouragement.

However, people haven’t always welcomed the insights of a security guard. Over the years, it appears there may have been a shift in visitor expectations about the experience as well as Harris’ ability to discuss works with them.

Robert Chaney…remembers early visitors complaining: “We wanted it to be a quiet visit and a security officer kept talking to us.” Now, he says, people come in specifically “to talk to Linda, and to see what she has to say within the context of an exhibition.”

Chaney recognizes the value of Harris’s presence: “A contemporary art space can be intimidating for people. It’s often not work that’s easily defined or easily understood. […] And so Harris attends our training sessions for docents. And she talks to the artists often. I think she’s able to be, if not an authority, a welcome, informed voice for people coming in.”

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