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By Georgia Stitt

There was a moment where my work as a union musician and my work as a nonprofit arts executive came into conflict last year. Keep reading; this story has a happy ending.

Here’s some quick history. I make a living in NYC as a musician. Sometimes that work is as a composer/lyricist or educator, and those payments are not covered under a union contract. But sometimes my work is as a pianist, arranger, or conductor, and that work is usually under the jurisdiction of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 802, the NYC musicians’ union. 

I also founded an organization called Maestra Music, a nonprofit that works in the gender equity space to provide support, visibility, and community for women and nonbinary musicians who work in the theater.

Each year Maestra has a fundraiser called Amplify. (Fun fact: Amplify 2024 is coming up on Monday, March 25th! Details here.) The event is a concert with live Maestra musicians performing songs written by women and nonbinary songwriters. As we were putting together the budget for the event last year, some interesting conversations happened.

• Why are the musicians so expensive? 
• Can we do this event with fewer players? 
• We shouldn’t have to pay union rates for this; we’re a nonprofit. 
• Galas and benefits are not under union jurisdiction. They can’t come for us.

I didn’t think we could be an organization built on the idea that we supported musicians and then cut those musicians off at our own fundraising event. I’ve been hired many times to music direct benefits for nonprofits, and we all just assume this is “under the table” work. But for Maestra, it felt important to put our money where our mouth was. If we are trying to hire our own members to work a professional theater event in a union town, we should pay them their worth. 

To their credit, the Maestra Board agreed. Unfortunately, the union rates for the Single Engagement Contract were the same if the hiring organization is a commercial theater, a corporation, or a small nonprofit like ours. We didn’t see how we could do this event, pay the musicians their value, and not lose money on our own fundraiser.

I called my friend Kristy Norter, a Maestra reed doubler and also a Broadway music coordinator, and asked her to help. Together we hatched the idea of taking a proposal to the union to see if we could establish a nonprofit discount that would help orgs like mine do the right thing. In fall of 2023 we asked for a meeting with Local 802 President Sara Cutler, who saw merit in the idea. Together with the Executive Board of 802 they worked to write such a contract. It was approved in December 2023, and Maestra’s Amplify 2024 concert will be the first event to use the newly ratified Fundraising Service Agreement. I’m so grateful that Sara Cutler agreed and that we now have this beautiful new contract that allows us to honor the spirit of hiring the best musicians in town at a professional level but still meet our own fundraising goals!

Kristy Norter says, “Building a strong foundation of jobs that contribute benefits for the members is one of the most important missions for any successful Union. The Local 802 Executive Board and our President Sara Cutler have been working fervently to bring new jobs under fair agreements. I’m very appreciative of their collaborative and creative ideas to help the membership, especially in this recent crisis of health insurance availability. Every job adds up!!“

And in response, Sara Cutler says, “Local 802 is thrilled that the first of its new, more flexible contracts is already proving useful to musicians in our jurisdiction. We are committed to serving our members in new ways going forward. We hope this collaborative effort with Georgia Stitt, Kristy Norter, and Maestra will be the first of many, and we believe such collaborations will be the wave of the future. Brava Georgia, Kristy and Maestra!”

For more information about the 802 Fundraising Service Agreement, click here.
For more information about Maestra Music, click here.
For more information about Amplify 2024, March 25th at Sony Hall in NYC, click here.

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