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Creative and Safe

Tips for Independent Contractors

We’ve seen lots of reopening guidelines for arts organizations and creative businesses, but what if you’re an independent contractor? How can you be sure you’ll be safe when taking a contract job with another organization during COVID-19?

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember:

  • We’re coming from a place of strength! The organizations we work for need us to be asking these questions.
  • We are developing more accessible programs that will make the organization stronger for the long run.
  • You were born to create something new. This challenge is a new type of canvas, stage, sound, language, movement, color, material.

For independent creatives, health insurance is a cost of doing business. Be sure that your artist fees are high enough to cover your insurance expenses. Here are some resources for finding health insurance.

This information has been compiled from existing advice and personal experience by arts professionals for arts professionals. It’s a working document, and may be edited as situations change and new information is available. It should not be taken as official endorsement by any professional organization. Use your best judgment and always follow state and federal guidance. 

4 tips to safely accepting a job

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of our lives in a variety of ways. How we choose to address the virus and its associated risks varies from person to person. As you prepare to re-engage with organizations, it’s important to know and establish your own boundaries.

Try it on. Imagine catching the virus and how it would affect your life. Don't let fear control you, but to listen to what your gut is telling you. Would it be worth it? Considering the state of my health and the health of those I come in contact with on a regular basis, is this opportunity and what I'm being paid worth the risk? How would my immune system respond if there's an exposure in my group? Could my lifestyle and dependents accommodate if I had to quarantine? Check out the IAC's Resources for your Life page for more help.

Ask yourself key questions. Assess the risks associated with each situation. Are you considering your own health and safety? the health and safety of others around you? What is your gut telling you? Ultimately, this decision should be based on your own values and comfort level.

Take guilt out of the equation. Don’t agree to a request you would rather decline out of guilt or obligation. Ask yourself “Am I saying yes to please the other person or avoid hurting any feelings?”

Identify your boundaries. Translate your responses into short, key statements that capture your boundaries. For example: “I am comfortable teaching students indoors, as long as they are wearing masks.” -or- “I am only comfortable performing outdoors until the pandemic is over.”

Is there something else I can be doing right now? Building up a side business (that is online-based, for instance) could potentially alleviate the financial pressure of needing to accept whatever gig is offered. Check out the IAC's Resources for your Business page for more help.

Come with a plan. The more clearly you can present the logistics of how you are going to do the work, the more likely you are to do the work in the way you are comfortable. When possible, send ahead of time diagrams that outline the layout of the in-person space (flow of traffic of students/audience, where materials/gear are kept, where tables & chairs are located, etc.).

Be prepared to communicate clearly. Rehearse your wording and resist the urge to over-explain your decision-making. Have a cheat sheet handy where your expectations are outlined in bullet points, and reference it during phone calls, video calls, or when writing emails. Your boundaries are valid -- you do not need to justify them to accept a job.

Acknowledge your emotions. Whether you accept or decline the work at hand, there will likely be a multitude of accompanying emotions. Excitement, anxiety, fear of missing out, sadness, and/or anger are just a fraction of the emotions that may arise. Recognize these emotions and validate them -- and most importantly, don’t forget to practice self-compassion. These are unusual times.

Reassess your comfort level. New information is released frequently. As humans, we evolve on a daily basis. Take the time to reassess your comfort level, based on the information available to you. Remember, it’s okay to change your boundaries.

First things first. Be kind. Thank them for hiring artists. Ask how they’re doing.

Request information, including a written contract or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and any written public health guidelines their organization is following. Look for the answer to your questions first, then confirm with your contact. Remember that everyone is processing a flood of ever-changing information.

Ideally, these questions should be asked before you say “yes” to a job. You’ll never be able to foresee every issue, so be prepared to solve problems during a job.

Who should I contact with questions? Ask their preferred mode-- email, text, phone call? Don’t feel bad about asking questions or requesting information. This stuff is important, and you have a right to safety. However, be professional, empathetic and do your best to find the answer on your own before reaching out.

Do we have a written contract? If not, request a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the information you sort out by discussing these questions. This will keep everyone on the same page.

What is my payment schedule? Times are uncertain. Consider asking for at least half of your fee up front. Discuss what your payment will be if the engagement is cancelled.

Is there a Force Majeure clause in my contract? This clause outlines under what circumstances a party can back out due to circumstances beyond your control. Free legal advice - Indiana Lawyers for the Arts.

What space will I be in? Dimensions, spacing of chairs, ventilation, capacity, cleaning procedures and frequency (CDC Guidelines for disinfecting public spaces), foot traffic “funneling” (moving in and out of a space, body awareness, restroom).

What policies are you asking your employees and guests to follow? 

  • How are these policies communicated?
  • What constitutes a mask?
  • Who provides masks?

Do the policies match my boundaries? What additional policies need to be established? Is the organization okay with that?

How are policies being enforced? What is my responsibility to enforce policies? Will there be staff available to help me facilitate logistics and enforce policies?

What if I need to alter the activities or finished product for safety? How would you like me to communicate proposed changes with you?

What is your protocol if an employee, student or visitor has been exposed or tested positive? How will you communicate this information?

What if the situation changes and I no longer feel safe? What are the options for rescheduling? Taking an activity outdoors? Taking an activity virtual? Do I have access to A/V equipment or web meeting software? If we take this experience virtual, who owns the recording?

If you don’t feel safe…

  • Reflect. Remember your boundaries and values. Identify specifically what is making you feel unsafe.
  • Brainstorm solutions that would resolve the issue. Check the CDC guidelines, ask your peers, ask for solutions in the Indiana Creatives Facebook group.
  • Reach out to your main contact for the job and offer a possible solution.

Example: “I believe we can provide a great experience and better safety if every participant was required to wear a mask. To do that, we’d need to communicate that expectation at registration, and provide extra masks at the door. I can build the cost of masks into my contract fee, but would need one of your staff to help for the first 10 minutes of every class. Does that sound reasonable to you?”

  • If you encounter pushback, stay calm and listen. Ask your contact if they have another idea that would help reach the desired outcome.
  • Remember your boundaries and values, and leave your ego at the door. Give everyone extra grace right now and try not to take things personally. If the solution keeps people safe, it’s a victory.
  • If you’re unable to reach a solution, it’s okay to say no.

Saying “no” is never easy. It’s especially difficult to consider when there is potential work involved. You may be concerned with offending someone, damaging a relationship, or missing out on a paycheck. Keep in mind that every decision is individual -- only you can know what’s right for you.

Assess the situation. There may be a way to adjust the situation while still falling within your personal boundaries. If you’re comfortable, take a moment to explore the alternatives together.

Sleep on it. Several factors may make a prospect tempting. Before you respond, take a day or so to think about it. How does it align with your boundaries? your other commitments?

Decline. It may be best for your health and/or safety to decline an opportunity, and that’s okay. Take a breath. Thank them for the opportunity. Then respond with grace and authority. Be short, to the point, and make no excuses.

Leave the door open. It can be tough to turn down a good cause. Just because you’ve said “no” to this opportunity doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t like to accept this type of work in the future. Depending upon the situation, you could offer to set an appointment to connect again after a few months. Communicate that although this gig didn't work out, you would be willing to do a form of work that wasn't originally proposed, such as providing pre-made videos for the organization, serving as a COVID policy advisor, providing sanitized materials for the activity, etc.

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Know of more resources, or have some advice to add? Let us know!