L3C and the Arts

Staff Post
By Katie Chasowy

Back in November, I attended a symposium called L3C and the Arts at Columbia University in New York City. The event was designed to be discussion around how a new form of incorporation (the L3C) in the US can be used for arts organizations. I Live tweeted the event and the Storify of the tweets from the day can be found below.

Low-Profit Limited Liability Company (L3C) is a form of incorporation that is a hybrid between a for-profit business and a not-for-profit business. It was formed by augmenting the existing Limited Liability Company (LLC. We don’t have the equivalent in Canada; essentially it’s a hybrid of a sole proprietorship and a corporation). The L3C differs from the LLC in that the articles of organization (similar to articles of incorporation in a Canadian Not-For-Profit) must state one of the IRS’s charitable purposes. Because of this, an L3C can receive the money that charitable foundations must give each year (called Program Related Investments, or PRIs).

Basically, an L3C allows a company to accept investment and payout investors while still being able to receive funding from foundations. Champions of L3Cs say that it’s a great way to diversify revenue sources and raise capital to start an organization while critics of L3Cs say the form of organization isn’t so attractive because there isn’t the ability to issue tax receipts for donations.

The L3C and the Arts symposium brought together the co-founder of an L3C organization, a lawyer involved in the drafting of the L3C legislation for several states, the executive director of a theatre arts services organization , the executive director of a theatre organization with an L3C subsidiary organization, and the head of Columbia’s theatre program. After being briefed on the technical aspects of the L3C, the discussion then turned to how the L3C can work in the arts world.

Here’s some main points that brought up for how the L3C can work in the arts:

  • The L3C is an interesting new tool to consider when forming new organizations, but will not work for all circumstances.
  • An existing NFP should not change it’s form of organization to an L3C. It should be considered for organizing a new company or a new subsidiary business.
  • The main drawback for arts companies is the inability to issue tax receipts for donations.
  • It may be a good form for independent artist and smaller collectives, such as those who use crowd funding sites like indigogo to raise money.
  • Art forms that have a higher capital potential (like film) may be more suited for the L3C than art forms with a lower capital potential (like visual arts organizations). Performing arts falls between film and visual arts.

I tried to keep a Canadian perspective in mind when listening to the discussion. The L3C form would not work exactly in Canada mainly because Canadian not-for-profits do not rely as heavily on foundation revenue as in the US. But, the discussion on how hybrid forms of organization can work in the arts was quite interesting and applicable for Canadian not-for-profits, especially with the introduction of the hybrid Community Contribution Companies in British Columbia.

L3C and the Arts website
L3C and the Arts symposium archived video
L3C Wikipedia Page
Community Interest Company (UK hybrid)

Here’s the Storify of the event: